A brawl between anti-fascist protesters and several members of the hate group Proud Boys last month lifted the veil on the right-wing fraternal organization’s activities in New York.
Video of the altercation, which took place on Oct. 12, went viral as Democratic officials denounced the violence and questioned why the NYPD arrested three protesters but did not arrest any Proud Boys at the scene.
Since then, the NYPD has arrested eight alleged Proud Boys, according to law enforcement sources.
Read on to learn more about the Proud Boys, why they were at the Metropolitan Republican Club and what led up to the brawl.
Who are the Proud Boys?
The group describes itself as a men-only “Western chauvinist” fraternal organization that bucks “politically correct culture” and extols violence as a core principle.
Launched in 2016, Proud Boys is led by Gavin McInnes (the co-founder of VICE Media) and differentiates itself from alt-right groups by claiming to accept men of all races, sexual preferences and religions – as long as they were born male.
The Proud Boys organization is known for “repeated acts of violence” across the country, according to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. In addition to the Manhattan brawl on Oct. 12, other Proud Boys members are believed to have been involved in a similar, even larger melee with anti-fascist protesters in Portland, Oregon, the following day, The Washington Post reported.
The Proud Boys official Twitter account has been banned, but the group commented on the violence in New York City on Oct. 15 via the social media site Gab, where they questioned the motives of Democrats who are demanding an investigation.
Why were the Proud Boys in NYC?
The Metropolitan Republican Club (MRC), a private political group, said in a statement released on Oct. 14 that it invited McInnes to speak at an event scheduled for Oct. 12. The MRC said that as “staunch supporters” of the First Amendment, it occasionally invites speakers with differing views as a way to “foster civil discussion.” McInnes had spoken at the club once before, about a year and a half ago, MRC officials said. The club insists it does not condone violence.
What led up to the brawl?
MRC officials said they received “contentious” phone calls from protesters in the days leading up to the event, which prompted them to notify the NYPD and request a police presence.
The MRC’s Upper East Side clubhouse was then vandalized by at least three individuals Thursday night. On the night of the event, anti-fascists and other protesters gathered outside of the club to denounce McInnes, the Proud Boys and the MRC for inviting them to the city.
“The attendees at the event were orderly and followed the direction of police,” MRC said in its statement. “The First Amendment rights of the protesters were protected as they were allowed to express their opinions across the street.”
The melee began after the MRC event ended, when several masked protesters went after Proud Boys members as they were being escorted by police near Park Avenue, and a bottle was thrown, NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea said. A few blocks away, another skirmish between protesters and Proud Boys broke out over an alleged backpack theft.
Video from the first altercation shows several Proud Boys members punching and kicking a protester lying on the ground in the fetal position as the group yelled slurs.
Police arrested three protesters in connection with the fights. None of the Proud Boys members were taken into custody at that time.
What’s the latest in the police investigation?
Initially after the fight, three of the anti-fascist protesters — Finbarr Slonim, 20, of Manhattan; Kai Russo, 20, of Brooklyn; and Caleb Perkins, 35 of Manhattan — were arrested and charged with assault and robbery.
Facing scrutiny over its response to the brawl, the NYPD said that no one had filed a police complaint about the incident and urged anyone who was victimized to come forward. The police department then released surveillance images and video in connection with a search for nine Proud Boys members and three protesters wanted for questioning.
“We continue to investigate the violent incident on the UES on Friday night, and need information regarding these persons-of-interest,” an official with the NYPD’s 19th Precinct wrote on Twitter on Oct. 15.
Nearly a week after the fight, police charged alleged Proud Boys member Geoffrey Young, 38, of New City, New York, with attempted assault and rioting. The NYPD has arrested seven more alleged Proud Boys members since then, according to law enforcement sources.
Irvin Antillon, 41, of Queens; Douglas Lennan, 40, of Long Island; and David Kuriakose, 35, of Long Island were charged with rioting and assault. Maxwell Hare, 26, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was charged with gang assault, assault, rioting and criminal possession of a weapon.
John Kinsman, of Morristown, New Jersey, was charged with attempted gang assault, attempted assault, rioting and criminal possession of a weapon, police said.
Jake Freijo, 26, of Warwick, and David Kuriakose, 35, of Old Westbury, were charged with assault and rioting on Nov. 29, police said.
What was the MRC’s response to the violence?
MRC denied having any knowledge of the brawls, as they did not happen on clubhouse property.
“We must forcefully denounce any suggestion that the club somehow deserved the hostility and threats we have received in recent days, simply because we invited a speaker that some people might disagree with,” the MRC concluded in its statement. “We in no way encouraged any violent behavior. We cannot say the same about the folks who left threatening messages, vandalized our property or showed up in ski masks and threw glass bottles.”
Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, who was running for governor under the Republican ticket at the time of the incident, attempted to distance himself from the club’s decision to invite the Proud Boys, admitting that his previous comments blaming "radical leftists" for vandalizing the building were made without his full understanding of what the group represented.
"I’m embarrassed these individuals were invited to speak,” Molinaro told the New York Daily News Editorial Board on Oct. 16.
How did Democratic officials respond?
Cuomo, who called for an FBI investigation into the Proud Boys, was joined by Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and a slew of other Democratic officials in condemning the violence.
De Blasio said the NYPD was “fully investigating” the brawl.
“Hate is never welcome in NYC and we will punish those responsible — whether they threw punches or incited violence — to the fullest extent of the law,” de Blasio wrote on Twitter.
A handful of elected officials and community activists rallied on Oct. 15 and demanded the NYPD arrest Proud Boys members involved in the fight.
“Everywhere they go, their goal is to incite violence," said Johnson, who was also critical of the vandals who targeted the MRC building.
Cuomo also blamed President Donald Trump and his campaign rhetoric for inciting the violence and questioned the MRC’s motives in inviting McInnes to speak.
"This was clearly a political tactic. Why would the Republican Party, at their main club, invite the Proud Boys, who are known to be a hate group, who are known to promote violence?" the governor said.
With Alison Fox, Ivan Pereira and Scott Eidler