Who are the Proud Boys? Extremist group at the center of prime-time Jan. 6 committee hearings

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At its third prime-time public hearing, the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol unveiled harrowing new accounts of the day’s events, including never-before-seen footage and vivid testimony from officers who were overrun as the mob stormed the Capitol.

The panel produced new details about the alleged involvement of two right wing groups in carrying out the attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election results. One of those groups, the Proud Boys, saw five of its members charged with seditious conspiracy for their role in the assault.

The Proud Boys could come up again at Thursday's hearing, the eighth of the summer.

Members of the Proud Boys march in Manhattan against vaccine mandates on Nov. 20, 2021 in New York City.
Members of the Proud Boys march in Manhattan against vaccine mandates on Nov. 20, 2021 in New York City.

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Who are the Proud Boys?

The Proud Boys are a far-right extremist group founded in 2016 by Gavin McInnes, a right-wing media personality who co-founded VICE media (McInnes is no longer affiliated with the company).

The group describes itself as “Western chauvinists” or “men who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world,” according to the Department of Justice.

The Southern Poverty Law Center designates the Proud Boys a hate group, citing white supremacist and racist rhetoric from many of its members.

In 2020, Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio told USA TODAY through a spokesperson that the group “has longstanding regulations prohibiting racist, white supremacist or violent activity.” 

There were at least 72 Proud Boys chapters across the nation in 2021, according to a report by the SPLC. The exact number of members is unknown, according to Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation, but it is estimated to be in the thousands. Members carry different status levels within the group, with the highest status or degree obtained when a member commits violence in the group's name, according to the CISC. 

Proud Boys members have been a fixture at violent demonstrations across the country in recent years.

One of its members helped organize the 2017  “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville that left a counter-protester dead, though McInnes, who left the group in 2018, denied at the time the group’s official involvement in the demonstration or that it was part of the "alt-right" groups that participated.

And the Proud Boys have clashed repeatedly with left-wing counter-protesters in the Pacific Northwest and were involved in confrontations with Black Lives Matter protesters in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd.

Law enforcement and the Proud Boys: DC stabbing is yet another sign of how law enforcement favor extremist group Proud Boys

Tarrio was sentenced to five months in jail last year for burning a Black Lives Matter flag in December 2020.

Proud Boys leader's first Jan 6. charge: Enrique Tarrio charged with conspiracy in US Capitol insurrection

The Proud Boys were first thrust into the political spotlight during the September 2020 presidential debate when Donald Trump was asked to condemn violence from white supremacist groups and instead delivered a cryptic message.

“Proud Boys stand back and stand by,” Trump said.

The Jan. 6 panel previously presented depositions from Proud Boys members who said that the former president’s comment led to an increase in the group’s membership.

“Exponentially, I’d say it tripled probably,” one Proud Boys member said in his deposition.

Footage of Proud Boys breaching the Capitol and the excerpts from the Justice Department’s indictment alleging that the Proud Boys planned the assault weeks in advance were also shown at the hearing.

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Who is the Proud Boys founder, Gavin McInnes?

McInnes is a Canadian right-wing news personality who helped found VICE media in the 1990s. He left the company in 2008, according to VICE. He left the Proud Boys in 2018 and now hosts a right wing podcast. McInness sued the SLPC in 2019 for defamation after it labeled the Proud Boys a hate group, USA TODAY reported. 

What countries have labeled the Proud Boys a terrorist group?

The Proud Boys have appeared on Canada's terrorist organization list since 2021. The government website describes it as "a neo-fascist organization that engages in political violence" and says the group has chapters in Canada.

New Zealand, where there are no known Proud Boys affiliates, designated the group a terrorist organization in June, according to the Associated Press.

Are the Proud Boys banned on Twitter?

Twitter said it banned the Proud Boys in 2018, in accordance with its policy on violent organizations. But some Proud Boys affiliated accounts still slip through the cracks. USA TODAY identified 45 active accounts in mid-April that Twitter subsequently removed.

Read the full story: Twitter banned the Proud Boys, but they're still there.

When do the Proud Boys go on trial?

The trial of the five Proud Boys members charged with sedition for their alleged roles in the Jan. 6 attack has been postponed until December upon the request of the Justice Department’s prosecutors and some of the defendants’ attorneys, who cited the ongoing Jan. 6 committee hearings. The trial had been set to begin in August, USA TODAY reported.

Read the full story: Proud Boys sedition trial delayed after Justice, defense lawyers cite ongoing Jan. 6 investigation

What is the connection to the Oath Keepers?

The committee hearings have explored the ties between the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, another far-right organization whose members stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. At the prime-time hearing in June, the committee presented footage of the two groups’ leaders meeting in a parking garage the night of Jan. 5, 2021. Oath Keepers members have also been charged in connection with the Capitol breach. 

More: A breakdown of the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and the attack.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Who are the Proud Boys? Jan 6. committee says they played role in riot