“A January 6 can and will happen again, because the architects are still able to do their thing unimpeded,” Andy Campbell says.
By telling the Proud Boys to “stand by” during one of the 2020 presidential debates, Donald Trump brought the street gang to a new level of notoriety. A few months later, the right-wing extremist group played a key role in the January 6 coup attempt — but there has been lots of bad news for them from there.
Since President Biden’s inauguration, the Proud Boys mostly have been a topic of national discussion as top officials have been convicted of J6-related felonies. Former Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio, for instance, was sentenced earlier this month to 22 years in prison for seditious conspiracy and other crimes, and three of his fellow former Proud Boys leaders were sentenced along with him to at least 15 years. They are among the more than 366 people who have been hit with prison time in connection with the attack on the Capitol.
While right-wing violence remains a major problem in America, Trump’s defeat and all the arrests stemming from his effort to illegally seize power help explain why there haven’t been Charlottesville-style demonstrations since January 6. But with Trump currently polling neck-and-neck with Biden and talking openly about pardoning J6 insurrectionists, it’s far too early to say that groups like the Proud Boys and Three Percenters are on the decline for good.
To get a sense of how right-wing extremist groups are reacting to the J6 prosecutions, anticipating the possibility of Trump’s return to power, and adapting to the current political moment, Public Notice contributor Thor Benson connected with Andy Campbell, a senior editor at HuffPost and author of the book, We Are the Proud Boys: How a Right-Wing Street Gang Ushered in a New Era of American Extremism.
“The most abhorrent views have support right now,” Campbell said. “Ron DeSantis’s entire being and politics are an extension of Trump’s, and it’s an extension of the Proud Boys ideology, too. It’s anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-LGBTQ, and then add a violent eliminationist bent to it.”
A transcript of our conversation with Campbell, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.
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What impact does it have when someone like Donald Trump says he would pardon people convicted of J6 crimes if he’s elected?
That’s a great question, because I think part of the January 6 thought process for the Proud Boys and a lot of other people was, “Trump’s going to save us no matter what we do.” They’d been his soldiers in the street for six years. What all of Trump’s indictments have shown and what the aftermath of January 6 has shown is that Trump is not loyal at all. He’s not going to save you. He’s only going to pardon people who have skeletons in the closet. Only people that can hurt Trump will get help from him.
Do you think there are things that could happen in the not-too-distant future, such as Trump being convicted, that could spark violence like we saw on January 6?
I don’t know if a specific event could make that happen, but these big extremist waves that come through, whether it’s Pizzagate and Gamergate or Charlottesville or January 6, happen when this sense of anger is cresting. I think we’ll see more of them unless or until the GOP stops supporting conspiracy theorists and rebukes the violent aspect of its politics.
These extremist movements simply evolve. That’s why I say that if the Proud Boys change their name tomorrow, nothing changes because you still have all the same talking heads out there. Gavin McInnes still has a popular talk show. Steve Bannon still has a podcast. Joe Rogan is still platforming every Nazi under the sun. Milo Yiannopoulos and Nick Fuentes are still hanging out with GOP elites. The faces that you saw at Gamergate and Charlottesville are still out there. A January 6 can and will happen again, because the architects are still able to do their thing unimpeded.
What kinds of reactions have you been seeing to these lengthy prison sentences leading Proud Boys just received for their involvement in January 6?