After last year’s presidential election, the far-right Proud Boys declared their undying loyalty to President Trump.
In a November 8 post on a private channel on the Telegram messaging app, the group urged supporters to take part in protests against an election alleged to have been fraudulently stolen from Mr. Trump. “Hail Emperor Trump,” wrote the Proud Boys.
But by that week, the group’s attitude towards Mr. Trump had changed. “Trump will go under as a total failure,” said the Proud Boys on Monday in the same telegram channel.
When Mr Trump left the White House on Wednesday, the Proud Boys, once one of his staunch supporters, also left his side. In dozens of conversations on social media sites like Gab and Telegram, members of the group have started referring to Mr. Trump as “shill” and “extraordinarily weak”, according to New York Times news. They have also urged supporters to stop participating in rallies and protests for Mr Trump or the Republican Party.
The comments are an amazing twist on the Proud Boys who had supported Mr Trump for years and promoted political violence. Under Enrique Tarrio’s leadership, many of his thousands of members were so die-hard fans of Mr. Trump that they agreed to serve as his private militia and celebrated after he told them in a presidential debate last year to ” step back and stand by. On January 6th, some members of the Proud Boys stormed the US Capitol.
But since then the dissatisfaction with Mr. Trump, who later condemned the violence, has passed. On social media, Proud Boys participants have complained about his willingness to leave office, saying his opposition to the Capitol rampage was an act of betrayal. And Mr. Trump, cut off on Facebook and Twitter, couldn’t speak to them directly to allay their concerns or to utter new rally cries.
The Proud Boys’ anger at Mr. Trump has increased after he did nothing to help those in the group facing justice over the violence at the Capitol. On Wednesday, a 37-year-old Proud Boy leader Joseph Biggs was arrested in Florida and charged with illegal entry and corrupt obstruction in the riots. At least four other members of the group are also charged with the attack.
“When Trump told them that America would fall into an abyss if he resigned, they believed him,” said Arieh Kovler, a far-right political advisor and independent researcher in Israel, of the Proud Boys. “Now that he has resigned, they believe he surrendered and failed to fulfill his patriotic duty.”
The shift raises questions about the strength of support for Mr. Trump and suggests the pockets of his fan base are shattering. Many fans of Mr. Trump still mistakenly believe that he has been removed from office, but other far-right groups such as the Oath Keepers, America First and the Three Percenters have also criticized him on private Telegram channels, according to a review of the news.
Last week, America First leader Nicholas Fuentes wrote on his Telegram channel that Mr. Trump’s reaction to the Capitol rampage was “very weak and slack,” adding, “Not the same guy that ran in 2015.”
On Wednesday, the Proud Boys Telegram Group welcomed President Biden into office. “At least the in-depth administration is honest about its intentions,” the group wrote.
Mr Kovler said the activity had shown that groups banding around Mr Trump were now trying to figure out their future direction. Losing his ability to post on Twitter and Facebook has also made Mr Trump less useful to the far-right groups who have relied on him to raise their profile at the national level, Mr Kovler said.
Mr. Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys, could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for Mr Trump did not respond to a request for comment.
The Proud Boys were founded in 2016 as a club for men by Gavin McInnes, who was also the founder of the online publication Vice. The group referred to itself as “Western chauvinists” and attracted people who appeared to be violent and often advocated anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic views. The group had supported Mr Trump since he took office.
The move to Mr. Trump was slow. Following the November election, the group’s private Telegram channels, gab pages, and posts on the alternative social networking website Parler were filled with calls to maintain the president’s confidence. Many proud boys, mirroring Mr. Trump’s lies, said the election was rigged after a review of the news.
The Proud Boys asked their members to take part in the “Stop the Steal” rallies. A November 23 message on a Proud Boys Telegram page read, “No Trump, No Peace.” The message related to information about a rally outside the governor’s house in Georgia.
While Mr. Trump’s legal team contested the election result with legal proceedings, the Proud Boys closely followed legal proceedings and appeals proceedings in various states and posted frequent links to news reports on their Telegram channels.
But when Mr. Trump’s legal efforts failed, the Proud Boys posted on social media urging him to use his powers as president to stay in office. Some urged him to declare martial law or to take control by force. Over the past two weeks of December, in protests and on social media, they have urged Mr. Trump to “cross the Rubicon”.
“They wanted to arm themselves and start a second civil war and overthrow the administration for Trump,” said Marc-André Argentino, a far-right researcher with a PhD. Candidate at Concordia University. “But in the end he couldn’t be as authoritarian as they wanted to be.”
Then came the week that the Capitol stormed. On January 4, Mr. Tarrio was arrested by the Metropolitan Police on suspicion of burning a banner from the Black Lives Matter that had been torn from a black church in Washington. The next day he was kicked out of town by a judge.
But nearly 100 other proud boys, encouraged by leaders like Mr. Biggs, stayed in Washington. According to court records, Mr. Biggs urged members to avoid their typical black and yellow polo shirts and instead go “incognito” and move around town in “smaller teams”.
On the day of the uprising, Mr. Biggs was caught on video marching to the Capitol with a large group of proud boys and wearing slogans such as “Whose streets? Our streets. “
Although prosecutors said Mr. Biggs was not among the first to break into the Capitol, they admitted that he entered the building for a short period of time. They also said that he apparently had a walkie-talkie-style device on his chest, suggesting that he was communicating with others during the robbery.
In an interview with The Times hours after the attack, Mr. Biggs said he and other Proud Boys arrived at the Capitol complex around 1 p.m. when the crowd rose in front of them and the mood turned violent. “It literally happened in seconds,” he said.
Prosecutors have also indicted Dominic Pezzola, a proud Rochester boy and former Marine. Nicholas Ochs, founder of the Proud Boys’ Hawaii Chapter; and Nicholas DeCarlo, who runs a news outfit called Murder the Media, which is affiliated with the group.
After the violence, the Proud Boys expected Mr. Trump to champion the mob according to their social media messages. Instead, Mr Trump posted a video on Jan. 8 denouncing the violence.
The disappointment was immediately noticeable. One Proud Boys Telegram channel wrote: “It is really important for all of us to see how much Trump betrayed his supporters this week. We are nationalists 1st and always. Trump was just a man and, in the end, an extraordinarily weak one. “
Some proud boys got angry that Mr. Trump did not appear interested in making presidential excuses for their arrested members. In a telegram on Friday, they accused Mr. Trump of “instigating” the events at the Capitol, adding that he then “washed his hands off”.
“They thought they had his support and that Trump would ultimately get through for them, even with an apology if they needed it,” said Jared Holt, a visiting researcher at the Atlantic Council’s DFR laboratory. “Now they realize that they went too far in the riots.”
Some Proud Boys are now saying in online posts that the group should “go dark” and withdraw from political life by breaking off their membership of a political party. They encourage each other to concentrate their efforts on secessionist movements and local protests.
“To all demoralized Trump supporters: there is hope,” said a Proud Boys Telegram channel on Wednesday. “There is an alternative. Give up the GOP and Dems. “