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Photo by Anthony Crider/ CC BY 2.0

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Internecine warfare is a natural state for right-wing extremists; they are, after all, uniformly paranoid, suspicious, confrontational, and narcissistic (not to mention deeply unpleasant) people. The proto-fascist street-brawling Proud Boys have never been an exception, as observers in Portland well know from the days when they and members of their far-right colleagues in Patriot Prayer were threatening to kill each other.

Their latest internal dustup, however—in which an early cofounder of the group dubiously claims to have fired their current national leader while embracing an explicitly racist approach—is more revealing than most. Although the claims are mostly toothless grandstanding, the episode lays bare how the Proud Boys' disavowals of white nationalism are really just a risible burlesque.


Kyle Chapman, a Bay Area commercial diver who gained national notoriety in 2017 as "Based Stickman" after he brought homemade weapons and armor to an alt-right protest in Berkeley, California, created an uproar within the ranks of Proud Boys by announcing this weekend that he intended to "resume" the group's leadership reins because their current chairman, Enrique Tarrio of Florida, had disgraced himself and the group.

Chapman posted the notification on the right-wing platform Parler, fueled apparently by an incident in which Tarrio claimed to have stopped a stabbing of Proud Boys in Washington, D.C., though video did not bear out his claims:

Due to the recent failure of Proud Boy Chairman Enrique Tarrio to conduct himself with honor and courage on the battlefield, it has been decided that I Kyle Chapman reassume my post as President of Proud Boys effective immediately. We will no longer cuck to the left by appointing token negroes as our leaders. We will no longer allow homosexuals or other 'undesirables' into our ranks. We will confront the Zionist criminals who wish to destroy our civilization.

Portland in August 2019.

Though they were designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in 2018, the Proud Boys have been adamant that they are not a white nationalist or racist organization. Their favorite piece of evidence to bolster this claim is to trot out Tarrio, an African-Cuban man who became the group's chairman after founder Gavin McInnes resigned in November 2018 and was replaced by a national board with Tarrio at its head.

Tarrio himself likes to tell reporters that the Proud Boys have "longstanding regulations prohibiting racist, white supremacist or violent activity," and "I denounce white supremacy. I denounce anti-Semitism. I denounce racism. I denounce fascism. I denounce communism and any other -ism that is prejudice towards people because of their race, religion, culture, tone of skin." He denies that the Proud Boys are white supremacists by saying: "I'm pretty brown, I'm Cuban. There's nothing white supremacist about me."

McInnes has sued the SPLC over the hate group designation and claimed that "we are not an extremist group and we do not have ties with white nationalists," the latter of whom, he told The Guardian, "don't exist." However, the reality is that the ethos that McInnes describes as being the core of the Proud Boys—what he calls "Western chauvinism"—is just a public relations-friendly reformulation of the "white genocide" myth that animates modern white nationalism.

"I love being white and I think it's something to be very proud of. I don't want our culture diluted. We need to close the borders now and let everyone assimilate to a Western, white, English-speaking way of life," McInnes has said. Kyle Chapman, his onetime cohort, fully agrees to this day—and then some.

Chapman first made a name for himself at a "March 4 Trump" in Berkeley on March 4, 2017, by coming to the event prepared for battle with homemade implements: a shield adorned with an American flag, football-style padding and a helmet, and a long wooden sign post he wielded like a baseball bat. A video of Chapman breaking the post over the head of an antifascist protester that day went viral and gave birth to his nickname. Chapman was charged with multiple counts of felony assault, which he eventually plea-bargained down to a single charge and five years' probation.

2017.

His next big moment, however, was also the Proud Boys' inaugural event: the April 15, 2017, "free speech" rally they dubbed "the Next Battle of Berkeley" and which proved to be a seminal moment for white nationalist groups such as Identity Evropa and the Rise Above Movement, the leaders of which were all present.

McInnes was so impressed that he promptly anointed Chapman a leader of the Proud Boys and placed him in charge of organizing what he considered the group's "tactical defensive arm," dubbed the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights (FOAK). Chapman described FOAK as a "fraternal organization," a Proud Boys affiliate chapter, "with its own bylaws, constitution, rituals and vetting processes."

However, over the ensuing months and years, nothing ever came of the FOAK project, mainly because Chapman wound up facing multiple charges arising from a variety of violent incidents: for hitting a Texas man over the head with a barstool, for fighting a person in Berkeley while filming a promotional video, for operating a vehicle off-road.

