As federal investigations into the Jan. 6 Capitol riot continue, a handful of right-wing extremist groups have emerged as focal points for prosecutors, particularly when looking to prove coordinated planning in advance of the day’s violence.
Out of 22 people charged with conspiracy in connection with the riot (as of Feb. 21), nine belong to the militia group the Oath Keepers and nine are Proud Boys, according to a report published in the New York Times. Proud Boys have been accused of ripping riot shields from police officers, smashing windows, and scribbling “Murder the Media” on Capitol grounds.
In California, for more than a month following the presidential election, members of the Central Valley Proud Boys gathered each week at the Capitol building in Sacramento, acting as “security” at pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” demonstrations. They wore bulletproof vests and the yellow-and-black shirts and paraphernalia now closely associated with the group, whose members, all male, describe themselves as proud Western chauvinists. They marched through the streets chanting and blasting music, seeking confrontations with counterprotestors, which they often found.
At one of the rallies, a Proud Boy who goes by Odin agreed to a recorded interview with J., with the knowledge that he was speaking with a Jewish journalist. He wore a black cowboy hat, a bandana facemask, a bulletproof vest and a knife on his belt.
Odin is not a real name but a “call sign” or a pseudonym, one he has used before with the news media. Last summer Odin, who is in his 30s and lives in the Sacramento area, attended a co-called “Straight Pride” rally in Modesto, the city’s second annual, to support a right-wing militia said to be guarding the demonstrators. He was mentioned in a Modesto Bee article about the event.
The interview took place the morning of a “Stop the Steal” rally on Nov. 28 outside the state Capitol building. It has been edited only for clarity and concision.
So, you’re a member of the Proud Boys?
Do you want to give a first name?
I’ll give you a name, sure. My name’s Odin. O-D-I-N.
That’s like a Norse —
Yeah, it’s not white supremacy. (laughs)
It’s just a name?
Yeah. It’s the name I go by. My call sign.
I see you’re wearing a mask right now. Is that to protect your identity, rather than because of the coronavirus?
Yeah, for the most part. We have issues with the opposition doxing — this cancel culture that they do.
What does “Western chauvinism” mean to you?
So, to put into a way that, I guess, whoever’s listening to this, or who you’re writing [for] to understand — it’s like that traditional nuclear family, right? Where men were men, women were women, we had ethics, morals, and values. Being a Proud Boy is preserving those traditional Western, you know, ethics, morals. A Western chauvinist is a proud American Patriot. That’s all it really means.
I see this guy (pointing to a different Proud Boy) is carrying a horn. I would call that a shofar. That’s actually used in Jewish traditions.
Yes. It’s Jewish.
(Second Proud Boy: “You’ll be hearing this soon up there.”)
So you believe that Western values, as you understand them, are superior to others?
Do I believe they’re superior? Yeah, I do. I think they need to remain, because I think that the liberal ideology is completely eroding those values. And that’s something that America was essentially built on. And I know we’re progressing as a society, but it’s OK to try to hold on and preserve some of those values. Like I said, we have a lot of liberals these days that are for complete lawlessness and anarchy. And that’s something that we cannot allow here.
What’s your opinion about multiculturalism, the idea that people from all different backgrounds can come together and form one society?
I’m gonna pass on that.
Pass on what?
On that question.
Yeah, I’m gonna pass on that question. I have an opinion but I’m not gonna share it right now because it can be — I’m not saying that you’re gonna misconstrue what I say, but somebody out there will interpret it the wrong way. And make a wild claim of white supremacy. So I’m gonna pass on that.
Within the Proud Boys, are there people of different racial backgrounds?
Yes. Our national leader is Black and Cuban. We have Jewish, we have — I’m a former Muslim myself. So we have all walks of life.
Is there any religious basis to the Proud Boys’ values?
I would say traditional Christian, traditional Western Christian. But it’s a libertarian organization, so… But there is an element of traditional Western Christian values.
Are there Jewish people in the Proud Boys?
Or are they “former” Jewish people, like you said?
They are Jewish.
Does that conflict with, as you say, the Christian values that the Proud Boys are founded on?
I don’t think so. It’s a libertarian organization. Black, white, Hispanic, Jewish, Muslim, gay, straight. It don’t matter. As long as you’re pro-Western. That shouldn’t conflict with somebody’s practice. Maybe at some point it would. But we haven’t had any issues like that.
Were you brought up Muslim?
No, I reverted years ago. Studied it for about five years. Practiced it for about eight years.
Would it have been possible for you to continue practicing Islam and be a Proud Boy?
Sure, it just depends on what school of thought I was practicing at the time. What scholar I was following. There’s differences of opinion. If I was a Sufi, or a Shia, or a Sunni. It really depends.
Do you support democracy?
A constitutional republic, yeah.
Are there any politicians other than Donald Trump that you could support on the national stage?
Yeah. Donald Trump Jr.
OK, he’s not a politician yet, but he might be.
Yeah. There are several out there. I would support Rand Paul. Gosh, I wish there were others that would step up, you know. It would be nice to see Jim Jordan — several that I think kind of align with my core values, are in the same mindset, anyway.
Did you donate money to Trump?
Yes, I did.
I’m not gonna tell you how much I donated. But I certainly did donate. Several times.
If democratic methods fail to bring about the change that you would like to see in the country —
If? They have failed.
So what’s the alternative?
Capitalism. What we’re doing now [referring to the “Stop the Steal” protest]. I think that the problem is that we have all these policies … I mean, here’s an example, look at California. We could pick several things. Look at the homeless issue. The Democrats claim to be the party of the people, yet we live in California where the cost of living is so high, the homelessness is so high. And this is all Democratically-run state policies. I don’t live in a Republican state, but from what I’ve heard from my friends, it’s not like that over there. The cost of living is much lower. People can survive. It’s not like that here. So this is proof enough for me that the Democrats, and their idea of democracy, is not working. Something has to change.
Is there any length to which Donald Trump could go in a bid to retain power that would be too far?
Say it again?
Do you believe the election was stolen?
So what do you believe he should do next?
I believe he should do whatever he can legally —
But legally it’s not going to work, it doesn’t look like it. The courts are throwing out the voter fraud lawsuits.
That’s fine. That’s just going to make it faster to go to the Supreme Court.
OK, but what if the Supreme Court, what if that doesn’t work?
Then he has no choice but to concede, right?
And we just take it. As long as we can hold onto the Senate, that’s OK. Or if he wants to come back in 2024, if possible. We have to sit tight.
Is this a bulletproof vest?
And I see you have a knife. What’s the purpose of that?
What’s the role of violence in the Proud Boys’ worldview?
We never start the fight, but we finish it.