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News / Clark County News

Deputy fired over Proud Boys sweatshirt

Group is associated with white nationalism, misogyny, violence at political rallies

By Andy Matarrese, Columbian environment and transportation reporter
Published: July 20, 2018, 6:01am
2 Photos
The Clark County Sheriff’s Office fired Deputy Erin Willey, a deputy photographed wearing and who manufactures apparel affiliated with a far-right group known for white nationalism.
The Clark County Sheriff’s Office fired Deputy Erin Willey, a deputy photographed wearing and who manufactures apparel affiliated with a far-right group known for white nationalism. (Contributed photo) Photo Gallery

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office has fired a deputy photographed wearing, and who apparently merchandises, apparel affiliated with the Proud Boys, a far-right group known for its white nationalist rhetoric and frequent appearances in the middle of political violence locally and nationwide.

The sheriff’s office placed Deputy Erin Willey on leave for an internal investigation in response to The Columbian’s reporting, after the office was shown a photograph of Willey wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with a Proud Boys logo. She was terminated on Tuesday after the investigation was completed.

The undated photograph, shared with The Columbian by an anonymous source, shows Willey wearing a hooded sweatshirt with a logo showing a switchblade, lipstick and an abbreviation for Proud Boys’ Girls, which appears to be for sale on the online storefront Redbubble, an Australia-based market similar to Etsy.

Willey is also shown in a second photograph shared on a Proud Boys-affiliated Twitter page, which included her contact information for buying Proud Boys’ Girls merchandise.

Clark County Undersheriff Mike Cooke declined to speak in more detail on the investigation or Willey’s termination, saying it’s a personnel matter.

Willey did not return requests for comment.

In a statement, Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins said, “Law enforcement officers are peacekeepers whose core mission is to protect and safeguard the community.

“My expectation is that my employees do not engage in activities or associations that undermine or diminish our role as peacekeepers.”

According to the sheriff’s office, Willey was hired in May 2017, and completed her law enforcement academy training in December.

About the Proud Boys

The Proud Boys call themselves a “pro-Western fraternal organization” for men who “refuse to apologize for creating the modern world,” according to their founder, Gavin McInnes.

The group advocates for a return to a 1950s sense of traditional gender roles and includes “venerate the housewife” among its tenets. Its stated politics advocate for closed borders, and tend to skew toward the libertarian, including advocating for the closure of prisons, giving everyone guns, maximal rights to free expression, legalizing drugs and “glorifying the entrepreneur.”

The group rejects a white nationalist label, but the Southern Poverty Law Center has categorized it as a hate group, noting members’ “disavowals of bigotry are belied by their actions: rank-and-file Proud Boys and leaders regularly spout white nationalist memes and maintain affiliations with known extremists.”

Beyond regularly sharing white nationalist content online or espousing misogynistic and anti-Muslim rhetoric, group members have been seen around local and national far-right rallies, often in the thick of the violence, wearing their adopted black-and-yellow Fred Perry polo shirts and Make America Great Again baseball caps.

Group members joined the rally in Charlottesville, Va., last year where a right-wing extremist is accused of killing an anti-racist activist after ramming his vehicle through a group of counter-protesters. The rally organizer, Jason Kessler, was once part of the group, and was filmed undergoing one of its initiation rituals.

In May, Proud Boys members allegedly attacked an African-American teen in the Vancouver Mall parking lot after he swore at them for flying a Donald Trump flag. In June, some of the same men allegedly attacked a man on the street in Portland, when he swore at them while they were driving around town yelling at strangers in support of Trump’s border wall project.

The group has also become a regular fixture at rallies organized through Vancouver U.S. Senate candidate Joey Gibson’s right-wing advocacy group, Patriot Prayer. Those rallies, predominantly based in Portland, have also drawn members of other far-right groups, including an openly white nationalist group with neo-Nazi ties, Identity Evropa.

McInnes and other Proud Boys decry the violence at their rallies, while affiliated social media feeds after clashes are running video clips showing Proud Boys beating anti-fascists and other counterprotesters.

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Members deny any white nationalism — and the strain of racism, Islamophobia and misogyny that often comes with it in Proud Boys’ online and real-life rhetoric — and instead couch it with an overall fraternal, juvenile aesthetic; “ironic” internet humor; claims they’re only “trolling” to get reactions from political liberals, or with “free speech” defenses.

McInnes, a co-founder of Vice Media turned right-wing provocateur, founded the Proud Boys in 2016.

He left Vice in 2008, and went on to work as a pundit and contributor for far-right websites, where he’s decried women’s suffrage, said every accusation of domestic violence he’s heard were plots by women to ruin men’s lives, and blamed Jews for the Holodomor, the mass starvation of Ukrainians in the 1930s, along with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.

The club title comes from a song, “Proud of Your Boy,” which is from the Broadway musical “Aladdin.”

In 2003, McInnes told The New York Times: “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.”

Columbian environment and transportation reporter