After McInnes left the Proud Boys, Chapman mostly became an afterthought. He largely disappeared from the alt-right protest scene, skipping out on such major Proud Boys gatherings as their August 2019 march in Portland. His only notable involvement was with the white nationalists who organized Boston "Straight Pride Parade" in June 2019, lending his name and image to promoting the event.

However, even in his time as a leader of the Proud Boys, he made pronouncements that belied the group's disavowals of white nationalism, such as his speech at a July 2017 gathering in Sacramento:

I am not afraid to speak out about the atrocities that whites and people of European descent face not only here in this country but in Western nations across the world. The war against whites, and Europeans and Western society is very real and it's time we all started talking about it and stopped worrying about political correctness and optics.

Over time, his public references to such white nationalist tropes as "white genocide" and expressions of simple bigotry (including against feminists and women) became even more pronounced. And in his Nov. 9 Proud Boys "coup" announcement, the mask came off entirely.

Chapman announced that the organization would embrace its underlying white nationalist ethos by rebranding itself as the "Proud Goys"—a reference to the alt-right belief that Jews secretly control the world's politics and media in order to oppress non-Jewish "goyim." He added, "The coup is complete," and then launched into a nakedly racist rant:

We will no longer cuck to the left by anointing token negros as our leaders. We will no longer allow homosexuals or other "undesirables" into our ranks. We recognize that the West was built by the White Race alone and we owe nothing to any other race. Proud Goy members will pay homage to the White men who gave their lives to build our civilization: White men who provided their intellect inventing the modern world, spreading enlightenment, and providing the framework for lesser civilizations to thrive. ... We will boldly address the issues of White Genocide, the failures of multiculturalism, and the right for White men and women to have their own countries where White interests are written into law and part of the body politic. We will no longer stand by as Whites are murdered in the streets because of the color of their skin. …

Tarrio responded sharply on Parler, saying he had earned the group's chairmanship and calling Chapman a "grifter." Chapman retorted: "All you do is grift. Nobody respects you anymore n----r. Go back to diverting medical supplies with the rest of the slimy Cubans in Miami"—a reference to Tarrio's own previous conviction, 15 years ago, for participating in a scheme to sell stolen medical equipment, for which he spent 16 months in federal prison.

The coup, such as it was, seems so far to have been restricted strictly to Chapman and a few of his cohorts. Tarrio told Kelly Weill of The Daily Beast he thought Chapman was drunk or kidding. "He hasn't been part of the organization in probably two years," Tarrio said. "Obviously he still probably has friends.

"I've never had an issue with Kyle," he added. "I think he went on a drunken rant that night, and he thought it was funny to put the things he did on his channel, then he said it was a joke. Which regardless of whether it was a joke or not, I think it was stupid."

Chapman, as Weill reports, later denied that it was a joke, and moreover was joined in the call to depose Tarrio by another openly white supremacist Proud Boy, Jovi Val.

These incidents exposing the Proud Boys' bigoted and hateful white underbelly aren't merely accidental. It's who they really are, and always have been.

