The extremist group has close ties to the Trump White House, the Republican Party, and high-profile right-wing media figures.
The FBI now classifies the violent pro-Trump Proud Boys gang as an extremist group, according to a new document from the Clark County Sheriff's Office in Washington state.
The law enforcement document, which was obtained by the Guardian via the government transparency group Property of the People, represents the first reported instance of the FBI officially referring to the gang as an "extremist" organization.
"The FBI categorizes the Proud Boys to be an extremist group with ties to white nationalism," wrote Commander Michael McCabe, who authored the report on Aug. 10.
The document — an internal affairs report describing an investigation into a sheriff's deputy's membership in the Proud Boys — states that the "Proud Boys were publically [sic] categorized as an extremist group by the FBI in 2018."
In an interview with the Guardian, McCabe confirmed the authenticity of the document and said the designation of the Proud Boys as an extremist group was revealed to him in an Aug. 2 briefing by the FBI.
The FBI said they "have been warning [local law enforcement] for a while" about the Proud Boys, not just in Washington but around the nation, McCabe told the Guardian.
"The FBI has warned local law enforcement agencies that the Proud Boys are actively recruiting in the Pacific Northwest," he wrote in the document.
"Proud Boys 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," the document added.
The Proud Boys were founded in the midst of the 2016 presidential campaign and have made a name for themselves with their violent brand of neo-fascism, which is characterized by explicitly anti-feminist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-transgender, and anti-liberal ideology.
The group is also explicitly pro-Trump, and members can often be seen wearing red MAGA hats as part of their unofficial uniform. As the Southern Poverty Law Center explains, "There is an obvious overlap between their views and those of President Donald Trump, whose election in 2016 played a clear role in increasing Proud Boys' membership."
Members of the Proud Boys have often aligned and worked alongside members of other hate groups, and they've made frequent appearances at white supremacist rallies and other extremist events like the deadly "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The organizer of "Unite the Right," Jason Kessler, is a former member of the Proud Boys.
The group's founder, Gavin McInnes, has repeatedly called for members of his gang to carry out acts of political violence, and even established a "militant division" devoted to street fighting. Those calls have been heeded.
For over a year and a half, the gang has unleashed violent attacks from coast to coast — and they've done it all while cultivating close relationships with Republican Party officials and lawmakers, Trump associates, and high-profile right-wing media figures.
Trump and the GOP have thus far refused to condemn the Proud Boys, even in the aftermath of violent incidents like a recent mob-style attack following an appearance at a mainstream Republican institution in New York City. Meanwhile, right-wing media outlets like Fox News have alternated between completely ignoring the group's violence at times, or blaming it on Democrats at other times.
The FBI's designation of the Proud Boys as an extremist group comes amid a series of moves by Trump to shutter government programs aimed at countering violent extremism and far-right domestic terrorism. This is despite recent reports documenting a rise in hate crimes and white supremacist violence.
Moves like this help to explain why violent extremists have become so emboldened under Trump's leadership.
The Proud Boys are one of many extremist groups that sprouted up during or right after Trump's presidential campaign, and their close alliance with the GOP reflects the mutually beneficial relationship that has developed between the Republican establishment and the most extreme elements of the far-right.
According to the SPLC, extremist groups have thrived under the Trump presidency, with the number of neo-Nazi groups growing from 99 to 121 in 2017, and anti-Muslim organizations increasing from 101 chapters to 114. But the surge in extremist groups has been most intense among white supremacist groups closely aligned with Trump.
"Groups that latched onto Trump flourished," SPLC reports.
It remains to be seen whether Trump, the Republican Party, and the right-wing media figures who helped mainstream the Proud Boys will change their tune now that the FBI has officially classified the group as an extremist organization. However, all available evidence suggests they won't.
After all, if the GOP and its media allies suddenly decide to reject far-right extremism, they'll also be rejecting some of their most fervent supporters.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.