Who emerged the winner from the presidential debate between President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden?
To many, it was hard to tell. It seemed like cacophonous chaos, the night producing less a clear victory for either man than an overall loss for a country that had to sit through 90 minutes of barbs, cross talk and ill will. But the crowd on Parler, a new social media app that courts conservative America, including the far right Proud Boys, seemed to reach a more definitive conclusion: That this was a total victory for Trump.
“People were on Parler tonight because they can freely express their views without fear or being throttled, banned, deplatformed,” says John Matze, the app’s founder. He sees Parler as an alternative to Twitter and Facebook, the mainstream platforms that Matze and others believe try to silence conservatives. “Overall I think their Parler experience contributed to a fair and free election.”
Parler, founded in 2018, has become a beacon for Republicans during the past few months, and in June, Trump publicly flirted with the idea of leaving Facebook and Twitter to concentrate efforts on Parler. He didn’t, though he, his son Eric, and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani all made official accounts and became active on the app. So did plenty of Trump supporters. At one point this summer, Parler was getting 500,000 downloads a week, and its user base neared 2 million, many times the amount on the app before Trump’s highlighted Parler.
Unsurprisingly then, Parler was a hot bed of activity throughout Tuesday’s debate. John Solomon, the founder and editor in chief of News.com, a right-leaning media organization, labelled the evening a “Biden blunder.” “The equivalent of #trump bringing a gun to a pillow fight,” wrote a user going by the handle of @Midnight Marauder, a self-described “supremacist.” Another user, @HouseofTrump, concluded that Biden “truly has no clue.”
Those words glow with only low luminosity when compared to the 10,000-watt intensity on the app after Trump told the Proud Boys during the debate to “stand back and stand by,” a phrase that the group interpreted as a call to arms.
Proud Boys leader Joe Biggs could hardly contain his glee, typing out this on Parler: “Trump basically said to go fuck them up! this makes me so happy.” (He reportedly made similar comments on Telegram, an encrypted messaging app that has attracted nationalist groups because of its anonymity-protecting technology.) Biggs has a sizable following on the app, some 34,000 people, and he describes himself in his Parler profile as a “Singer, Motorcycle rider and freedom fighter.”
Enrique Tarrio, another Proud Boys chief, echoed Biggs’ comment. “I’m am [sic] extremely PROUD of my Presidents performance tonight,” he wrote on Parler. The Proud Boys’ widely followed main account, @TheProudBoys, which has 50,000 subscribers, offered up a short summation of the evening, punctuating their excitement with capital letters: “THANK YOU PRESIDENT TRUMP!” Below those words were a picture of a black T-shirt, the words “Proud Boys Standing By” emblazoned in canary yellow.
Matze, the app’s founder, had this to say about the talk on the app. “We are a neutral town square. As long as [the Proud Boys’] speech is legal…and they follow our [terms of service]…we do not discriminate based off group or association.”
As it happens, the boys did not have the final word on Parler last night. An hour after the debate, user @IceQueenAsh, who has decorated her Parler profile with Pepe the Frog and characterizes herself as a “#proudmom” and a “#proud patriot,” wrote: “Screw it I’ll say it! #TheProudGals are here in spirit and damn proud how #TheProudBoys have handled themselves!”
“The Proud Boys are awesome,” she concluded. “Good old fashion red white and blue!”