In the wake of the Capitol riots and revelations of their leader’s past cooperation with police, the Proud Boys have been both splintering and receiving an influx of support. With at least five chapters declaring independence from centralized leadership, experts warn the two trends could be a dangerous combination, The Washington Post reports.

The Jan. 6 riots were a triumphant moment for the Proud Boys, with many members in attendance and some photographed leading the crowds in breaching the Capitol building. Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio was in custody at the time on charges related to the burning of a Black Lives Matter sign at a historically Black church, but cheered on his members through social media.

“I am with you,” he wrote the next day. “We are all with you. You make this country great. Never stop fighting.”

The consequences of the riot soon dampened that messaging. Their presence brought harsh scrutiny and several arrests, with prosecutors alleging the Proud Boys had been at the forefront of planning the attack.

The Proud Boys were forced to take a step back, denying they had planned the riot and putting a moratorium on any planning or participation in protests. Nevertheless, experts say the riots prove there’s a sizeable and possible growing contingent of people sympathetic to the Proud Boys’ ideology and violent means.

“One thing that was made apparent by the insurrection is there is this growing anti-democratic far-right bloc that is willing to use violence and force to push their views,” said Cassie Miller, a senior researcher with the Southern Poverty Law Center. “We’re seeing a shift back to what the Proud Boys have been practicing for a long time.”

Another blow to the group came in January when leader Enrique Tarrio was revealed to have cooperated extensively with police in the past to bust drug rings and human traffickers. The evidence led to increasing accusations of unreliability, and some demands to step down.

Experts on extremist groups consider armed far-right groups like the Proud Boys a domestic terror threat
Experts on extremist groups consider armed far-right groups like the Proud Boys a domestic terror threat GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Nathan Howard

Five groups have already split off, specifically the Indiana, Alabama, Oklahoma, Missouri and Las Vegas proud boys chapters.

“If other states follow this lead we can have a truly autonomous chapter that won’t be liable for the mistakes of the next chairman or the next group of elders,” Brien James, Indiana chapter leader and member of the white nationalist Vinlanders Social Club, wrote. “Don’t talk about autonomy. Be autonomous.”

The groups that broke off after Tarrio’s past was revealed specifically named him as a reason for leaving. Miller isn’t surprised by the effect it’s had.

“It’s going to be a lot more difficult for him to maintain control over the group, because a lot of them don’t see him as a legitimate leader anymore,” she told The Washington Post. “If you have been outed as having cooperated with the feds, you’re essentially blacklisted in far-right circles.”

That has some worried that splinter groups would devolve into further extremism right as they’re getting a membership boost. In addition to the direct threat that poses, the Proud Boys’ political influence could pull the Republican party further to the right.

“If people have hitched their wagons to the Proud Boys and now their local chapter decides to run off the rails and go in a more extreme direction, there will be at least some portion of that group that tags along with them,” Jared Holt, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, told The Washington Post. “There’s a risk that some of the groups that break off of the national organization — should they choose a more extreme approach — could use those broader sympathies within the Republican base to further extremist causes and radicalize more people within the Republican zeitgeist.