Update: Since the original version of this article appeared on Love and Rage, Lark Tattoo has reported that the Proud Boys discussed in this article no longer work there. Read more here.
Various social media accounts in New York State’s Capital District Region centered around anarchist and anti-capitalist causes have reported a growing alt-right presence in the area. This presence has been noted through comments and messages placed on leftist social media accounts and the creation of rapidly growing alt-right fan pages. Although most of the posts found in these places had, up to now, not appeared to be an immediate threat, recently posts have been more frequent and taken a more physically threatening tone.
In the interest of community defense, several community members have worked to monitor this threat. Through this process, we have been able to identify several social media accounts claiming local chartership of the Proud Boys, as well as identifying individual members of the group. The Proud Boys are a nationwide fraternal organization that tasks its members with physically defending “the Western way of life.” The group embraces male chauvinism, getting into street fights with leftists, and denigrating feminism and non-Christian religions. If you’ve seen any of the videos from the confrontations in Berkeley, you’ve probably seen the Proud Boys in action, wildly throwing punches at Antifa members (and anyone nearby), and pepper spraying protesters.
Who Are the Proud Boys?
Misogyny and Anti-LGBTQ+
The Proud Boys cloak themselves in a chauvinistic patriotism based in idealized nostalgia. It seeks to subjugate women and return men to bread winner type status. In support of this chauvinism they support anything perceived to counter feminism including fat shaming and rape denialism. To give you a taste of the sort of fringe ideas espoused by the group, the movement’s founder Gavin McInnes has pinned articles such as “Hey, Ladies! Short Hair Is Rape,”, “Feminist Witch Hunts are Rape”, “When Is It OK To Hit A Woman?”,” and “Having Kids Turns You Into A Complete F*g.”” While the group claims to support “Gays”, their disdain for anything in opposition to heteronormitve toxic masculinity is readily apparent as is there support for a binary definition of gender. A current popular trend in among members of the Proud Boys on social media is to denigrate women (typically those identifying as on the left) by saying how many beers or what types of drugs they would have to consume to have sex with them.
Islamophobia and Racism
The alt-right group also promotes the idea that the “The West is the Best.” The perpetuation of this ideal directly translates into disparaging Muslims and any individual or movement trying to achieve racial justice. Their social media account is filled with content denigrating Islam and the Proud Boys were vocal supporters of the series of islamaphobic “Against Sharia Law” rallies hosted by racist organization ACT for America. Similar to their expressed openness for “Gays”, the Proud Boys try to present themselves as a colorblind group. Again one only has to look at founder Gavin McInnes, who titled a piece of writing “I’m Not a Racist, Sexist, or a Homophobe, You N*gger Sl*t F*gg*t”, for an example of the Proud Boys underlying ethos concerning people of color.
The manifestation of these ideals corresponds to the usual rabid Trump support, but more uniquely the Proud Boys demonstrate a fetishism and actualization of violence. The Proud Boys have a hierarchy of membership, denoted by “degrees.” This ranges from first degree to fourth. Getting these degrees requires pretty standard gang initiation rituals – including getting a “Proud Boy” tattoo and getting hazed by other members through a gang beating. The fourth, and most sought-after, degree is the one which presents the most immediate security concern. It requires that a member seek out an antifascist/leftist and physically beat them in public. This is not unlike the skinhead distinction of red-laced boots, which designate the wearer as having shed blood for the skinhead movement. Racist skinheads will often randomly attack non-whites to “earn” their red laces. In the Proud Boys’ cultish hierarchy this is referred to as “getting your fourth,” and Berkeley was a field day for Proud Boys trying to win this designation.
Growth in Albany
The local Albany Proud Boy chapter’s activities have appeared to pick up recently, with the group travelling to demonstrations around the country including New York City in May and June and Washington DC last week. These events included an islamophobic rally in NYC hosted by ACT and a so-called “anti-political violence” rally in DC. Another affiliated account has more overtly racist content, such as a post with white laced boots – symbolism that identifies a skinhead as being supportive of “…‘white power,’ as opposed to a non-racist (‘traditional’) or anti-racist skin.”
We were able to verify membership of individuals through their social media presence. Disturbingly, several of these individuals social media accounts claim employment or association with the same tattoo shop – Lark St. Tattoo, [note, Lark St. Tattoo claims that these individuals no longer work there] which is a well frequented establishment on Lark St. in the heart of Albany. These include receptionist Erica Christine Cocca, and tattooers “Kirby” (alternatively listed as both Kyle Kirby and Kirby Kyle) and Richie Van. The latter two publicly display their status as 3rd Degree Proud Boys on their social media accounts.
Van, a popular tattoo artist in the Albany area, has a particularly visible presence. While his original twitter account has been permanently suspended, his new account has received shout outs from Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnis and alt-right figure Kyle Chapman AKA “Based Stickman.” Tweets from his old account have also been featured on former Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos’ website. Van, aside from being listed as a guest artist at Lark St. Tattoo, is associated with Precision Body Arts in Nashua, New Hampshire and his twitter account claims he is the co-founder of the New Hampshire Proud Boys.
Erica Cocca also has a large twitter presence attached to the affiliated Proud Boys’ Girls, whose Twitter account claims it as the only auxiliary group “associated with and recognized by the Proud Boys & PB Magazine.” It claims to represent “the wives/girlfriends/cheerleaders of the Proud Boys and the Fraternal Order of the Alt Knights.” Her image has been retweeted by both the official Proud Boy and Proud Boys’ Girls account. Par for the course her social media is filled with retweets of islamophobic content.
Though Kirby’s social media presence is comparatively diminutive, his twitter posts are no less disturbing. As with other Proud Boys, much of the content focuses on the glorification of violence, anti-Islamic comments, and misogynistic imagery. Kirby also was also the one leaving threatening comments on various left-centered social media accounts in the Albany area.
In addition the Proud Boys associated with Lark Tattoo, we were able to identify another prominent member of the local branch: Todd Clark. Clark’s facebook account prominently displays his affiliation with the group and shares many of the same images and photographed events as the official Albany account. He has claimed an association with local plumbing company Crisafulli Bros. Plumbing.
We hope this information can help protect the community. As noted above, the Proud Boys glorify violence as a part of their aesthetic, especially against those on the left (both real and perceived). Because of this, our community and others should continue discussions about community safety – namely self-defense preparedness, fight training, first-aid response, and public event security. In the short term, community members should consider practicing basic safety protocols and be prepared to protect themselves either through carrying defense/preventive safety measures such as pepper spray or enrolling in some form of personal defense training. We hope to make sure other leftists are aware of this going forward.
With all of this said, it’s very important to encourage everyone to KEEP SHOWING UP. The point of the Proud Boys’ tactics is to scare leftists into staying home, so if any community member fears for their safety, make sure to contact your fellow organizers and community leaders so they can organize a response. The more eyes we have on this problem, and the more hands we have working to fix it, the better. Don’t let these fuckers win.