Enrique Tarrio insists that the Proud Boys aren’t White supremacists, and he would be in a position to know. For one, he’s the international chairman. For another, he’s Black.
“I denounce White supremacy,” Mr. Tarrio said in a Thursday interview with WSVN-TV in Miami. “I denounce anti-Semitism. I denounce racism. I denounce fascism. I denounce communism and any other -ism that is prejudiced toward people because of their race, religion, culture, tone of skin.”
Mr. Tarrio headed the rising tide of those defending the Proud Boys against accusations of racism after President Trump came under fire for refusing to denounce the right-wing activist group at Tuesday’s debate.
The president, who told moderator Chris Wallace that he had not heard of the group, said, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.”
Democrats erupted, accusing the president of supporting White supremacists. Sen. Kamala D. Harris, California Democrat and vice presidential nominee, described his Proud Boys comment as “a dog whistle through a bullhorn.” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, called Mr. Trump a “national disgrace.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat, posted video of Mr. Trump’s comment and tweeted, “Donald Trump is a white supremacist” and “This is fascism at our door.”
The message from those who have studied and interacted with the Proud Boys? Calm down.
Wilfred Reilly, who teaches political science at Kentucky State University, a historically Black college, said “the Proud Boys aren’t White supremacists.” He said the group espouses a “Western chauvinism” philosophy, which isn’t the same as White supremacy.
Mr. Reilly, author of “Hate Crime Hoax,” said his research shows law enforcement officials estimate that 10% to 20% of Proud Boys members are racial minorities.
“The Proud Boys are openly right-leaning group and they’ll openly fight you. They don’t deny any of this, but saying they’re White supremacist, if you’re talking about a group of people more than 10% people of color and headed by an Afro-Latino guy, that doesn’t make sense,” Mr. Reilly told The Washington Times.
In Salt Lake City, Proud Boys members held a joint news conference Wednesday with a local Black Lives Matter leader to correct the record and “denounce White supremacy.”
“I will go out and say that the Proud Boys as a whole, I will say this on behalf of the entire national organization, denounce White supremacy,” the chief of the Proud Boys Salt Lake Utah Chapter, who gave only the name Thad, told reporters, as shown on Fox13 video.
“We are in no way, shape or form White supremacists,” Thad said. “We have a vetting system that gets just those guys out of our hair. We do not have anything to do with White supremacy. We do not have anything to do with the Ku Klux Klan. We denounce those organizations.”
Mr. Trump told reporters Wednesday that he was “unaware who Proud Boys are” and that he has always denounced White supremacy.
During the debate, Mr. Wallace challenged Mr. Trump to denounce White supremacy, and Democratic presidential candidate Joseph R. Biden suggested that he denounce the Proud Boys specifically.
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” said Mr. Trump. “But I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell you what. Somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem.”
Mr. Reilly said he was not surprised by the accusations that the president was defending White supremacists.
“There obviously is an attempt on the left to describe anyone who opposes mainstream liberal positions as ‘alt-right,’ White supremacist, all the way down the line,” said Mr. Reilly, who is Black. “There’s definitely a double standard on coverage of Antifa versus Proud Boys, for example.”
Amazon shirts pulled
That double-standard could be seen on Amazon, which pulled sales of debate-inspired T-shirts with the logo “Stand Back and Stand By” while continuing to offer pro-Antifa clothing and items, along with anti-Antifa merchandise.
“All sellers must follow our selling guidelines, and those who do not will be subject to action including potential removal of their account. The products in question have been removed,” an Amazon spokesperson told CBS News.
Even so, supporters continued to defend the Proud Boys. In Delaware, Republican Senate candidate Lauren Witzke credited the Proud Boys with providing her with free security at a rally when Black Lives Matter and Antifa activists turned out to protest.
“I’m not sure when patriotic masculinity, defending yourself, and being Christian became ‘Far-Right,’” tweeted Ms. Witzke, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Christopher A. Coons. “I also don’t recall the Proud Boys rioting and looting the city of Wilmington like ANTIFA did, either.”
Black Trump supporter Melissa Tate also challenged the “White supremacist” label. She posted a video in which she and Beverly Beatty said the Proud Boys helped provide security for them at a Christian prayer event.
“STOP THE LIES,” tweeted Ms. Tate, who has 440,700 followers. “Proud Boys are NOT White Supremacist. They are Christian men many of them hispanic & some black.”
Founded in 2016 by Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, Proud Boys is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Mr. McInnes has sued to have the designation removed.
“We’re a drinking club with a patriot problem,” Mr. Tarrio told CNN at a Sept. 26 rally in Portland, Oregon. “As Proud Boys, I think our main objective is to defend the West.”
Proud Boys, which describes its members as “Western chauvinists who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world,” have clashed repeatedly with Antifa in Portland.
The Oregon Justice Resource Center filed a lawsuit last week against the Proud Boys, alleging that four counterprotesters were injured by Proud Boys activists wielding paintball guns and bear mace during an Aug. 22 melee in Portland.
“The Proud Boys represent an unconventional strain of American right-wing extremism,” the Anti-Defamation League said on its website. “While the group can be described as violent, nationalistic, Islamophobic, transphobic and misogynistic, its members represent a range of ethnic backgrounds, and its leaders vehemently protest any allegations of racism.”
Mr. McInnes, who left the group in 2018, has been banned from most social media platforms for his anti-Semitic statements, including a video called “Ten Things I Hate About Jews,” which he later changed to “Ten Things I Hate About Israel.”
Supporters of the Proud Boys include right-wing pundits Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin, as well as former Republican consultant and convicted felon Roger Stone, whose 2019 sentence was later commuted by Mr. Trump.
During the Tuesday debate, Mr. Trump was asked whether he would be willing to tell White supremacists and militia groups to “stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities,” referring to the ongoing protests and rioting.
“Sure, I’m willing to, but I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing,” Mr. Trump said. “I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace.”
Mr. Wallace said, “Then do it sir.” Mr. Trump said to “give me a name,” and Mr. Biden said, “Proud Boys.”
Mr. Trump then challenged Mr. Biden to condemn Antifa, to which Mr. Biden replied, “Antifa is an idea, not an organization.” Mr. Trump replied, “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding.”
Blexit founder Candace Owens asked why Mr. Biden was not asked to condemn Antifa. “Unbelievable. Every person in America knows these riots are being orchestrated by black lives matter and Antifa,” she tweeted.
“Chris Wallace asks the President to condemn white supremacists but did not think to ask Joe Biden to condemn Antifa or BLM,” she added.
• Jessica Chasmar contributed to this report.