The far-right Proud Boys—designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center—have been lurking around the fringes of both the Trump reelection campaign this year and the police brutality protests of the past month and more. This week in Philadelphia, members of the group made the connection explicit.
At an appearance by Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday—in which he gave a stoutly pro-police speech at the Friends of Police Lodge 5 in Northeast Philadelphia—a group of about 10 Proud Boys stood outside and harassed a small group of protesters. The same men later appeared at a gathering of police officers after the Pence speech and were apparently welcomed warmly.
“You literally are what separates order from chaos … but we live in a time when the radical left presenting the American people with one false choice after another,” Pence told the gathering. “Under this president and this administration we are not going to defund the police, not now, not ever,” he added.
Outside, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, the gathered Proud Boys and other supporters of the police stood in the street and exchanged shouted epithets with anti-police protesters. When some men supporting Black Lives Matter began engaging them, they chanted: “All lives matter!”
At one point the exchange was broken up by a large group of men on motorcycles—led by a Dodge Charger with flashing lights, apparently imitating a police cruiser—that rode through the area. Afterwards, police lowered barricades they had erected and allowed the pro-police contingent, including the Proud Boys, into the lodge for a “Back the Blue” after-party.
Proud Boys have previously made their presence felt at other Trump/Pence campaign events, notably in Colorado and Washington State, as well as at Democratic events, where they harassed liberals attending rallies. At Trump’s reelection announcement event last year in Orlando, Florida, a group of Proud Boys were prevented from attacking anti-Trump protesters by police.
“We are aligned with Trump in that we believe in America First,” said one Proud Boy at the Colorado Springs event. “There’s an America First agenda. And ‘America’ means everybody that’s here in America. We’re sick of people dividing each other across lines of race and ethnicity.”