The Proud Boys Targeted Me, and Then White ‘Leftist’ Dudes Accused Me of Making It Up

It's becoming increasingly clear that those who provide cover for violent misogyny aren’t just being assholes online—they're helping Nazis get away with it.

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The Proud Boys Targeted Me, and Then White ‘Leftist’ Dudes Accused Me of Making It Up

This story contains graphic descriptions of harassment and sexual violence.

A drinking club.

That’s what the Proud Boys liked to call themselves. And for a long time, people were happy to believe them.

In Philadelphia, where I live, the Proud Boys were especially canny about preserving plausible deniability and maintaining that label. The local chapter’s president, Zachary Rehl—who was just last week convicted of seditious conspiracy and faces a prison sentence of up to 20 years—was a careful operator. He and his chapter did the best they could to shrug off accusations of violent fascism and especially white supremacy, superficially masking their racism as civic-minded support of police and the local Republican party. Their misogyny, though? There, they were an open book.

It was a reality they drove home for me in a very personal way in June 2019. At that point, I’d spent about seven months working with other antifascists to identify and hold accountable various members of the chapter, research that the Philly Proud Boys sought to put an end to. I was out of town the evening of June 29, 2019, when the better part of a dozen of them assembled to take their objections to my front door, showing up under the cover of darkness at almost midnight. They didn’t find me, but they did find my neighbor out smoking on the porch. They left a message with him: “Tell that fat bitch she’d better stop.”

When I got home, I packed a bag. I’d spend the next week in hiding at a friend’s house, unsure what sort of followthrough might come after that hinted threat. First, though, I called the cops. The responding officer wasn’t particularly impressed: “They’re probably trying to scare you,” he told me dismissively. His take was clear: I was a woman making too big a deal of this. I was overreacting, maybe even hysterical.

The online harassment worsened, its bleedings into my offline life intensified. There was the time the Proud Boys made fake posters to “warn” the community about my (nonexistent) status as a Megan’s Law offender, helpfully including my home address and photo in case some vigilante might want to take matters into his own hands. They made a point of staging a recruitment event at a bar around the corner from where I lived. They announced a rally in the park caddy-corner to my building, then showed up that day ostentatiously making repeat laps in front of my porch with a firearm visible, then greeted me by name when I recorded them.

And look: None of that was fun. At the same time, it was expected. You poke a hornet’s nest of fascist assholes, the fascist assholes swarm you. That comes with the territory.

Here’s what I didn’t expect, though. Every time they escalated and I spoke out, there was at least one person—very often someone claiming leftism as their banner—accusing me of making it up, of thirsting for attention, of “centering” myself. Every time I named their violence against me, there were supposed leftists who couldn’t wait to explain why naming that violence meant I was the problem.

White supremacy is central to their project. At the same time, that does not mean that they aren’t also viciously misogynistic.

It is one of the most troubling and consistent dynamics I’ve encountered in my time researching and organizing against brownshirt creeps locally and nationally: “Leftist” white people and especially “leftist” white men’s excitement around using fascists’ racism as a disingenuous excuse to downplay fascist misogyny.

It’s a rhetorical tactic that became unfortunately common with the rise of the popular dirtbag left, a podcast- and trolling-centered internet tendency peopled primarily by disaffected white men. These dudes would argue endlessly about how discussions of racism were distractions from the only issue: class. When women of color raised the alarm about organized racists’ misogyny and misogynoir, these critics tended to ignore them, sending the implicit message that those experiences were so unimportant as to be unworthy of even engagement or remark. When white antiracist women spoke out about our experiences of misogynistic violence at the hands of fascists, meanwhile, these same men would turn heel and disingenuously accuse us of distracting from the issue of white supremacy. The strategy was cruel, and it was effective—as an antifascist concerned with living my antiracist values, the last thing I wanted was to inadvertently pull focus from the struggles of nonwhite folks facing racist violence. It took me a long time to learn to consider the source of the critique. Until I internalized that lesson, trolls frequently managed to shame me into silence.

With time, though, it became clear just how baby-pool-shallow their pretenses at antiracism were. “White women extinction button,” these same men liked to meme, even as they mocked antiracists in other contexts for “idpol,” or identity politics. They weren’t concerned about white supremacy; they were using our concerns about white supremacy to try and prevent us from calling out white supremacists’ violent misogyny so that they themselves could protect and preserve it as a viable weapon for themselves. As more and more influencers of the dirtbag niche drift rightwards and espouse increasingly explicit reactionary politics around gender and race, their true political motivations for suppressing our critiques become transparent.

