In the year since January 6, the American radical right has hardened into an undemocratic insurgency
They also largely agree that not only does the nation face an ongoing assault on its democratic institutions, but that Jan. 6 essentially became the insurgency’s opening declaration of war. This became painfully evident in the way the mainstream Republican right adopted the Patriots’ conspiratorial worldview while circling the wagons in defense of the attack itself.
The most disturbing of these reports comes from Heidi Beirich, the longtime intelligence director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, now a member of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, who warns that growing radicalization of the American right has pushed the United States to the brink of authoritarianism:
The situation became so dire that a member of the CIA’s Political Instability Task Force warned in December that the United States was “closer to civil war” than most would ever believe. Professor Barbara Walter pointed out that “if you were an analyst in a foreign country studying events in America – the same way you would look at events in Ukraine, Ivory Coast or Venezuela – you would make a checklist. , assessing each of the conditions that make civil war likely… And what you would find is that the United States, a democracy founded over two centuries ago, has entered very dangerous territory. Walter believes the United States has gone through stages of “pre-insurgency” and “emerging conflict” and may now be in “open conflict,” starting with the insurgency on Capitol Hill. Walter also says that the United States has become an “anocracy” – “somewhere between a democracy and an autocratic state”.
The most disturbing aspect of radicalization, observes Beirich, is the propagation of “accelerationist” beliefs – embracing nihilist politics aimed at encouraging the collapse of society – by networking extreme right-wing extremists online. , resulting in a variety of deadly acts of domestic terrorism. She also notes that while paramilitary groups such as the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys played a leading role in the insurgency, “the prosecution of those involved in the insurgency has failed to shut down these groups, just as the involvement of active duty military and veterans has failed. inspire serious action to eliminate extremists and prevent the radicalization of troops.
As Beirich explains, this radicalization has been openly encouraged by Republican officials and a wide range of right-wing experts, who have promoted white nationalist conspiracy theories and other far-right conspiracy theories in the mainstream. dominant in public discourse, ranging from the racist “Grand Replacement” theory that the liberals are deliberately seeking to displace white voters with a wave of immigration and non-white civil rights, to conflicting claims that “Leftists” and “Antifa” were in fact responsible for the violence of January 6 and that the rioters were simultaneously just “patriots” seeking to defend the nation against a Communist takeover.
Beirich quotes a recent University of Chicago Security and Threat Project Report the identification of an active American insurgency movement comprising some 21 million people. These radicalized Trump supporters believe that “the use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency” and that “the 2020 election has been stolen, and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.” About 63% of them believe in the Great Replacement theory, while 54% subscribe to the far-right QAnon conspiracy.
He also notes that this insurgent movement is made up of “mostly highly skilled middle-aged American professionals,” leading researchers to warn their continued radicalization “does not bode well for the 2022 midterm elections. , or for that matter, the elections of 2024. Presidential election. “
At least initially, many far-right groups were held back by the aftermath of the events of January 6. Many of them, like researcher Jared Holt of the Atlantic Council told NBC News, faced “a massive public relations crisis”. He added: “Many of these movements have spent 2020 raising their visibility, strengthening their ranks, organizing conservative rallies in state capitol buildings, opposing the protests for racial justice over the summer and to become very active during the elections of the period. after. All that perceived momentum was sucked out of the room very quickly. “
An in-depth report by Holt for the Atlantic Council describes how far-right groups adapted to the situation on the ground after January 6 by pushing into mainstream politics by forming nonprofit organizations and engaging in mainstream political activities, decentralizing their organizations to embrace more autonomous local groups, and in particular by encouraging political engagement at the local level. “This has led many people to adopt causes adopted by mainstream conservatives, from tackling COVID-19 restrictions to questioning school curricula, directing their anger at local officials,” he noted. -he.
Right-wing ‘crop war’ controversies – such as the bogus ‘critical race theory’ debate or conspiracy hysteria over vaccines and masking warrants – have proven to be useful entry opportunities. for extremists to gain traction among the general public, as Holt reports: “As a fruitful opportunity to generate outrage and hatred, extremists have adopted emotionally charged social issues as a vehicle for entry in mainstream online discourse, ”he wrote.
