Who WERE those unmasked men??
Those of us who regularly went to 2021 NK School Committee meetings noticed a growing number of attendees--typically youngish men--whom we did not recognize, an easy thing to determine since they refused to wear masks. Rather than sign up to testify at the mic and state their NK addresses, they tended to stay towards the back of the audience shouting insults, laced with profanity, at the committee members and citizens who did have the floor. At times they drowned out the recognized speakers. We know we can't prevent this. Our town's written rules permit participation, including public comment, from people who don't live or vote here. (Similarly, we are welcome at other RI towns' open meetings.) Still, I found their behavior unsettling, even menacing. And that seemed like exactly what they intended.
VICE.com offers an intriguing possibility. Under the subheading "Proud Boys Go Local," a recent article describes how ... :
After the deadly Capitol riot, the Proud Boys appeared to retreat from the national stage amid intense scrutiny, a flurry of serious federal charges (nearly 50 members have been charged so far), and rumored infighting. ... But around the spring of 2021, VICE News noticed a trend that hinted at a different and potentially quite troubling story about the Proud Boys’ reach, resilience, and ground-level support. It seemed that they were flying under the national radar, and eschewing large-scale, high-profile appearances in favor of quietly solidifying alliances around hot-button political issues and community activism.
We spent the last year closely tracking and documenting this trend, and found that Proud Boys made at least 114 uniformed appearances across 73 cities in 24 states between Jan. 6 and Dec. 21, 2021.
“Over the past year, the Proud Boys have worked to embed themselves amongst local activists who haven’t been tarnished by the Jan. 6 insurrection,” said Devin Burghart, executive director of the Missouri-based Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights (IREHR). “They’ve enmeshed themselves into local efforts to push back against vaccine mandates, or critical race theory, and other local conflicts, which has allowed them to steer clear of the national discussion about the insurrection and provide them with a base of support that they didn’t have prior to Jan. 6.”
For example, they organized an Easter egg hunt in a Chicago suburb, serenaded a crowd of anti-vaxxers outside California’s Capitol in Sacramento with a nationalist ballad, and posed a menacing presence at school board meetings where “critical race theory” was being discussed.