This report is part of the “Hate in America“ project produced by the Carnegie-Knight News21 initiative, a national investigative reporting project by top college journalism students and recent graduates from across the country and headquartered at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.
PORTLAND, Oregon – Behind the anonymity of white faces illuminated by tiki torches, beyond the bloodied fists of street brawls, there are communities of young men who gather on weekends to camp and fish and train in combat sports.
The face of hate is changing in America, and the new right is a “millennial male phenomenon,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, an advocacy group that tracks hate and bigotry toward marginalized communities.
Brewing among some young men is an intolerance and hatred that’s bringing bias-motivated violence to the streets and white-nationalist politics to the political forefront.
Beirich said many such groups have toned down their rhetoric and tactics since the violence of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. But she pointed to two groups, very different in their objectives, that “are still growing and making noise,” the Proud Boys and Identity Evropa.
Both groups are young, male-dominated and positioned on the far-right. Both formed in 2016.
The Proud Boys are comprised of blue-collar workers in their 20s and 30s who the SPLC label as anti-Muslim and sexist. The Proud Boys call themselves a men’s drinking club, extreme patriots who believe “being proud of Western culture today is like being a crippled, black, lesbian communist in 1953.”
The Proud Boys are heavily invested in defending their First and Second amendment rights and recently have been involved in violent street fights with far-left groups known as antifa, particularly on the West Coast.
Identity Evropa is made up of mostly college-educated white men in their 20s and is labeled a white-nationalist hate group by the SPLC. Their goal is to enable a white supermajority in America by bringing their political ideas mainstream and expanding their political and social influence, according to the group’s current leader, Patrick Casey.
“Identity Evropa’s message is pro-white, white ethnostate, and this is a racist conception,” Beirch said. “Even though they may look good with their polo shirts and nicely painted banner signs, that doesn’t mean they are not dangerous.”
News21 shadowed both of these groups during efforts to recruit new members.
Identity Evropa: Image is everything
“No tattoos, no drugs, well-dressed, high-class” is how Patrick Casey, Identity Evropa’s executive director, described his ideal recruit.
In early July in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park, 10 members of Identity Evropa joined Casey for an afternoon of community service, which the group also calls activism.
Before pulling on protective gloves to pick up trash, Casey halted the group of young men to flatten one recruit’s shirt collar. Image is everything, and this park cleanup is an exercise in public relations, a way to push Identity Evropa’s ideas into the mainstream by being seen as valued members of society.
“Identity Evropa. We’re kind of like a fraternity,” is the response members gave to passersby who wanted to know who they were.
“Just doing our bit for the community,” they said to a young woman with two children at her side.
When two members begin chatting about how mainstream news media are colluding in their coverage of black-on-white crimes, Identity Evropa’s chief of staff commanded them to stop talking, his eyes traveling to a journalist’s recording device.
If Identity Evropa is a fraternity, it’s like no other. Dues may not inhibit membership – “$10 a month, the same price as a Netflix subscription” – but the prerequisites might. Members must be white, specifically non-Hispanic, non-Semitic and of European heritage, Casey said.
Genetics are important to Identity Evropa, but ideology is more so.
Casey, 29, and his band of identity brothers say they are working to preserve white identity in America. Identity Evropa has gained national attention for the youth of its members, and their presence at last August’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, where they led the chant “Jews will not replace us!” while marching with burning torches.
After Charlottesville, Identity Evropa lost members and momentum and Casey took over as executive director to rebuild and rebrand the organization as cleancut and unsullied. The group now claims membership of roughly 1,000 and a presence at most college campuses around the U.S.
Casey, who also works for the far-right media production house Red Ice TV, told News21 he was raised in a “mildly conservative” home in Virginia, but after researching multiculturalism, immigration and diversity online, he adopted identitarian beliefs and joined Identity Evropa.
“Our national agenda is to place members in elected and powerful positions in order to legislatively advance an end to all illegal immigration into America and to ultimately limit legal immigration to people from northwestern European countries,” Casey said.
The organization regularly places banners on highway overpasses, with such slogans as “Danger you are now entering a sanctuary city,” “End immigration” and “European roots | American greatness.” Members stage public protests, recently dressing in construction gear and holding signs reading “Build the Wall” outside the Mexican Consulate in New York City.
But Identity Evropa focuses most of its recruitment on college campuses, which it sees as the last battlegrounds, places where young white people are taught to feel racial guilt and believe that multiculturalism is a positive thing.
“You could be studying for a degree in physics, and they’ll make you take a diversity class,” Casey said, “but diversity just means less white people, and that is really sick.”
The organization distributes recruitment fliers, stickers and posters on campuses, frequently drawing the attention of local and national news media, a recruitment strategy Identity Evropa calls “Project Siege.”
“The idea is that people see the flier and then they look us up online and apply to join,” Casey said.
After the application, they are contacted by a member of Identity Evropa’s interview board and a Skype interview is conducted. Candidates are asked about their heritage, their political ideology and their views on Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.
