“Proud Boys – stand back and stand by,” said President Trump in the debate with former Vice President Joe Biden. When Chris Wallace, the moderator, asked the president if he would condemn white supremacist groups, the response was every attempt to avoid directly answering the question. “I would say almost everything I see is from the left-wing,” said President Trump. Appearing as if he didn’t know the name of any white supremacist group, he refueled the popularity of the Proud Boys by refusing to condemn them at the moment.
A couple of days later, he clarified his disapproval of “all white supremacists” on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show. On the same day, George Takei, best known for his role in Star Trek, tweeted, “What if gay guys took pictures of themselves making out with each other or doing very gay things, then tagged themselves with #ProudBoys. I bet it would mess them up real bad. #ReclaimingMyShine.” Since the organization doesn’t have an active presence on Twitter after getting their account banned in 2018, the hashtag was overtaken by thousands of images of the LGBT+ community showing their pride.
As stated by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the group of “western chauvinists” that adamantly oppose political correctness, was created in 2016 during the presidential election. Their political beliefs lean far-right, declaring that they’re not a white supremacist group but instead an opposition group of Antifa. However, their actions don’t match their statements. After the group’s Twitter page was banned in 2018, the Proud Boys moved to an app called Parler, which is popular amongst conservatives, according to Forbes. On Parler, members of the far-right organization posted memes that support white nationalism, anti-Muslim rhetoric, and homophobic comments.
After Takei’s tweet calling out for the overtaking of #proudboys on social media, the Canadian Armed Forces joined the movement by posting a picture of two male soldiers kissing. The caption was simply #ProudBoys, with the Canadian and pride flag right alongside. A screenshot of this tweet was posted on Parler, where the right-wing members expressed their disgust of the picture. “Can’t stand gay people…should be illegal,” said @Ryanha5150. This is the type of diction that represents the values of the Proud Boys.
The group claims to be against bigotry, but their claims are disproven by their history. In the past, members have organized gatherings like the “Unite The Right” rally that brought together other hate groups like the KKK. This is the same group that was told by the president to “stand back and stand by.” The night after the presidential debate, Google Trends show that the search of the term “proud boys” jumped from 1 to 100. In effort to curb this sudden boost in popularity of the organization, Takei called upon the LGBT community.
Other celebrities decided to join the call for action such as Bobby Berk from “Queer Eye” and Andy Cohen. Of course, members of the Proud Boys were angered by this, as some the people they targeted with their speech and now taking recognition away from them.
In the beginning, some were skeptical of the hashtag takeover. This movement was compared to the #BlackoutTuesday social media campaign where users posted black squares in an attempt to support the Black Lives Matter movement. However, in reality they pushed informative posts to the bottom of the tag #BlackLivesMatter. The difference with the overtaking of “#ProudBoys” is that the posts that are being pushed to the bottom are not beneficial to the progression of this country. This takeover drowned out posts from a group that promoted separation and was replaced with photos of LGBT+ couples expressing how “proud” they are of their love.
The goal of Takei and other LGBT members was to strip the hashtag of its negativity and connection to the far-right group, and fill it with images of compassion, something that the country desperately needs at the moment. In the end, the movement was a success, but the presence of the Proud Boys still remains