By David Z. Morris
August 11, 2018

Twitter has suspended the accounts of numerous branches and individuals affiliated with the far-right group The Proud Boys, including founder Gavin McInnes. Twitter says the suspensions were for violation of “our policy prohibiting violent extremist groups.”

The suspensions, reported by BuzzFeed News, come ahead of tomorrow’s “Unite the Right 2” rally in Washington, DC. The rally of white supremacist groups marks the first anniversary of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which erupted in violence leading to the death of one counterprotester.

The Proud Boys were founded in 2016 by McInnes, a long-departed cofounder of the media company Vice. The nature of their involvement in the first Unite the Right rally has been hotly debated. Primary organizer Jason Kessler claimed to have been a Proud Boy, and was a guest on McInnes’ podcast prior to the rally. But McInnes has denied Kessler was ever a member of the group, and disavowed the event.

The Proud Boys’ ideology is similarly slippery. The Southern Poverty Law Center says that McInnes and the Proud Boys play “a duplicitous rhetorical game: rejecting white nationalism and, in particuar, the term ‘alt-right’ while espousing some of its central tenets.” Members describe the group as a “fraternal organization,” and in its official statement of values says it is “Anti-Racism.” But the group also describes its members as “Western Chauvinists,” arguing that Euro-American values and culture are superior to those of other cultures. Group leaders also regularly argue that white men are under attack in modern America, and are overtly hostile to Muslims and immigration.

McInnes has not been shy, moreover, about encouraging violence, at least in some circumstances. Well before the Charlottesville protest, DePaul University canceled a McInnes event in response to statements advocating violent resistance against protestors. The group also has a paramilitary wing known as as the “Alt-Knights.” That branch group’s organizer, Kyle Chapman, rose to prominence after committing violent assaults during protests in Berkeley in 2017, and was arrested last month on charges of assault with a deadly weapon. Proud Boys also played a major role in protests that turned violent last weekend in Portland.

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Those ties would seem to clearly place the Proud Boys in violation of a rule Twitter introduced in November of last year. Twitter now bars not just violent or hateful language, but affiliation with groups that “use or promote violence against civilians to further their causes,” either on- or offline. In addition to McInnes’ Twitter account, the suspensions impacted the accounts of roughly a dozen regional Proud Boy groups from New Hampshire to California.

In a statement to BuzzFeed News, McInnes described the suspensions as “part of the conservative purge, getting the right off social media, to try to stop Trump from getting reelected . . . I think it will have zero effect on my reach or on the Proud Boys.”

Whether removing extremists from social media platforms reduces their influence will be a vital question for U.S. politics in coming months, and even years. Many agree with McInnes that the unchecked social media reach of outlets such as Alex Jones’ InfoWars and Steve Bannon’s Brietbart, along with efforts by Russian state agents, played a major role in the rise of President Trump and his anti-immigration agenda. The removal of far-right figures from social platforms has steadily accelerated since 2016, culminating last week in the banning of Jones and Infowars from multiple platforms – though notably not including Twitter.

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