The FBI is backtracking on labeling the Proud Boys an “extremist” group, just days after law enforcement documents seemed to indicate that the agency planned to give the group that designation.
The documents, which were first reported by the Guardian and then numerous other media outlets including ThinkProgress in November, originated from the Clark county sheriff’s department in Vancouver, Washington.
“The FBI categorizes the Proud Boys as an extremist group with ties to white nationalism,” it read. “Some Proud Boys members have contributed to the recent escalation of violence at political rallies.”
On Tuesday, however, the FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Oregon field office directly contradicted the sheriff department memo.
Agent Renn Cannon said the FBI did not mean to designate the whole group, rather to characterize the potential threat from individuals within that group, OregonLive first reported.
“I can see where Clark County representatives came to that conclusion. That was not our intention. That’s not what we do,” Agent Cannon said. “We will not open a case if someone belongs to antifa or even the Proud Boys.”
The distinction, then, is more a technical one for the FBI, which is seeking to clarify that it won’t investigate an extremist group unless they advocate for something which can be described as a federal offense.
It is also worth noting that the FBI never sought to directly address the Guardian’s story or issue a rebuttal. Instead, it waited two-and-a-half weeks to walk back on the initially reporting.
The Southern Poverty Law Center says the Proud Boys was established during the 2016 presidential election by VICE Media co-founder Gavin McInnes. They describe themselves as “western chauvinists” who promote an “anti-political correctness” and “anti-white guilt” agenda.
The news is a minor ray of sunshine for the Proud Boys, which has been mired in legal trouble ever since a group of them attacked counter-protesters near the Metropolitan Republican Club in New York City in mid-October. At one point one Proud Boy was filmed shouting “Are you brave now, faggot?” after attacking a man.
The NYPD has charged eight Proud Boys in connection with the attack, and they now faces charges of related to rioting and assault. McInnes helped several of the Proud Boys involved in the melee to surrender to the New York Police Department. Two days later McInnes himself quit the Proud Boys.
“I’m told by my legal team and law enforcement that this gesture could help alleviate their sentencing,” he said at the time. “At the very least, this will show jurors they are not dealing with a gang and there is no head of operations.”