The Winston-Salem Jaycees posted pictures on Facebook of some of its members posing with five men who said they were members of the Proud Boys, a group designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The pictures, taken at the Jaycees’ annual Christmas Cheer event, show Jaycees posing with the men who identified themselves as Proud Boys to the Jaycees after they arrived at the event.
“On behalf of the Winston-Salem Jaycees, I would like to apologize for any perceived affiliations that may have made others question our position as a young professionals organization or would have negatively impacted our continued effort to maintain a positive relationship with our community,” Winston-Salem Jaycees President Yvette Spears said in a statement.
During the event, members of the Jaycees take disadvantaged children shopping for presents for themselves and their families.
The Proud Boys members, identified by their black polo shirts with yellow piping, were volunteers at the event, according to Spears.
Spears said the Jaycees weren’t aware of the five individuals’ ties to the group until they arrived in uniform. Spears said she’s under the impression the Jaycees present didn’t realize the group had alt-right ties or was considered a hate group. Eventually, one Jaycee asked if they could tag the men on Facebook and share the pictures, but the Proud Boys declined. Spears said the Jaycees learned the men were Proud Boys after continued questioning about their shirts and their organization.
She stressed it was not a co-sponsored event, and that the members of the Proud Boys were there as individuals.
“What we witnessed was respectful adults that were compliant with the duties as volunteers and guardians to the children participating in the event,” Spears said.
Spears said it is her understanding that the Proud Boys left the Christmas Cheer event, held at the Winston-Salem Target, relatively quickly after fulfilling their volunteer duties. She declined to release their names to the Winston-Salem Journal.
Spears reiterated the Proud Boys present were under supervision, and that no inappropriate comments or conversations took place.
In the future, she said the Jaycees will conduct more extensive background checks of its volunteers, and make clear that anyone who volunteers does so as an individual and not as an organization.
The Proud Boys are known for anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric, according to the SPLC. “Proud Boys have appeared alongside other hate groups at extremist gatherings like the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville.”
Any male is eligible for membership in the Proud Boys, the SPLC said.
In recent years, Proud Boys from across America have attended alt-right rallies and protests, presenting themselves as protectors of Western customs and civilization. The group’s members are fervent supporters of President Donald Trump, and Proud Boys leaders often post Islamophobic rhetoric on their social media accounts.