If FBI bulletins and far-right forum chatter are any indications, January 6 won’t be the only day we will see extremists enacting violence in the name of Donald Trump remaining President of the United States. There is a very likely chance that further rioting can be expected in the hours leading up to President-Elect Joe Biden’s swearing in ceremony. And law enforcement officers are bracing themselves for any number of attacks in the coming days.
There have been plenty of think pieces about the ideologies of involved groups like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and extreme nationalist Trump supporters. We've spent the better part of the past two weeks questioning how we got here and also acknowledging why we shouldn’t be surprised. But a question that has yet to be brought into the public discourse is: What happens after extremism is set in motion?
The January 6 insurrection in Washington D.C. was very clearly laid out in plain sight. The participants were tracked and documented by research groups, and while the FBI and Capitol Police may not have foreseen the severity of what was about to happen, records show that they were warned in no uncertain terms about the seriousness of the impending attack. Now, there is a legitimate concern that further violence is imminent, not just in the capital but across the country.
“The events of January 6 are a perfect example that any form of extremism — whether it takes the form of online bravado or whether it manifests itself in real-world violence — is a danger to our national security,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, told Refinery29. “The key thing to understand is that the anger and vitriol that we saw that day will not dissipate anytime soon.”
Greenblatt attributes the potential longevity of this far-right extremism to Trump. “[He] has provided extremists the gift of a narrative that will carry them through the next four years: a story about a stolen election, all thanks to the treasonous 'left' and mainstream media, who are, as the narrative goes, suppressing the rights and voices of ‘real Americans.’”
Aggressive and often hateful calls for widespread demonstrations in the days leading up to the inauguration on January 20 have been present on both mainstream platforms like Facebook and Twitter as well as conservative sites like Parler — before it was taken down by Amazon — pro-Trump servers on Discord, and TheDonald.win. Some events are tied to specific locations such as the U.S. Capitol and the Mall in Washington, while others, such as an “Armed March on All State Capitals,” call for localized events in all 50 states. All this culminates in a “Million Militia March” on January 20 at the Capitol. Greenblatt said he has ever seen it referred to as a “Million Martyr March” in some online forums.
Another factor at play is whether outgoing president Trump will have anything to say on the day or days leading up to the inauguration. According to NBC News, Trump is considering either announcing a 2024 run on Inauguration Day or days before, despite the fact that he was impeached just last week. Trump has also discussed holding a rally on Inauguration Day, reports The Daily Beast, which could quickly invite the same disastrous actions as the last time he spoke in front of thousands of devoted followers. On January 15, Reuters reported that Trump will attend an unprecedented farewell event at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington, where Air Force One is kept. It is scheduled to take place during Biden’s swearing-in ceremony, though it's unclear whether Trump would make a speech, and sources stressed that the plan could change.
The ADL has also been tracking extremists involved in the attempted coup. A prevalent thread in these monitored discussions is that many view the events of January 6 as a success, “largely because they inspired fear and caused chaos,” Greenblatt explained. “It was their online fantasies come to fruition.”
One concern for the future of extremism is that the dogma and ferocity of Trump supporters whose worldview has been fertilized by conspiracies could grow in the coming months — or years — as they mingle with more established extremist groups like white supremacists, anti-government groups, anti-semites, and hardcore conspiracy theorists. It’s possible that new movements could emerge or established extremists' ideologies could find new members within the ranks of radicalized Trump supporters. It’s already happening. As these groups find more things to hate and a man to unite behind in that hatred, the Venn diagram becomes more complex by becoming more and more like a circle.
"Let's be clear: what happened at the U.S. Capitol on the sixth was perhaps one of the most predictable terror incidents in American history," Greenblatt said. "Anyone who has been paying attention to extremist activity across the country or to the chorus of disinformation and hatred on social media had a reasonably good idea of what was going to happen."
The Proud Boys, a neo-fascist political group, attracts people who are anti-government and Islamophobic. But so do the Boogaloo Boys, who hope to incite a race war. People who embrace QAnon may or may not know that they are perpetuating ideas that are inextricably intertwined with antisemitism. Antisemitism and fear-mongering against “the outsider” is a historically successful binding agent with which to promote violent nationalism. And the more afraid and hypervigilant a group is kept, the more they will perceive things — even things like the democratic process — as a threat. It's a textbook example of how the culture of fear can be used to incite violence and coerce people to act against their own best interests.
This won’t just stop when Biden takes office. This doesn’t get a neat and tidy ending. In a Refinery29 interview back in October, Devin Burghart, president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, anticipated this very outcome, irrespective of the election results, when speaking about the real-life manifestations of QAnon. “Should President Trump lose... that sets up a perfect storm for them,” he explained. “They’ll argue that it was furthermore a deep state plot that tainted the election and made it impossible for Trump to win.”
So what can be done — if anything? The ADL, believing this growing far-right insurgency is the number one domestic terror threat currently facing the U.S., is calling on federal law enforcement and prosecutors to hold participants criminally accountable. Greenblatt says that there should be a clear message that “one cannot storm the Capitol building and attempt a coup without facing serious legal consequences.” He sees the already heightened security and bulletins released by the FBI as a sign that any gatherings will be much more tightly controlled than those on January 6. Just the show of a larger law enforcement presence may act as a deterrent to those who felt emboldened by the absence of it a week ago.
In the long term, it is hard to know where to begin. Even countries like Germany, who for years have been held in the minds of many as a nation who faced extremism, atoned, and moved forward, isn’t the liberal democracy one might want to believe that it is. Nationalism is on the rise again there, too, as it is across much of the Western world. It was never gone. Being honest about that is an important start. We may not eradicate hate, but we certainly shouldn’t protect it or allow it to run rampant under the guise of “alternative facts.”
If we have learned anything from the protests against racial injustice and police violence earlier this year, it is this: If we protect it, we perpetuate it. Maybe that is where we start.