The FBI considers the far-right Proud Boys to be an extremist group with ties to white nationalism, according to a Washington state sheriff's report.
In an internal affairs document detailing an investigation into a former deputy sheriff, Erin Willey, for her affiliation with Proud Boys, the Clark County Sheriff's Office said that "the FBI categorizes Proud Boys as an extremist group with ties to white nationalism."
The report was first released to the Guardian by the Property of the People, which describes itself as a "nonprofit organization devoted to governmental transparency." This is apparently the first time the FBI's classification of the group has been made public.
The Clark County Sheriff's Office completed its report in August, two months before several Proud Boys were arrested and charged for their involvement in a violent confrontation with far-left protesters in New York City following Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes' speech at a Republican club in the city.
The report also said that the FBI had warned local law enforcement in Washington state that the Proud Boys were actively recruiting in the Pacific Northwest and that some of its members had "contributed to the recent escalation of violence at political rallies" on campus colleges and in cities including Charlottesville, Virginia; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated Proud Boys as a hate group, saying that their words and actions have contradicted the Proud Boys' disavowal of the alt-right.
McInness, who cofounded Vice Media, created the Proud Boys during the 2016 presidential election. The Proud Boys describe themselves as "Western chauvinists" who like to believe that "the West is the best."
While the group insists it has no connection to the alt-right, the Proud Boys are often associated with white nationalism and bigoted rhetoric, the SPLC said.
The Clark County Sheriff's Office began investigating Willey after the Columbian reported that she was seen in a photo wearing a sweatshirt with a Proud Boys Girls logo and was involved in making and selling Proud Boys Girls apparel.
The sheriff's office fired Willey after their internal investigation found that she had violated the department's non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies by her involvement with Proud Boys Girls — a women's group affiliated with the Proud Boys.
The internal affairs report said that Proud Boys' members have been documented as "having called for the closure of all prisons, the issuing of firearms to everyone, the legalization of all drugs, the deportation of all illegal immigrants and the shutdown of the government."
A law enforcement official told BuzzFeed News that the FBI doesn't designate groups.
In a statement, the FBI said that it "does not and will not police ideology."
"Our focus is not on membership in particular groups but on individuals who commit violence and criminal activity that constitutes a federal crime or poses a threat to national security," the FBI said. "When it comes to domestic terrorism, our investigations focus solely on criminal activity of individuals—regardless of group membership—which appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce the civilian population or influence the policy of the government by intimidation or coercion."
The report's author, Commander Michael McCabe, told the Guardian that he became aware of the FBI's classification of Proud Boys as an extremist group during an FBI briefing at the sheriff's department on Aug. 2. During the briefing, the FBI said they “have been warning [local law enforcement] for a while” about the Proud Boys, “not just in Washington but around the nation," McCabe told the Guardian.
Following the Proud Boys' involvement in the brutal fight in Manhattan, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on the FBI to investigate the group and any other violent acts or discrimination by members across the state.
"The bottom line is that I hold the President responsible for demonizing differences, fanning the flames of racism and division and creating a fire of hatred and violence," Cuomo said in a statement at the time. "These vile acts of racism, division and discrimination are repugnant to American values, and have no place in our state."