Ward: Theres a pretty clear trajectory from the 2018 brawl at the Metropolitan Republican Club to Trumps stand back and stand by comment during the presidential debate in September 2020 to, ultimately, the Jan. 6 insurrection. Did anything really surprise you about their role on Jan. 6?
Campbell: I was turning in the final chapters of the book when the original conspiracy charges came down against them, which were not surprising. The 1776 Returns document showed that the Proud Boys didnt just have an outsize role in Jan. 6, but that they may have had a role in planning it, too. Leading up to January 6, the Proud Boys were prepping for civil war, and they were getting super excited for their last stand for Trump.
But I was absolutely surprised that the [other] architects of Jan. 6 would put any sort of trust in the Proud Boys to pull this thing off, because any big event that theyve been involved in over the years has led to mass arrests. The Proud Boys are terrible with their information security, and theyre constantly being watched by the feds and by journalists. So it was absolutely surprising to me, when that 1776 Returns document came down, that they had such a big role in [planning] it.
And then theyve continued to surprise me with their resiliency. A number of people wrote them off after Jan. 6, saying, Oh, the Proud Boys are imploding, or theyre gonna dissolve after this, and sure enough, theyre still in action.
Ward: Early in the book, you cite McInnes claim that Fighting solves everything, and you argue that the GOP more or less tacitly endorsed that point of view when the Republican National Committee classified the violence of Jan. 6 as legitimate political discourse. How much credit or blame, depending on your point of view do the Proud Boys deserve for the GOPs decision to endorse some forms of political violence?
Campbell: I think they have [played] a huge role. I mean, they were showing up at events big and small at the behest of Trump and the GOP grievance machine for years and fighting it out in the street. Over time, the goalposts have been moved to the degree that political violence, as a justified response to the things that the [GOP] is mad about, is totally normal now.
Whats scary about the Proud Boys is that the playbook that theyve helped create under Trump is such that everyday Americans think that they can go out [into the streets] and fight for the things that theyre mad about. Youve got regular people joining extremists at abortion clinics and at Boston Childrens Hospital and at drag queen story hours. Theyre threatening and intimidating people, and theyre looking at the Proud Boys, whose leaders have seen very few consequences until Jan. 6. Certainly, [McInnes] has never seen any real legal consequences for fomenting all of this.