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The Trouble With Proud Boys

Gavin McInnes looks like someone you’d see at an avant-garde art exhibit, or discussing Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy over a craft beer…at a Father John Misty concert. That’s according to conventional reasoning. In reality, McInnes is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Or more jcisely, an abrasively parochial nationalist in prototypical hipster attire — certainly not a combination you see every day.

As the impresario of the belligerent Proud Boys group, McInnes is a self-proclaimed “Western chauvinist” who “refuses to apologize for creating the modern world”. He denies any harbouring of misogynistic or racist sentiments, and espouses an ideology teeming with contradictions.

In fairness, the Proud Boys, a quasi-cultish consortium possessing excess levels of testosterone, doesn’t disavow members from visible minorities. McInnes rightfully points out, on numerous occasions, unfounded journalistic conclusions categorizing the group as neo-Nazi in design. Despite that, it’s his rigid conception of Western identity, and its alleged superiority, that imply the more malignant underpinnings. Just because he’s not a proponent of eugenics doesn’t exonerate him from latent, crude prejudice. After all, McInnes slams the current liberal order that’s become a de facto arbiter of social norms — such as multiculturalism, religious toleration, recognition of humanitarian demands, marriage equality, etc — and in doing so, begs the question: what form, or specific age of Western civilization is he lionizing? The group’s official website unabashedly boasts of “venerating housewives” (he takes no issue with women choosing to, or not to, pursue a career…but any semblance of reproductive rights? Off the cards, apparently) and promoting “anti-racial guilt”, which subtly seems to point to a steadfast furtherance of antiquated gender roles, and arrogant immobility towards confronting and addressing past injustices. McInnes strives to prove that racism and chauvinism are mutually exclusive, and fruitlessly so (it’s worth mentioning that one doesn’t necessitate the other, but they can be consequential). With that in mind, the Proud Boys are better described as anachronists who want to drag the West to a uniform, pre-Peace of Augsburg Europe, teeming with homogeneity and maximalism. Ultimately, devoid of what makes it habitable, functional, or ‘exceptional’.

McInnes also makes frequent appearances on Rebel Media, a hotbed of objective and incisively analytical journalism. 

While he is not incorrect in his characterization of the West as the chief diffusor of popular culture and media, he neglects the ills of Western overreach; moreover, that the factional strife, ethnic tension, and political incompetence seen in other parts of the world is often a direct, or indirect corollary of overextension. Who propped up Saddam, Mubarak, Ghaddafi, Pinochet, Suharto, and a range of patent fascists out of cold, pragmatic convenience?  Who opted to issue the Balfour Declaration, depose democratically-elected leaders — think CIA and Mossadeq — and back ruthless right-wing paramilitaries in Latin America? Frankly, it’s no mystery as to why anti-western resentment festers in the vast majority of these places, and the monolithic nature of McInnes’ mindset is so childishly reductionist in his obliviousness to these factors. We are not a model civilization, as much as he revels in disregarding the blemishes of history. The faux-hipster could at least peruse an Edward Said book or two, if only to assert that he explores the folly of his foes in a slightly more cerebral manner than online tirades.

Despite McInnes’ mind-numbing stunting and posturing, he raises a few genuine concerns about the partisan tendencies of the liberal media (anything from Slate to the New York Times, according to him – although the latter gives voice to widely-renowned conservative columnists, such as David Brooks, Bret Stephens, and Ross Douthat). His statements are often misrepresented by reporters, and the Times has issued numerous retroactive corrections to pieces — most notably one in which McInnes was misinterpreted to claim that the Holocaust was a fabrication. He does present worthwhile objections to certain norms as well, such as his take on the Colorado wedding-cake-baking refusal to a gay couple, in which he underscores the extent to which the secularized state (Gavin’s not a fan of this progressive-tyrannical notion) has prompted Christians, for instance, to sublimate personal beliefs in certain cases — even if they don’t necessarily infringe on those of others — and embrace superimposed ones. Indeed, this brings issues of uniformity to our sense of religious toleration, which is occasionally more easily afforded to certain groups. It’s a testy subject to broach, and McInnes’ contempt for political correctness cultivates his image as a rancorous agent-provocateur. Yet his some of his opinions are not only worth considering, but should be actively brought into more conscious discourse surrounding the establishment of societal taboos. Specifically, with regards to the distribution of conservative thought. The fact that, as he and the Proud Boys love to pillory, that groupthink-obsessed ‘snowflakes’ tend to react so irritably to his polemics serves to emphasize the (supposed) incongruity of liberal precepts.

Inarguably, nothing of normative value is beyond the realm of scrutiny — and even if it were to be, debunking such a statement should be of unflinching ease — and as such, we should not, in negating the sophistry of McInnes’ pontifications, ignore his criticism of consensus. As CeeLo Green, the great cultural commentator of our age, touches upon the salience of giving contentious ideas the light of day: “Twitter is a form of free speech, and I’m all for that. But if CeeLo Green, a maverick of sorts, can’t get on Twitter and say something outlandish or outrageous, then what is the whole point of Twitter at all?

He’s staggeringly cantankerous, but please, let Gavin McInnes have his rambling indulgences. It’ll take away 99% of his appeal.

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Anders Bretsen is a first-year student at the University of Toronto, in the Trinity One International Relations program. Originally from Vancouver, BC, he frequently complains about the cold.

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