Over the past four years, the group has engaged in clashes in cities like Portland, Ore., and Berkeley, Calif., as well as at the notorious neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 that was organized by a Proud Boys member.
Mr. Trump sought to quell a backlash from fellow Republicans over his remarks on Wednesday, denying any knowledge of the Proud Boys. And some in the Proud Boys sought to create distance as well. “I don’t see it, and the organization doesn’t see it, as a direct endorsement,” said Mr. Tarrio, the current chairman, contradicting his predecessor. Mr. Trump’s remarks about “standing by” were “a small slip,” he said, intended to suggest that the group should “stand by and let the cops do their job.”
But the president’s remark, which came after Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic candidate, mentioned the group, also attracted attention and approval among avowed white supremacists. “I got shivers. I still have shivers,” wrote Andrew Anglin, the founder of the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website. “He is telling the people to stand by. As in: get ready for war.”
While the Proud Boys claim to be antiestablishment, they also court members of the Republican elite and count Roger Stone, the conservative political consultant and ally of Mr. Trump, among their most high-profile supporters. Mr. Stone recorded a voice mail message for Mr. Tarrio, who dropped out of the Republican primary for a congressional seat in Florida this year after failing to attract much interest or financial support.
The Proud Boys have been able to make inroads with mainstream conservatives in part because its members wrap themselves in libertarian values, said Samantha Kutner of the Khalifa Ihler Institute, an academic collective that maps far-right groups globally. “It is hard for people to understand the kind of extremism that comes wrapped in the American flag,” she said.
Mr. McInnes, a co-founder of Vice, the provocative hipster magazine, established the Proud Boys in 2016 in New York.