A group of men, mostly white, march with a US flag along a bridge.

Extremism

The Proud Boys right-wing group disbands in Canada

Two months after being designated a terrorist organization in Canada, the group has disbanded, saying that it never posed a threat, as claimed by Ottawa officials.

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Organizer Joe Biggs, in a green hat, and Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio, holding a megaphone, march with members of the Proud Boys, and other right-wing demonstrators, across the Hawthorne Bridge during a rally in Portland, Oregon, Aug. 17, 2019.

Credit:

Noah Berger/AP/File photo

In a statement posted on the app Telegram, Proud Boys Canada announced on Sunday that it was disbanding, and denied being a terrorist or white supremacist group.

That announcement came after the Canadian government, in February, became the first country to designate it a terrorist organization.

Related: Canada designates the Proud Boys as a terrorist entity

“For some of [the members], being listed on the same group that lists al-Qaeda or the Islamic State was probably a wake-up call for them, and not something they wanted to be affiliated with." 

Jessica Davis, president, Insight Intelligence

“For some of [the members], being listed on the same group that lists al-Qaeda or the Islamic State was probably a wake up call for them, and not something they wanted to be affiliated with,” said Jessica Davis, president of Insight Intelligence, and a former senior strategic analyst with the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service. 

Related: In Germany, fighting against extremism starts at school 

But, she said, the Proud Boys' threat has not gone away. Some members may become more radicalized, Davis said. They might form new groups, or join other existing groups. Davis said there’s also the possibility, since operating in Canada has become difficult, that the Proud Boys group has shifted more of its activities to the US.

“They are still around. They still have those extremist ideas,” she said. “What they end up doing next is the question.”

There are no official estimates of the exact scope of the Proud Boys organization. It started five years ago as a group railing against political correctness. Since then, it's taken on white nationalist themes, participating in the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, and burning a Black Lives Matter sign in front of a Black church in Washington, DC.

Many people first learned about the group last year, when former President Donald Trump was asked in a debate if he would denounce them, and instead said the Proud Boys should  "stand back and stand by.”

Since the Jan. 6 invasion of the US Capitol in support of Trump, Proud Boys has been in an uncomfortable spotlight. Several members were arrested in connection with the attack. Canada’s Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the country’s intelligence agencies have been monitoring the group since 2018. 

Related: FBI chief to face questions about extremism, Capitol riot

“There is a great deal of evidence to support that there has been a serious and concerning escalation of violence, not just rhetoric, but activity and planning, and that’s why we’ve responded as we have."

Canadian Public Safety Minister Bill Blair

“There is a great deal of evidence to support that there has been a serious and concerning escalation of violence, not just rhetoric, but activity and planning, and that’s why we’ve responded as we have,” he said.  

The designation has allowed banks to freeze assets, and it's blocked Proud Boys members from entering Canada. 

“I think when one country moves to designate a group, I think it's important for other countries, other like-minded countries, to move at the same time to do that in order to get the best effect,” Davis said. 

However, the US has no list of domestic terror organizations. Under US law, domestic terrorism isn’t a federal crime. One reason is the concern that US law enforcement would abuse its authority and inhibit free speech. But last week, President Joe Biden seemed to signal a new focus on domestic terrorism in his first speech to Congress. 

“We won’t ignore what our own intelligence agencies have determined is the most lethal terrorist threat to the homeland today: White supremacy is terrorism,” Biden said.

Following that declaration, Congress held hearings with counterterrorism officials to discuss racially-motivated violent extremism. Homeland Security officials said that to truly combat the rise of white nationalist groups like the Proud Boys, the US has to work with both international partners and local agencies to identify threats that start at the community level. 

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