When the Proud Boys came to Columbus

Craig Calcaterra
The Proud Boys rally in New Albany in early October

The Proud Boys are a far-right, all-male, neo-fascist organization that got famous for marching at white supremacist rallies but which claims not to be sexist, racist, anti-Semitic or Islamophobic. 

The group has made half-hearted attempts to distance itself from the alt-right, yet it has built and maintained its reputation by promoting and engaging in political violence against what it views as the forces of the godless, radical left, even earninga tacit endorsement from President Donald Trump during the first presidential debate, which follows a pattern of Trump refusing to condemn white supremacy. Despite this, the Proud Boys choose to march in places like New Albany on sunny fall Saturday mornings where the lattes outnumber the leftists by about 500-to-1. Consistency and coherence are not its strong suit. 

I read about the Proud Boys' march in New Albany the morning it happened in early October. I live in New Albany, so I figured I'd watch the show. It was a lark, but it became much less of one when, just before leaving the house, it was reported that someone with an associated Trump “rolling rally” hadshot out the window of a semi over on the West Side. I still went, but I decided to film everything and keep low just in case. There'd be no more violence on this day, though. The Proud Boys proved to be far more pitiable than intimidating.  

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I got to Market Street just as the parade of black-and-yellow Fred Perry polo and MAGA hat-wearing marchers turned the corner. As the Proud Boys passed the Starbucks, they chanted: "The West is the best!”; “USA! USA!” As they passed me, they mugged for my iPhone. One of them, seeing I was wearing a mask, said, “If you’re wearing a mask outside you’re probably voting for Biden!” I didn’t intend to interact with them but I reflexively said, "I’d vote for Trump, but he’s gonna die of COVID." It was only two days after the president had gotten his diagnosis, but the Proud Boys didn't think it was too soon to make jokes. They laughed. One of them even gave me a "game respects game" nod. 

The Proud Boys were in New Albany to march against Les Wexner, Jeffrey Epstein, Facebook and Google, and to stir up whatever counter-protests they could. Wexner and Epstein were absent and dead, respectively, and the data centers of the two businesses on the hit list because the Proud Boys have been banned from their platforms were indifferent to the goings on that afternoon. This apparently bothered the Proud Boys. I trailed behind as they marched and overheard one of them on his phone saying, “No, no one's here. No press. No security. No Black Lives Matter or anyone.” He was disappointed. It's hard to be intimidators when there's no one around to intimidate.

The proceedings soon became less of a march than a meeting, with the Proud Boys assembling on a patch of grass in front of $750,000 townhomes. The members chanted in unison for a time, but then devolved into individuals randomly yelling things. "See, we're not violent!" one shouted. Another followed with, “You notice we haven't destroyed any property!" But there was no one around who cared. New Albany just carried on with its Saturday as usual, indifferent to the Proud Boys.

The group soon wandered toward the library parking lot, where a school bus with a sign reading "Make America PROUD Again" on it waited to take them away. I asked one of them where they were going, and he said they had a campsite south of town where they planned to sleep that night and "party the fuck down." As they boarded the bus, a new chant went up: “WE LOVE BEER! WE LOVE BEER!” I went to the march expecting to see alt-right shock troops, but all I got was a sad frat.

I wrote about the Proud Boys and posted videos of its underwhelming marchon my blog that evening. It was only then that they showed some fire, attempting to overwhelm my comments and mentions before I blocked them. I get the distinct sense that if I had written about them as an imposing and frightening force they'd have said nothing. They were agitated, though, at being revealed as the pathetic, beer-drinking dead-enders they truly are.

Last week I heard from them again. A flyer promoting another march is being circulated. I'm mentioned by name, erroneously referred to as an undercover Proud Boy, serving as their film crew. It's possible that it's a ham-fisted effort to draw me out to the location mentioned in the flyer (a location that has alreadyreleased a statement disavowing the rally). It's more likely to be just a smear job, an effort to discredit me by portraying me as one of their own. It hasn't fooled anybody.

I gotta say, though, I'm confused that the group thinks that saying I'm one of them is an insult. That's a pretty self-loathing stance for a bunch of boys who claim to be proud to take, no?