In a strange twist, in what has already been a strange week, Utah leaders of the Proud Boys have apparently joined up with an unlikely ally after comments made by President Trump during Tuesday night’s presidential debate. The Proud Boys have been generally recognized as a group of right wing extremists with a reputation for instigating violence at demonstrations.
Jacarri Kelly, the leader of Black Lives Matter Northern Utah, which, for the record, is not affiliated with Black Lives Matter Utah, stood with leaders of the Salt Lake City Proud Boys chapter at the city’s Washington Square during a press appearance on Wednesday (Sept. 29), local station KUTV reported.
“When I’d seen it,” said Kelly, referring to the debate, “and I heard the word Proud Boy, that scared me to death because I am a Black Lives Matter leader and I have been working with these Proud Boys to know who they truly are.
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“I had no idea who the Proud Boys were. I heard the words Proud Boys mentioned throughout the activist community and I just didn’t know who they were, and then I started to hear they were white supremacists.”
Kelly said that she found herself in conversations with men who were Proud Boys members and asked them about their purpose to which they replied that they only wanted to ensure nothing happened at a protest last month in Cottonwood Heights, Utah. Then she was shown a picture of an individual who only gave his name as “Thad,” and was told that he is a high-ranking member of the Proud Boys chapter in Salt Lake City. “Thad” is not white.
A meeting ensued between Kelly, Thad and the Proud Boys chapter president, who was only identified as “Seth” in which they discussed myths about both groups. “We came to realize we had more in common than not,” she said. “In order to combat evil and racism and hatred in this country, we do need to be able to reach across the aisle and have these tough conversations that everybody [is] scared to have.”
The Proud Boys came to the forefront of media focus on Tuesday night after President Trump’s now infamous “stand back and stand down” remark when asked if he would disavow white supremacists during the debate. That apparently emboldened members of the group, who began posting emblems on message boards like Telegram.
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Nonetheless, the Proud Boys have anything but a sterling reputation. They are recognized as an extremist group by the FBI and as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. They have been seen publicly engaging in skirmishes with demonstrators at Black Lives Matter protests, notably clashing with ANTIFA, a left wing group that has been known to get into conflicts with right wing activists and have also been accused of violence.
Although a number of members are nonwhite, many Proud Boys have been spotted at white supremacist events, and a former member, Jason Kessler, was the organizer of the Charlottesville, Va., “Unite The Right” rally in 2017, which descended into violence and killed one person.
Kelly said the Proud Boys she’s met with are not white supremacists, and considers them “proud American men” who needed “a little bit of respect and education in order to bridge gaps.”
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“Seth,” who pointed out that he is not a supporter of Donald Trump, said at the press appearance that he has learned more about BLM and what their experience has been in his conversations with Kelly. “Meeting and talking and having that understanding has allowed us to move forward with working together on police reform,” he said. “We understood there is some much needed police reform so we found common ground.”
Both agreed that the mainstream media has perpetuated false narratives about the Proud Boys and BLM that have caused division between the two groups.
But “Thad” singled out ANTIFA, which in the debate, former Vice President Joe Biden called an “idea.” “Thad” believes “they are a problem, they are not an idea, they are very much an organization, they are in terrorist cells...that’s why they say they are not an organization, they function autonomously and in cells, much like terrorists.” He lumped them with outright white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and Identity Evropa, which he said were “100 percent denounced by the Proud Boys.”
“Thad” also accused the SPLC, the Anti-Defamation League and the mainstream media for creating a misconception of his group and their intentions, but acknowledges that members of other chapters have been involved in violent incidents to which he also blamed on ANTIFA.
And when it comes to Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes, who has vocally embraced far-right, Islamophobic, racist, misogynistic and overall xenophobic rhetoric, “Thad” and “Seth” would only agree that McInnes is a “professional provacateur” looking for “clickbait” who primarily started the group as a “joke.”