Standing up to hate

Why do white nationalists continue to target this Philadelphia activist?

Proud boys
Philadelphia activist Gwen Snyder is doing her part to call out white nationalist group the Proud Boys. However, her goal hasn’t come without constant threats on her life and of those around her. | Image: Wikicommons

Violent threats. Midnight stalking. A public smear campaign. Philadelphia activist Gwen Snyder is once again on the receiving end of horrific scare tactics by white nationalist group the Proud Boys. 

A vocal critic of the group’s racist and misogynistic beliefs, Snyder says armed members stalked her outside of her home in mid-September after a failed protest against “antifa terrorism.” It’s part of an alarming harassment trend that’s targeted Snyder for years, and lately it’s been getting worse. 

“We’re not fans of guns,” said Snyder of her and her husband, “but we now own a firearm. It’s really meant changing the entire way we live our lives.”

Snyder is no stranger to threats from white supremecists. Her work as an anti-facism researcher played a crucial role in exposing the identities of Proud Boy members working in various sectors throughout Philadelphia. Snyder’s research, which is shared primarily through her Twitter account, resulted in the firings of several outed members in 2018. 

That’s when local Proud Boys and neo-Nazis from across the country began sending her death threats, along with releasing her public information and address online. For a brief period in July of 2019, Snyder was even forced to move residences for fear for her safety. 

The incident outside Snyder’s West Philadelphia home occured on Sept. 19 after the Proud Boy’s “Belly of the Beast 2020” rally failed to materialize in nearby Clark Park. According to reporting from The Philadelphia Inquirer, around 500 counter-protesters outnumbered the small group of Proud Boys members who actually showed up for the 1 p.m. rally. 

Despite their low turnout, it didn’t stop a group of Proud Boys in unmarked clothing from gathering outside of Snyder’s house in an attempt to intimidate her. 

“They scheduled the rally specifically outside of my house,” said Snyder. “They said explicitly in their chats.” Part of Snyder’s work involves monitoring Proud Boys chats on the popular messaging service Telegram. 

In one Twitter video posted from Snyder’s account, two members can be heard saying “goodbye Gwen” as they walk past the camera. 

The members were reportedly armed and circled the residential block throughout the afternoon. Snyder was lucky to have her friend Jim Savage protect her that day. Savage, a former union president, stood guard on Snyder’s porch with a baseball bat in case any conflicts arose. 

“I wasn’t there to confront anybody. I was there to protect my friend,” said Savage. He ended up staying with Snyder for eight hours that day, and says Proud Boys members circled the home at least five times throughout the afternoon. 

“I didn’t expect them to do anything if someone was there. If it had just been Gwen, it might have been a different story,” he added. 

Apart from stalking and harassment, members of the Proud Boys recently created a false conspiracy theory that paints Snyder as a pedophile. Members circulated a doctored flier online that depicts Snyder as a Megan’s Law offender, listing her home address. Megan’s Law is a federal law requiring police to alert community members of registered sex offenders – in this instance, an outright false and damaging claim. 

Law enforcement has been little help in offering Snyder assistance. When members of the Proud Boys yelled death threats outside of her home at midnight in July of 2019, the Philadelphia Police Department reportedly shrugged off the behavior as scare tactics and wrote up a “cursory report.” Only after Snyder and other activists vocalized their frustration on social media did a more thorough investigation take place. Since then, zero arrests have been made. 

A representative for the Philadelphia Police Department stated in a phone call that if a complaint is filed for harassment or stalking, the department will intervene depending on the seriousness of the threats. From there, detectives can interview the alleged harasser and determine whether an arrest warrant can be sought from a judge. 

When asked about how the PPD responds to credible death threats – like the ones Snyder is bombarded with – the representative said that “what you think is credible and what we think is credible are different.” 

After the September 2020 incident, Snyder isn’t confident the Philadelphia Police Department will do any better in standing up against white supremacists. “I’ve had really negative experiences dealing with the police,” she said. “They generally do not take this seriously. It’s only gotten worse since Danielle Outlaw took over.” 

Outlaw came under fire in 2018 during her time as police chief of Portland, Oregon. The Guardian reported that her officers fired stun-grenades directly at citizens who were counter-protesting rallies held by the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer, another far-right group.

In her goal of recording hate speech and rhetoric at Proud Boys rallies and demonstrations, Philadelphia activist Gwen Snyder has become a target of the group. | Image provided

In her current role as chief of the Philadelphia Police Department, Outlaw has drawn heavy criticism from Black Lives Matter supporters for her handling of the June 2020 incident on I-676. Protesters trapped between officers and a fenced area were tear-gassed and shot with rubber bullets as they marched for racial justice in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. 

Regardless of Outlaw’s ability to control her officers, connections between the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police and the Proud Boys are undeniable. In July, Proud Boys members reportedly rang up a $1,000 bar tab at the FOP headquarters during an afterparty for Vice President Mike Pence’s speech. Earlier in June, some Philadelphia Police officers were notably supportive of violent Proud Boys attacks against journalists during racial justice protests in Fishtown and South Philadelphia, high-fiving and taking photos with group members while refusing to make arrests. 

When President of the FOP John McNesby was asked about his organization’s relationship with the Proud Boys, he denied any affiliation, stating “Philadelphia police officers, FOP leadership, and members condemn their hateful and discriminatory speech in any form.”

As tensions boil ahead of the November 2020 presidential election, cities around the nation are seeing renewed enthusiasm from the Proud Boys. When asked about the group in recent debates, President Trump refused to condemn their behavior, telling them to “stand back and stand by.”

Trump’s fear-mongering around civil unrest has only exacerbated Proud Boys rhetoric. Philadelphia Proud Boys cited “antifa terrorism” as the main reason for the failed Clark Park rally in September. Their fears continue despite U.S. Crisis Center data that shows law-enforcement agencies are disproportionately flooded with credible threats of violence from white supremecists and that less than 10 percent of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 have resulted in violence. 

While threats from the Proud Boys and white supremecists haven’t stopped for Snyder, she’s happy knowing that their numbers in Philadelphia have decreased due to her mass-identification campaigns. In this dangerous field of activism, she’s also not alone. 

“There’s a lot of people who have done really excellent research,” says Snyder. “But for obvious reasons, they tend to latch on to us that choose to do this work under our own name.”

In the ever-growing need to combat white supremacy in communities, Snyder hopes more people will look at her research as something they can be involved with.

“It’s really important for folks to see this work not as something radical. This is work that needs to be respected and in the mainstream. It’s especially important for white people to be using our privilege right now.”

Gwen Snyder’s article “7 Steps for Fighting the Alt-Right” offers resources for new activists looking to stand up to white supremacy and can be accessed here