Philadelphia police union president John McNesby has issued a more forceful condemnation of the alt-right group the Proud Boys, following criticism that he had not responded strongly enough to photos of officers openly mingling with the group’s members outside a union-sponsored fund-raiser late last week.
Earlier, McNesby had said only that he hadn’t invited the men, when asked by The Inquirer about their presence at the “Back the Blue” party held at the Northeast Philadelphia headquarters of Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police, following Vice President Mike Pence’s visit on Thursday. The union president did not respond at the time to questions about whether they had been asked to leave or whether he was personally troubled by their presence.
But in a statement released Saturday over Twitter, a day after The Inquirer’s story was published, he clarified his position, saying he was unaware that the men — one of whom was carrying a Proud Boys flag while others donned baseball caps embroidered with the organization’s name — were even there.
“If we were aware of their presence, we would have immediately escorted them off our property,” it read, attached to a tweet with the hashtag “#nogoodgroup.” “At no time were these individuals allowed inside our building. Philadelphia police officers, FOP leadership and members condemn their hateful and discriminatory speech in any form.”
That appears to have struck a nerve with the Proud Boys.
The organization describes itself as a “Western chauvinist” fraternity and has been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “general hate group.” Extremism experts note the group’s tendency to publicly disavow racism and bigotry — as its Philadelphia chapter does in declaring itself a “multi-racial organization” — while affiliating with white nationalists and spreading violent anti-Muslim, misogynistic and anti-immigrant rhetoric.
The group’s Philadelphia chapter told The Inquirer Friday that members attended the party to lend police support following the unrest that gripped the city over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
But after McNesby said Saturday that none of them had been granted admittance to the building, the group responded by sharing photos that appear to have been taken by Proud Boys members inside the 7C Lounge, the members-only bar inside the police union lodge where the party was being held.
“What McNesby said after we spent over $1,000 [there] is repulsive, and a false narrative painted by the same communists who want to kill cops,” Philadelphia chapter members tweeted from the group’s official account. “John throws his supporters under the bus like he does his cops.”
The group of about 10 men who identified themselves as Proud Boys members arrived outside the FOP lodge Thursday evening where protesters and supporters of Pence rallied outside while the vice president addressed a crowd within.
Once the event had ended, they joined supporters of the police and the vice president who were allowed up a driveway to attend the after-party at the lounge.
Two Inquirer reporters who followed them witnessed Proud Boys milling about the parking lot, waving their flag as they drank and chatted with a crowd of attendees and officers that had spilled into the parking lot from the bar inside.
When one of the reporters attempted to take a photo, a group of about six men surrounded her and her colleague and aggressively questioned them about their intentions. One of the men accompanying the Proud Boys members warned that the reporters were “heading down a dangerous road” by continuing to be there.
Uniformed bicycle officers approached the group as the conversation went on and asked whether the men surrounding the two female journalists were OK. The officers asked to see the reporters’ credentials, then left while the confrontation continued.
Mayor Jim Kenney and members of City Council have called the incident troubling and said they are looking into it.
District Attorney Larry Krasner, in a statement Monday, said McNesby’s more recent remarks still weren’t enough.
He noted that when Black Lives Matter protesters gathered outside the home of an officer involved in a 2017 fatal shooting, McNesby immediately responded, calling them “a pack of rabid animals” and the organization “a racist hate group determined to instigate violence.”
“The FOP leadership’s conduct with the Proud Boys is a slap in the face of every active and retired police officer in Philadelphia who rejects hate and abuse of power in its many forms, including racism, sexism, homophobia, and brutality,” Krasner said.