When Did Gavin McInnes Lose His Mind?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the Proud Boys founder once seemed like such a nice guy.
By Eugene S. Robinson
- It is, apparently, a short road from satirical style critiques to leading what’s been classified a hate group.
- What drives the pugilistic entrepreneur? Try class warfare.
“I will fight anybody…”
Given my likes-to-fight bona fides and a book I’d recently written on the very subject, an intermediary passed along the challenge, and the challenge was irresistible. Issued by Gavin McInnes. To the world.
So in an email dated April 29, 2009, I responded: “Will be glad to fight you in a bout of sanctioned homicide!!!”
Random? Not even: Years earlier, McInnes had commissioned me to write about fighting for Vice. My original piece was Madison Avenue mainstream. McInnes kicked it back with notes. What he wanted — for it to read more like an email to a friend — was the style that Vice became known for, and it also marked our email exchanges: breezy, snark-laden, direct, funny as fuck.
He allegedly defecated in the middle of an intersection. Just … because. When asked later whether the incident actually took place, he said: “Who can remember?”
I still haven’t met McInnes in person. He begged off of my offer to exchange blows with “Sorry, dude. Guy beat you to the punch. Going down this weekend.”
At the time, McInnes was all about a kind of weird pastiche of punk rock resistance and anarcho-contrariness, leaving me no doubt that at least he and the other guy tried to fight. But the McInnes stories kept accruing, my favorite being the time he allegedly defecated in the middle of an intersection. Just … because. When asked later whether the incident actually took place, he said: “Who can remember?”
Eventually McInnes was nudged out from Vice, the magazine he co-founded, after attending a far-right rally and writing a piece about the event in which he said that he found himself agreeing with what he heard more than disagreeing. The scuttlebutt was that about half a million dollars of advertising was threatening to walk unless something was done.
So McInnes was invited out and then went on to start Street Carnage, an online-only deal that never really found its footing.
And then the Proud Boys happened.
Initially the movement came across as part Little Rascals’ He-Man Woman-Haters Club, part what Chuck Palahniuk had tapped into with Fight Club, a male hipster anomie whose principal preoccupation was: How are we to be men?
It was also in the air at the time. The late Adam Parfrey, Feral House publisher, trod similar ground with his revival of 1950s police gazettes and girlie mags. It was like Iron John men’s rights for guys too cool to participate in drum circles in the woods while hugging each other and crying about their dads. “I find the apology posturing to be woeful,” Parfrey once said. That seemed to be McInnes’ ethos too.
But then things got strange.
McInnes started appearing on Fox News, and the Proud Boys, having adopted skinhead fashion with their Fred Perry polo shirts, started getting arrested in street scuffles. McInnes went off-brand. There was none of the wised-up detachment that had become so much a part of the hipster ethos he had helped frame. He was coming in hot: “Transphobia is perfectly natural.” “Ninety-five percent of women would be happier at home.” “Violence doesn’t feel good, justified violence feels great, and fighting solves everything. … I want violence. I want punching in the face.”
People took notice. The Southern Poverty Law Center identified the Proud Boys as a hate group. Amid this summer’s racial justice protests, Proud Boys fought with antifa in the streets of Kalamazoo, Michigan. They’re planning a rally in downtown Portland, Oregon, this month that’s unlikely to end well.
Following a Joe Rogan podcast appearance a few years back where McInnes talked of the Proud Boys as a gang and dropped the above “I want violence” line, there were dark murmurings and paranoia that the group had started to appear on the FBI’s radar. The FBI ended up denying it considered the Proud Boys to be an extremist group, though it was interested in some of its violent members, but the whole affair — combined with charges against nine Proud Boys for a street brawl in New York — was spine-straightening enough that McInnes semiformally disengaged from the Proud Boys. Which made sense. The FBI starts to consider your group a gang? Well, it’s a short step from there to RICO charges. For those who have forgotten their Mafia history, that’s the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. It got John Gotti and brought down the Lucchese crime family.
The attention, though, caused McInnes to lose his platforms, and he and associates were systematically dumped by Twitter, PayPal, iTunes and Facebook. He also got caught up in a neighborhood imbroglio when his neighbors in well-heeled Larchmont, New York, figured out who he was and what he had been doing and started lawn signing their neighborhood. Hate groups are apparently unwanted in Larchmont. And now? Now he’s fighting the Southern Poverty Law Center, whose designation of the Proud Boys as a hate group led to the aforementioned de-platforming.
Seems like it would have been easier to write how terrible a style choice oversized T-shirts are. But maybe I missed something, so I called McInnes. His voicemail indicated that he rarely, if ever, answers his phone and that he doesn’t listen to messages. It was pointless to try to leave a message anyway — his mailbox was full. But he says he does get texts, so I texted him. And waited.
While waiting, I contacted Jim Goad, the so-called godfather of the new right, author of The Redneck Manifesto and one of McInnes’ favorite writers. I considered McInnes an associate. In a case of strange bedfellows, I considered Goad a pal. But he was direct, frank and baffled in regards to the Proud Boys. “Half of those guys are Catholics now, but they were Sieg Heiling three years ago,” he said.
But what happened to McInnes and what’s his deal with the Proud Boys?
Goad paused and sighed. “I’ve always wanted to question the motives of adult men who want to spend all of their time around other adult men,” he said. But on McInnes, he drew a blank.
A former associate of McInnes in Los Angeles who declined to be identified because he didn’t want to get dragged into “all of this” offered a clue. “What people forget is that Gavin comes from money. He’s never been broke and is not broke now,” he told me. “So this is really class war for him. Not race, sex or religion. It’s about his class prerogative to do whatever the fuck he wants.”
Then I found the email in which McInnes addressed the outcome of the fight that he sought back in 2009: “Fought a Muay Thai guy on Friday. Fuck those guys are good at getting you in the ribs. When I box I like to use the huddle time to catch my breath but with these Muay Thai guys that’s the worst place to be. I won after three rounds but he cracked my ribs so I kind of feel like I lost.”
I know the feeling.
Then my phone buzzed. It was McInnes.
“Oh shit! How you doing, man?” Text-wise that came dangerously close to enthusiasm. I tell him I need to talk to him. Because, yeah, at this point it’s become an actual need. But he begs off again. “I’m at a very weird thing in Montana. Like a conservative think tank/retreat.”
I tell him I want to try to explain him to people who were wondering where he went wrong. “Great. Check out Censored.TV.”
I do. The first piece that catches my eye is about a woman filmed on the streets of New York urinating in the street while having sex. I close it down. I’m at the pharmacy. And I don’t think the pharmacist would understand.
After this article posted, McInnes responded to our original wording that he had been “fired” by Vice, which we’ve since changed above. Here is his reply in full:
“Wasn’t fired. Viacom was actually worried about me being ousted and thought it was a dangerous move because I was the brand. It would be more accurate to say: ‘His constant fraternizing with extremists (on the right and the left) was making advertisers uneasy. Vice was getting too big for its britches and associating with the far right was bad for business (far left wasn’t an issue, apparently).'”