To be perfectly clear: The Proud Boys absolutely were and are white supremacists. White supremacy is central to their project. At the same time, that does not mean that they aren’t also viciously misogynistic. The Proud Boys didn’t just hate me for writing about them; they hated me for being a woman who wrote about them. That “fat bitch” phrasing wasn’t a tossed-off insult; it was an expression of their seething rage. The problem wasn’t just that I threatened their jobs and their reputations by revealing their names; it was that I threatened their very conception of the world even as I physically inhabited identities that they loathed as silly and frivolous (woman), as well as disgusting and lazy (fat).

Philadelphians rally strong against far right extremists groups on November 17, 2018. Photo:Cory Clark/NurPhoto (Getty Images)

They simply could not wrap their minds around the fact that a fat woman had spotlighted and in many cases thwarted their efforts. In the national chat, they speculated that perhaps I did the work I did because I was underfucked; perhaps raping me would resolve the problem (they dared each other to do it). Tyler Yamaguchi, one of the more troubled Philadelphia Proud Boys, posted screenshots of his Sims rendering of my life—pictures of a sad, solitary woman stuffing her blank face, staring fixedly at a computer as cats shit into the overflowing litter box at her feet. They’d Facebook message, they’d DM on Twitter. At one point, they found my cell phone number online in someone’s old, unlocked spreadsheet of organizing contacts. They’d get drunk and call, call, call through the night.

Violent misogyny is not incidental to the fascist ethos. It is a core component of the fascist way of understanding the world. Fascists are obsessed with restoring an imaginary natural order, a natural order they believe just happens to align with traditional western hierarchies of privilege and power. In their minds, white, able-bodied men are meant to rule; the rest of us are meant to either submissively facilitate that reign or die quietly. In the case of women, that means a simple-minded tending to white men’s reproductive, sexual, and domestic needs and desires. Our pursuit of any other sort of activity that might put us in competition with men is seen as unnatural—most especially if we best them in the contest.

One of their founder Gavin McInnes’ most canny moves was to explicitly center gender rather than race in their stated purpose for existence. The name itself was created in mockery of a Disney’s Aladdin song about a young boy wanting to make his mother proud—a premise that in McInnes’ mind represented an unnatural capitulation to feminine control. Early Proud Boy mottos emphasized that they “venerate the housewife.” The Proud Boys promised Fight Club-style masculine bonding and freedom from the supposedly feminizing influence of women. The Proud Boys also promised white supremacy, of course—but in public-facing spaces, they tended to code it more carefully than they did their radical patriarchy, substituting language like “western” for white.

every day it becomes increasingly clear that the “leftist” white men who provide cover for this violent misogyny aren’t just being assholes.

Misogyny, in other words, was a usually explicit founding principle of their organization. But when women antifascists encountered and named that misogyny, we were mostly met with silence from other researchers, and usually by at least one white man ready to pop out of the woodwork and play policeman. When we speak out about the severity of their threats against us, we get accused of being brunch-eating lib ladies too blithely privileged to have understood the risks of our work.

When white “leftists” suggested that the location of the declared Proud Boy rally by my home was a coincidence (and that my naming the connection was a desperate bid for attention), Rehl and his friends couldn’t help themselves. They responded by issuing a public statement explaining that yes, actually, I was the intimidation event’s intended target.

Still—as with the violent racism Proud Boys across the country enacted, usually with the complicity and protection of the police—the state and the broader political establishment treated the issue of their misogynistic violence as a sideshow, an afterthought. It wasn’t until the Proud Boys led an attack on the state itself during the January 6, 2021 attempted coup, bruising some cops and spooking some congresspeople, that establishment power actually looked at them and decided that they were a threat.

So, as I sit here wondering what sentence Rehl’s conviction will visit on him, I can’t help but feel a little bitter.

Again and again, women antifascists have spoken about our experiences with fascists like the Proud Boys, and again and again we have been told to go sit down quietly.

In the wake of the Allen, Texas, massacre last week, it is particularly difficult to try and pry a sense of victory from the verdict in the Proud Boys trial. The Allen shooter’s writings are riddled with incel ideation and racist screeds. During the attack, he wore a “Right Wing Death Squad” patch—a reference to a meme widely embraced by Proud Boys.

Every day, it becomes increasingly clear that the gendered hatred these Nazis espouse is a powerful predictor of not only violence against women but racialized violence, as well. And every day it becomes increasingly clear that the “leftist” white men who provide cover for this violent misogyny aren’t just being assholes; they’re actively helping these Nazis get away with an agenda that’s not just sickening, but deadly.

Gwen Snyder (she/they) is a Philadelphia-based researcher, organizer, and writer. Follow her on Twitter at @gwensnyderphl.

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