Wait, do blue lives matter? How Joe Biggs and the Proud Boys turned on the police

Proud Boys leader Joe Biggs once dined with Lindsey Graham at Trump's D.C. hotel. Now he's under arrest

Published January 22, 2021 3:35PM (EST)

Pro-Trump protesters and Proud Boys march in front of the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)
Pro-Trump protesters and Proud Boys march in front of the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

A leader of the Proud Boys who was charged on Wednesday for his role in the Capitol riot boasts an arrest record that includes an assault on an officer of the peace, and on Jan. 6 led a mob of his fellow members as the right-wing man-centric gang turned on the police. He also has a history of encouraging sexual violence, and dined with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., at former President Trump's Washington hotel.

A since-deleted Instagram post from Nov. 7, 2019, shows self-described Proud Boy organizer Joe Biggs seated beside a beaming Graham at a banquette dinner in the BLT Prime restaurant at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. At the time, Biggs was well known in far-right circles after a seven-year stint as an on-air personality for Alex Jones' Infowars network. Biggs, who describes his position as "investigative reporter," used the platform to peddle ludicrous but well-trodden conspiracy theories, such as the elaborate set of falsehoods known as Pizzagate and the hypothesis that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats were responsible for the murder of Seth Rich.

Cassandra Fairbanks, a journalist for the right-wing publication Gateway Pundit, confirmed the Graham-Biggs summit in a tweet on Oct. 1 of last year, one day after Trump declined to denounce the Proud Boys in his first debate with Joe Biden.

"Can confirm. I was sitting at a table near them," Fairbanks wrote. "Whoooops @SenLindseyGraham." She deleted the tweet the following day. Graham at the time appeared to be losing ground in his high-profile campaign against Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison. (In the end, the senator was easily re-elected.)

(In January 2019, Biggs posted in a since removed tweet: "Trump Intl Hotel is like my cheers now. On a first name basis with everyone. Pretty F'n cool.")

In other now-deleted social media posts from his evening with Graham, Biggs suggested that Trump would also join them for dinner, writing "awaiting @realDonaldTrump to have dinner with us," and "about to see @RealDonaldTrump at the Trump International DC." No documented evidence exists of a meeting, but Trump was in fact slated to be at the hotel that evening, according to his official White House schedule, which noted that he would give "remarks at a fundraising committee reception" at 8 p.m. 

At the time, the National Republican Senatorial Committee was hosting a two-day "Save the Senate" fundraiser at the hotel, featuring Trump as well as then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, along with several senators and candidates expected to face tight races the next fall. Another photo, this one posted on the second day of the fundraiser but since lost to the sands of time, shows Biggs mugging in the Trump International lobby with Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes.

Biggs' appearance that weekend was perhaps incidental to the GOP event. He had traveled to the capital to show support for longtime Trump ally Roger Stone, who was standing trial in Washington at the time. In a video interview ahead of the trip, Biggs says he would be joined by fellow Proud Boy royalty Enrique Tarrio and McInnes, as well as deplatformed conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. "It's going to be a busy next week or two," Biggs said.

The Proud Boys initiation process requires aspirants, among other things, to renounce masturbation and recite the names of five brands of breakfast cereal while fighting other members. The final requirement involves "a major fight for the cause," founder McInnes told Metro.us in a 2017 interview.

"You get beat up, kick the crap out of an antifa" and possibly get arrested, McInnes explained.

For Biggs, the violent tendencies appear to go further. In 2017, Media Matters revealed that Biggs had posted a number of tweets promoting date rape and sexual violence in 2012 while serving in the U.S. Army. "Every kiss begins with ... Roofies," he wrote at one point, as well as, "I like to reason with her (reason=chloroform) and then just drink a lot of beer and release," and "I'm gonna punch some bitches in the face real soon. But first I have to jerk off. You fucking fags."

In a statement, Biggs said those posts "were a cry for help" while he was going through a dark time, having just departed the Army on medical retirement.

