This week, the FBI confirmed what experts who study violent extremism and domestic terrorism have said they feared since rioters breached the U.S. Capitol — continued violence before and after President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
With a week to go before Biden takes his oath of office, the FBI is warning of plans for armed protests at all 50 state capitals and in Washington, D.C., in the days leading up to the Jan. 20 inauguration. An internal FBI bulletin warned that nationwide protests may begin later this week and extend through Biden’s inauguration and that extremist groups are likely to play a role in these demonstrations.
Southern California experts who study violent extremism agree the violence could extend beyond Jan. 20.
“It’s going to get worse after that,” said Pete Simi, an associate professor of sociology at Chapman University who has studied violent extremism, especially White supremacist groups, for more than two decades.
Any time there is a major, violent event such as the Jan. 6 riot, which some say was a coordinated assault on the Capitol to disrupt legislators who were counting electoral votes to certify Biden’s presidential win, there is the likelihood of more attacks occurring in a planned manner, Simi said.
Five people, including a Capitol police officer and a San Diego-area woman who was among the rioters, died as a result of the clash. Another veteran member of the Capitol police died by suicide three days after the riot. Federal and local law enforcement officials have vowed to track down rioters seen in social media posts and news coverage swarming over the Capitol, breaking doors and windows and fighting with police.
Many who showed up on Jan. 6 to hear Trump speak near the White House before a planned march to the Capitol may not have intended to incite or participate in the violence that ensued, but those who were leading the mob are established figures in far-right extremist movements, Simi said.
He gave the example of Baked Alaska, whose real name is Tim Gionet, a well-known neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist and social media personality, who livestreamed the riot to his 16,000 followers on Dlive, a streaming app that is gaining in popularity among right-wing extremists. Gionet had also marched alongside white nationalists in the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017.
“(Gionet) not only livestreamed the riot, but he made money doing it,” Simi said, adding that there was a strong showing from several other neo-Nazi groups at the Capitol.
“There was a Camp Auschwitz T-shirt, Confederate flags, neo-Nazi tattoos,” he said.
The stage was set
Before the riot, the protest outside the White House was the latest in a series of large rallies in Washington since the Nov. 3 election. On Nov. 14, thousands of Trump supporters attended the Million MAGA March to protest the election results. On Dec. 12, the Anti-Defamation League’s Center (ADL) on Extremism reported, Trump supporters and some right-wing extremists demonstrated at various pro-Trump rallies.
According to the report, extremists saw the Capitol riot as a more concrete step toward conflict with “the left” who are the perceived antagonists in this battle to “take the country back.” The ADL report noted Jacob Wohl, a far-right conspiracy theorist, posted to social media platform Parler claiming the nation has been in a “civil war” for several years against “the left” and this was “the right” finally answering back.
Parler went offline this week after Apple, Google and Amazon withdrew technical support for the app, citing unchecked posts that the corporations said encourage and incite violence. Those moves spurred cries of censorship from conservatives, many of whom moved to Parler in recent weeks because they felt their free speech was being curbed by Facebook and Twitter.
The rage that was on display on Wednesday did not exist in a vacuum, said Joanna Mendelson, senior investigative researcher with ADL’s Center on Extremism.
“We’ve been warning about this for much of last year and in particular the last few months,” she said. “We’re very concerned that we might see similar displays of anger and a sense of loss. The broader theme is the feeling that something has been wrongfully taken away from them. There is a sense of grievance. Under the auspices of a perceived stolen election, there is a sense of righteousness in any act of violence.”
Trump’s words to his followers as darkness fell in Washington on Jan. 6 were “eerie,” and though they may have appeared as an attempt to calm the insurgents, the president’s statements in fact stoked more anger and fear, Mendelson said.
“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long…Go home with love & peace,” the president tweeted Wednesday, hours before Twitter suspended his account for inciting violence and two days before it banned him permanently.
ADL has joined the growing call for Trump to resign following the Jan. 6 riot and his own statements. Tuesday morning, Trump said he bore no responsibility for the riot.
Seriousness of the threat
Those who broke into the Capitol, along with those across the country who approved of the action, are not likely to back down, said Lowell Smith, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at La Sierra University in Riverside. Smith served as an Orange County probation officer for about 26 years and supervised a number of white supremacists, including the California state leader of the Aryan nation and another man who stormed into a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and killing six people on Aug. 5, 2012.
“I think we’re going to see more acts like (the Capitol riot),” Smith said. “I would strongly encourage law enforcement not to take these people for granted. People dismiss them as quirky and as nutcases. But they are more than that. They are not afraid to use violence and die for their cause.”
What happened in Washington was domestic terrorism, Smith said.
“They went there to impede the constitutional process,” he said. “Terrorism is defined as any act of violence to impede the exercise of religion or political process. And this was it. It wasn’t just a protest even if there were some genuine protesters out there.”
Worries about more violence
The crowd outside the Capitol was a mixture of far-right groups, from the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters to QAnon and the Proud Boys, and they likely will perpetrate other acts of violence, said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State, San Bernardino.
He warns that the worst day for hate crimes in 2019 was the day after congressional Democrats announced plans to impeach Trump. With the House of Representatives poised to vote Wednesday, Jan. 13, on impeaching the president, by Levin’s assessment, there is more potential for violence.
According to Levin, the coronavirus pandemic galvanized a group of people on the right who were against virus-related lockdowns, motivating militias to form around the issue under the umbrella of The Liberate Movement, which called on government officials to “liberate” various cities from what supporters of the movement said were oppressive COVID-19 health protocols.
In October, federal agents said they thwarted a plot to kidnap and harm Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer after she imposed restrictions on personal movement in response to the coronavirus. Levin points to “The Liberate” movement as a watershed moment
“The Liberate Movement became this Grand Central Station where the very conservative mainstream interfaced with conspiracy theorists, QAnon and Second Amendment folks under this elastic umbrella,” Levin said. “Not everyone wanted to storm the Capitol (on Jan. 6). But we have an insurgency and it’s coalesced millions of people who aren’t extremists, but have some type of grievance. The question is how hot and how long will this insurgency run.”
Source: Orange County Register