For months, Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes and his wife, Emily, have been fighting to win back their neighbors in the upscale village of Larchmont, just north of New York City.
Though some townspeople have posted “Hate has no home here” signs for months ― some of them in reaction to domestic acts of terrorism, like the shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh last October ― others, having realized that their neighbor Gavin was the leader of an assault-prone street gang, added signs to their front yards, too.
In response, the McInneses lashed out. Gavin sent letters to those neighbors who displayed anti-hate signs in their front yards, lamenting that they represented an act of aggression against his family. Out of the other side of his mouth, he mocked them and called them “retards” on his podcast. Emily, meanwhile, publicly defended her husband and claimed that the neighbors’ messaging had put their children in danger, while privately she intimidated and threatened legal action against them.
The McInneses’ appeal to the community was plainly disingenuous, neighbors told HuffPost.
“I don’t care what Gavin says, I’ve done my research,” one Larchmont resident who displays a yard sign told HuffPost. “He incites violence. He spouts divisive, racist language. And while he may try to say he disowns his followers, he’s a part of the problem. So when I read his letter, I was like, yeah, right, this is ridiculous.”
Larchmont was Gavin’s haven, his insulation from his own reputation outside of Westchester County. After his Proud Boys were jailed for attacking protesters on the streets of Manhattan in October, the neighborhood knew who he was. His letter was his family’s attempt to get back in the community’s good graces ― but Gavin appears to have completely blown any chance at winning back the hearts and minds of Larchmont.
That became crystal clear on Sunday, during a community event in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. and the fight against racism in all its forms.
The annual event’s subject matter couldn’t have been more on-the-nose for Larchmont: On the agenda was a discussion about institutional racism that would include local residents and the hosts of “Seeing White,” a podcast on the history of racism. The surrounding neighborhoods’ residents, politicians, educators and religious leaders flocked to the Hommocks Middle School auditorium, where words like “fascism” and topics like “white supremacy” flowed freely.
Even before it started, the specter of Gavin McInnes was clearly the elephant in the room, his name hissed at and generally avoided much like the antagonist of the Harry Potter series, Voldemort.
“We’re very excited for today ― I just hope He Who Shall Not Be Named doesn’t show up,” one attendee told HuffPost prior to the event.
Of course, this being an anti-racism event attended by a community squaring off with a racist juggernaut, Gavin McInnes’ name had to come up at some point.
And it did. One of the night’s hosts, John Biewen, a podcaster and director at the Center for Documentary Studies, acknowledged the elephant in the room while discussing institutional racism.
“I’m reluctant to get into this, but I was reading up on Gavin Mcinnes the other day …” he said, interrupted by a collective groan from the audience. “When he was in Israel, he basically took credit for white Americans saving the Jews of Europe. It’s a similar spirit. You hear this idea from people saying, like, ‘My people were on the right side of history in the Civil War, so we’re good for all time.’”
Later in the program, Biewen’s co-host, Rutgers University professor Chenjerai Kumanyika, lauded the audience for confronting McInnes, arguing that he’s “just the beginning” in a nationwide battle against racism.
“I want to give so much love to this community by the way that you stood up to that,” he said, garnering a round of applause.
On Monday, Kumanyika went further in an interview with HuffPost, saying he recognized that there’s inherent risk in speaking out against an extremist leader in your own community.
“For people to come together as a collective against hate, that took some courage, and I wanted to commend them for it,” he said over the phone. “I also wanted to offer the more nuanced take, that Gavin and the Proud Boys are the symptom of a larger system of violence and racism. We have deeper structural problems, and we need to keep addressing all of them.”
Kumanyika scoffed, alongside locals, at McInnes’ bemoaning of the “Hate has no home here” signs around town.
“Those signs didn’t say Gavin McInnes on them. Those signs said, ‘We don’t like hate,’ and he felt judged by that,” he said. “If you throw a rock into a crowd of dogs, the one that barks is the one that got hit. He was barking.”
A short walk through the streets of Larchmont near the McInnes home on Sunday revealed that many neighbors had placed the same sign in their yards, blue beacons that stood out in contrast to the white picket fences and waterfront properties that give this village its glitzy reputation.
It didn’t matter whether they were erected in direct defiance of McInnes. Almost every source who spoke to HuffPost ― in their Westchester homes, at local cafes and online ― said the signs aren’t coming down at his request.
“In his letter, Gavin said, ‘Let’s talk’ ― but I don’t have anything to say to you,” a resident said Sunday. “For some people, the signs aren’t up for Gavin, for others they are. But so what? You’re hateful, and you reap what you sow.”