Fringe Republican Bets on Proud Boy Fandom in Wacky Guv Race 1

On June 8, the day before attending a forum alongside his fellow candidates, New York gubernatorial hopeful Derrick Gibson tweeted an advertisement for a campaign event. The lead image showed Gibson on a motorcycle next to a seal with two acronyms: “POYB” and “FAFO.”

Or, in the language of the far-right group the Proud Boys, which popularized the acronyms, “Proud of your boy” and “fuck around and find out.”

New York’s November 2022 gubernatorial race should—in theory—pose a promising opportunity for the state’s Republicans. Their possible eventual opponent, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is currently weathering scandals over sexual harassment allegations and his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

So far, however, the GOP seems to be assembling a sort of motley crew of fringe figures. After presumed MAGA frontrunner Rep. Lee Zeldin, the candidate list includes perennial candidate Rob Astorino, Andrew Giuliani (the unaccomplished son of Rudy), and Gibson.

Even more than his rivals, the presence of Gibson suggests that just when it seems like the Biden-era GOP cannot lurch any further to the right, in fact, it can.

Gibson, who co-hosts a little-known podcast with a former celebrity boxer after working in construction contracting, has emerged as a vocal champion of the Proud Boys, inviting a convicted Proud Boy brawler onto the podcast this month. He’s also just plain out there: Independent of his extremist ties, Gibson this past week used his Twitter account to accuse New York Child Protective Services of trying to sabotage his gubernatorial run.

In a phone interview with The Daily Beast, Gibson did not disavow the Proud Boys, despite their well-documented ties to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

“I’m proud of the Proud Boys,” Gibson said, saying the group escorted people to their cars. “I haven’t seen any actions [that indicate] they are a hate group.”

The Proud Boys, in fact, have done more than provide parking-lot escorts. Dozens of Proud Boy associates, including multiple high-ranking leaders, have been arrested for their alleged role in Jan 6. Charging documents in those cases include records of the group’s leadership allegedly planning the attack in advance, bringing tactical equipment to the riot, and bragging that they “took over” the Capitol. The Canadian government has gone so far as to label them a terrorist organization.

Gibson, however, maintained that the group was being scapegoated. “A whole lot of those people were not Proud Boys. They were faking as Proud Boys,” he said, although he noted that people should not have broken the Capitol’s windows or stormed the building. (Dominic Pezzola, the man accused of being one of the first to break the Capitol windows, is a Proud Boy from Rochester, New York.)

Some of Gibson’s sympathy for the group became evident earlier this month, when he invited a New York-based Proud Boy—who previously pleaded guilty to riot and attempted assault for his role in a notorious Manhattan brawl—onto the second episode of his podcast. On the show, Gibson, who is Black, compared the Jan. 6 criminal cases to the plight of enslaved people.

“When people say, ‘Forget the nuts, this is an insurrection, they shouldn’t have been out there,’ this is the same way that they did Black people during slavery and after slavery,” Gibson said. “They would do them just like that for fighting for your freedom and your rights. They would take these same tactics and they would use them against you to paint you as some sort of rambunctious idiot or whatever. That’s what they’re doing right now to people locked up in D.C. [for] January the 6th.”

Although the podcast is relatively minor (the episode currently has fewer than 1,000 views on YouTube), the clip began generating chatter on the left this month, particularly after activists spotted the two Proud Boy slogans (“POYB” and “FAFO”) on the campaign graphic Gibson tweeted. In a terse exchange with an activist who questioned him over his Proud Boy ties, Gibson responded “great, I’ll join” the group.

He later told The Daily Beast that he only included the Proud Boy slogans to generate conversation.

“I don’t have an issue with Proud Boys, so yeah, I put that out there so I could get a conversation started,” he said. “To me, it’s not a hate symbol, and I know because I did my research. Now if it was Nazi symbols, I would not use something like that, because that was used to do the Jews in and I do not go for anything like that.”

In-between fielding Twitter queries from the left about his Proud Boy association, Gibson has used the platform to accuse Child Protective Services of a conspiracy against him.

“CPS… of NYS barking up the right tree to get drugged [sic] across hot coals making up child abuse charges against me, knowing full well my kids are grown,” he tweeted Wednesday. “They picked the wrong guy this time. You will not sabotage my run for Governor. My press conference coming soon.”

Gibson told The Daily Beast that CPS had repeatedly knocked on his door inquiring about small children at the home, even though his own children are young adults. He speculated that the agency, of which he is a vocal critic, was attempting to retaliate against him. (CPS did not immediately return a request for comment.)

Fringe though Gibson’s candidacy may be—Republicans, in general, stand slim odds of becoming governor in New York—it’s only marginally weirder than other big names in the race. Though Gibson has never held political office, neither has Andrew Giuliani. But Gibson leans into that outsider status (“just like President Trump when he came down the escalator four years ago, to date,” Gibson said six years after the disgraced politician’s presidential announcement), while Giuliani has attempted to inflate his insider cred.

“I’m a politician out of the womb. It’s in my DNA,” Giuliani told the New York Post last month. Giuliani, 35, also claimed to have been involved in politics for “parts of five different decades” because he included his participation in his father’s mayoral campaign, when he was four years old.

Both men attended a forum for New York Republican gubernatorial candidates this month, alongside the more experienced candidates, Astorino and Zeldin. There, Gibson announced that he had not taken the COVID-19 vaccine, and that he would fight to dissolve CPS. He also took an anti-crime stance, suggesting the New York Guard (New York’s military reserve force) should fight crime alongside police.

Days earlier, however, he had been heaping praise on the convicted Proud Boy brawler on his podcast.

“I like what you stand for,” Gibson told the Proud Boy. “I saw your bylaws. I agree with them 100 percent. I may as well be a Proud Boy myself.”