News & Politics

“Guaranteed Disaster”: Proud Boys Discourage Members From Attending September 18 Rally in DC

Publicly, at least, the group says anyone who marches to support January 6 arrestees is "an idiot"

Members of the Proud Boys amid the chaos of the December 14 rally for Trump fans in DC. Photograph by Evy Mages

The Associated Press reported last week that members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers plan to attend a rally intended to show support for people arrested for their alleged roles in the January 6 Capitol riot that’s scheduled for September 18 at the US Capitol. The sources for this report were “three people familiar with intelligence gathered by federal officials.”

While that may be the case, publicly, at least, the Proud Boys’ main account on Telegram has actively discouraged members from attending.

Other relevant accounts take similar lines, like Nick Ochs‘ and Mike Lasater’s. None of which is to say organizing couldn’t be taking place out of public view, but such tactics would be unusual for this group, some of whose members, the government says, live-streamed themselves breaking the law on January 6. “It does strike me that they’re earnestly trying to discourage attendance at the event,” says Jared Holt, a resident fellow who studies domestic extremism at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. The Proud Boys he says, are “not the most reliable bunch, but I can’t think of any high-profile incidents like that where they just straight-up lied.” 

Holt notes that the Proud Boys did attempt some “misdirection” before January 6, when they claimed they would go incognito to the rally but were easily identifiable on the ground. Indeed, DC cops arrested Proud Boy leader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio two days earlier as he entered the city; he recently got five months for property destruction and for carrying high-capacity magazines into the District. The organization has experienced infighting since it was revealed Tarrio once worked as an FBI informant. As he reported to jail in DC Monday, Tarrio said he hasn’t “seen a single Proud Boy say they’re actually gonna go.”

Michael Edison Hayden, a reporter and spokesperson for the Southern Poverty Law Center, points out that his organization reported that Proud Boy Randy Ireland mentioned the September 18 rally at a recent gathering in Portland, Oregon, that turned violent.

“It’s too early to say exactly whether they will mount something on that date but it’s certainly possible that there’s too much heat on them to get such a thing off the ground,” Hayden says. “We’re still a couple weeks away so it’s best to keep monitoring it before making a declaration.”

So who will actually go to this thing? Maybe the type of “normie” Trump fans who made up a big hunk of the crowds on January 6. These days, that often means people who ascribe to various conspiracy theories, from fanciful interpretations of the 2020 election results to the Qanon delusion.

Matt Braynard, the former Trump campaign official whose group Look Ahead America is planning the DC rally, specifically asked attendees to refrain from wearing clothing or carrying flags that detracts from the group’s contention that January 6 arrestees are “political prisoners.”

Such language, Hayden notes, “is obviously cause for real concern from an anti-government perspective and demonstrative of how seriously they are taking themselves after January 6. It’s language intended to set up a clash with the state and far removed from the pseudo-patriotic cover in which they typically drape themselves.”

Braynard “doesn’t really have much of a following” yet, Holt says, and his previous events were lightly attended, but the profile of September 18 is much higher. The chances of Proud Boys and Trump supporters roaming DC streets looking for fights—which happened with depressing frequency during “Stop the Steal” rallies last November and December—are probably lower this time, Holt says, though he still cautions locals to avoid the event. “That said, I haven’t seen anything to date that raises major red flags, and certainly nothing that heightens my concern the way it did before January 6.” 

The US Capitol Police sent Washingtonian and other news organizations a statement last week from Chief Tom Manger, saying the force was “closely monitoring September 18 and we are planning accordingly.” He continued: “After January 6, we made Department-wide changes to the way we gather and share intelligence internally and externally. I am confident the work we are doing now will make sure our officers have what they need to keep everyone safe.”

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.