Proud Boys

Photo by Paul Becker

As disturbing as it was to see the Proud Boys and their fringe groups marching through Clintonville in camo with long rifles slung over shoulders, it is equally as absurd.

One US military veteran on the Columbus Reddit page perhaps said it best.

“The mismatched gear and overall sloppiness of the ‘boots and utes’ of Y’all Qeada never fails to trigger me as a veteran,” they wrote. “How big of a snowflake do you have to be to be triggered by drag queens?”

Another head-scratcher was to see the Columbus police a bit too chummy with the Proud Boys. True, the police were following new “keep-the-peace” protocols, but Canadians would deem this absurd because their nation officially designated the Proud Boys a terror organization in 2021.

“The difference in response between Columbus police responding to Black Lives Matters advocates and the Proud Boys are two different Ohio’s,” said Cynthia Brown of Columbus, an activist for the Ohio Coalition to End Qualified Immunity. “Black change agents are met with violence, use of force, tear gas, arrested and charged with misdemeanors.”

The Proud Boys and their pals came to the big city to protest what they believe was “grooming” by drag queens at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus, an event canceled by organizers out of fear.

Columbus is lucky the weekend’s confrontation didn’t turn violent. In North Carolina many are still without power after two substations were shot up. Coincidentally, a drag show was held nearby. News reports reveal that authorities then questioned Emily Grace Rainey, a former Army psychological operations officer, who led a group on Jan 6th at the Capital.

Last August in Ohio, 42-year-old Ricky Walter Shiffer, who had lived in Columbus, attacked the FBI’s field office in Cincinnati with his AR-15 style rifle while wearing body armor. And, as if anyone needs reminding, Ohio is near the top in arrests for Jan 6th, believed to be 53 and growing. The history of hate in the state is well documented in this book, co-authored by Free Press Editor Bob Fitrakis. 

When the Free Press first heard of Shiffer’s attempt to breach the Cincinnati FBI office, we asked, was this Columbus resident radicalized after listening to the local pro-Trump radio station 610 AM, which loves to attack trans rights?

We couldn’t ask Shiffer this directly because Ohio law enforcement spent hours exchanging bullets with him before he perished.

If there is anything positive about this past Saturday, or something to have hope in, it was how Columbus mayoral candidate and activist Joe Motil, in the absence of the actual Mayor Ginther, who counterprotested the Proud Boys on Saturday.

Interesting was how Motil, later that Saturday, posted pics from the 1994 Klan rally on the steps of the Ohio Statehouse. The Free Press knows many an activist who was there that day, and many will vouch that hundreds of angry counter protesters showed up to witness what largely looked like a smallish group of white sheeted men.

But what showed up in Clintonville over the weekend – and what’s been ongoing for over a decade – has a different look, a more eerie vibe. Their numbers were more than what had been predicted to the Free Press. Disturbing is their ability to mobilize and coordinate across different states. The means to stay at hotels in large numbers and sling a semi-automatic over a shoulder.

There are three wildcat factors shadowing the Proud Boys and pals. Their unpredictable anger (such as Shiffer), the numbers of former police and military involved, and the rifles they love to expose, allowed of course by Ohio Constitution.

Which brings up another painful question: does the entrenched Ohio GOP have the will to protect diverse urban communities and their institutions from well-organized, heavily armed and determined militant white supremacists who obviously have a robust presence in Ohio?

An answer to this could be culled from how the Columbus police responded to the Proud Boys over the weekend.

“In my opinion, Columbus police and the Proud Boys have the same negative messaging and no consequences,” said Brown. “The Proud Boys were allowed to walk up and down streets of Columbus with guns, causing fear and pain. If that had been the Black Panthers, or any Black Revolutionary organizations, walking with loaded guns in front of a church, the outcome would have been different. We live in two different Americas in 2022.”