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Chris Cuomo

News Literacy Week 2022, an annual awareness event started by the News Literacy Project, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to making everyone “smart, active consumers of news and information and equal and engaged participants in a democracy” has closed out. From January 24 to 28, classes, webinars, and Twitter chats taught students and adults how to root out misinformation when consuming news media.
There’s no downplaying the importance of understanding what is accurate in the media. These days, news literacy is a survival tactic. One study estimated that at least 800 people died because they embraced a COVID falsehood — and that inquiry was conducted in the earliest months of the pandemic. About 67 percent of the unvaccinated believe at least one COVID-19 myth, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
It’s not that accurate information isn’t available; people are rejecting reports of vaccine efficacy and safety because they distrust the news media. A third of Americans polled by Gallup said they have no trust at all in mass media; another 27 percent don’t have much at all.
Getting people to believe information presented to them depends more on trust than it does on the actual data being shared. That is, improving trust isn’t an issue of improving reporting. It’s an issue of improving relationships with one’s audience.
And that’s the real news problem right now; some celebrity anchors at cable news outlets are doing little to strengthen their relationships with their audiences and a lot to strengthen their relationships with government officials.
The most obvious example is how CNN terminated Prime Time anchor Chris Cuomo last month for his failure to disclose the entirety of his role in advising his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, on the sexual harassment accusation that unfolded in Albany, a scandal that eventually led to Andrew Cuomo’s resignation.
But there are others. Just this month, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol revealed that another anchor on another cable news network, Laura Ingraham of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle, texted then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows last January, advising Meadows how Trump should react to reports of possible armed protests at state capitols around the country. This revelation followed the story that Sean Hannity, host of the eponymous news hour at Fox News, also texted Meadows with advice last year.
And while he didn't advise a government official, CNN anchor Don Lemon revealed information not available to the public when he texted embattled Empire actor Jussie Smollett to tip him off about the Chicago Police Department’s wavering faith in his story about an assault. That’s from Smollett’s own sworn testimony.
When English philosopher Edmund Burke joked about the press being the Fourth Estate — in addition to the First, Second and Third (the clergy, nobility and commoners, respectively) — his point was that, despite their influence on each other, these “estates” — bastions of power — are supposed to be separate.
The Fourth Estate will always be an essential counterweight to government. But, since Donald Trump was elected in 2016, we’ve been so focused on stopping an executive branch from pressing the press to support an administration's agenda — either by belittling journalists or threatening to arrest them for doing their jobs — that we’ve ignored the ways that it affects and influences other Estates, and not necessarily through its reporting.
That is, we have news personalities-cum-reporters who are influencing government policy — and not telling us about it until it’s too late.
The United States has fostered an incredible closeness between the Second Estate — which in 2021 and 2022 would be political leaders — and the Fourth Estate. About a year ago, an Axios reporter had to be reassigned because she was dating one of President Biden’s press secretaries. Last year, James Bennet, the former editorial page editor of the New York Times and brother of Colorado Senator and 2020 Presidential candidate Michael Bennet, had to recuse himself publicly from the Gray Lady’s endorsement process. In 2013, the Washington Post reported at least eight marriages between Obama officials and established journalists.
To be clear, there aren’t any accusations that anyone just mentioned engaged in anything other than ethical behavior. But I, for one, don’t believe that James and Michael Bennet didn’t discuss Michael’s campaign. I don’t think the Axios reporter and her West Wing-employed boyfriend — or any journalists and their federally employed spouses, for that matter — didn’t share facts that the public will never know. Such is the nature of family and intimacy.
And as long as those conversations don’t affect the coverage of any news events, there’s nothing specifically, technically wrong with them. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t damaging.
As these stories show, when we don’t know about these advisor roles, at least not until someone other than the journalist in question exposes them, it causes a further erosion of trust in news media.
What’s foolish about the Cuomo, Ingraham, Hannity, and Lemon improprieties is that they don't necessarily need to be the problem they’ve become. Cuomo’s show contained opinion content like 46 percent of CNN’s programming. An active debate rages on as to whether Fox News is all opinion and whether or not it can rightly even be called opinion journalism since its shows are so studded with inaccuracies and lies.
What that means is that Cuomo, Ingraham, Hannity, and Lemon are allowed to take a stand as opinion journalists; Cuomo and Lemon never really worked under a mandate of objectivity and Ingraham and Hannity likely wouldn’t honor it if they did. Indeed, a certain subjectivity — and explaining how it developed for the journalist — is part of an opinion journalist’s craft. To me, little of these consulting roles would be problematic if any of these anchors had just disclosed them and the ways they advised the people they cover.
But they didn’t. Instead, the advice they dispensed to government employees and celebrities was disclosed by a third party and news of it contributes to the public’s distrust in the media. While personal PR advisory connections between journalists and politicians haven’t been pinpointed as a source of distrust, they may have an effect. Almost two-thirds of respondents in a Pew Research poll said they attributed what they deemed unfair coverage to a political agenda on the part of the news organization. No one has rigorously examined the ways in which individual journalists can swing institutional opinion so it may be part of the reason why consumers are suspicious of news.
Cleaning up ex post facto is both a violation of journalistic ethics and ineffective. Apologies and corrections after the fact don't always improve media trust. In other credibility contests, like courtroom battles, statements against one’s interests enhance a person’s believability. But that’s not necessarily true of news; a 2015 study found that corrections don’t automatically enhance a news outlet’s credibility.
It’s a new adage for the 21st century: It’s not the consulting; it’s the cover-up. Journalists need to disclose their connections to government officials — up front — to help maintain trust in news media. Lives depend on it.

Chandra Bozelko did time in a maximum-security facility in Connecticut. While inside she became the first incarcerated person with a regular byline in a publication outside of the facility. Her “Prison Diaries" column ran in The New Haven Independent, and she later established a blog under the same name that earned several professional awards. Her columns now appear regularly in The National Memo.


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