"I became very depressed and turned to alcohol and the over-abuse of painkillers that had been prescribed to me while I was in," he said. "You see you can take the soldier out of the war but you can't take the war out of the soldier."

While serving in Afghanistan as an Army sergeant, Biggs was involved in a gruesome suicide-bombing incident captured in Michael Hastings' book "The Operators." At the end of the episode, Hastings quotes Biggs describing a group of eight- and nine-year-old Afghan boys as "little terrorist bastards." 

Biggs was also arrested on a domestic violence charge in 2007 in Cumberland County, North Carolina, home to Fort Bragg, where he was stationed at the time. At this writing, no further information on that case is available.

Four years after his medical discharge, Biggs was arrested in Austin, Texas, for assault on a uniformed officer of the peace. A court filing detailing the fracas indicates that Biggs was drunk at the time, a detail he later confirmed in an Infowars interview, which featured short video clips Biggs had recorded on the scene, but lacked sound or subtitles. A grand jury declined to return charges.

Police officers appear to have become major antagonists for the Proud Boys during the Jan. 6 Capitol assault. The group, whose members have often joined the crowds at Back the Blue rallies, has since the 2020 election repeatedly found itself at odds with law enforcement: A clash with cops in Oregon four days before the Capitol siege resulted in multiple arrests. By the day of the riot, the Proud Boys had developed a new slogan: "Back the Yellow," referring to their bumblebee-style palette.

Two days before the Capitol insurrection attempt, Washington, D.C., police arrested Proud Boy chairman Enrique Tarrio on weapons and vandalism charges, after he burned a Black Lives Matter banner he'd stolen from a historic Black church during a protest event the previous month. (Police also found him in possession of high-capacity ammunition magazines. As a convicted felon, Tarrio is not allowed to own firearms.)

A judge released Tarrio without bail but barred him from the city until his next court date, precluding his participation in the violence that unfolded two days later.

Asked after nightfall on the day of the riot whether anyone was "backing the blue," far-right media personality Nick DeCarlo, who has since been indicted, told a livestream host, "No, absolutely not. In fact, there were much more people today shouting, 'Fuck these guys, they're traitors to us, they don't protect us. Look at what they're doing.'"

On the morning of the riot, Proud Boy leader Ethan Nordean — aka "Rufio Panman" — tried out the group's new anti-police mantra through a bullhorn on fellow members gathered at the Capitol.

"Looking good, gentlemen, looking sharp. Back the yellow," Nordean says in a speech captured on video, before apparently directly addressing police. "You have to prove it to us now. You took our boy in and you let our stabber go. You guys have to prove your shit to us now. We'll do your goddamn job for you."

Here, Nordean appears to be juxtaposing Tarrio's arrest two days earlier ("you took our boy in") with the failure to bring charges against a man allegedly involved in stabbing of several Proud Boys during their Dec. 12 march in Washington. There are no police visible in the video — at least not in uniform.

Nordean then name-checks Joe Biggs, who appears to be standing, with his face covered, in the center of the motley crew — some wielding baseball bats, one wearing tactical camo gear, a few in Thin Blue Line regalia and one sporting a derby hat suggestive of a ska concert. As they follow Nordean and Biggs to the Capitol, the person filming the video pitches a souvenir.

"We got 'Enrique did nothing wrong' shirts. If you wanna buy 'em, come find 'em," he says, putting a spin on Stone's "Roger Stone did nothing wrong" catchphrase. The narrator then asks a man next to him to show off his shirt. The man, who is wearing a Trump shirt and carrying a bat, turns to the camera, his face covered by a Thin Blue Line mask.

Soon after that, the group of Proud Boys converge with a mob of Trump supporters fresh from the then-president's fevered speech at the Ellipse. Together they quickly dismantle police barricades, overrun a few officers and make their way toward the Capitol.

The government has charged Biggs with impeding Congress, as well as illegal entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. He was released to home confinement, with oversight. The court believes he may try to obstruct justice.

By Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger was a staff writer at Salon (2020-21). Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

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