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Armed attendees listen to speakers during a Proud Boy rally Saturday in Portland, Ore. Photo: Nathan Howard/Getty Images

President Trump's refusal to condemn white nationalists during Tuesday night's debate drew a lot of attention — including from the Proud Boys, the far-right group he asked to "stand back and stand by."

Why it matters: The Proud Boys remain relatively small — a Portland rally this past weekend billed as the group's largest-ever gathering drew just a few hundred people. But Trump's failure to condemn extremist groups has been welcomed as an endorsement by a wide constellation of people on the fringes.

Driving the news: After Tuesday's debate, the Proud Boys — described by the Anti-Defamation League as "misogynistic, Islamophobic, transphobic and anti-immigration" — turned Trump's words into a logo and a T-shirt.

The big picture: The Proud Boys are part of a growing set of relatively new, often heavily armed far-right groups with ideologies and memberships that often overlap. The groups have pledged to violently oppose the left and do much of their organizing online.

  • The Proud Boys are among the most overtly gang-like of the major groups, sporting uniforms (black Fred Perry polo shirts with gold piping, which the designer recently stopped producing due to the association) and tattoos, and maintaining initiation rites, including requiring members to get into a physical fight for the cause of promoting the supremacy of western culture.

Other groups include:

  • Three percenters, named for the myth that only 3% of colonists were willing to take up arms in the Revolutionary War. The militia group has threatened force against Democratic politicians.
  • Oath keepers, who seek to serve as private back-up for police forces around the country. Many members are themselves former police or military.
  • Boogaloo bois, identifiable by the Hawaiian shirts they typically wear in concert with body armor and, often, Make America Great Again hats. Like the Proud Boys, they bring the winking irony common to online extremism into the physical world. Even the name "boogaloo bois" is a joke — but their call for a second civil war, drawn along ideological lines, appears very real.
  • Atomwaffen, the most nihilist of all the major groups, which openly calls for mass murder of lefists, ethnic and religious minorities, LGBTQ individuals and others. It's been linked to killings and terrorist threats in the U.S. and abroad.

That's on top of:

  • Local groups like Patriot Prayer, which organizes rallies and disrupts left-wing protests, chiefly in the Pacific Northwest;
  • Longstanding hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan; and
  • Groups like American Renaissance that seek to put the gloss of academic legitimacy to far-right, racist views.

One key feature common to many of the newer crop of far-right groups: a slipperiness that helps them avoid being pinned down on their extremist beliefs.

  • Proud Boys, for instance, will often point to non-white members as proof they're not racist, despite their explicitly racist views.
  • Their evasiveness also lets them disclaim members who run afoul of the law. That's just what the Proud Boys did Wednesday, per conservative provocateur Andy Ngo, after a prominent Portland Proud Boys member was arrested on assault and weapons charges.

The bottom line: Any one of these groups on its own represents a small sliver of the far-right fringe. But together they constitute a potential paramilitary force that has an increasingly explicit endorsement from the president and that's hungry for violent clashes with their political opponents.

Go deeper

Jan 8, 2021 - Technology

The far right's circus of memes

Photo: Win McNamee via Getty Images

So much of Wednesday's assault on the Capitol looked readymade for memes because, for many of today's far-right digital natives, that is the point.

What happened: The outlandishly costumed rioters — among them, shirtless, horned "Q Shaman" Jake Angeli and fur-clad Brooklynite Aaron Mostofsky — had no wish to fade into the crowd.

Republicans pledge to set aside differences and work with Biden

President Biden speaks to Sen. Mitch McConnell after being sworn in at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Several Republicans praised President Biden's calls for unity during his inaugural address on Wednesday and pledged to work together for the benefit of the American people.

Why it matters: The Democrats only have a slim majority in the Senate and Biden will likely need to work with the GOP to pass his legislative agenda.

The Biden protection plan

Joe Biden announces his first run for the presidency in June 1987. Photo: Howard L. Sachs/CNP/Getty Images

The Joe Biden who became the 46th president on Wednesday isn't the same blabbermouth who failed in 1988 and 2008.

Why it matters: Biden now heeds guidance about staying on task with speeches and no longer worries a gaffe or two will cost him an election. His staff also limits the places where he speaks freely and off the cuff. This Biden protective bubble will only tighten in the months ahead, aides tell Axios.