Proud Boys, Boogaloos Fret About Proposed Terror Designation As Capitol Backlash Grows

Far-right groups on social media are lamenting a push by Democratic lawmakers to begin designating domestic terrorism groups as President Joe Biden's administration considers how to combat the rising threat of right-wing extremism in America.

Domestic terrorism is not a designated crime in the U.S., though there is an extensive framework through which law enforcement can prosecute those suspected of involvement in foreign terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State.

But the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol—by a mob including self-professed members of right-wing extremist and militia groups—has sparked fresh debate over whether America needs a framework to protect against homegrown militants.

Some lawmakers are even pushing to have prominent violent far-right groups designated as international terrorist organizations, allowing their members to be prosecuted in the U.S.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat from New Jersey, wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday, urging him to consider this designation for the Proud Boys and other violent white supremacist organisations.

"U.S.-based extremists export their abhorrent ideology abroad, and international white supremacist groups seek to coordinate action here in the United States," Gottheimer wrote. "I believe that a terrorist designation for qualifying entities would help provide additional tools to law enforcement and the intelligence community to prosecute, financially counter and defeat these groups."

Although Gottheimer is unlikely to succeed, his appeal is part of the growing backlash against far-right groups that grew in size, influence and ambition under former President Donald Trump.

Several members of the Oath Keepers far-right anti-government militia were involved in the attack on the Capitol, as were several Proud Boys. These groups and others continue to recruit and agitate on social media, particularly on platforms such as Telegram and Gab where censorship is limited.

As law enforcement brings charges over January 6, these organisations are also facing internal friction. The Proud Boys has undergone an acrimonious split related to the revelation that leader Enrique Tarrio cooperated with police and the FBI.

One Proud Boys-affiliated channel on the encrypted messaging app Telegram—called The Western Chauvinist—railed against the suggestion that the group could be designated a terrorist entity. The channel, which has more than 45,000 followers, regularly shares extremist material from a network of other radical groups.

Some Proud Boys-linked channels and groups have been rebranding as "western chauvinists," believing it gives their movement broader appeal and distances them from the many controversies surrounding the Proud Boys, including charges against members over the storming of the Capitol.

The Western Chauvinist channel framed the terror designation push as an attempt by Jewish officials to crack down on white groups. "They don't want the movement, much less the ideology, to continue to grow," read one post. "That's how you know we are right. The unity of our people scares them."

"The idea that the proud boys or oathkeepers are 'terrorist' groups is laughable and easily debunked," said another. "The Jews lobbing the accusation don't even believe it."

Other channels affiliated with extremist groups also pushed back on this suggestion, as well as the remarks from Merrick Garland, President Biden's nominee for attorney general, that white supremacy would be a major focus of his work if he is confirmed by the Senate.

The Boogaloo Intel Drop channel—considered one of the most openly white supremacist groups associated with the loosely organized anti-government Boogaloo movement—shared anti-Semitic images of Garland after his confirmation hearing.

Rather than focusing on white supremacy, Garland should concentrate on murder rates in major cities and "illegal immigrants flooding across our borders at a record pace," the channel told its 9,500 followers.

Many other far-right and Trump-supporting channels took issue with Garland's comments, particularly when he suggested that attacks by leftist protesters on federal courthouses might not be considered terrorism because they occurred while judges were not sitting.

Asked about such an incident that took place in Portland during anti-racism protests last summer, Garland said he would use the statutory definition of terrorism as "the use of violence or threats of violence in an attempt to disrupt democratic processes."

"So, an attack on a courthouse while in operation, trying to prevent judges from actually deciding cases, that plainly is domestic extremism, domestic terrorism," he added.

The Western Chauvinist dismissed Garland as "a system agent" in support of "leftist agitators doing acts of domestic terrorism." It then suggested that far-right activities were of concern to the authorities "because for the first time in a very long time, thousands of whites collectivized and acted on their displeasure with the corrupt government."

Biden has described far-right extremism as a threat to American democracy and national security. The president is overseeing a review of extremism within the military while his allies in Congress launch a 9/11-style commission to investigate the January 6 riots.

Biden's justice team also seems set to prioritize the issue. Garland was the lead prosecutor in the case of anti-government bomber Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people with a truck bomb in Oklahoma City in 1995.

Garland said the Capitol attack on January 6 was "a heinous act that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy," warning that it was "not necessarily a one-off."

He added that, if confirmed, he would "look more broadly at where this is coming from, what other groups there might be that could raise the same problem in the future."

Proud Boys gather in Washington DC
Members of the Proud Boys gather outside Harry's Bar in Washington, D.C during a protest on December 12, 2020. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images/Getty