The Anti-Defamation League’s latest report on white supremacist propaganda on college campuses describes Identity Evropa’s tactics as using “propaganda that avoids recognizable white supremacist imagery and language.”
The ADL recorded 478 incidents of white-supremacist propaganda on campuses since September 2016, including fliers, stickers, banners and posters. It attributed roughly half these incidents to Identity Europa.
Brian Campbell said he was recruited by such a flier showing an image of a white man with the words “Our generation, our future, our last chance.” The 2017 graduate of New York University was in Fairmount Park for Identity Evropa’s community service project.
Other fliers have depicted marble statues of European figures with the phrase “Protect Your Heritage.”
“My campus had these posters up,” Campbell said, “and of course the media went crazy. I looked into the group, saw their Twitter, saw they had really good optics.”
Campbell said he was frustrated with what he saw as a lot of talk and not much action from his college Republicans, but Identity Evropa was “actually doing something.”
It didn’t bother Campbell when he learned Identity Evropa members were labeled Nazis online, as he believes the term has lost its meaning.
“I’ve been labeled a Nazi for my conservative views on immigration, so Nazi doesn’t scare me anymore. Also, I have a predominantly Slavic background, so I can’t really be a Nazi,” he said.
Once Campbell’s interview finished, Identity Evropa’s chief of staff told members that any other interviews were to go through him first. Members and the group’s board of directors speak in the language of Marketing 101 about who they are and what they do, and everyone must be on message.
“This isn’t about optics” said chief of staff Mike, who asked that his last name not be used but was happy to talk while his recruits picked up litter. “We are actually making our members into better people.”
Identity Evropa offers public-speaking classes, promotes regular exercise and is trying to expand a professional network of influential people sympathetic to the group’s views.
Hours of interviews with members of Identity Evropa suggest confluent causes for their white-nationalist views. They see racial and ethnic differences as the root of domestic and global conflicts, and they find validation when a U.S. president speaks in what they view as their language about immigration.
But most refused to be photographed, fearing retribution from employers and family if publicly linked to white identity politics.
Although Identity Evropa’s public social media channels show members spending weekends cleaning parks to tending the gravestones of veterans, Discord, an online chat room where members communicate in private, tells a different story.
To access the group’s server, members are vetted and interviewed, said Sam Argyle, who studied Identity Evropa for a master’s thesis at NYU. All those posting on the server are members of Identity Evropa, although they mostly use aliases as usernames.
Private chats shared with News21 by Argyle show overt racism, anti-Semitism and misogyny within the group.
One user posted: “you know what grinds my gears? black people who complain about having to work on president’s day. I want to hold a mirror up to them and say, that’s the reason why.”
Islamophobia is present, too. One user wrote: “It’s ‘Islam awareness week’ at my school. What does that even mean?” Another replied “Is that before “ship them all back week?”
While Identity Evropa’s official position on a white supermajority is non-violent, the language members use in private discussions is different. One user posted: “We’re the descendants of all the greatest empires in the world not to mention the most militarily gifted. As things get worse, we will become more mobilized and open about stopping the madness. It is only a matter of When, not if.”
Discord also has a channel called White Pills where users post “good news” stories. One user posted a link to a “Black Enterprise” article, the headline reading “More educated black women going childless,” causing other users to applaud the news.
News21 spoke to another former Identity Evropa member who arrived on foot to an Oregon coffee shop to talk to a reporter. Tall, pale and 21, he scouted the nearly empty coffee shop for cameras and anyone who might be watching.
He said his former membership in Identity Evropa put him on a hit list for antifa, a collection of far-left groups that “doxes” members of the far-right by publishing personal information online with malicious intent. He declined to be identified for this story for fear of further retribution.
A former recruiter for the organization, he claimed to have increased his regional chapter from three members to 30 in less than a year.
“I just went to Trump rallies and talked to people,” he said.
He left Identity Evropa after Charlottesville, fearing he would get caught up in violence of the far-right. But his beliefs have not changed. For three hours in the coffee shop, he spoke about white people in America, their persecution, how “Trump is making Europe his bitch.” He spoke about an America that will be unrecognizable, where white people will become an underclass. He, for a time, returned to his role as an Identity Evropa recruiter.
“We cared about traditionalism, about the nation,” he said. “It wasn’t some dumbass (Ku Klux Klan) cringe bullshit. No, Identity Evropa were cool guys, not lame-ass dudes wearing Bed Bath and Beyond discount sheets.”
Proud Boys: A drinking club that moonlights for free speech
Formed the same year as Identity Evropa, the Proud Boys have risen to public prominence particularly for their street brawls with antifa. Antifa, short for anti-fascist, is not a unified group but a loose collection of local groups and individuals who are aggressively opposed to far-right movements.
The Proud Boys see themselves as a men’s drinking club whose members moonlight as bodyguards of free speech, particularly for Patriot Prayer, another right-wing group that hosts rallies in the Northwest opposing immigration and political correctness.
