The Proud Boys are an alt-right enigma. The group is a roving gang of incels eager to incite fistfights with curious rituals involving breakfast cereals and an odd adherence to polo shirts. But their frat-like features obscure the group’s political incoherence. Their core dogma is a lazy mixture of media obsession and vague Trumpisms. Like middle-aged MAGA hat-sporting divorced dads, the Proud Boys believe in triggering libs and getting really angry about the news. Only the Proud Boys are young and self aware enough to want to seem cool and dangerous while doing it. They might not admit that, but their merchandise makes their desire to be cool loud and clear.
The t-shirts include a bizarre mix of messages and pop culture references that encapsulate The Proud Boys’ lazy ideology. The BuzzFeed and CNN digs are obvious nods to Donald Trump, as is the “Red Wave” t-shirt, which doesn’t make much sense given there wasn’t one in 2018. There’s also the Covington Catholic kid’s smug face, #ConfirmKavanaugh and a “Fuck You Jeff Flake” shirt that offends absolutely no one, because Jeff Flake sucks. The slogans are brutal “making lefties nervous” conservative comedy with extra curse words for edginess. But nothing in the Proud Boys’ t-shirt arsenal screams “edgy” quite like appropriating punk legends Bad Brains’ “Banned in D.C.” artwork into “Banned on Twitter.”
Something tells us the revolutionary all-black punk band wouldn’t be down with a group whose founder, Gavin McInnes believes in (and openly spreads) bogus race science. Also, while it’s understandable why a punk band would make a rallying cry out of getting blacklisted from their home city’s venues, being banned from social media doesn’t seem important enough to dedicate a shirt to.
Proud Boys shirts incorporate the straightforward design of Trump merch with even more political incorrectness. The point is to be as offensive as possible and throw in some tired pop culture reference to score cool points. “Proud Of Your Boy” is one of the group’s dumb-as-hell slogans, appealing to only the wettest of white supremacists. But printing the acronym in classic AC/DC t-shirt font? Instant chud classic.
The rest of the t-shirts lean into the Proud Boys’ cult-minded violent tendencies and agenda, passed down from Trump and McInnes, their Proud Boy father. One shirt even features McInnes sporting a confused diarrhea face while tacitly admitting his group’s general guilt.
Merchandise can tell us a lot about a political candidate or an extremist group. The Proud Boys t-shirt selection screams desperation from group obsessed with seeming cool and funny and no idea how to go about it.