Perhaps it’s inevitable that designated hate groups and internet comedians would go to battle ― but nobody expects a Twitter confrontation to happen on their front doorstep.
The Proud Boys is a misogynistic far-right group with members who flirt with and often fully embrace white nationalism.
Vic Berger is a comedy video editor who works for Super Deluxe. He has published a few videos outing Gavin McInnes, founder of the Proud Boys and co-founder of Vice Media, as a racist oaf.
Then someone showed up outside his door.
The new thing in right-wing goonery, apparently, is house calls.
As Berger tells it, the encounter was brought on by several of his videos of McInnes, one of which is embedded below. In it, McInnes throws up a Nazi salute, says “nigger” over and over and plays with his butt:
The Proud Boys, labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, apparently took offense to the tweeted videos. Days after Berger posted the one above, the self-described “Western chauvinists” went nuclear.
On May 9, a tipster sent Berger an internal document from within the Proud Boys’ network, which called on all members to find Berger’s personal information and threaten him.
“Let’s get the social media profiles, phone numbers and addresses for their bosses, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, boyfriends, friends and get to work,” it reads. “LET’S SHOW THEM THERE ARE CONSEQUENCES!!!”
Less than two weeks later, a man rang the doorbell at Berger’s house in Pennsylvania. Suddenly, the email he’d brushed off as a joke became a very real threat.
“When I answered the door, he seemed nervous, like he wasn’t expecting me. It was the middle of the day, and my wife was home,” Berger told HuffPost. “He said, ‘Are you Vic? Your videos are hurting a lot of people. You’re really hurting the Proud Boys. You need to stop making these videos.’”
Berger, now terrified, turned back and screamed for his wife to call 911. He chased the man to his car and snapped a photo of the license plate:
Berger reported the encounter to the police. An officer in the town, which Berger asked that we not reveal to protect his safety and privacy, confirmed that a report was filed.
An in-person visit from the Proud Boys was revelatory. Sure, they and other hate groups online have a predilection for threats and doxing ― publishing personal information online as a form of harassment ― but this was an escalation. They were willing to physically intimidate a Twitter user they found disagreeable.
“It was scary as hell,” he said. “I thought this was all just bullshit from the internet, they’ve always harassed me online. But now they’re sending thugs.”
Proud Boys tend to cause problems, and attract white supremacists, wherever they go: the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville (former Proud Boy Jason Kessler helped organize it); the Portland Patriot Prayer; a march in Boulder, Colorado; a Boston march at which one Proud Boy was arrested after punching a 19-year-old woman.
Meanwhile, their dear leader, McInnes, has called on the Proud Boys and other conservatives to commit violence in the past ― and Berger has documented it:
The man who showed up on Berger’s doorstep appears to be Kenneth Lizardo, 54, a self-proclaimed Proud Boy who lives in Massachusetts. The license plate that Berger snapped in the photo, along with various public records, led us to Lizardo, whose Facebook page is decked out in Proud Boy regalia. Berger confirmed that the guy on the right in the photo below, Lizardo, is the man who showed up at his house:
Lizardo responded to requests for comment via phone calls and direct messages by blocking us on social media.
The Proud Boys have distanced themselves from the incident, with some accusing Berger of making the whole thing up. But internal communications between McInnes and his followers, sent to HuffPost by a source close to McInnes on the condition that we not quote the material, show McInnes alluding to the incident and saying he thought Berger deserved it.
Berger and his cohorts don’t think this is an isolated incident involving one disgruntled Proud Boy, either. The same day Berger got word that the Proud Boys were coming after him, his friend and fellow videographer, Nathan Bernard, got a similar threat from a man who can be seen in Facebook photos with Lizardo. On Twitter, Proud Boy Vincenzo Molino wanted Bernard to know that he had his address (redacted by HuffPost):
This is a classic intimidation tactic online. In this case, it’s intended to get Bernard and Berger to stop doing their jobs and to not call out racism and fascism when they see it. But both are worried that there’s no recourse for less prominent victims of the harassment mob.
“I happen to have a platform that allows me to make this public, but the Proud Boys are most likely targeting people who do not have a platform,” Berger said. “They should be contributing positively to society instead of targeting and threatening people at their houses and trying to silence free speech.”
Bernard likened the incident to “Pizzagate,” a conspiracy theory that started online and led to a man showing up at a Washington, D.C., restaurant and firing a gun. All you need is one person to take the online guff seriously for things to get scary.
“At the end of the day, Gavin McInnes’ involvement doesn’t matter ― because of that one post, they went and got addresses, and they’re taking action based on that,” Bernard said. “This is now a trend. It’s like Pizzagate. It’s serious, and it needs to stop. Somehow.”