Is the US helping the January 6 rioters plan a behind-bars sequel?

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Strange things are brewing in the DC Correctional Treatment Center, aka DC Prison, where around 40 of the most violent January 6 insurgents are being held.

The men are housed in a unit separate from the other detainees, awaiting trial. These men engage in a number of activities, sing it Star Spangled Banner every evening at 9 p.m. sharp and even writing of a handwritten prison newsletter.

These seemingly small community actions of incarcerated men awaiting trial are exactly how other radical groups have organized and forged their identities in prisons. Some of these groups then became effective forces that challenged armies and governments.

Moreover, by mixing the die-hard ideologues with others who may falter in their undemocratic feelings under adverse conditions– and by not giving them an offramp for their beliefs – the DC prison could inadvertently be the petri dish of a future American terrorist group.

Prisons are well known incubators for terrorists. Like I wrote in my book Disruption: Inside the biggest anti-terrorism investigation in history, prisons can be the place where blood ties are forged and grievances are nurtured. Once released, former detainees can unleash their ideological violence. During his sentence, the ideologically committed terrorist can also influence and recruit from among a series of rotating candidates, dragging them into his violent ideology.

Many individuals who had carried out terrorist operations in Europe had been transformed from ordinary, rootless criminals into something much worse while incarcerated. For example, one of the brothers who made the 2015 Charlie hebdo magazine attack, Chérif Kouachi, was radicalized during a 20-month stay in a French prison by an Al-Qaeda agent in the same establishment. Another man from the same prison, Amedy Coulibaly, synchronized his attack on a kosher supermarket in the wake of the Charlie hebdo massacre, killing a policeman and massacring four buyers. A number of the 2003 assailants who slammed into trains in Madrid – Europe’s worst terrorist attack in memory – radicalized in Spanish prisons while serving time for minor offenses.

Perhaps the most notorious example of large-scale radicalization happening right under the noses of authorities was at Camp Bucca, a large US-run prison in southern Iraq during the occupation. This place has become a notorious finishing school for jihadists, as diehard ideologues have ruled the prison yard for years without their American overseers paying much attention. Once these people left Camp Bucca, many retained their new friendships and networks, becoming not only forwards but also talent scouts, fundraisers, coaches and quartermasters.

The Camp Bucca detention center.

David Furst / AFP via Getty

Indeed, many of the men who formed the core of the Islamic State spent years incarcerated at Camp Bucca, including its now deceased leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and several members of its board of directors. A former inmate told Al Jazeera that US officials have done little to stop the radicals in the camp. “Extremists had the freedom to educate young detainees,” he said. “I saw them teaching using classroom charts on how to use explosives, weapons and how to become suicide bombers.” The same dynamic seems to be at play in Egyptian prisons, where Islamic State ideologues recruit new members for the cause.

Radical groups even exploit prison sentences as symbolic acts in their greater struggles. Paradoxically, a prison sentence confers a certain degree of gravity on a subset of individuals, making it easier for them to recruit new people from outside for the cause. Adolf Hitler’s stint in Landsberg prison after the Beer Hall putsch became an important ideological touchstone for the Nazis. Most of the senior Irish Republican Army went through British prisons and came out as the heroes of the cause – or its martyrs, like Bobby Sands, who died on hunger strike. Palestinians celebrate Palestinian prisoner’s day every April 17, cementing the time spent by terrorists and non-terrorists in Israeli prisons to a larger ideological struggle.

Rioters besieging the Capitol on January 6.

Lev Radin / Pacific Press via Getty

Which brings us back to the January 6 insurgents in DC jail. Some indeed might have realized the error of their ways. But those who might want to turn away from radicalization Jan 6 style in DC Prison may be more at risk inside the facility, as they are housed with people dedicated to deepening their engagement. ideological. At the end of October, a federal judge published Thomas Sibick, accused of assaulting Metropolitan Police Department officer Michael Fanone and stealing his badge and radio, from prison to await trial at his parents’ home in part to escape others. But social pressure on those still in custody to remain loyal to Trump and “the cause” must be strong, especially when surrounded by like-minded violent individuals. Mixing the committed ideologues with the less committed and letting the former lead their unit as they wish without too much interference is precisely how radical groups strengthen their power.

Are the prison authorities meticulously monitoring the activities of the January 6 people? Probably not. DC Jail suffers from many Other problems, such as overcrowding, staff shortage, and globally bad life conditions. Either way, the United States is unlikely to do much to stop these efforts at recruiting and ideological indoctrination. A few years ago, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York Noted that there were “few de-radicalization programs or initiatives in place that aimed to rehabilitate extremists and help them reintegrate into society as legal individuals”. And this recruitment is certainly happening in US prisons right now: for example, a federal inmate in a Texas prison in October 2020 has been condemned another 300 months to actively recruit other detainees for the Islamic State.

It is difficult for a radical ideology to exist for long without a committed human infrastructure. But we have seen that several federal politicians publicly support the insurgents, calling them “political hostages” which are “persecuted“for their convictions. Former President Donald Trump wrote in September, “Our hearts and minds are with those persecuted so unjustly in connection with the January 6 protest over the rigged presidential election… In the end, however, JUSTICE WILL PREVISE! There was also small gatherings on their behalf as well as a letter campaign by Trump supporters. Those involved in the January 6 uprising are on both sides of the prison walls and in the halls of Congress.

Thus, between the identities reinforced inside a prison and the obvious slice of political support outside, we can see the emergence of a new radical group – with a national network and skilled ideological agents. – ready to threaten the streets of America. in the years to come.

A future fighting force may have cut its teeth not on Capitol Hill grounds on January 6, but in the bowels of a prison a few miles away and months later.


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