It was nearly 70 degrees F and cloudy in Montgomery, AL this afternoon, when Gavin McInnes — one of the founders of Vice, and more recently the founder of the violent right-wing extremist group the Proud Boys — walked up to a small PA system in front of the headquarters of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and began to speak about how the legal advocacy nonprofit had ruined his life. “It’s a dangerous precedent to set. Because what they do is, they cast this wide net of ‘everyone’s a Nazi’ and they start destroying lives,” McInnes said, after accusing the anti-hate group of changing their mission after raising money to expand their operations. “In a way, the SPLC is terrorizing people by telling them we live in Nazi America.”
What McInnes didn’t mention was the source of his grudge: that the SPLC has designated the Proud Boys as a hate group, adding it to the list alongside the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups. In mid-October, he’d spoken at the Metropolitan Republican Club, which was protested heavily by antifa groups (short for “anti-fascists”); there was a brawl that the Proud Boys instigated, and it took until December before anyone from the group was arrested in conjunction with the attack. (Three anti-fascist counter-protesters, however, were arrested that night.) The event was only the latest violent altercation the group has had with protestors. Afterward, Facebook and Instagram banned the group, citing policies against hate groups. McInnes himself then disavowed the Proud Boys, saying he was done with the group “forever.”
McInnes himself has been deplatformed, which is to say he’s been banned from the major social media sites — YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter among them — and has since been suffering the consequences of his extremist ideology. On Monday, McInnes blamed the SPLC for his troubles, saying that he thinks the nonprofit puts Americans in “mortal danger.” “I was a normal family man before I got into their sights,” he said in response to a question put to him by a journalist from AL.com.
“This is about Americans being persecuted by a group with seemingly unlimited power,” he continued, before caricaturing the anti-hate group as a “babysitter” named “Becky.” “We’re at the behest of this bitchy teenager,” he said. “This is profoundly un-American. Becky is not the boss of us.”
Over the last few years, social media platforms have begun to remove their most toxic users; the movement has upset some of the most prominent figures of the far right, as they rely on platforms for visibility and, usually, an income. McInnes’ lawsuit represents how profoundly embattled he feels, now that he’s not able to spread his views quite so freely. (As of this writing, the broadcast of McInnes’s Monday announcement has been viewed nearly 30,000 times.) That’s meant that the Proud Boys founder needs to rebrand his views as more palatable to a mainstream audience; in his speech, McInnes decried bigotry, before saying that he doesn’t believe white supremacy has been “emboldened” in the age of Trump — despite the evidence to the contrary.
McInnes is a skilled speaker and, in his broadcast, kept downplaying his extremist views; he’s very good at making unreasonable beliefs sound perfectly natural. In the past, he’s been quoted as calling Senator Cory Booker a “Sambo”; he’s called himself Islamophobic; he’s said that “buying woman parts from a hospital and calling yourself a broad trivializes what it is to be a woman,” which is a reprehensible way to talk about trans people. Monday afternoon, however, he sounded far more modulated.
“I think the SPLC started out with noble intentions,” his speech began. “I think they started out… trying to fight bigotry. Trying to fight hatred. And we all feel the same way about that in this country,” McInnes continued. “We all want bigotry and hatred to be monitored. To be stemmed. Sounds good to me. I’m in. Great.”
Reached for comment, McInnes advocate Ali Alexander expressed his hope that the two sides might come together, while harshly denouncing the SPLC. “My fear is that this will lead to violence,” Alexander said. “The Southern Poverty Law Center has in fact become worse than big brother. They work with social media companies, banks, and universities to deplatform voices that want to be debated.”