n 14 November 2020, thousands of President Trump’s supporters flocked to the nation’s capital for a “Million Maga March” in support of the then-president and his baseless claims that the presidential election had been rigged. Among those who gathered were the Proud Boys, a far-right hate group known for violent confrontations with left-wing demonstrators.
Dressed in their characteristic Fred Perry polo shirts with hipster beards and short, close-cropped haircuts, the Proud Boys made their presence known as they vandalized historically Black churches and trashed the Black Lives Matter Plaza. By evening, clashes erupted in downtown DC between the Proud Boys and counter protestors, while the police attempted to separate the two sides.
Among the most recognizable faces alongside the Proud Boys was Tara LaRosa, a pioneer of women’s mixed martial arts. Dressed in a yellow sweater emblazoned with the Proud Boys logo and a blue bandana, LaRosa appeared on video hugging Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys, as the extremist group marched through downtown.
Several videos later showed what appeared to be LaRosa – dressed in the same yellow sweater – joining in clashes involving the Proud Boys. LaRosa denied that the woman in the video is her: “I don’t pull hair. I don’t punch untrained women. …and I don’t wear vests,” she wrote on Twitter.
Yo Antifa… you shitheads are too slow… we’re at the Marriot. Come play… we dare you. pic.twitter.com/LdCDYwwlF9
LaRosa later posted photos on social media while flashing the OK hand sign – a gesture used by some to denote white power. One photo caption read: “Yo Antifa… I’m at the Washington Monument… come get me”. Yet another photo showed her flashing the white power sign again while standing alongside a member of the Proud Boys.
LaRosa, 43, had long been associated with the Proud Boys. For years, the MMA fighter, who has a 22-5 professional record, appeared at protests where she challenged anti-fascists and intimidated protesters. After retiring from MMA in 2015, LaRosa began attending right-wing protests, and in 2018, she spoke at a #HimToo event in Portland organized by a member of the far-right Patriot Prayer. She has since been a consistent presence at right-wing events, especially those involving the Proud Boys.
Shortly after Veteran’s Day in 2019, LaRosa made headlines when she pinned an anti-Trump demonstrator to the ground. The incident occurred during a right-wing protest on a Portland overpass, where an unidentified woman was being attacked by several right-wing protesters. LaRosa, who has since claimed she did not witness the start of the fight, subdued the unidentified woman and held her down until the police arrived on scene. When the pinned woman gasped “I can’t breathe,” LaRosa replied by saying: “I don’t care.” No arrests were reported in response to the incident.
LaRosa has also been known to spread disinformation, Covid-19 conspiracy theories and pro-Trump propaganda on social media. She once tweeted a fake list of anti-fascist activists and organizers ahead of a Proud Boys rally in Portland. The list, which was devised on 8chan – a website linked to white supremacists and domestic terrorists and where such groups have reportedly uploaded their manifestos – is actually a list of people who signed an anti-Trump petition. Then, in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, LaRosa began pushing baseless election fraud conspiracy theories claiming that the election had been “stolen” from Trump. Some of her tweets even hinted at future violence.
A civil war is coming. I don’t know what that looks like, but prepare to defend yourself physically, civilly, and digitally.
“A civil war is coming,” LaRosa tweeted on election day. “I don’t know what that looks like, but prepare to defend yourself physically, civilly, and digitally.”
Several days later, LaRosa tweeted that people should “buy guns now” and then retweeted an intimidating post by UFC fighter Jorge Masvidal in which the Trump supporter suggested he should bring “a few teammates” to rallies.
Despite LaRosa’s vocal support for the Proud Boys and their far-right ideology, the group has not been as eager to embrace the fighter. While some enjoyed being affiliated with an MMA fighter, others singled her out for being a woman and targeted her with misogynistic comments online. This became particularly noticeable after LaRosa reportedly founded a Proud Girls offshoot of the male-only group.
Except it appears the Proud Boys do not want women alongside them. “Women … we love you but you cannot be in Proud Boys,” the Proud Boys wrote on several of their encrypted social media channels. “Proud Boy’s Girls or Proud Girls are both ridiculous ideas. Fuck that. Don’t ride our coattails. Want to support us? Get married, have babies, and take care of your family.”
While there appears to be infighting within the Proud Boys with regards to LaRosa and the so-called Proud Girls, LaRosa continued to attend protests that featured the hate group. Before the invasion of the US Capitol by a pro-Trump mob earlier this month, LaRosa tweeted: “Fuck you, I’m coming to DC. Got a problem? Come find me.” However, she later said she did not enter the Capitol.
LaRosa’s strange affiliation with the Proud Boys – a group with a long history of misogyny – is not the first time the organization has been linked to MMA and combative training. For a time, the Proud Boys had a “tactical defense arm” known as the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights, led by convicted felon Kyle Chapman. The group used hand-to-hand combat as well as weapons like knives to attack protestors. The aim of the group was to “protect and defend our right-wing brethren” through “street activism, preparation, defense and confrontation.” It also claimed that violence was the only way to save Western civilization from “globalism, radical Islam, and communism.”
While LaRosa’s future with the Proud Boys remains uncertain, her presence over the past few years is yet another testament to MMA’s insidious role within far-right movements.