A day after members of the alt-right group the Proud Boys were seen openly mingling with officers outside a party following Vice President Mike Pence’s Thursday visit to Philadelphia, the head of the city’s police union said he had not invited them — though he stopped short of condemning their presence at the event.
About 10 men who identified themselves as members of the group attended the “Back the Blue” after-party Thursday evening at the 7C Lounge, a members-only bar housed at the headquarters of Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police in Northeast Philadelphia, where the vice president had addressed a crowd earlier in the evening.
Police officers in and out of uniform milled about the parking lot with the group’s members — one of whom was carrying a Proud Boys flag and others who wore baseball caps embroidered with the organization’s name. Officers stopped at one point to ask if a group of men, some wearing Proud Boys paraphernalia, were OK as they surrounded and aggressively questioned two Inquirer reporters.
Asked Friday about the incident and the group’s presence at the party, police union president John McNesby said: “We oppose hate in any form. Under no circumstances were individuals associated with the Proud Boys invited to attend.”
He did not respond to follow-up questions about whether the union took any steps to remove the men and whether he personally found their presence to be troubling.
But Brian Levin, a former New York City police officer and director of the Center for Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University-San Bernardino, described a Proud Boy presence at any police-sponsored event as alarming.
“At a time when police-community relations are particularly strained, it’s bewildering that anyone associated with law enforcement would want to be in the same room with these folks,” he said.
The Proud Boys, a self-described “Western chauvinist” organization designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “general hate group,” is one of the many predominately male right-wing groups to have come to the fore since the election of President Donald Trump.
The Proud Boy presence at the Fraternal Order of Police party — and the apparent ease with which they moved about the crowd — is the latest in a string of incidents in which Philadelphia officers have appeared to be overly chummy with sometimes armed, right-wing demonstrators during protests that have erupted in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
Members of the Proud Boys Philadelphia chapter have been spotted at rallies over the last month donning the organization’s traditional dark polo shirts with a gold trim on the collars. Recently, the chapter has tweeted photos of members delivering snacks and posing with officers at a police district headquarters in North Philadelphia.
But the group that arrived Thursday to support police and spar verbally with Black Lives Matter protesters outside Pence’s rally at FOP headquarters announced their presence more overtly.
They bore no arms, but they proudly carried a Proud Boys flag, shouting “All Lives Matter” and yelling taunts at female protesters across the street. Though their interactions with Black demonstrators were tense, they did not adopt some of the more openly racist taunts hurled by some members of a separate crowd that had gathered to support police and Trump’s reelection.
Levin, the extremism center director, said that Proud Boys often adopt subtle, yet still racially charged rhetoric to mask the extreme views espoused by the group.
“They talk out of both sides of their mouths,” he said. “There are things that they say that are obnoxious but are not particularly different than what you’d see on Tucker Carlson. They have this uniform that may not register with some folks who aren’t familiar with them. But they have a record of bigotry, nationalism, and violence.”
After the vice president had left and the protests started to break up, officers cleared barricades from a driveway to the FOP lodge, allowing the pro-police demonstrators to head up to the after-party at the 7C Lounge — the Proud Boys group among them.
Two Inquirer reporters who followed them witnessed Proud Boys milling about the FOP lodge parking lot, proudly 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 cops 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.
Deanna Gamble, a spokesperson for Mayor James Kenney, said the scene the reporters described was troubling and that Kenney was looking into the matter.
“He finds what he knows about the [Proud Boys] to be reprehensible,” she said. “It is certainly concerning to see them welcomed at a private event that was attended by any Philadelphians — especially city employees.”
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw declined to comment, as did other officials who spoke at the earlier Pence rally, like U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain, but did not attend the after-party next door.
On Friday, the Proud Boys Philadelphia posted several photos from the rally on its public page on the social media message app Telegram. Among them: one with a sexually explicit caption taunting an Inquirer reporter they had confronted the night before.
“It was a public event. We were there to give police support, not the other way around,” the group wrote in an email to The Inquirer. They added: “We’re a men’s fraternity, not a bunch of soy boys. We saw the reporters’ feed and made a joke. Get over it.”