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Known to operate in Kentucky, the Proud Boys are gaining access to the political mainstream, according to a new report

Proud Boys
Alex Milan Tracy/AP
FR171835 AP
Members of the far-right group Proud Boys gather for a rally in an abandoned parking lot on the outskirts of Portland, Ore. , Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Alex Milan Tracy)

In its annual report tracking hate and extremism in the U.S., the Southern Poverty Law Center flags one group known to operate in Kentucky — the Proud Boys — as a group that experienced rapid growth in 2021.

The 2021 Year in Hate and Extremism Report tracks trends nationwide, where the group noted that the overall number of hate groups actually declined in 2021. But some groups are seeing more success expanding their membership and influence in the mainstream.

Currently, the SPLC tracks eight hate groups in the state, including the Proud Boys. The center’s Cassie Miller says the group has leveraged culture war controversies in a bid to insert their voices into local community conversations.

"We've all heard these moral panics about things like masking and vaccines, school curriculum, and the Proud Boys really latched onto those ideas, and they used it to kind of launch themselves into more mainstream spaces and get involved in local level politics. In doing so, it really normalized their role in mainstream right-wing spaces."
Cassie Miller with the Southern Poverty Law Center

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, at least 17 people in Kentucky – including two in Lexington – have been charged in the January 6 U.S. Capitol breach. The SPLC notes the growth in Proud Boys chapters nationally, up from 72 up from 43 in 2020.

The rise in Proud Boys chapters is especially remarkable considering that at least 40 members of the group have been charged in relation to their role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Their growth suggests the country has become alarmingly fertile ground for their brand of authoritarian politics.
Southern Poverty Law Center's 2021 Year in Hate and Extremism Report

The SPLC keeps tabs on one group in Lexington and Louisville, the Nation of Islam, and three that are considered to operate statewide: 14 First, Patriot Front, and the Proud Boys. Of the total groups, four are described as general hate groups, while the remaining four are individually labeled anti-Semitic, Christian Identity, White Nationalist, and Neo-Nazi.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.