Two very different groups of men are at war on the internet today: the far-right group known as the Proud Boys—and the thousands of gay Twitter users who flooded that platform with pro-LGBT images, marking those posts with #proudboys.
The hashtag trended in North America throughout Sunday with gay Twitter users sharing images of themselves, their spouses and other gay people. Several celebrities added their voices to the mix, including Star Trek’s George Takei.
“We’re proud of all the gay folks who have stepped up to reclaim our pride,” Takei wrote, posting a picture of himself and his husband Brad. It received nearly 75,000 likes. “Our community and allies answered hate with love.”
The official Twitter account of the Canadian Armed Forces in the United States took part, too, tweeting a picture of two men kissing—one a corporal named Brent Kenny—with #proudboys. “Love is love,” the group wrote in a reply tweet. It was perhaps not a surprising piece of activism from a group that describes itself in its Twitter bio as: “Nice people. Maple syrup.” The Canadian Navy’s Twitter account later retweeted the image, as did the account for the ship that Kenny sailed on, the Winnipeg.
The demonstration that Takei and the others took part in is a response to the spotlight that has been put on the Proud Boys, an organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center had labeled as a hate group, after President Trump mentioned them in last week’s presidential debate. The Proud Boys describes themselves as a “western chauvinist” organization and have publicly broadcast white supremacist messaging since their founding in 2016.
The Proud Boys have no official presence on Twitter since the social media site banned them in 2018, so they have spent the last few days in gleeful celebration over their newfound fame on Parler, a two-year-old social media app popular among conservatives. And it’s their absence on Twitter—the result of toxic and abusive language—that allowed the gay activists to seize control of #proudboys on Sunday.
The Proud Boys took none too kindly to this, filling up Parler with the type of hateful messages that got them kicked off Twitter in the first place. Much of the action was carried out by the Proud Boys’ official account on Parler, which has 60,000 followers. Enrique Tarrio, the Proud Boys’ chairman, said in a separate Parler post that the left was attempting to turn the group’s name into “a slur…using it to drown out the voices of our supporter.”
A screenshot posted on Parler of the tweet from the Canadian Armed Forces received some of the strongest reaction and was widely shared on the app.
“ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?????” wrote one user, @Tanamir, in reply to the screenshot.
“Fags,” was another response, from @Ryanha5150. “Can’t stand gay people…should be illegal.”
In an effort to ridicule Takei, another Parler post was a meme of the actor holding up the OK sign, a gesture white supremacists use to identify themselves to each other. The image isn’t meant to suggest Takei is a white supremacist. (He’s not.) It’s a statement that the Proud Boys can—and will—use his image to carry out their own propaganda.
One user, @Jettrail, replied to the meme and wrote, “There is a solution.” Along with that line, @Jettrail posted an image full of Nazi regalia—swastikas, bright Reich red. The image also contains several lines of text encouraging people to follow the Final Solution, the Nazi idea that led to the extermination of six million Jews during the Holocaust.