Proud Boys Canada, the far-right group that Canada recently designated as a terrorist entity, announced on Sunday that it has “officially dissolved” and denied being a terrorist or white supremacist organization — assertions that should be taken with a “grain of salt,” according to hate group experts.
The statement was posted on the Proud Boys USA channel on Telegram, a messaging app where the group is active and issues its official statements, according to Evan Balgord, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a non-profit organization that monitors and researches hate activity.
The statement, which was attributed to Proud Boys Canada, said the group has “done nothing wrong” and its terrorist designation by the federal government was “not based on evidence or incident, but for purely political reasons.”
The group said it considered fighting the terrorist designation through legal means but lacked financial support. As of “today,” according to the post on Sunday, “there is officially no longer any Proud Boys in Canada.”
“The truth is, we were never terrorists or a white supremacy group,” the statement said. “We are just regular patriotic Canadians.”
But the Canadian government and anti-hate experts disagree. The Proud Boys — who describe themselves as “Western chauvinists” and a “pro-West fraternal organization” — was formed in 2016 by Gavin McInnes, the Canadian co-founder of Vice Media, who now lives in the United States.
In its earliest days, the Proud Boys attracted salacious media coverage for their extreme initiation rites — new members, for example, have to subject themselves to a beating and get a Proud Boys tattoo — and rules (no masturbation allowed).
But from the start, anti-racism activists and hate group experts have been alarmed by the Proud Boys’ hateful and white nationalist rhetoric. The Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, which designates the Proud Boys as a hate group, has documented the organization’s violent history and links to misogyny, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, white supremacy and extremists.
McInnes has rejected attempts to label the Proud Boys as being white supremacist or “alt-right,” and — after quitting the group in 2018 — sued the Southern Poverty Law Center for designating the organization as a hate group.
The Proud Boys have been fixtures at rallies in support of Donald Trump — they were mentioned by the then U.S. president during an election debate last September — as well as high-profile alt-right events such as the violent protests in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, which were co-organized by a white nationalist with ties to the Proud Boys.
A month after the Capitol Hill riots on Jan. 6 this year — which saw U.S. members of the Proud Boys arrested — the Canadian government designated the group as a “terrorist entity,” along with three other white supremacy groups: Atomwaffen Division, The Base and the Russian Imperial Movement.
At the time, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said Canada’s intelligence agencies had been investigating the Proud Boys’ activities since 2018, and that they had recently seen an “escalation toward violence.”
Under Canadian law, it is illegal to knowingly participate in or contribute to the activities of a recognized terrorist group. A terrorist designation also allows financial institutions to freeze assets, or police to seize property.
The Most Powerful Sale & Affiliate Platform Available!
There's no credit card required! No fees ever.Create Your Free Account Now!
In an emailed statement on Sunday, James Cudmore, a spokesperson for Blair, did not respond to the Star’s questions about the online statement attributed to Proud Boys Canada.
But he wrote that “we strongly denounce organizations such as the Proud Boys who advance misogynistic, white supremacist beliefs and who glorify violence.”
“Intolerance and hate have no place in our society,” Cudmore said. “The listing of ideologically motivated violent extremist groups as terrorist organizations allows for a shift in the resource focus of our agencies.”
Last month, Global News reported that a Cobourg lawyer, Colin A. Browne, who identified himself as a Proud Boy, planned to appeal the federal government’s decision to designate the group as a terrorist organization. The Star requested an interview with Browne on Sunday evening but did not receive a response by deadline.
The Proud Boys have said that their Canadian arm boasts between 1,000 and 1,500 members but it’s difficult to verify how many people are actually affiliated with the organization, said Balgord with the Anti-Hate Network.
At its peak, Proud Boys Canada had more than a dozen chapters, he said — “but how many people in each chapter is something only a handful of people would know.”
Proud Boys Canada — which has never been as extreme as its American counterpart, according to Balgord — has been waning for some time now, he added, so its apparent dissolution comes as “no surprise.”
Last year, the group broke ties with a “pro-fascist and neo-Nazi arm” that now calls itself Canada First, according to an article by the Anti-Hate Network. Its Manitoba chapter — which Balgord said came closest to being a “leader” of Proud Boys Canada after the split with Canada First — had already dissolved earlier this year.
“They kind of fizzled out,” he said of Proud Boys Canada’s activities in recent years. “That’s not to say there wasn’t activity … but if you take a look at the whole scene, they definitely had a decline.”
Balgord said it’s difficult to know if the group has truly folded in Canada. Some chapters could reject the claim of dissolution, or be absorbed into other extremist groups.
While a separate Telegram post by Proud Boys USA on Sunday seemed to confirm that “the ProudBoys (sic) in Canada is no more,” it added that members will “continue to fight for western values … as individuals.”
Bernie Farber, chair of the Anti-Hate Network, said that when it comes to an organization like the Proud Boys, everything should be “taken with a grain of salt” — including their claims of being “regular patriotic Canadians” with no ties to white supremacy.
“It’s pretty easy to say, after the fact, that ‘this was never us,’” Farber said. “The fact is: they’re an extremist group.”
Jennifer Yang is a Toronto-based health reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @jyangstar
Subscribe to the newsletter news
We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe