We Are Proud Boys book cover

We Are Proud Boys: How a Right-Wing Street Gang Ushered in a New Era of American Extremism

Hachette Books, 2022, 320 pages

“If you’ve ever wondered how a potent mix of creeping fascism, male insecurity and grift came close to upending American democracy, then read Andy Campbell’s book right now.”

—Vegas Tenold, author of Everything You Love Will Burn: Inside the Rebirth of White Nationalism in America

Not many months after that June day in 2015 when Donald Trump descended on a golden escalator and announced his candidacy for president, a chilling new political movement began coalescing: far-right extremist organizations were individually and collectively on the rise. When Trump won the 2016 election, those groups felt emboldened: showing up at political rallies, building fanatical online presences, and increasing their numbers at an alarming rate. Of all the many groups that the news media were taking note of, one stood out because of its bizarre behavior and its penchant for violence: the Proud Boys.

Investigative journalist Andy Campbell, a senior editor at HuffPost, took note. His work covering them set the stage for what would become his first book, We Are Proud Boys: How a Right-Wing Street Gang Ushered in a New Era of American Extremism, which his publisher, Hachette Books, describes as a definitive history of this notorious group and all the far-right movements to which they’re connected.

Campbell, considered an expert on American extremism—having covered the modern rise of the far right at the ground level, including the neo-Nazi Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017—is regularly cited in scientific studies and scholarly papers. In addition to explaining how the Proud Boys gained mainstream influence through “interpersonal relationships with the media, law enforcement, and the GOP—all the way up to Trump’s inner circle,” Campbell profiles those working to counter the group, including Black Lives Matter activist Jalane Schmidt, and researcher Juliet Jeske, who analyzed hundreds of hours of The Gavin McInnes Show, produced by the controversial Scottish founder of the group.

The book, Hachette says, tells the heretofore untold story “of a gang of bumbling, punch-happy bigots who, under the leadership of a coke-addled media executive in New York, grew to become the centerpiece of American extremism and positioned themselves as the unofficial enforcement arm of the GOP. Beginning with their founding by McInnes, the media personality best known for co-founding Vice,” Campbell takes readers deep inside the Proud Boys, “laying bare their origins and their rise to prominence, along the way exposing the group’s noxious culture and strange rituals.”

Their strange, frightening story lays bare the playbook they have created for all extremist groups to follow, giving citizens essential insights to push back against these groups, Hachette says. “The story of the Proud Boys is far more than a relic of the Trump era. In Campbell’s hands, it is an urgent warning about extremism encroaching into mainstream politics. It is also a window into the dark corners of the Internet where radical and violent factions incubate, and where misogyny and racism thrive.

 “It’s an exploration of the web of extremism that includes QAnon conspiracy theory, white nationalists, gun-toting militias, neo-Nazis, incels, and online reactionaries, with the Proud Boys sitting directly in the center. It’s an exclusive look at the fascist underbelly of American government today, where top-level Republican politicians count racist street thugs as their personal bodyguards. The Proud Boys were an inevitable symptom of an authoritarian regime, and though their wild story may be unique to this political moment, it won’t be the last of its kind.”

Even though they say they are “working to sanitize their image,” the Proud Boys represent an ongoing political and societal emergency, from infiltrating school board meetings, and intimidating staff and clients at women’s health clinics, to showing up to foment discord at statehouses across the country. And their numbers are growing; they are now considered “the most successful political extremist group in the digital age.” Extremist, right-wing political activity is no longer strictly political; in perpetrating violence it can best be described as domestic terrorism. The times we’re living in are frightening right now, so it will come as no surprise if We Are Proud Boys leaves readers worried about a troubling future.

—Rob Okun

Book Excerpt

Stop the Spiel

It seemed like everyone was taking up arms, gearing up for a decisive battle. The Proud Boys, QAnon conspiracy theorists, militia groups, even a MAGA-touting religious sect that worships with AR-15s called the Rod of Iron Ministries. And everyday conservatives were right there with them: almost one in five American adults at the time believed the lie that the election was stolen from Trump and that forcibly taking it back was a politically justified option. The phrase “Stop the Steal”—popularized by Roger Stone in 2016 and weaponized against Hillary Clinton—exploded again on social media, held aloft by Trump supporters as a rallying cry. It was a new coalition of sorts, in which Proud Boys, antigovernment extremists, and, perhaps most importantly, everyday Republicans gathered under the same banner against what they saw as an illegally installed liberal regime. The Proud Boys absolutely thrive in this environment, where political anger and anxiety seep out of the digital space and begin to spill out into the street, and they were ready to take the reins of the whole operation. The wave of extremism was beginning to crest, and the Proud Boys would be riding it into shore. Their first order of preparation, as usual, was propaganda.

One of their most skilled proselytizers was [Joe] Biggs, a rabid former InfoWars employee who’d been introduced to [Enrique] Tarrio and the Proud Boys by Roger Stone. Biggs, thirty-seven at the time of the insurrection, was known for his ability to organize and pontificate and incite in the style of Alex Jones. Back when he worked for the conspiracy king, he helped push, among other things, the lie that shootings in America were false flag operations—a dangerous invention that led to multiple losing lawsuits for Jones and the show—and he advocated for rape and violence against trans women on social media. He got a reputation for physical violence in 2016, after he bragged on video about “pounding” a protester burning an American flag at a demonstration in Cleveland. Police initially arrested the protester for assaulting Biggs, but after the video went viral, the city had to pay the flag-burner $225,000 to settle allegations that cops falsified their reports in support of Biggs. He rose to the top ranks of the Proud Boys immediately and sat alongside [Ethan] Nordean and Tarrio as a gang celebrity.

Between Biden’s election and January 6, Proud Boys leaders and their allies repeatedly hinted at violent uprisings in support of Trump. On November 5, two days before the networks called it for Biden, Biggs posted, “It’s time for fucking War if they steal this shit.” On November 7, when even Fox News had to admit defeat, Tarrio posted to Parler: “Standby order has been rescinded.” The implication? It was game time.

On November 10, Biggs declared war outright. He posted a nonsensical screed as the final blog on his propaganda website, The Biggs Report, titled “The Second Civil War Is More Realistic Than You Think.” It reads in part:

If there ever was a time for there to be a second civil war, it’s now. It won’t be because of Trump supporters, it’ll be because the [mainstream media] baited, lied and implied a Biden Victory to their lunatic base that literally believes everything that comes out of their mouth.

. . . . they keep spewing lies to their base, knowing that when the race is called for Trump there will be mass chaos . . . Buy ammo, clean your guns, get storable food and water. Be prepared! Things are about to get bad before they get better. Stay safe and God bless.

Soon all the Proud Boys’ posts began to read like terrorist manifestos. Nordean posted this on November 27:

We tried playing nice and by the rules, now you will deal with the monster you created. The spirit of 1776 has resurfaced and has created groups like the Proud Boys and we will not be extinguished. We will grow like the flame that fuels us and spread like love that guides us. We are unstoppable, unrelenting and now . . . unforgiving. Good luck to all you traitors of this country we so deeply love . . . you’re going to need it.

The head of the Proud Boys in Philly, Zach Rehl, posted similarly disturbing stuff that same day: “Hopefully the firing squads are for the traitors that are trying to steal the election from the American people.” On the evening of December 11, the night before the Proud Boys’ flag-burning episode in DC, Roger Stone stood alongside Tarrio and Nordean in front of a sizable crowd of dozens and called on Trump supporters to continue their “fight” for the presidency. “We will fight to the bitter end for an honest count of the 2020 election,” Stone said on video. “Never give up, never quit, never surrender, and fight for America!”

Eight days later, a longtime friend of the Proud Boys named Ali Alexander announced his Stop the Steal rally for January 6 to be the main MAGA event in DC on confirmation day. Alexander is a conspiratorial far-right grifter whose suit-and-tie approach to violent extremism got him close to mainstream conservatives at the same time as he was cozying up to the Proud Boys and prominent racists like [Nicholas J.] Fuentes. He made his name as a prominent far-right voice on Twitter (before he was banned for spreading misinformation about the election). He was known for pushing violent platitudes to hundreds of thousands of followers and, in the same vein as the Proud Boys, selling merch off of the unrest he fomented.

“I am a sincere advocate for violence and war, when justified,” he once tweeted. “I recognize no law above what is natural and good.”

Within days of Alexander’s announcement, the Proud Boys were making no secret of their excitement for January 6. On December 23, Rehl [of the Philadelphia chapter] characterized it as “the day where Congress gets to argue the legitimacy of the Electoral College votes, and yes, there will be a big rally on that day.” On December 29, Biggs posted to Parler, “Jan. 6th is gonna be epic.”

Tarrio posted an interesting prompt to his followers on Telegram, asking, “What if we invade it?” The first reply to his post read, “January 6th is D day in America.”

Investigative journalist Andy Campbell is a senior editor at HuffPost. We Are Proud Boys: How a Right-Wing Street Gang Ushered in a New Era of American Extremism is his first book.


Investigative journalist Andy Campbell is a senior editor at HuffPost. We Are Proud Boys: How a Right-Wing Street Gang Ushered in a New Era of American Extremism is his first book.