There was something like a scandal in my neighborhood a few weeks ago when two employees of a local tattoo parlor were effectively hounded into quitting their jobs after they were outed as members or affiliates of the Proud Boys, a self-styled "western supremacist" group. The Alt, a relatively new weekly paper following in the footsteps of the late Metroland, decided to look deeper into what the Proud Boys (and their female auxiliaries) are about. The surprising thing about Jaya Sundaresh's report is that the Southern Poverty Law Center, the leading watchdog of supremacist groups, isn't too concerned about the Proud Boys, at least for now. An SLPC representative told Sundaresh that Proud Boys founder Gavin MacInnes disavows racism and anti-semitism, opening the group to anyone who, in another writer's words, "recognize[s] that white men are not the problem." People closer to home are more concerned, mainly with the Proud Boys' reputation as street fighters. A Proud Boy reportedly attains the fourth and highest degree of membership for "enduring a major conflict related to the crowd." This is understood to mean that Proud Boys are prepared to do battle with their counterparts on the left, the "antifa" movement, though MacInnes insists that his Boys are to fight defensively -- presumably in defense of the targets of antifa demonstrations. Of course, street fighting + "western supremacism" = "storm troopers" in the leftist imagination, as confirmed by an Oregon professor who tells Sundaresh that the Proud Boys look like "a deliberate effort to reproduce the conditions that led to the emergence of fascism." From this perspective, MacInnes becomes a more sinister figure, "trying to insert authoritarianism and totalitarianism into the mainstream." Other critics point to the more eccentric rituals of Proud Boy membership -- to attain the second degree, reportedly, one must run a gauntlet while shouting as many breakfast cereal brand names as one can recall -- as reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan. Elsewhere in the July 19 issue, columnist Miriam Axel-Lute argues that boycott threats against the tattoo parlor were justified. She sneers at "self-professed liberals clutching their pearls over the fact that this became an issue at all." Such liberals are "more concerned with avoiding conflict than actually protecting anybody," Axel-Lute writes. Two people losing their jobs are trivial, she contends, compared to the hate crimes that have become routine in America. I can't help wondering whether she'd be as indifferent to people getting pressured into quitting their jobs because they were found to sympathize with antifa, but had not actually participated in any demonstrations to anyone's knowledge. As far as Axel-Lute is concerned, the customer is always right, or at least those customers are who "have every right to be actually scared for their safety around people " like the Proud Boys.
Ideologues are entitled to double standards, of course, since they really believe that some groups deserve to be treated differently from others. The rest of us may wonder what the difference is, especially when it seems that the antifa people usually are the aggressors in public confrontations. I'm not thrilled by the emergence of street fighters on either side of the ideological divide, but beyond that I'd like to withhold judgment on the Proud Boys until I learn what they think "the problem" is. Judgment is rarely withheld for movements like this, and MacInnes probably asked for it by describing the Boys as "supremacists" rather than as a mere "pride" movement. But the difference in terminology probably wouldn't have made much difference. You always hear white people asking why they can't have a White Pride week or month, or a Western Civilization celebration. The glib answer to their complaint is that every day is White Pride Day in the U.S.A., but such a comeback shouldn't obscure the existence of an actual double standard on the subject of pride. In the 21st century U.S., it seems, only appeals to "white" or "western" or "European" pride are seen as inherently supremacist. Despite the existence of actual black supremacist groups like the Nation of Islam and the Five Percenters, only among whites is "pride" assumed to be implicitly derogatory toward everyone else. For any other group, asserting "pride" is understood to mean, "We're great, too!" while an assertion of "white pride" is understood to mean, "We're the greatest, and the rest of you suck!" It would be stupid to deny that non-whites have some historic reasons to be suspicious of assertions of white male or even "western" pride, but their suspicions should not absolutely preclude the possibility of white (or at least western) pride that is not exclusionary or derogatory. After all, for many 20th century liberals it was the supreme point of pride in western civilization that it welcomed all who approached it with open minds, and many liberals today no doubt have great pride in an idealized western civilization that theoretically encompasses all other civilizations instead of subjugating or exterminating them. The Proud Boys probably aren't so idealistic as that, but everything else being equal -- for this is America, ain't it? -- is that reason enough for them to lose their jobs? I understand that a lot of people already perceive them as the enemy, but their own treatment of them is most likely the quickest way to turn perception into reality.