The Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes has publicly distanced himself from the far-right fraternal group amid its members facing heightened scrutiny from law enforcement officials in the U.S. and abroad.
“I am officially disassociating myself from the Proud Boys, in all capacities, forever,” the Canadian co-founder of Vice Media said in a video statement Wednesday.
“I was told to use the term ‘stepping down’ but I refused because that makes no sense,” he said. “I was never the leader, only the founder.”
Mr. McInnes, 48, made the announcement on the heels of his internationally dispersed band of self-described “western chauvinists” attracting the attention of authorities in New York City, Washington state, Australia and elsewhere over a series of recent stunts at political rallies and events.
The New York City Police Department is investigating a violent street brawl that erupted after Mr. McInnes spoke at the Metropolitan Republican Club in Manhattan on Oct. 12, and he said in the video statement that his separation from the group could potentially help several defendants facing charges.
“I’m told by my legal team and law enforcement that this gesture could help alleviate their sentencing. Fine. At the very least, this will show jurors they are not dealing with a gang and there is no head of operations,” he said in the video.
Across the country, meanwhile, a report obtained from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office in Washington released this week claimed that the FBI has categorized the Proud Boys as “an extremist group with ties to white nationalism.”
“The FBI has warned local law enforcement agencies that the Proud Boys are actively recruiting in the Pacific Northwest and that some Proud Boy members have contributed to the recent escalation of violence at political rallies held on college campuses, and in cities like Charlottesville, Virginia; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle, Washington,” said the report.
Addressing the allegations in the video statement, Mr. McInnes disputed the existence of any ties between the Proud Boys and white nationalists, as well as the existence of white nationalists themselves.
“We are not an extremist group and we do not have ties with white nationalists,” he said in the video. “This whole idea of white nationalist and white supremacy is a crock. Such people don’t exist.”
Mr. McInnes co-founded Vice Media in 1994 and ultimately parted ways with with the company in 2008. He founded the Proud Boys in 2016 and has previously referred to the group as a “gang.”
PayPal announced this month that it planned to cancel accounts operated by the Proud Boys, citing violations against its policies prohibiting hate.
The head of Australian Border Force told regional media Tuesday that Mr. McInnes should be banned from entering the country.
“Free speech is fine but not when it crosses the threshold to the incitement of violence,” Roman Quaedvlieg told Fairfax media. “I don’t think he passes the character test based on what is publicly available.”