Project Veritas and the Proud Boys are in the news this morning. Rush Limbaugh received a medal of freedom this year. Breitbart is an influential site. Senator Ted Cruz has a new book out. And I have learned to be careful what I wish for.
There was a time, not all so very long ago (although it might seem otherwise) when this confluence of events would have made me very happy indeed. My displeasure indicates something has changed. The quantity of entities on the other side suggests that it’s me.
Luckily, I have the internet… and thousands of posts on a variety of venues dating back from long before TNB existed. Looking back through them demonstrates that, no, in fact, my opinions and positions haven’t changed much. I was more aggressive on illegal immigration, but that seems to be the great modification in my beliefs… and I’m still a border hawk, I’ve just moderated on my views on DACA. I still oppose DACA, but I’m now of the opinion that we need to address the problem legislatively before we drop it, not afterward. There. There’s my political “growth”.
That leaves all of those other groups… and they have changed. I can point to policies and views they now support which they used to strongly oppose. They aren’t the only ones. When Trump ran as a nationalist, the bulwarks of conservatism threw aside their decades of advocacy in favor of following Trump’s lead.
The same internet which I used to verify my consistency can be used to check theirs… and they are found wanting. When researching the Proud Boys back in 2018, I found ample indications that they were not a white supremacist group and that, in fact, they had fought back against attempts for white supremacists to join. One of their co-founders was a Pacific Islander. They were simply vocal patriots, many of whom were sick of communist and socialist protesters blocking off areas and causing problems in nearby cities. They saw the support these people received by demanding attention, and decided to do the same.
Project Veritas started out with guerrilla journalism in the style of 60 Minutes undercover video. There’s nothing wrong with that… and, better, they used it against groups which were traditionally sacrosanct with the left. They filled a gap in journalism, and received appropriate praise for it. Almost immediately they began to disregard some aspects of journalistic ethics, and Andrew Breitbart personally threatened to cut ties (and the financial support which came after their ACORN expose) if they didn’t clean up their act. They did, generally.
Breitbart died. Trump got elected. And the Republicans skewed into the nationalist cesspit.
The Proud Boys Pacific Islander co-founder went back home (after a large celebration party) and the group, getting more attention than ever, stopped caring about white supremacists joining up. This, in turn, led to chapters throughout the country… many of which are merely old white supremacist groups gathering under a different name. The allegations of being a racist group, once patently false, are now wholly accurate.
Project Veritas went from morally flawed action (access of a government building under a false identity, attempting to seduce a CNN reporter on camera) to simple dishonesty. The allegations of deceptive editing, once patently false, are now wholly accurate.
This does not, in any way, discredit their earlier actions and stances. This is at the core of my dissatisfaction with books like Max Boot’s Corrosion of Conservatism or Stuart Stevens’ It Was All a Lie. They’re simply wrong, and they’re trying to convince millions of people of a falsehood, whether to salve their consciences or to seek further employment among their former political opponents in the future. In both of these books, the history of the Republican party can be traced as fiction. What was being said behind the scenes isn’t what was being presented to the people.
This is hardly a new argument. It was made by David Brock, co-founder of Moveon.org (a site set up to argue that Clinton’s many criminal actions were of no consequence) back in 2002. It’s merely a grossly offensive and incorrect argument. It presupposes that the current positions of groups and people have always been either the secret faces or, at best, were seeds at the core of the groups.
There were seeds, certainly, but they were the same seeds which have always been present in humanity, the sources of all the classical tragedies: flaws, whether greed or vanity or the drive for power and influence, which allowed people to be drawn from their prior course. The Proud Boys didn’t start as racists. They decided, somewhere along the way, that the originators would rather be wealthy national power brokers than a double-handful of patriotic malcontents.
We can see it without the taint of Trump if we look back to Protest Warrior. They were a group from the early 2000s who would infiltrate protest marches while carrying signs and wearing shirts which subverted the messages of the group. Then, just as they were growing in popularity, they disappeared. That happened because the original members had a large influx of cash, and they started engaging in infighting, some engaged in tax fraud and the group stopped bothering to send out purchased material. No Trump involved… just a few simple, flawed human beings who started out as idealists and ended corrupt. Not even the entire organization was so; all it took was the failure of key members to take them down. A classic tragic cycle, from idealistic activists to criminals.
The Proud Boys and Project Veritas didn’t start out as corrupt groups, but they are now. Even if, at some time in the future after Trump has left office, they attempt to shift back to traditional patriotism or regain journalistic integrity, their actions during this time will remain. They may not always have been my opposition, but their flaws indicate that they should never have been trusted. That is a mistake I will not make again.
UPDATE: It was brought to my attention that I incorrectly presented Tusitala “Tiny” Toese of Samoa as a co-founder of the Proud Boys. He was typically included as a co-founder of Patriot Prayer, a related but distinct group. The criticism of Proud Boys’ corruption should have been directed at PP instead.
It is worth noting that Tiny Toese is currently a prominent member of the Proud Boys, after returning from Samoa, and that many other members of Patriot Prayer also have joined the group. It is additionally worth recognizing that Proud Boys have had many demonstrated associations with openly racist groups and have effectively incorporated smaller white supremacist gatherings throughout the country. The question is not whether Proud Boys has racist elements, but simply whether they ever had the opportunity to be corrupted or whether those elements were part of the group from the beginning.