Hey everyone, we’re back with a long-overdue CTEC in the News roundup. But that delay was for good reason: it’s been extraordinarily busy around here, for the straightforward reason that there was an attempted insurrection in the US by a loose coalition of mainstream and extreme right-wing movements.
However, CTEC exists to help everyone navigate the complicated and ever-changing world of extremism and terrorism, and we’ve done a good number of publications, interviews, and radio to hopefully provide better context for what happened and why. So, without further ado, here’s what we’ve been up to over the last few weeks.
The Role of Social Media
The story of January 6, 2021, cannot be told without giving full weight to the role social media played in both radicalizing the would-be insurrectionists and allowing them to organize out in the open. CTEC experts spend hours per week monitoring social media, and so the act of storming the Capitol was not a surprise. If you’re interested in learning more about just how transparently far-right extremists planned violence, you can check out my recent article in The Conversation.
“Using tools that allow me to monitor large-scale social media data, I found evidence that right-wing activists had been explicit and open with their intentions for the Jan. 6 demonstrations since at least mid-December,” I wrote. “I have no doubt that the demonstration was specifically designed to force Congress to overturn the election. Although the act of storming the Capitol may not have been planned, the demonstrators had prepared for weeks to use at least the threat of physical violence to intimidate Congress and Pence during the certification process.”
Our eminent leader, Director Jason Blazakis, also talked about the metastasization of conspiracy theories across the Internet, in an interview with The Hill. Arguing that online conspiracy theories now quite obviously constitute a national security threat, he stated, “Jan. 6 is an inflection point for how the United States and the world views conspiracy theories, and how conspiracy theories, ranging from election fraud and Stop the Steal, can lead to real-world harm in a way that a lot of people never really kind of believed.”
Policy and Intelligence Fixes Needed?
Many people throughout the United States immediately began questioning how such an armed coup attempt could have happened, and in the Capitol building of all places. Are our terrorism laws and intelligence services up to the task of resisting domestic terrorism from far-right groups? Do we need to overhaul our laws and processes?
In interviews with NY Mag’s Intelligencer and The Intercept, Blazakis suggested that a new domestic terrorism law may not be the silver bullet that some people hope. In fact, Blazakis has rethought some of his earlier views in support of a broad law, and now he states, “Unfortunately, politics being what it is, I worry that politicians would use it as a mechanism to chill free speech.”
However, he still supports a narrowly defined law that would allow for charging individual acts of terrorism. Any attempt to designate entire groups would likely be flawed and run into constitutional problems. Check out The Intercept’s piece for more in-depth analysis of possible legal and policy overhauls.
Parallels to Unite the Right
The Unite the Right rallies in 2017 left a long and terrible shadow, as the murder of a left-wing activist by a far-right extremist shocked the entire country. However, the protests also set the stage for the increasingly unified, violent, and ideologically extreme American Right. Many right-wing activists became even more disillusioned with civil society following Unite the Right, doubling down on blaming Democrats and mainstream media for what they perceived as unfair coverage.
That radical grievance contributed to the willingness for so many across the country to embrace election-related conspiracy theories and to be willing to commit violence for Trump. In an interview with FiveThirtyEight, I argued that although some groups like the Proud Boys underwent internal turmoil following the events in Charlottesville, the broad movement emerged more embittered and more unified. “These far-right groups were feeling more and more isolated from mainstream media and mainstream politics, and some of them saw Trump as their only defender in that,” I stated.
The Possibility of Future Violence
Everyone is concerned with the potential for more events like the storming of the Capitol, and considering the failures of law enforcement to respond effectively, that’s a fair worry. Fortunately, signs indicate that the government is prepared to take additional pre-Inauguration demonstrations much more seriously, such as the FBI’s report warning of armed protests across the country.
It’s worth noting, however, that the chances for another large pro-Trump demonstration are low at the present moment. As I told The Hill, “The demonstrations on the sixth of January had a lot of political elites backing [them]. The risks of another massive protest happening are relatively low unless those big conservatives start throwing their weight behind it again.”
Rather, the people currently agitating for action are members of violent revolutionary right-wing movements, like the Boogaloo Movement and white supremacist accelerationists. These movements are small, but they are composed of dedicated radicals who applaud violence—especially anti-state violence—whenever it occurs. Many were nominal supporters of the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer, although that support was generally based on a desire to see more widespread conflict between agents of the state and American people.
These accelerationists have started some attempts to recruit from newly disillusioned Trump supporters. “There are already some signs that [neo-Nazi] accelerationist groups are trying to peel off militant Trumpers,” I told Jason Wilson at The Guardian. In addition, they have discussed Inauguration Day as an opportunity to spark more violence. However, considering their small numbers and the amount of attention being paid to them, the possibility of additional action is limited. We need to take them seriously, but not overstate their threat.
So yes, we’ve been very busy! I hope that we’ve been able to provide you with helpful context about the January 6 attempted insurrection, how we might respond to it legally, and what the future might hold.
We’ll be back with regular updates soon. But for now, have a good rest of your week!