Last weekend, in the wake of the Supreme Court dismissal of a Texas lawsuit seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, the Proud Boys gathered in Washington D.C. for a “Stop the Steal” rally. The irony in the slogan being lost on them, the far-right group took to the streets, and in the process, showed the world that they really are as racist as they are accused of being.
The Proud Boys frequently insist that they are not racist and not the same as white nationalists. They are a male-only group that describes themselves as “Western chauvinists,” which essentially means they whine about equality movements infringing on their identity as the obviously superior descendants of Western Civilization’s founders—which is a roundabout way of saying “yeah, we’re pretty much racist.”
The group tries to shield itself from accusations of racism by highlighting the racial identity of their Afro-Cuban chairman, Enrique Torres, in the organizational equivalent of “I can’t be racist—I have Black family members!” But considering the fact that a previous Proud Boy member posted a whole screed about staging a coup in the group to officially recognize it as anti-Semitic white nationalists…welp.
Besides, it’s pretty hard to argue that you’re not racist when you gleefully vandalize Black churches, tearing signs that say “Black Lives Matter” off of them and then celebrating as you desecrate them. The Proud Boys engaged in this vandalism at two Washington D.C. churches, including the oldest Black Methodist church in the city. They ripped down large Black Lives Matter banners, breaking some apart, stomp all over one of them, and setting another one on fire.
Proud Boys, white supremacists, and Trump supporters rip a #BlackLivesMatter sign down from Metropolitan AME church… https://t.co/SPgavHH3SH — Kristen Clarke (@Kristen Clarke)1607870737.0
“We aren’t white supremacists, our leader is actually Hispanic”
-Guy stomping on a sign that says the lives of bla… https://t.co/jwX3K7akcw — John Clark (@John Clark)1607822911.0
Proud Boys burning a BLM sign that they stole from a black church in DC over the weekend. https://t.co/BzEOK5xk1M — Gabriella Quevedo (@Gabriella Quevedo)1607979161.0
Asbury United Methodist Church issued a statement from Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Ianther M. Mills that highlights the history of racism with the church, which was founded decades before the Civil War. It’s a beautiful message of resilience, but it’s infuriating that it had to be written in the first place. It reads:
Since 1836, Asbury United Methodist Church has stood at the corner of 11&K Streets NW, Washington, DC. We are a resilient people who have trusted in God through slavery and the Underground Railroad, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement, and now as we face an apparent rise in white supremacy.
Last night demonstrators who were part of the MAGA gatherings tore down our Black Lives Matter sign and literally burned it in the street. The sign burning was captured on Twitter. It pained me especially to see our name, Asbury, in flames. For me it was reminiscent of cross burnings. Seeing this act on video made me both indignant and determined to fight the evil that has reared its ugly head. We had been so confident that no one would ever vandalize the church, but it has happened.
We are a people of faith. As horrible and disturbing as this is for us now—it doesn’t compare with the challenges and fears the men and women who started Asbury, 184 years ago, faced. So, we will move forward, undaunted in our assurance that Black Lives Matter and we are obligated to continue to shout that truth without ceasing. We are assured that our church is surrounded by God’s grace and mercy.
Sadly, we must point out that if this was a marauding group of men of color going through the city, and destroying property, they would have been followed and arrested. We are especially alarmed that this violence is not being denounced at the highest levels of our nation and instead the leaders of this movement are being invited to the White House.
Asbury United Methodist Church abhors violence of any kind. We call upon all to join us in prayer for our community, church, and the people who are responsible for this hateful behavior. We believe this is a wakeup call for all to be more vigilant and committed to anti-racism and building a beloved community, and we invite you to join us. Our congregation will continue to stand steadfast—”we will not be moved.” We press on in the name of the Lord!”
The question of whether these acts are racist isn’t up for debate. If your understanding of Black Lives Matter is so skewed that you decry it as a “Marxist” organization or movement—which is how Tarrio himself describes it—then you either haven’t been listening to enough voices in the anti-racism world or you’ve been taken by racist propaganda. And if you do understand that the phrase Black Lives Matter literally just means that Black people’s lives do not matter less than other people’s, and you choose to destroy any and all expressions of that phrase, that’s most definitely racist. There’s a reason the incidents are being investigated as hate crimes.
Mayor Bowser on Proud Boys’ actions at churches: “To see those men burning a Black Lives Matter sign in the middle… https://t.co/A6b4PZOSdc — Julie Zauzmer (@Julie Zauzmer)1607964377.0
For those who feel tempted to say, “Well what about the destruction of property that ANTIFA/BLM engaged in?” here are some thoughts on that whataboutism:
First, let’s be clear that the Black Lives Matter and ANTIFA movements are two entirely separate things. And Black Lives Matter isn’t one monolithic thing, but rather a broad movement that includes some organizations that bear the name, and a whole lot more people who support the message of anti-racism. As far as violence, the BLM protests this spring and summer were enormous, widespread, and almost entirely peaceful. The individual spates of rioting and looting, despite being broadcast all over the media and pushed hard by certain right-wing outlets, were not a defining feature of the BLM movement at all—especially considering how much of the violence was actually carried out by white supremacists and Boogaloo Bois intent on undermining the BLM message.
ANTIFA, on the other hand, is its own movement with its own ideology and methods. For those who don’t understand what those are, the gist is “Fascism needs to be fought by whatever means necessary.” You don’t have to agree with their methods—I myself don’t—but being against ANTIFA’s ideology is basically like saying “Nah, fascism is fine!”
While all acts of violence and destruction are wrong and ultimately counterproductive, they’re not all equivalent. Some acts of violence are just dumb humans being dumb humans, regardless of identity or ideology, but some are purposeful statements. There’s a difference between a historically oppressed people making a statement about ongoing injustice by desecrating a symbol of their historical oppression, and a group of people making a statement by desecrating messages of equality and justice from the churches of historically oppressed people. One is an expression of liberation from the chains of injustice; the other is an intimidating rattling of those same chains. While I don’t condone violence or destruction of any kind, it’s disingenuous to create false equivalencies between people who are fighting for equality and justice and people who are fighting against it.
And for a final look at how the Proud Boys operate, check out how they reacted when they thought people who actually think Black lives matter were coming toward them.
A group of Proud Boys have taken another BLM banner and proudly march their reward down the road, only to be confro… https://t.co/g6Lu76Vyfr — 🇮🇹❌P.m.Grands®️❌🇺🇸 ⭐⭐⭐⭐🕛4🌎2 Follow Q- IFBAP (@🇮🇹❌P.m.Grands®️❌🇺🇸 ⭐⭐⭐⭐🕛4🌎2 Follow Q- IFBAP)1607851118.0
If this is what “being proud of Western Civilization” looks like, that’s a sad statement about Western Civilization. These actions should be condemned by all.