Experts fear the battle could further radicalize both groups
By Daniel Walters / InvestigateWest
Several dozen PDX Proud Boys arrived at Oregon City’s first Pride festival last June to protest a drag queen performance. But the militant-MAGA brawl squad ran into a half-dozen young men dressed in black, similar to the outfits worn by anti-fascists, the masked leftists who regularly confront Trump die-hards in the streets.
There were shouts of “Nazi” and anti-gay slurs. And with bystanders watching in broad daylight, it degenerated into an awkward scrap — kicks, punches, American flags wielded as batons. One of the men in black went down and a Proud Boy pounced, punching him on the ground.
The man in black was not an anti-fascist, however.
It was Casey Knuteson, who had one year earlier founded the Rose City Nationalist Club in Portland.
Knuteson, 28, used to be a Proud Boy like them. He’d been kicked out, according to another former member, because of a constant stream of racist and antisemitic statements.
“You started a racist group because you got disavowed, you little bitch,” one of the Proud Boys yelled at Knuteson.
In two years, Knuteson has gone from the Proud Boys to leading his own cadre of self-proclaimed neo-Nazis.
And while Knuteson’s group is small — less than a dozen followers, from all indications — it’s part of a larger movement of white nationalists who’ve been trying to push other Proud Boys in the same direction.
The risk isn’t just that more Proud Boys will turn to white nationalism, experts argue, it’s that more white nationalists will turn to violence.
“These personal beefs,” said Kris Goldsmith, head of an anti-fascist nonprofit called Task Force Butler, “when it rises to intraparty violence among these extremist groups, just further radicalizes them.”
EVERY BOY FOR HIMSELF
It might be hard to imagine a far-right, militant organization like the Proud Boys, some of whose members have been convicted of assaulting police officers and conspiring to overthrow the federal government, of being more “radicalized.” Violence is infused into the Proud Boys identity, from their initiation rituals to the brass-knuckle logos on their “America’s Only Enforcers” shirts.
In Portland, Proud Boys have punched and pepper-sprayed counter-protesters. They’ve swarmed a pickup truck during a protest, smashed the windows and beat the hell out of the driver. The former national Proud Boys chairman, Enrique Tarrio, was sentenced to 22 years in prison in September for his role in planning the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol.
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Yet Emily Kaufman, an expert on Proud Boys with the Anti-Defamation League, sees a trend of a “coalition of Proud Boys chapters forming that are interested in [even] more overt white supremacist ideology.”
After the twin blows of Trump’s defeat and the aftermath of the January 6th Capitol Riot, the Proud Boys national leadership — which had never policed their own ranks very thoroughly — was in tatters. Some were in jail. The Proud Boys allowed each chapter to forge their own directions. Splinters broke off.
To understand the ensuing battle over the future of the far right, InvestigateWest spoke with anti-fascists, Proud Boys, and extremism experts. We dug through troves of racist podcasts, neo-Nazi Telegram channels, and leaked white nationalist chat messages.
Together, they showed a vast and coordinated effort by white nationalists — with former Proud Boys in key roles — to lure disaffected members of other far-right groups to join their racist cause.
In the past six months, Stephen Piggott of the Western States Center said, there’s been an explosion in the number and activity of small, white nationalist groups, including in the Pacific Northwest. These groups can be tiny — following a decentralized strategy they call “White Nationalism 3.0” — but dangerous.
“They see themselves as the foot soldiers for an upcoming race war,” Piggot says.
One of the best examples can be found in Portland, where Casey Knuteson broke off from the Proud Boys and turned to white pride.
Knuteson’s Rose City Nationalists aren’t subtle about their allegiances: They deploy Nazi salutes, use the Nazi Celtic Cross in their logo, and wave flags with the Nazi Black Sun. On social media, they’ve posted a photoshopped picture of a crisply dressed Nazi sneering at a dumpy oaf of a Donald Trump supporter.
The caption: “We tried it your way, fat boy.”
It’s not just Germany’s racist past that Knuteson celebrates — it’s Oregon’s. On a white nationalist podcast, he spoke almost nostalgically about the time, before he was born, when racists menacing the local punk scene helped give Portland its old nickname: “Skinhead City.”
It’s a city that, 35 years later, still feels the aftershocks from the murder of Ethiopian immigrant Mulugeta Seraw, beaten to death by one of those skinheads.
Knuteson has not gone to such extremes. But Portlanders don’t have to speculate about where his rhetoric goes when it’s mixed with violence. They’ve seen the consequences before.
After the June encounter with the Proud Boys, a white nationalist named Chris Cantwell — infamous for his role in the racist 2017 Charlottesville rally — brought Knuteson on as a guest to his video podcast.
While Cantwell called Knuteson by his Rose City Nationalist alias, “Alfred,” InvestigateWest confirmed his identity by matching Alfred’s voice with leaked recordings of Knuteson and his statements on podcasts with Knuteson’s biographical details.
Cantwell wanted to know how, exactly, Knuteson had gone from voting Libertarian in 2016, to rallying for Trump with the Proud Boys in 2020, to saying in 2023 he’ll never again vote in a presidential election.
“I had a rough childhood,” Knuteson said.
His dad died when Knuteson was only 10 years old. Asthma, an April 2005 Oregonian obituary said. Fifteen years later, Knuteson would still wear his dad’s old blue plaid winter jacket when it got cold.
He’d grown up in poverty in the tiny town of Gaston, midway between Portland and Willamette Valley wine country.
The idea that he had “white privilege?”
“That really started to piss me off,” he said on Cantwell’s show. “If anyone had privilege in this country, it’s non-whites.”
When Trump lost, he concluded the President had betrayed him, that he was just another “shill for Israel” who “tricked us into thinking he was going to do something.”
He saw the destructive protests in 2020 as “race riots.” He seethed that America was “worshipping at the altar of George Floyd,” who he didn’t see as a police murder victim, but as merely a “drug-addicted thief.”
In fact, Knuteson has a record. He’d been arrested for stealing merchandise, including a LEGO set, from the Cornelius, Ore. Walmart in August 2015, according to court records. He needed money to buy food, he told police, and drugs. In 2016, in a separate case, he was charged with heroin possession and sent to rehab in Las Vegas.
While records in Columbia County Circuit Court are sparse on detail, they show that, as a 19-year-old, Knuteson “unlawfully and knowingly” caused “physical injury” to his two-year-old son in 2014.
Knuteson did not respond to InvestigateWest’s attempts to contact him on either the Rose City Nationalist email account or his personal phone number listed in a 2022 police report.
But police records show he is very much an Oregon resident: In 2022, he still lived with his mother in Gaston, a tiny town of less than 700 southwest of Portland.
Video footage from the Oregon City brawl shows the features of the neo-Nazi leader being unmasked: scruffy strawberry-blonde beard, perpetual bleary-eyed expression. These match a Knuteson arrest photo.
When he joined the Proud Boys, former PDX Proud Boy Jeff “Mikey” Johnson recalled to InvestigateWest, Knuteson seemed desperate for reassurance, for a sense of belonging. But he would constantly sabotage himself, Johnson said.
Knuteson’s habit of posting swastikas and antisemitism in Proud Boy chats began tearing the group apart.
Dan Tooze, a PDX Proud Boy leader aiming to run for state representative, had threatened to quit over the issue. “[Tooze] definitely made the comment, ‘If this is what we stand for, he would just leave,’” Johnson said.
Tooze shared that he had Jewish heritage, Johnson said. The Proud Boys had black members. Knuteson had a big mouth.
“He’s not trying to make everyone around him hate him. But the things that he says?” Johnson said. “That was his demise.”
Through an intermediary, Tooze said that he didn’t care about his own ethnic background either way. But in an email to InvestigateWest he made his contempt for Knuteson clear.
“I do not associate with people like that,” Tooze insisted. “Nor will I allow them around people I care about.”
In April 2021, according to Johnson, the Proud Boys finally expelled Knuteson.
In an email to InvestigateWest, Tooze argued that maybe people like Knuteson were “always that way,” and the Proud Boys aren’t radicalizing men into white nationalism so much as booting them out once they “began to show their true selves.”
A GAME OF TELEGRAM
In late 2021, Knuteson surfaced again, using a variation of one of his pseudonyms to share posts in a Proud Boys Telegram channel that recast World War II as “Jewish bankers” financing “a war on white sovereignty.”
Telegram, a social-media channel, has lax moderation policies that made it the predominant platform for the far-right — a recruiting haven for white nationalist groups.
One Telegram channel shared by Knuteson, the “Proud Boy to Fascist Pipeline,” neatly summed up his new mission: Turn Proud Boys into white nationalists.
Knuteson had, leaked chat messages show, joined Patriot Front — arguably the largest white nationalist group in the country — at a time when they were desperate for more recruits.
“Go tell your Proud Boy friends to put down the Coors Light and come take up the torch of revolution with us,” Colton Brown, a Patriot Front regional director, wrote to Knuteson in a leaked 2021 chat message.
Knuteson’s time in Patriot Front — roughly a year — did not go well. He tried recruiting disillusioned Portland Proud Boys. He tried forging an alliance with what he saw as a “Nazi chapter” of Proud Boys in Seattle. Neither worked.
Leaked Patriot Front chats show Brown considered threatening Knuteson with permanent suspension, in part because some of his online posting was considered so extreme it posed a security risk to Patriot Front.
And then he got arrested. In February 2022, caught with his hands stained with Patriot Front blue spray paint, he was charged with criminal mischief for spraying white nationalist propaganda on a jersey barrier in Washington County. (He pleaded no contest and received a fine.)
Three months later, Knuteson quit. In May 2022, he started the Rose City Nationalists, taking the tactics he’d learned in Patriot Front — generating Telegram-ready propaganda by blanketing a community with fliers, unfurling banners from overpasses, and making masked appearances at gay pride events — and aiming them at the Portland region.
He joined up with Northwest Nationalist Network, a coalition of other white nationalist groups in the region. This was the core concept of “White Nationalism 3.0.” Groups like the Rose City Nationalists would be small and independent, but would ally with a broad network of other white nationalist groups, all promoting and defending each other. These kinds of clubs were small enough that a single act of exposure, infiltration or arrest couldn’t do much damage to the whole movement. The churn — clubs launching, collapsing, merging and rebranding — was built in.
Take one of them down, the theory went, and the larger network still remained.
For two years, grievances had been building between Knuteson and the PDX Proud Boys. In December 2021, Johnson — Knuteson’s former Proud Boy buddy — shared pictures on Twitter of Oregon Patriot Front graffiti being painted over, and wrote, “your white nationalist shit does not belong here.”
Tooze claims that around the same time, Rose City Nationalist fliers were posted on Proud Boy vehicles in Oregon City.
The Rose City Nationalists and the Proud Boys crossed paths at an anti-Drag Queen Story Time event in Eugene last October and at a March for Life Rally in January — and then exchanged salvos of insults and threats online afterward.
In February, the Proud Boys finally threw down a gauntlet: Stay out of Oregon City.
Yet Knuteson showed up to Pride Night in Oregon City in June anyway, ordering his club to make a beeline for the exact same Proud Boys who had threatened them.
The fight was over in 15 seconds before the Rose City Nationalists scurried away, but the footage rapidly spread online. Even Twitter CEO Elon Musk weighed in, boosting false conspiracy theories that the Rose City Nationalists were all secretly federal agents.
Two days before the fight, Knuteson’s club had been kicked out of the Northwest Nationalist Network. But after the dust settled, Knuteson suddenly had support from white nationalist leaders from as far away as Australia.
And in Telegram’s far-right bubble, The Northwest Ohio Proud Boys condemned the Portland chapter of the Proud Boys for “attacking pro-white groups across the country.”
All of Knuteson’s previous attempts to influence the Proud Boys had been disasters. But after losing a single fight? Suddenly Knuteson felt like he had a worldwide impact. White nationalist podcasts went over footage of the fight blow-by-blow, like football coaches reviewing game tapes. Neo-Nazi clubs and Proud Boys challenged each other to fights nationwide.
For some extremism experts, the most troubling part of the fight is what the adversaries had in common. Piggott, with the Western States Center, points out that The Proud Boys and the Rose City Nationalists both converged on the same event with the same purpose: target a gay pride event.
“What they’re saying is ‘We need to show up to make the LGBTQ community feel uncomfortable and unsafe, and we need to take a stand’,” Piggott said. “At the end of the day, the violence actually took place at a Pride event.”
THE SOUND OF VIOLENCE
For years, footage of Proud Boys skirmishing with militant leftists in Portland had fueled Proud Boy recruitment. Would the right fighting the right do the same?
“Recruiting hasn’t slowed down,” Knuteson claimed on Cantwell’s podcast. “We’re getting emails constantly that say they want to join.”
As racist clubs like Knuteson’s pop up across the country, it threatens to resurrect the blunter, explicit white nationalism of Portland’s past.
“A lot of these kinds of clubs are made up of a lot of guys that were in the movement 20 years ago in different skinhead groups,” Knuteson said.
It’s possible, of course, for those on the far right to be deradicalized: Johnson, Knuteson’s former Proud Boy buddy, got rid of the SS bolt tattoos he got when he was 15, left the Proud Boys, and even married the liberal activist who’d doxxed him.
But they can also go in a darker direction.
“I’m at the point now where I don’t think there’s any political solution,” Knuteson told Cantwell in their interview.
Those are heavily freighted words in extremist circles. There’s a strain of the white nationalist movement that believes that violence is the answer, that destroying our country is the only way to remake it.
Cantwell got visibly uncomfortable. He took a deep vape, made a comment about getting into dicey territory, and then changed the subject. Yet later he offered something almost like fatherly advice.
“Saying that ‘things are post-politics,’ friend, is actually a pretty dark vision of the future,” Cantwell said. “I know where that leads.”
On Cantwell’s podcast, Knuteson backed off the ledge — at least publicly.
But the risk isn’t just from Knuteson — it’s from his friends. Last year, the Rose City Nationalists tweeted out a banner they’d hung from a Newberg overpass reading “no political solution.”
“Everything you touch will turn to ruins,” an anti-fascist activist tweeted in response.
“Yeah, that’s the point. We want the ruins because it will trigger a societal collapse,” a Rose City Nationalist member tweeted back. “We are not Proud Boys, we are not Patriot Front…. We are simply men hell-bent on destruction.”
Proud Boys: A Fight Club-meets-Maxim drinking club when it was created by Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes, the Proud Boys soon turned into aggressive enforcers of the Trump movement after 2016.
neo-Nazis: White nationalists who consciously ape the ideology and, frequently, symbolism of Nazi Germany.
white nationalism: Driven by the notion that a nation’s identity is about blood and melanin, not ideas or a common cause, racist groups in this movement aim to create a white ethno-state.
Northwest Nationalist Network A coalition of white nationalist groups in the Pacific Northwest that formerly included the Rose City Nationalists.
Patriot Front: One of the biggest white nationalist groups in the country, a tightly micromanaged organization that slaps racist stickers on public property, vandalizes Black Lives Matter murals, and pops out at Pride events as a kind of militarized flash mob. It’s all intended as a kind of guerrilla marketing campaign to promote white nationalism—and recruit young members.
doxxing: Short for “dropping documents,” doxxing is a broad term to refer to exposing someone’s personal information to the public eye.
Telegram: A social media platform with loose censorship standards that has become the go-to site for far-right groups seeking to boost their ideology and recruit new members.
antifa, anti-fascists: A loose coalition of individuals and secretive groups dedicated to opposing “fascism,” as they define it. While some antifa activists have been violent, others focus on exposing the identities of those they consider far-right extremists.
Rose City Nationalist Club: A small white nationalist club formed by former Proud Boy Casey Knuteson in 2022, inspired by a neo-Nazi club in New England. The name is intended as a screw-you to Portland’s left-wing Rose City Antifa organization.
skinheads: Recognizable by their closely shaved heads, skinheads emerged in England but eventually became a violent part of the punk movement in the 1970s and ’80s.
White Nationalism 3.0: Robert Rundo, a white supremacist leader from California, coined the term as a vision for a movement of smaller white nationalist clubs that would be less vulnerable to infiltration and arrests.
FEATURED IMAGE: Experts worry that disaffected Proud Boys could turn to more explicit white nationalism. (Justin Katigback / Courtesy of Willamette Week)
InvestigateWest (invw.org) is an independent news nonprofit dedicated to investigative journalism in the Pacific Northwest. A Report for America corps member, Daniel Walters covers democracy and extremism across the region. He can be reached at email@example.com.