Enrique Tarrio, chairman of the far-right, male-only extremist group The Proud Boys, is currently thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. Canada has officially labeled The Proud Boys as a domestic terrorist organization. I share this for two reasons.
1) If you are on the AT or know someone who is, please be aware of this violent predator’s location and the ideologies he will undoubtedly be sharing, especially starting in the south where Confederate flags decorate nearly every town you pass through. Knowledge is power and I hope you stay safe.
2) The AT and larger hiking community’s response (consisting mainly of white, cisgendered, straight men) has been unsurprisingly disgusting. Minority hikers sharing information about this man’s location and dangerous ideologies are being forcefully shouted down because “EVRYONE DISERVES A RITE TOO BE ON THA TRAIL”.
The rights of a domestic terrorist do not trump the legitimate safety concerns of any hiker, let alone those who have personally experienced discrimination in the overwhelmingly homogenous outdoors community. Don’t spout talking points about the AT being inclusive for all people when one person’s presence makes the trail actively unsafe for those around him, further excluding participation from communities that are already vastly underrepresented.
I will gladly disagree about pizza toppings and the best show on Netflix, not whether violent extremists deserve a safe space. Saying that you don’t support his ideologies but you do support his thru-hike Is. Still. Support.
You’re a fool if you don’t believe this guy feels emboldened by this tacit endorsement. There’s a reason the the Twelve Tribes/Yellow Deli cult has been openly recruiting new members on the AT for decades. The thru-hiking community is full of young, impressionable men, detached from their normal life circumstances, seeking a new direction during a phase of transition; prime, vulnerable candidates for extremist groups to target.
I regularly heard racist, homophobic, and misogynistic shit on the AT, and often when I tried talking to hikers about it, I received eye rolls and was told that I needed to take a joke, or that I was purposefully trying to misunderstand and make a mountain out of a molehill. On more than one occasion I restlessly laid down in my tent worried about the company surrounding me. And I’m a white guy who can “pass” for straight if I need to (and hate myself for doing it when I have to).
I can’t begin to conceive the oppressive ugliness that other minority hikers have experienced. I feel awful for anyone remotely near Tarrio or having to hear fellow hikers support and joke about him like he’s just a random guy, instead of an architect for the January 6th domestic terrorist siege on the United States capitol.
Lots of people are saying things like: “Until he does something violent, you can’t assume anything. Just let him be.” He has a history of preaching and engaging in violence, but apparently the hiking community literally needs to see his hands covered in the blood of a fellow hiker to take this seriously. Acts of violence are committed on the AT every year. I truly hope this guy doesn’t get anyone killed. Even if he does, I have no doubt the hiking community will blame the victim and find every reason to justify the violence.