Antifa, however, consider the Proud Boys a “violent street gang of misogynists, fascists, racists and bigots,” according to one member of antifa.
Most antifa members come from the anarchist movement or the far left. But since President Donald Trump’s election in 2016, people with more mainstream political backgrounds have joined antifa at counterprotests, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
The opposing groups have engaged in fractious civil disputes since early 2017, and videos of their violent encounters shared online have prompted more men to join Proud Boys and more people to attend antifa’s protests, both groups said.
On the last night of June, at least four Proud Boys were hospitalized in Portland after taking part in one of the most violent protests since the Unite the Right rally last August in Charlottesville.
In the hours before the rally downtown, a News21 reporter went to the Proud Boys safehouse in nearby Vancouver, Washington, where more than 50 Proud Boys from across the country were partying and preparing to do battle with antifa.
Stationed at the driveway was a man wearing black. “I’m Travis,” he said, extending a hand.
Travis Nugent said he was recently doxed by the Portland chapter of antifa, posting all his personal information on the group’s blog.
“I came out here a few days ago and all four of my tires had been slashed,” Nugent said. “They put fliers into all of my neighbors’ houses saying that I’m a Nazi and a racist.”
Behind Nugent, the Proud Boys milled about, drinking Budweiser and swigging whiskey and tequila from plastic bottles. They work as mechanics and drivers, and in the service and trade industries.
“Hey, it’s the Utah chapter!” someone shouted as a blue SUV pulled in. “The Boys Are Back in Town” blared from the speakers as four men in black-and-yellow Fred Perry polo shirts, the uniform of the Proud Boys, piled out.
The Proud Boys at this gathering were mostly white, although there were Asian and Hispanic members in the mix, wearing Make America Great Again hats and “(Expletive) antifa” T-shirts.
“The left is always calling us racist; it makes no sense,” said Jake Farmer, president of the Vancouver Proud Boys chapter. “They say we have token members, what do they think we do, pay them? No, no, they’re our brothers.”
“The West is The Best” is the Proud Boys core ideology.
“As long as you believe that America is the greatest country in the world, as long as you are a patriot, then nothing else matters,” Farmer said.
“This isn’t some big political movement,” said Gavin McInnes, co-founder of Vice Media and the alt-right provocateur who founded the Proud Boys in a bar in New York City. In a phone interview, he said group began as a joke, just an outlet for men who wanted to do something, a way to be in society.
“In the past, men had an automatic advantage – this is no longer the case and men are seeing that change in the world,” Karla Mantilla, author of “Gendertrolling: How Misogyny Went Viral,” said in a phone interview with News21. The Proud Boys are dangerous, she said, because “their philosophy is based on dominating and defeating those that threaten their identities.”
In the backyard of the Proud Boys safehouse, members frequently shouted “Proud of your boy!” in unison and spoke about the loss of American values, First Amendment rights and Second Amendment rights.
After hours of drinking in the sun, the group was called into a huddle around Aaron Williamson, who had just finished tasering his thigh while chugging a can of beer. It was time for his battle speech before the rally.
“We are not savages, we are not animals, we are (expletive) men!” Williamson shouted. “I don’t want you guys going in there starting shit. That’s not us, that’s what antifa does.”
Helmets were picked up, along with pepper-spray goggles and gas masks.
“But if they put their hands on you,” Williamson continued, punctuating his words with a pointed finger, “you don’t tolerate it. If they become violent, you don’t tolerate it. If you are assaulted, you have the right to defend yourself.”
Armor was pulled on forearms, shins and chests to protect from expected punches and baton smashes of antifa protesters.
“We’re the ones that stand between the good, innocent and the evil, you hear me?” Williamson finished, and a roar went around as fists thrust into the air.
“Now, who’s got a prayer?” he asked.
As the Proud Boys bowed their heads, the group’s converted school bus pulled up, driven by a man with a Jolly Roger eye patch, and the Proud Boys piled aboard. On the ride to downtown Portland, a Proud Boy with a megaphone pumped up passengers with shouts of “Uhuru!” which means freedom in Swahili.
But the mood turned serious as they left the bus and were greeted by a wall of counterprotesters holding smartphone cameras.
Moments later, a Proud Boy screamed into a megaphone: “What we should be doing to all the illegals that are jumping over our borders, we smash their heads into the concrete!”
Proud Boys and opposing antifa members were primed for battle. Videos of the brawl show water bottles and oranges lobbed like grenades at the Proud Boys and the Proud Boys responded with physical violence.
After 30 minutes, authorities declared the situation a riot and the Proud Boys retreated to their school bus to leave Portland and post on social media about the success and glory of their battle with antifa.
Rosanna Cooney is a Veronica Guerin Dublin City University Fellow.
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Experts say the term ‘hate group’ is increasingly difficult to define, as extremist groups grow in number, diversify in ideology and use codewords to spread their messages