Canada has officially declared Proud Boys a terrorist group. After the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, Proud Boys have been under additional scrutiny. To prevent the 2020 U.S. Presidential election results from being formalized, radical supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump, including Proud Boys members, stormed the capitol. Canadian officials say this event was the deciding factor in their decision and was made without input from elected politicians in the country, claims the New York Times. In the designation report, Canadian officials assert that the Proud Boys “espouse misogynistic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, and/or white supremacist ideologies and associate with white supremacist groups.”
The Proud Boys is a far-right, male-only group founded in 2016. According to the New York Times, the group was created by British-born Gavin McInnes, who was raised in Ottawa. The news source asserts that the group has a history of brawling in the streets with left-wing activists, specifically Antifa.
This increased scrutiny of Proud Boys across country’s borders comes while Parler, an online chat platform used by far-right supporters, was shut down for its role in inciting violence and supporting the Capitol Hill attack. The platform is a space for far-right and white supremacist individuals, including Proud Boys, to share falsities about the 2020 U.S. presidential election results and spread racist statements, claims Wall Street Journal. Parler offers no fact-checking, doesn’t remove inappropriate posts if they’re labeled as “sensitive” by the author, and has fewer content monitors than Twitter and Facebook, according to the source.
According to the New York Times, being named a terrorist group results in frozen bank accounts and confiscated assets. Further, this designation allows police forces to investigate Proud Boys’ actions more deeply and to consider them acts of terrorism though this recent designation does not mean that immediate charges will be brought to the group. Additionally, funding the terrorist group through buying merchandise and attempting to recruit new members can lead to terrorist charges under criminal law, says the New York Times. Law enforcement can take down posts on social media, prevent members from flying, and block non-Canadian members from entering the country. The overall goal of this designation is to prevent Proud Boys from gaining more traction in Canada and around the world, suggests Bill Blair, Canada’s public safety minister.
Before these new terrorist organization designations, Canada had only two far-right groups on its terrorist group list, according to Global News. Canada’s new terrorist group declarations include three other far-right or neo-Nazi groups and nine organizations supporting ISIS and Al Qaeda, claims the New York Times. Including far-right and radical religious organizations together on this terrorist list show how broad ‘terrorism’ can be. Terrorism, as defined by the F.B.I, is considered an act that is politically or ideologically motivated, involves violence, and invokes fear. Under these characteristics, some Proud Boys’ acts, including the group’s participation in the storming of the U.S. Capitol, could arguably be considered acts of terrorism. Further, before Canadian officials had made their decision, Jessica Davis, president of Insight Threat Intelligence and with a background in Canadian security, suggested Proud Boys’ presence on Capitol Hill could “come close to meeting the threshold” of a terrorist group designation, claims Global News. This prediction turned out to be true.
The past few years have seen an increase in demonstrations by Proud Boys’ members. Blair claims, “Since 2018, we have seen an escalation, an escalation toward violence in this group,” referring to the Proud Boys. Even before then, in 2017, a group of Proud Boys, who were also members of Canadian Forces, caused a disturbance at a Mi’kmaq ceremony in Halifax, Nova Scotia on Canada Day, according to Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). At this ceremony, many assembled around the statue of Edward Cornwallis to remember the crimes committed against Indigenous people. Cornwallis is credited with founding Halifax in 1749 and later called for the deaths of Mi’kmaq people. The five Canadian military members brought the Proud Boys’ flag, announced themselves as Proud Boys’ members, and disrupted the gathered group, claims CBC.
Under the personnel conduct section of the Queen’s Regulations and Orders (the Canadian military’s behavior regulations), military personnel should not be seen or heard in public doing something that could “reflect discredit on the Canadian Forces or on any of its members.” In this sense, the five members’ actions reflected poorly on the Canadian military and encouraged discontent among the Canadian public. However, after the investigation brought no charges, four of the five perpetrators returned to regular duty (though on probation) and the other left the military under unrelated circumstances, according to CBC. This suggested there wasn’t comprehensive accountability in Canada’s response to far-right radicalization. Since then, it seems Canada has improved its efforts at denouncing such actions, and this recent terrorist group designation of four far-right groups shows progression. However, additional preventive acts are necessary to combat anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, and misogynistic sentiments around the country.
Proud Boys have active chapters throughout the U.S. as well and have caused disturbances in the country. In December in Washington D.C., members burned a Black Lives Matter banner in the street near a historic Black church, claims the New York Times. The current Proud Boys leader, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, participated in this act and was found with two rifle magazines adorned with the Proud Boys’ logo. He was arrested in early January and has since been released from police custody under the order to leave Washington D.C. until his hearing in June, claims NPR. The news source asserts Tarrio agreed to plead guilty to a destruction of property charge but not if the burning of the banner is considered a hate crime. Tarrio’s release came the day before Proud Boys participated in the U.S. Capitol attack.
According to the New York Times, Canada is the first country to condemn the Proud Boys in such a way, and time will tell how other countries respond. Canada is considered a very open-minded country, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau supports immigration. However, recently, far-right groups have gained greater traction in the country and have distorted historical events to criticize immigration, claims the New York Times. There have been multiple attacks in Canada by far-right and anti-immigrant groups yet members of these radical organizations have not won any political seats.
The Southern Poverty Law Center had named Proud Boys an “extremist hate group” before the far-right group participated in the U.S. Capitol turmoil, claims NPR. The Center claims Proud Boys’ members “regularly spout white nationalist memes and maintain affiliations with known extremists,” claims the New York Times. This suggests the group was already under scrutiny for its actions and ideology before the events at the Capitol on January 6. Since the attack on the Capitol, U.S. federal prosecutors have charged the Proud Boys with conspiracy because of their supposed premeditated plans to obstruct law enforcement efforts at protecting the Capitol and the people inside, claims the New York Times. Additionally, the F.B.I. has carried out search warrants against members of Proud Boys since the storming of the Capitol.
Ultimately, Canada is taking action in condemning the ideology and actions of far-right activists as spreading hate, Islamophobia, and white supremacy is detrimental to peoples’ lives and to effective society functions. The U.S. Capitol insurrection threatened and cost lives and showed disrespect and ignorance of traditional political processes. Philosophies supported by fabrications and distortions can further ravage social progress and weaken political institutions. Continued pressure on radicalized groups on all political and social sides, including Proud Boys, through such designations and impairing their ability to recruit and spread hatred is necessary.
Since these groups have an international presence, international organizations, like United Nations, may need to step in to regulate a universal response. Referring to Proud Boys as a terrorist group connects them to ISIS and Al Qaeda in a way that suggests countries’ leaders must respond with similar tactics. In a world deeply reliant on the internet, radicalized groups have the upper hand in spreading their ideologies and action plans across borders. We must be vigilant in encouraging ethical political processes, welcoming immigrants, understanding different perspectives, and advancing equal rights for women and people of all races. Without focusing on unity, radicalized groups, like the Proud Boys, have an effortless ability to cause strife and energize intolerance.
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