Must Reads: The Proud Boys walk into a bar. A fight breaks out. Now a Los Angeles bar deals with the consequences
First, the official story that seemingly everyone agrees on.
About 10:35 p.m. Saturday, Los Angeles police received a call about a large group fighting at the Griffin, a bar in Atwater Village. Upon arrival, officers told both groups to leave. No arrests were made. No report was taken.
The two parties involved in the fight — community organizers who volunteer with L.A. anti-gentrification organizations and the Democratic Socialists of America’s Los Angeles chapter, versus the Proud Boys, a far-right organization that will take issue with that description and, instead, describes itself as a pro-Western fraternal organization — agree on little more than the information above.
For starters, they don’t agree on how, when or why the fight started.
For 31-year-old L.A. organizer and comedian Josh Androsky, the fight started when the Proud Boys decided to come to his neighborhood.
Androsky started working to organize a group to go to the bar after getting a text message that the Proud Boys were going to the Griffin.
“The 1st Amendment protects the right to peaceably assemble,” Androsky said. “There’s no such thing as a peaceable assembly of Nazis. Just by virtue of their ideology, they are causing harm.”
The Proud Boys, established in 2016 by Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, has been classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. The Proud Boys have rejected that classification, arguing that they’re a men’s organization “for men who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world, aka Western Chauvinists.”
They say they’re against political correctness and racial guilt, among other things.
The group has regional chapters, including in the Bay Area and Orange County. Members follow a dress code that includes polo shirts and engage in violent brawls with anti-fascists as part of their initiation, the SPLC has said. In April 2017, members of the Proud Boys and others in a spectrum of far-right groups clashed with anti-fascist protesters before a “Patriot’s Day” rally in Berkeley. The melee left many bloodied, and 21 were arrested.
When Androsky arrived at the bar with friends, they saw about 20 Proud Boys wearing their usual wardrobe: yellow and black Fred Perry polo shirts, along with red “Make America Great Again” hats.
Their first goal was to talk with the bar’s staff and ask them to escort the Proud Boys out. That didn’t happen, Androsky said.
Instead, he said, one of the bar staffers, after being told racists were meeting in the bar, responded: “The only color I see is green.”
Androsky said he noticed that the Proud Boys were beginning to circle around a few patrons celebrating a birthday. He became concerned that they were going to start a fight with the group, which included a few people of color.
“Hey, take off your dumb hats,” Androsky yelled at them. That got the group’s attention.
Madison McCabe, 28, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America L.A. group, said once she saw the Proud Boys converge on Androsky, who is her boyfriend, she stepped in front of a large Proud Boys member, placing her hand on his chest to stop him. McCabe, who is 5 foot, 4 inches and about 110 pounds, was shoved to the ground.
The Proud Boys L.A. president confirmed that McCabe was very likely shoved.
“She thought it was a good idea to shove a guy, and it turns out when you do that, they’ll shove you back,” he said. “But here’s the thing, she wasn’t hurt. She received a reasonable and appropriate response to putting hands on someone. The cops knew — they knew and said it was fine.”
This is the point in the evening when the Proud Boys say the fight started.
The group’s president said the fight began because someone stole one of his group members’ “Make America Great Again” hats.
Androsky confirmed he was the hat thief.
“After the Nazis shoved my girlfriend, my retaliation was to grab one of their hats and chuck it outside, and I feel great about my decision,” he said.
During an interview with The Times, the president of the Proud Boys Los Angeles chapter declined to give his full name because he said his group members have been attacked on social media, fired from their jobs for their political beliefs and physically attacked for wearing “Make America Great Again” hats.
He said the group went to the Griffin to enjoy each other’s company and rejected the notion that his group purposefully went to cause trouble in a part of Los Angeles where fewer than 20% of voters supported Donald Trump for president.
He said they were not harassing anyone but instead quietly enjoying their evening until Androsky and fellow organizers arrived and started shouting at them, calling them Nazis, racists and fascists. He said the Proud Boys are none of those things and instead “believe that Western culture is the best.”
The group, which has about 160 members and up to 300 pending applicants, is racially diverse, he said. The Proud Boys allow only “biological men,” but members do not have to identify as heterosexual, he said, noting that the vice president of the L.A. chapter is gay and Jewish.
The president, who said he is Chinese and Hawaiian, said his friends call him racial slurs sometimes because that’s how men show affection — “by talking [expletive] to each other.”
“I think that racial pride is stupid,” he said. “I think racial pride is stupid because how can you be proud of something you took no part in creating? I believe you can only be proud of accomplishments.… I’m not going to be proud of you because the stars were aligned, and you happened to come out of that person’s womb, and you happened to be white.”
Saturday’s fight escalated to the point that the Griffin staff closed the bar.
Once outside, the yelling continued.
After being called a “racist Nazi,” one Proud Boy member can be heard on a video posted to Twitter yelling to the community organizers, “I got a half-black [expletive] son, what the [expletive] up?”
Androsky said his goal of helping to organize a group to go to the Griffin was to show that “Nazis aren’t welcome in L.A.”
“The Proud Boys say they’re not Nazis, and duh, they’re not from 1945, they’re not 100 years old,” Androsky said. “But in America, there’s a fun little thing which is a catch-all term for right-wing racist hate groups, and it’s Nazi.”
Following the incident, the Griffin has been inundated with negative Yelp reviews and calls by some users on social media for a boycott.
On Sunday at 11:49 a.m., the Griffin posted a statement to its Facebook page underscoring that the bar doesn’t support the Proud Boys or any other related group. Ideally, the group would have been stopped at the door and not allowed in, the statement said.
“Since they were already inside I advised that we use a tactic that I’ve used in the past with gang members or people that are obviously in there to cause problems, kill them with kindness and they’ll get bored and go away,” the statement reads. “We are generally a pretty mellow and peaceful bar with no real security and I foolishly thought this was the best way to ensure they’d leave without putting my staff in danger.”
Later Sunday, the Griffin announced it would be closed that evening, and that moving forward, the bar staff will screen patrons and no hate group will be allowed on the premises.
The bar will also post signs at the bar’s entrance: “No sexism, no racism, no ableism, no ageism, no homophobia, no fatphobia, no transphobia, no hatefulness.”
Aaron Chepenik, one of the Griffin owners, said to ensure people understand that the Griffin and its owners care about the community, they will host a community benefit at 9 p.m. Wednesday, with proceeds going to the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council.
When asked whether they would return, both the community organizers and the Proud Boys said they have no plans to do so. They both agree they’re done with the Griffin.
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