If anyone held out hope that the Proud Boys—with 18 members awaiting trial for their roles in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection—might eventually wither and blow away in its aftermath, they should read through the Telegram messages Ethan Nordean and his cohorts shared afterwards, when they had returned to their homes but before their arrests.
Nordean, one of the main leaders of the Proud Boys contingent that played a key role in the breach of the Capitol’s security barriers, did express his utter dismay with Donald Trump for having encouraged them to act and then “leaving us on the battlefield” afterwards. But for the most part, Nordean and his fellow street-brawling thugs began making plans for their post-insurrection world, believing they were making preparations for “absolute war.”
Prosecutors in Nordean’s case filed a document last Thursday that gave details of some of the Proud Boys’ messages after Jan. 6. It makes for chilling reading since it makes abundantly clear that the violent far-right extremists who make up their membership rolls are not going to slow down anytime soon, instead planning to ratchet up the violence in the coming months and years.
Indeed, in a Jan. 20 message collected by the FBI from Telegram, Nordean (who is known within the group under his nom de guerre, “Rufio Panman”) laid out the agenda for the Feb. 2 meeting of Washington State Proud Boys officers in the central Washington town of Leavenworth, which included “Secure Vetting,” “Communications,” “SHTF [Shit Hits The Fan] safe locations,” “Bulk armor deals,” and of particular note to prosecutors concerned about Nordean as a flight risk, “Bugout bags.”
“This is a very fragile time for the club, but we must be more vigilant than ever, not just for those that look up to us in the club,” Nordean wrote. “We are on the brink of absolute war.”
The national organization’s initial response, however, was to order a short-term “stand down” for Proud Boy-led rallies (“Almost none of my guys want to do rallies now,” one message read) that was intended to last until May 1. And indeed, the Proud Boys’ activities remained muted until that date, when they held an intimidating rally at a city park in Salem, Oregon.
However, Nordean vociferously disagreed with suggestions that they cease activity altogether in the interim. “They’re coming for you no matter what you [guys],” he wrote. “Wake the hell up. I’m not gunna be sitting on my ass waiting for the end.”
He later added: “I’m gunna press on with some smart level headed non emotional guys and create a game plan for how to approach this year, we aren’t gunna stop getting involved in the community, especially with the momentum we have and if your worried about getting arrested and think that doing nothing will remove that threat you’re fooling yourselves. I’ve had this conversation with guys like this for 3 years and every year you all get worked up and wanna hide. We can be smarter, train, plan etc … but we will never stop. Get on board or move aside.”
Nordean also had an exchange with an unidentified Proud Boy in which he bemoaned that the “Patriot movement is full of whiney virtue signaling [people] who hate violence.” His interlocutor responded that “there’s some of us who simply will never quit, ever. Maybe I’m just insane, but I will fight until my dying breath no matter what situation we’re in, and I think every man in this room will too … And that [is] something our founding fathers would be proud to see.”
In an exchange about the “stand down” with another Proud Boy later charged in the conspiracy, Nordean wrote: “Yeah, this is just to organize and prepare for when we do decide to get active again. At the very least there’s lots of good excuses to just get out and do meet n greets with the public, raise money, community service, security for events etc … but we can work on an effective process so we look more organized and have properly vetted members who are representing the club.”
His messages also directed the dismayed invective of a betrayed follower at Donald Trump, notably an extended rant from Jan. 20:
Alright I’m gunna say it. FUCK TRUMP! Fuck him more than Biden. I’ve followed the guy for 4 years and given everything and lost it all. Yes he woke us up, but he led us to believe some great justice was upon us … and it never happened, now I’ve got some of my good friends and myself facing jail time cuz we followed this guys lead and never questioned it. We are now and always have been on our own. So glad he was able to pardon a bunch of degenerates as his last move and shit on us on the way out. Fuck you trump you left us on [t]he battle field bloody and alone.
As Marcy Wheeler observes at emptywheel, the portrait the documents provide make clear that Nordean’s Proud Boys Northwest—which includes primarily Oregon and Washington State members—are “a remarkably organized militia, and it is adopting a tactic other terrorist groups have in the past: to splinter and rebrand as a way to attempt to evade prosecution, as if the Proud Boys Northwest had adopted the name Y’All Qaeda Northwest like African branches of the Islamic State did.”
A number of Proud Boys chapters, including Nordean’s Northwest group, have subsequently broken away from the national organization after the national chairman, Enrique Tarrio, was revealed to be working as a federal informant. “We do not recognize the assumed authority of any national Proud Boy leadership including the Chairman, the Elders, or any subsequent governing body that is formed to replace them until such a time we may choose to consent to join those bodies of government,” read announcements from chapters in Alabama, Indiana, and Oklahoma.
Another Northwest-based group—Proud Boys of the American Redoubt, which comprises members of the inland Northwest in Montana, Idaho, and eastern Washington—also broke away but has been highly active on Telegram. Its recent posts have included memes showing helmeted “New World Order” soldiers taking American citizens prisoner.
The Proud Boys Northwest made their official reappearance at a “One Nation Under God” rally at Salem’s Riverfront Park on May 1. The event had no permit from the city, but gun-brandishing Proud Boys were able to close off access to anyone deemed undesirable, threatening both journalists and citizens with impunity. The only sign of law enforcement was a police helicopter hovering overhead.