Gavin McInnes and the Proud Boys: "Alt-right without the racism"?

Salon reviewed two years of Gavin McInnes "comedy" clips to capture how the Proud Boys leader talks about race

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published October 17, 2018 2:00PM (EDT)

Gavin McInnes speaks at a rally for free speech April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif.  (AP/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Gavin McInnes speaks at a rally for free speech April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Gavin McInnes, talk radio host and founder of the "Western chauvinism" group Proud Boys, has generally been treated as a fringe character and an oddity by the mainstream press, even though he had nearly a quarter-million Twitter followers before he was booted from the service. But he was thrust into the national spotlight this past week when a group of his followers was videotaped getting into a nasty brawl with anti-fascist protesters after McInnes gave a speech last Friday at the Metropolitan Republican Club.

McInnes has been positioning himself for years as the pundit for the right wing's younger set, with an ideology almost totally uninterested in moralistic Christian piety and more in line with Donald Trump's liberal-trolling hedonist aesthetic. Now he's being profiled in media outlets like the New York Times and Vox, with considerable attention paid to McInnes and the Proud Boys' relationship to the rise of white nationalism. This topic is of particular importance because a number of prominent alt-right figures spent time with the Proud Boys before graduating to full-blown white supremacy.

McInnes has frequently denied that his group is racist, describing the Proud Boys' ethos as "alt-right without the racism," on NPR's "This American Life" in September.

"Though he has repudiated racism and anti-Semitism in some of his writings and speeches, he has also made statements that have openly denigrated nonwhite cultures," writes Alan Feuer in the profile of McInnes published in the New York Times on Tuesday.

Feuer cites one example: McInnes praised white men for bringing "roads and infrastructure" to India and Australia, claiming that the people who lived there first used those amenities as toilets and beds.

Salon, with the help of grassroots activists who have been monitoring McInnes and the Proud Boys, took an extensive dive last year into two years worth of clips from "The Gavin McInnes Show," which ran from June 2015 through August 2017 at Compound Media. (McInnes has since moved on to CRTV.) The research shows that McInnes frequently featured racially provocative language on his show.

“We’re the new n***ers. MAGA is the new black," McInnes declared on March 8, 2017. “If you like Trump, you are a black man in 1945 trying to have water at a liberal fountain.”

"You don’t seem to understand that it’s possible to use a racial epithet or a seemingly slanderous term such as, 'That’s so gay' as a parody of racism or homophobia," McInnes told Salon, in an email exchange about the clips. "You don’t honestly believe I use that word in normal parlance and feel it is totally interchangeable with 'black,' do you?"

McInnes frequently used the n-word on the show, though no clips Salon monitored showed him using it to describe individuals. Mostly, he used it for shock value, such as in a November 2017 episode where he said that Fox News lets guests "say n***er all day long" so long as they "take it easy on the fat people."

In one memorable clip from Oct. 27, 2016 — after Trump's "grab 'em by the pussy" tape was released — McInnes tried to compare "certain situations where women want their pussies grabbed" to situations where white people can get away with with "saying the word n***er around black people".

"He could say, ‘I was so late,’” McInnes speculated about a hypothetical black friend. “Then I say, ‘Fucking n***ers.’ That’s another time you might be able to squeeze it in.”

Salon asked McInnes about a January 2016 discussion about how he "used to fuck a lot of rice balls," and his alleged discovery that "the way you get in a chink’s pants is you never mention race once.”

McInnes responded, "Explaining jokes is a comedy sin but I’ll humor you. The scenario described here is a man who wants to have amorous relations with an Asian American. He is clearly attracted to said woman and would never use the term 'rice ball' (nobody does). Do you honestly think you have discovered an example of a racist describing how to make love to Asians?"

While McInnes typically framed his discourse about race as a matter of outrage at perceived liberal exaggerations of the issue, there were times when he straightforwardly invoked racial stereotypes.

“When a black person gets money, becomes a successful, say, billionaire, first thing they do is move out of the black community," McInnes argued in October 2016. "They just don’t move out to be safer or move out to get a better house. They cut the cord.”

During a December 2015 discussion with Milo Yiannopoulos about their theory that Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King isn't actually black (King denies these rumors), McInnes posted a picture of a shirtless man he claims is King, arguing that the man's arms are too skinny to be a black man's arms.

“They spent more time climbing trees. I don’t know what it is, but something genetically is built up,” McInnes said.

In November 2015, McInnes had on his friend Jeff Jensen, to interview him about having moved to Jamaica.

“Isn’t Jamaica a disgusting shithole because they kicked the whites out in 1969?” McInnes asked at one point.

McInnes later expressed skepticism that "intelligent conversation" is possible for people in Kingston, the Jamaican capital. He said, “I met a guy in Jamaica with glasses. His nickname was Glasses. They’re like toddlers in many ways.”

On a June 2015 show — during which McInnes, who is Canadian by birth, draped himself in the Confederate flag — McInnes issued a memorable rant about a visit to the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, which he described as "a fifth column for Puerto Rico" and  “complete fucking anarchy.”

“It’s sort of like heaven, in a way, because no one is doing anything. They’re sitting in the street in these lawn chairs," he continued. “This is just like a welfare cruise. Washington Heights is just a giant welfare resort, where there’s no cops, no laws and people just do whatever the fuck they want on our dime.”

In the same rant, he complained, "These fucking Puerto Ricans are getting their hair cut every two days. Cause they’ve got to get their fade right. That’s what happens when you have no dad.”

"Have you ever been to Washington Heights?" McInnes responded when asked about this. (Salon's reporter can say she has, in fact, been to Washington Heights -- where the population is largely of Dominican birth or descent, not Puerto Rican.)

