“Tell me where I need to be and I am there,” one member of a Proud Boys group in Wisconsin wrote last month about protests of mask mandates. “I can drive 5-6 hours in any direction.”
“Think local, act local,” wrote another member.
At some local meetings where the Proud Boys have shown up, they have spoken and threatened community leaders, according to news reports. At others, they have simply stood silently and watched. In the Telegram groups, some boasted that they had handed out their cellphone numbers to those interested in joining them.
While the Proud Boys’ membership is not public, Mr. Holt said the group appeared to be growing in small towns and counties.
Often, their presence has been enough to disrupt events. Last month, the school board in Beloit, Wis., said it canceled classes because some of the Proud Boys were at a local protest over mask requirements. In Orange County, Calif., the school board said in September that it would install metal detectors and hire extra security after several Proud Boys attended a meeting and threatened its members.
In New Hanover County, N.C., which has roughly 220,000 people and is two hours southeast of Charlotte, Stefanie Adams, the school board president, said she had read about the group’s increasing appearances and began tracking the reports closely.
Ms. Adams said she had an inkling that the Proud Boys might show up in her school district, which has 25,000 students. Because North Carolina law requires the county school board to vote on whether to continue a mask mandate for students each month, the district had handled many contentious meetings over the issue, she said.
“I figured we were on their radar, and that we might be next,” Ms. Adams said. “We knew we had to prepare for them coming to our town, too.”