Gavin McInnes, founder of far-right group Proud Boys, is suing the Southern Poverty Law Center for designating his organization a hate group.
The Proud Boys describe themselves as “Western chauvinists who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.” The group’s site argues its allure stems from the fact that young American men and women are “finished” with “apology culture” but disavows links to the alt-right or to white supremacists.
McInnes, a co-founder of Vice Media before leaving that outlet in 2008, founded the Proud Boys in 2016 in New York. The group has since spread across the United States as well as to countries like Australia and Japan.
Facebook and Instagram have banned the Proud Boys, citing their policies against hate groups. Twitter shut down accounts related to the Proud Boys last year, making the group’s membership totals harder to pin down. A survey by Rewire in 2017 estimated the group’s social media membership at 6,000 when it was still allowed on those platforms.
McInnes left the group in November 2018 following pressure by the SPLC and other groups toward “both him and the Proud Boys,” according to the allegations, filed in federal court in Alabama.
His complaint outlines a long list of accusations SPLC has published against him and the Proud Boys that he says are false, including a statement that he is anti-gay. The complaint alleges that SPLC’s “hate” designation led to him being banned from social media platforms he used to build his audience as well as online-payment platforms, including PayPal and Google AdSense, that he used to monetize his message.
McInnes is seeking unspecified damages, citing lost business income and damage to his reputation. He’s also asking that the SPLC publicly apologize and retract its allegation that McInnes is tied to a hate group.
The SPLC’s president, Richard Cohen, called McInnes’ case “meritless” in a statement.
“To paraphrase FDR, judge us by the enemies we’ve made,” Cohen wrote. “Gavin McInnes has a history of making inflammatory statements about Muslims, women and the transgender community. The fact that he’s upset with SPLC tells us that we’re doing our job exposing hate and extremism.”
In its 2017 report “100 Days in Trump’s America: White Nationalists and Their Agenda Infiltrate the Mainstream,” the SPLC noted the Proud Boys’ role in organizing a pro-Trump rally in Berkeley, California, in which the group clashed with counterprotesters, leaving 11 people injured and six hospitalized.
The SPLC designated the Proud Boys a hate group in February 2018 when it released its annual hate group list. It defines a hate group as “an organization that – based on its official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities – has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”
The SPLC’s website lists a number of statements from McInnes to support its claim, including an interview he gave with NBC in which he said, “I’m not a fan of Islam. I think it’s fair to call me Islamophobic.” The NBC video cuts to another Proud Boy member attempting to couch the Islamophobia in a progressive veneer, saying, “I can’t think of a single Christian nation that throws gay people off of buildings.”
The SPLC also published a blog post detailing how some members of the Proud Boys were caught on camera attacking protesters alongside white nationalists following a speech by McInnes in New York last year. Members of the Proud Boys also attended the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. However, McInnes disavowed the rally two months before it happened.
Other groups have mounted lawsuits against the SPLC in recent years, claiming the organization’s hate group list painted with too broad a brush.
Last June, counter-extremism think tank Quilliam received a $3.37 million settlement and an apology from SPLC after the watchdog group admitted it erroneously included the group and its founder Maajid Nawaz in a publication about anti-Muslim extremists.
McInnes’ complaint also alleges the SPLC paid $3.4 million to settle a claim by the Family Research Council. But in an email to CNN a SPLC spokeswoman said there was no such claim or settlement.