PORTLAND, Oregon—Outfitted in a flak jacket and fighting gloves, Enrique Tarrio was one of dozens of black, Latino, and Asian men who marched alongside white supremacists in Portland on Aug. 4.
Tarrio, who identifies as Afro-Cuban, is president of the Miami chapter of the Proud Boys, who call themselves “Western chauvinists,” and “regularly spout white-nationalist memes and maintain affiliations with known extremists,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Last month, prior to the Patriot Prayer rally he attended in Portland, Tarrio was pictured with other far-right activists making a hand sign that started as a hoax but has become an in-joke. Last year, Tarrio said traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia, for the Unite the Right rally that ended with a neo-Nazi allegedly killing an anti-fascist protester. (The Proud Boys said any members who went to the event were kicked out.)
Tarrio and other people of color at the far-right rallies claim institutional racism no longer exists in America. In their view, blacks are to blame for any lingering inequality because they are dependent on welfare, lack strong leadership, and believe Democrats who tell them “You’re always going to be broke. You’re not going to make it in society because of institutional racism,” as one mixed-race man put it.
If racism doesn’t exist, I ask Tarrio, how would he explain the disproportionate killing of young black men by police? “Hip-hop culture,” he says. It “glorifies that lifestyle… of selling drugs, shooting up.” Because of that, “Obviously you’re going to have higher crime rates. Obviously you’re going to have more police presence and more confrontations.” (Police kill black males aged 15 to 34 at nine times the rate of the general population.)
Elysa Sanchez, who is black and Puerto Rican, attended the “Liberty or Death Rally Against Left-Wing Violence” in Seattle on Aug. 18, joining about 20 militiamen open-carrying handguns and semi-automatic rifles.
Sanchez says, “If black people are committing more murders, more robberies, more thefts, more violent crime, that’s why you would see more black men having encounters with the police.”
Also in Seattle, Franky Price, who said he is “black and white,”wore a T-shirt reading, “It’s okay to be white.”
They are among nearly a dozen black, Latino, and Asian participants at far-right rallies on the West Coast interviewed by The Daily Beast recently. They represent the new face of the far right that some scholars term “multiracial white supremacy.”
The Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer, which overlap, embrace an America-first nationalism that is less pro-white than it is anti-Muslim, anti-illegal immigrant, and anti-Black Lives Matter. “Proud Boys is multi-racial fraternity with thousands of members worldwide,” a lawyer for the group’s leader, Gavin McInnis, said in a statement. “The only requirements for membership are that a person must be biologically male and believe that the West is the best.”
Daniel Martinez HoSang, associate professor at Yale University, co-author of the forthcoming Producers, Parasites, Patriots: Race and the New Right-Wing Politics of Precarity, says “Multiculturalism has become a norm in society” and has spread from corporations and consumer culture to conservatism and the far-right.
Indeed, Patriot Prayer’s leader is Joey Gibson, who is half-Japanese and claims Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as a hero. But his agenda is the opposite of King’s. Gibson’s rallies have attracted neo-Confederates and neo-Nazis.
His right-hand man is Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, a 345-pound Samoan American who calls himself “a brown brother for Donald Trump” and is notorious for brawling. By bringing diversity to what is at heart a white-supremacist movement, people of color give it legitimacy to challenge state power and commit violence against their enemies.
David Neiwert, author of Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump, says, “The ranks of people of color who show up to these right-wing events are totally dominated by males.” He says the alt-right targets white males between the ages of 15 and 30 with a message of male resentment, which ends up attracting black, Latino, and Asian men as well.
Neiwert says many young men of color in the far-right grew up on conservative traditions common in minority communities. Their journey to the far-right has been enabled by the ease of recruitment in the internet age and the endorsement of extremism by Trump.
Entry points to the far-right include male-dominated video-game culture, the anti-feminist gamergate, troll havens on 4chan and 8chan, and the conspiracism that flourishes on websites like Infowars. Libertarianism is another gateway.
“A lot of these young guys,” Neiwert says, “especially from the software world, who are being sucked into white nationalism, start out being worked up about Ayn Rand in high school.”
Andrew Zhao, 25, a software engineer, says his parents, physicists who emigrated from mainland China, “are Trump fans.” He found out about the Seattle rally from Reddit and Facebook and said, “We need more patriotism. A lot of liberals don’t like America.”
Daniel HoSang says some people of color are drawn to the far-right because they “identify with the military, with nationalism, with patriotism, with conservatism.”
Wearing a Proud Boys hat, David Nopal, 23, came to the Seattle rally alone, like others. Nopal, whose parents crossed illegally from Mexico, said, “I’m very patriotic. The U.S. isn’t perfect, but we are a hell of a lot better than other countries.”
Sanchez comes from a military family. “They all love America. It’s a big part of the reason I’m a patriot.”
Similarly, Tarrio attributes his anti-socialist politics to his grandfather’s experience in Cuba under Fidel Castro.
They proudly identify as “American” without modifiers. In their America they’ve never experienced racism. They eagerly talk politics, but evidence of their America is scant beyond the internet. Institutional racism has been ended by affirmative action, “black privilege,” and equal protection under the law. Any remaining black inequality is caused by social welfare and liberal policies. In any case, it was Democrats who started the Klan.
People of color within the far-right play a role that “excuses white racism and bears witness to the failure of people of color,” HoSang says, adding that they make “white supremacy a more durable force.”
HoSang said the far-right is trying to broaden its appeal from a whites-only movement in a multiracial America, so it is “laying claim to the ideas of anti-racism, racial uplift, and civil-rights progress.”
HoSang says, “It’s hard for people to wrap their head around how Dr. King and civil-rights language are being used to legitimate positions approaching fascism and violence to restore hierarchy and order. But they are.”
Editor's Note: This story has been updated with a statement from the Proud Boys and to clarify that the group formally opposed the Charlottesville march.