SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB)--The alt-right group "Proud Boys" boasts more than 12,500 likes on Facebook and is growing in influence, even appearing at a protest in Sarasota.
On May 1, a protest and counter-protest took place in downtown Sarasota over whether or not the city should become a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.
The protests became heated, so much so that Juliana Musheyev, of a progressive group called Answer Suncoast, felt threatened by a counter protester that she says "invaded her personal space."
"My heart sped up, you know? This man is next to me, he seems ind of provocative and I walk away. I don't react, I just walk away and he follows right after me. It was getting to the point where it could've become a physical altercation," Musheyev said.
Before it could though--friends of Musheyev intervened.
"It's could've gone badly, but it didn't--and I'm glad," Musheyev said.
Musheyev says the man was a member of Proud Boys. The group was formed in 2016 by co-founder of Vice magazine turned Fox News contributor Gavin McInnes.
The Proud Boys Facebook page describes the group as a "pro-western fraternal organization" in favor of "minimal government, maximum freedom, anti-political correctness, anti-racial guilt, venerating housewives and reinstating a spirit of western chauvinism during an age of globalism and multiculturalism."
We spoke to Pawl Bazile, production director at Proud Boy Magazine, about the group's purpose.
"It's about reclaiming an understanding that American culture and western culture is unique," Bazile said.
However, some say it's a front for a white supremacist agenda. Bazile refutes the claim.
"We have no interest in hate groups, we have no interest in fascism, we have no interest in nazism or racism."
The group made headlines in a clash with far-left protesters known as Antifa at Berkeley College. The clash included reports of rock-throwing protesters who interfered with a scheduled appearance by former senior editor of Breitbart News Milo Yiannopoulos
The protests quickly escalated, turning violent. By day's end there were multiple arrests, nearly a dozen people injured and seven hospitalized according to police.
Since then, the Proud Boys has formed a "tactical" branch of the group called the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights. The branch calls upon those that "possess the warrior spirit." Although Bazile insists it's solely for protection.
"This group is purely a defensive and protective group. Purely. It has nothing to do with attacking people and the only time they show up is when people are being attacked," Bazile said.
Investigative journalist for the Southern Poverty Law Center Ryan Lenz says determining who is behind the violence in those situations is hard to prove.
"This is a complicated question because the violence that those groups are associated with generally has been in moments of Antifa counter protests that turn violent."
The Southern Poverty Law Center has seen a resurgence in alt-right groups such as the Proud Boys since President Trump was elected--particularly among young people.
"While the ideas have a long history there is certainly a new energy among the youth in this country, among the college educated, among the college students," Lenz said.
Old ideas with new new energy.
"We do believe in free speech, except for hate speech," Musheyev said.
"If someone agrees or disagrees with me, that's the exact reason we ought to be talking," Bazile said.