McInnes repeatedly returned to this claim that Puerto Rican men are vain because they supposedly have no fathers. On Feb. 3, 2016, he said that if you go to a "Puerto Rican neighborhood, you will see men getting pedicures. That’s proof positive men need dads.”

He made the same joke about Puerto Ricans, fathers and pedicures a year later, on March 2, 2017.

One of McInnes's most frequent arguments was that liberals misinterpret history for political advantage.

“Dead white guys built this country. Show some gratitude and show some reverence," McInnes complained in March 2017. “But as far as slavery, yeah. It’s part of history. And you know what? It’s something we should be proud of. Because we ended it.”

In the same clip, McInnes defends Christopher Columbus by saying, “Yeah, sorry he wasn’t perfect. Sorry he was a little harsh."

He then added, “And by the way, Indians, you were worthy adversaries. Four hundred years we fought you. That’s fucking awesome. We beat Nazis in an hour and a half with less money than it took to build the Obamacare website.”

He took a different tone earlier, when speaking with Ann Coulter in January 2016, saying, "It’s possible we didn’t kill the Indians cause we’re mean. We just thrived more, because we’re better.”

"We were clearly better at warfare," McInnes told Salon. "I’ve made my views on Indians very clear. I like them. I actually like them so much, I made three."

(McInnes' wife, with whom he has three children, is Native American.)

“‘Don’t let the kids be racist.’ Those are going to be her last words," McInnes joked about his wife, whom he has called a "pro-choice lib who voted for Hillary," in a clip from April 2017. "Like I’d say to my little Indian kids, ‘All right, boys, now that she’s dead, we can focus on some real n***er stuff. Ha ha! Come on, we’re moving South!’”

"Realize you are talking about the Anthony Cumia network, a comedy network where strippers, the homeless and the mentally ill were regular guests," McInnes said in his email exchange with Salon. "This was not Fox News."

In September 2016, McInnes played a clip of MTV News commentator Franchesca Ramsey defending Black History Month by pointing out that most history classes focus on white people.

“Because you’re in a white country!” McInnes exclaimed in exasperation. He then grumbled, about Ramsey, “Like even that face needs to be punched.”

Those who bring up Donald Trump's belief in the guilt of the Central Park Five, a group of young men who spent years in prison for a brutal 1989 gang rape before their convictions were overturned thanks to DNA evidence and a confession from another man, got under McInnes's skin in particular.

“Central Park Five were guilty," McInnes argued after the 2016 election. "Some random shithead in prison who’s already looking at life took the blame for it and exonerated them."

"What we’re discovering with the Central Park Five is not every single penis went into her vagina," he continued. "What happened was one guy raped while the others stood around and laughed and watched."

Experts, however, believe the confessions the young men gave were false, because, as the district attorney's office found, their statements "differed from one another on the specific details of virtually every major aspect of the crime," suggesting they were just trying to guess at what the detectives wanted to hear.

As Jared Holt at Right Wing Watch has documented, McInnes frequently interviewed prominent white nationalists on his Compound show, including David Duke, Andrew "Weev" Auernheimer, Richard Spencer, Jared Taylor and Jason Kessler, who was a member of the Proud Boys but was ejected after organizing the now-infamous August 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.

On Nov. 22, 2016, McInnes brought Richard Spencer onto his show to interview Spencer about leading the crowd at a white nationalist conference to say "Hail Trump" while some threw the Nazi salute.

“When you said 'Hail Trump,' you crossed over into the dark side,” McInnes complained to Spencer, already known as a white supremacist who has called for a "peaceful ethnic cleansing."

“I know, Hitler’s bad. Hate his guts. Boooooo! Jerk," McInnes added, while throwing around a Hitler doll. “But of course, liberal media went insane and what I want to ask Richard is, didn’t you know that would happen?”

Spencer portrayed the salute as a joke, saying he was just trying to "have a little fun" and comparing the Nazi salute to the black power fist. McInnes didn't challenge Spencer's claims, but argued that the gesture was giving the liberal media an opportunity to overreact. McInnes ended the interview by noting he worked for the Jewish owner of Rebel Media.

When asked about this interview by Salon, McInnes defended it by asking, "Was ESPN giving him an opportunity when they had [Spencer] on?"

"I simply asked him why he did it and he claimed it was 'Hail Trump' not Heil. I think it was a dumb move that permanently separated the Alt-Right from the rest of the right and I made that very clear," he added.

“Take the worst, worst, worst guys we have, the Traditional Workers Party, Sieg Heil-ing and yelling bad words," McInnes said, referencing a neo-Nazi white nationalist group, on one 2017 episode. "Uh, they haven’t killed anyone.”

“As far as Nazis, I think it’s a mythical fear," he added, saying that Nazis "just say they want to be left alone." He distinguished Nazism from Islam, saying Islam "wants to take an active role in governing the people. The Nazis just seem to want to be left to their own devices and not get taxed to pay for diversity stuff.”

After the white nationalist riot in Charlottesville in August 2017, according to the New York Times, McInnes wrote an article declaring that "all white nationalists/anti-Semites are banned from Proud Boys even if they never bring up said topics."

A number of members of a New York-based skinhead group, the 211 Boot Boys, were spotted at McInnes's event on Friday night, and posed for a photograph with members of the Proud Boys. When asked about this by the New York Times, McInnes said, "I don’t represent them and I have no idea who they all are and what they stand for.”

''I love being white and I think it's something to be very proud of,'' McInnes told a New York Times reporter in 2003. ''I don't want our culture diluted. We need to close the borders now and let everyone assimilate to a Western, white, English-speaking way of life.''

"Proud Boys do their best to muddy right-wing taxonomies," the Southern Poverty Law Center notes in its profile of McInnes and his organization.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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