Historical revisionism over the events of January 6 has been at the heart of the radicalization narrative, observes Holt, with influential social media figures and political figures obscuring and distorting the attack, “challenging the behavior of participants despite documentary evidence on the contrary, and accusing the government of plotting against Trump supporters.
Importantly, the hardline-right narrative of the insurgency and the 2020 election has been ardently embraced by mainstream Republicans: media supporters from Fox News to One America News Network, “Holt writes, noting that all of that” media “have renamed “The insurgents who attacked the Capitol like patriots and heroes”.
Almost all scholars prominently mention Fox’s Tucker Carlson as one of the main sources of this revisionism. In addition to prominently promoting the “Great Replacement” theory on Fox, Carlson has been a relentless propagandist of the conspiracy theory that the January 6 insurgency was a “false flag” operation by the FBI. to trap the unfortunate conservatives.
the Michael Edison Hayden of SPLC similarly observed: “More and more people, in fact, seem to be turning to far-right propaganda lately. Even though ratings for Liberal cable shows plummeted after Trump left, Carlson’s show continued to run into the millions, as did other Fox News hosts.
As Hayden puts it, the extremist right since January 6 “systematically builds a culture where violence and authoritarianism can take root more in the United States”. this.
“We have to be on the right, dragging these people kicking and screaming into the future… in a really reactionary party,” Fuentes said. “It’s gradual. We are not going to drag them all the way. But if we can slide the rightmost part further to the right, and we can slide the center further to the right, and we can slide the left further to the right… then we win, ”a he declared.
The dynamics of the shift to localized politics are reflected in the post-Jan. 6 tactics adopted by the Proud Boys, such as Tess Owen at Vice explored in depth. She had observed (like us) in the aftermath of the insurgency “that they slipped under the national radar and avoided large-scale, high-profile appearances in favor of quietly consolidating alliances around hot political issues and activism. community. . “
By closely following their activities over the past year, she found that “Proud Boys had made at least 114 uniformed appearances in 73 cities in 24 states between January 6 and December 21, 2021”. In many cases, as she notes, the Proud Boys have also appeared at events but not in their black polo uniforms, depending on whether or not they wanted to “incriminate” the group.
“Over the past year, the Proud Boys have worked to integrate themselves among local activists who were not tarnished by the January 6 insurgency,” Devin Burghart, executive director of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, based in Missouri (IREHR), said Owen. “They became involved in local efforts to push back vaccination warrants, or critical race theory, and other local conflicts, which allowed them to avoid the national discussion on the insurgency and provide them with a support base that they did not have before January 6.
And while these localized protests attracted considerably less media attention than the far-right rallies of 2020 and January 6, their numbers have grown significantly. A report from site of armed conflict event data (ACLED) The project found that not only were there a significant number of pro-Trump rallies in 2021, a disproportionate number of them featured armed participants, and the majority of them took place on “grounds. legislative “:
- 6.8% of pro-Trump protests (112 out of 1,646) between January 2020 and November 2021 were armed compared to 1.5% of all other protests (501 out of 33,298).
- The percentage of pro-Trump armed protests has increased over the past year. In 2021, 8.8% of pro-Trump protests were armed (32 out of 364) compared to 6.2% in 2020 (80 out of 1,282).
- Between January 2020 and November 2021, 47.3% of pro-Trump armed protests (53 of 112) took place on legislative grounds, compared to 12.2% of all other armed protests (61 of 501).
- The percentage of pro-Trump armed protests that took place on legislative grounds increased in 2021, with 81.3% (26 of 32) reported on these sites compared to 33.8% (27 of 80) in 2020.
Like Stephen Marche commented in The Guardian, Americans must shake off the illusion that a civil war is far away. It is there, now, in the form of a relentless insurrectionary movement, an insurrection which manifested its intentions on January 6:
What the American left needs now is allegiance, not alliance. It must abandon all imaginary fantasies about the sanctity of government institutions which have long since given up any claim to legitimacy. Stack the Supreme Court, end the filibuster, make Washington DC a state and let the dogs howl, and now, before it’s too late. As soon as the right takes control of institutions, it will use them to overthrow democracy in its most basic forms; they are already rushing to dissolve all the standards that stand in the way of their full emancipation.