Two members of the far-right organization the Proud Boys were sentenced to four years in prison on Tuesday for attacking four counter-protesters at a 2018 New York City event.
Last summer, Maxwell Hare and John Kinsman were found guilty in New York State Supreme Court of attempted gang assault, attempted assault, and riot. The two were accused of attacking four anti-fascist counter-protesters at an event at New York City’s Metropolitan Club, where Gavin McInnes, the founder of the Proud Boys, was slated to speak.
Although Hare and Kinsman argued during the trial that they had acted in self-defense, security camera footage first obtained by the New York Times appeared to contradict that claim, showing Hare and another Proud Boy, Geoffrey Young, initiating the violence by charging the protesters and throwing punches at them. They faced a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, and apologized in court during sentencing for their involvement in the altercation.
During sentencing, State Supreme Court justice Mark Dwyer condemned Hare and Kinsman for setting a dangerous precedent for other activists to engage in politically motivated street violence. “I know enough about history to know what happened in Europe in the Thirties,” he said. He also appeared to allude to McInnes’ role in inciting the altercation, saying, “It’s a shame when some people jump up and down on a platform and their followers, their soldiers, get in trouble.”
The Proud Boys is an all-male group that has been referred to by anti-extremism researcher Samantha Kutner as a “violent crypto-fascist-extremist organization.” The organization has a history of engaging in violent rhetoric and physical altercations with members of antifa, a loosely organized collective of anti-fascist protesters. Current Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio marched in the 2017 Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, which resulted in violent altercations between the far-right and anti-fascist protesters, leaving one protester dead.
The Proud Boys has been characterized by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a hate group, citing its use of “white nationalist memes,” “affiliations with known extremists,” and “anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric.” McInnes has disputed this characterization, referring to the group as a “men’s club that meets about once a month to drink beer” and filing a defamation lawsuit against the SPLC earlier this year. The group has also long maintained that it only commits violent actions in self-defense, a claim refuted by a map Kutner has created tracking the number of violent altercations involving the Proud Boys across North America, which she tells Rolling Stone now exceeds 130 between 2016 and 2019.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at SPLC, says she was happy that Kinsman and Hare had been “held accountable,” and that Judge Dwyer had placed their actions in the appropriate context with his comments “about what street violence has led to in the past,” indicating that the larger threat posed by the group is being taken seriously.
The trial has been “a horrible embarrassment for [the Proud Boys], a group that claims to be peaceful and non-hateful regardless of all that’s happened,” she says. Dwyer’s remarks at sentencing suggest “this is really just a bunch of street thugs.”
Although McInnes publicly stepped down as leader of the group last year, he still maintains an active presence on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, where he responded on Tuesday to Kinsman and Hare’s sentencing. In his messages, he claimed that Hare and Kinsman had acted in self-defense after an “ambush” and that they were being used as “cannon fodder” by the “elites.” He also accused the media of perpetuating an anti-Proud Boys narrative, identifying six journalists who covered the trial and accusing them of having influenced the judge’s sentences.
McInnes’ attempt to push a “victimization narrative” on Telegram, combined with his doxxing of journalists, is horrifying, insofar as it is obviously intended to spur “harassment and intimidation of those they feel are responsible for ‘ruining’ the men’s lives,” says Kutner.
When asked if the sentencing would have an emboldening effect on members of the organization, or if McInnes’ messages would serve as a call to further action, Beirich said it was difficult to predict. “We’ve seen with other groups that more moderate members will drop off and fade away, but often it’ll make the group more hardcore because those moderating voices remain in the mix,” she says. “It remains to be seen what happens with the Proud Boys.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story said the Metropolitan Club brawl took place in 2017. It was in 2018.