Becs Hill, Assistant Researcher at Talking About Terrorism.
On Wednesday 6 January 2021, thousands of pro-Trump rioters descended on the US Capitol building, holding a rally in opposition to Congress’ attempt to certify Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 Presidential Election. During the rally, a mob of armed insurrectionists stormed into the building carrying extremist iconography associated with the far-right, including but not limited to white-supremacist groups, forcing members of Congress to hide in safe locations until police and members of the National Guard secured the premises Spraying chemical irritants and wielding lead pipes, they battered down doors and windows and injured more than fifty officers. Just one day after the chaos that unfolded, President-elect Joe Biden labeled those involved “domestic terrorists,” following their role in launching an unacceptable assault on US democracy.
While it remains unclear whether Wednesday’s attack was led by any particular organization or individuals, this brief analysis will identify the far-right groups present in the Capitol riots, highlighting the key information on each.
The Proud Boys
This organization was founded in 2016 by Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, promoting an anti-immigrant, Islamophobic and misogynistic ideology with exclusively male membership.
One far-right group involved in the storming of the Capitol were members of the Proud Boys. Its leader, Enrique Tarrio, 36, was banned from entering the District of Columbia, with very limited exceptions.
The Proud Boys rose to national prominence after Trump and Biden name-checked them at the first presidential debate, with Trump refusing to criticise the group and instead telling them to “stand back and stand by.”
According to a Canadian military report, the Proud Boys are “an extremist conservative group that uses confrontational and at times violent tactics to promote its goals.”
One individual that stood out in the mob that stormed the Capitol was the ‘Q Shaman’, Jake Angeli; sporting red, white, and blue face paint and a horned helmet.
Angeli has become a notable figure in the QAnon conspiracy movement; a far-right conspiracy theory group that baselessly alleges that Trump is fighting a secret political clique of pedophiles and human traffickers.
The group has played a significant role in organizing nationwide ‘Stop the Steal’ protests in the months following President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.
The ‘Stop the Steal’ movement began on Election Day with Trump supporters demanding state election officials to stop counting the ballots to maintain Trump’s early lead, but has subsequently evolved into an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that electoral fraud tipped the 2020 election in Biden’s favour.
Three Percenters Militia Group
The Three Percenters derive their name from a disputed historical claim that only 3% of Americans fought the British in the Revolutionary War.
This extremist group exists within the US’s militia movement, and is traditionally viewed as a paramilitary militia style anti-government group harboring anti-Muslim views bolstered by extreme right wing conspiracy theories.
Many members are strong supporters of Donald Trump.
The Oath Keepers
Oath Keepers is an American far-right anti-government militia organization founded in 2009, describing itself as a non-partisan association of current and former military, police, and first responders, who pledge to fulfil the oath that all military and police take to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
According to the Southern Poverty Law Centre, the Oath Keepers is “one of the largest radical anti-government groups in the US today … While it claims only to be defending the Constitution, the entire organization is based on a set of baseless conspiracy theories about the federal government working to destroy the liberties of Americans.”
Founder of this right-wing group, Stewart Rhodes, who traveled to Washington to join the protest on Wednesday said, “you’ve got pissed-off patriots that are not going to accept their form of government being stolen.”
The far-right is an increasing terrorist threat in the US and worldwide, between 2014 and 2018, there was a 320% increase in far-right terror incidents. Moreover, right-wing extremists carried out two thirds of the attacks and plots in the United States in 2019 and over 90% between January 1 and May 8, 2020. However, it is important to note that most far-right terrorist attacks have been perpetrated by individuals and small cells rather than by centralized groups.
Nonetheless, Wednesday’s mob insurrection at the Capitol building is unlikely to be the last violent action we see taken by these far-right groups. The aforementioned organizations among others may be using this event’s media attention to recruit new members, forming a growing coalition around outgoing President Trump.
After taking to social media to urge like-minded people to bring the fight to state capitols nationwide, these far-right groups are gaining support. However, on January 8, 2021, Twitter banned Trump from its site for his role in glorifying violence, and in a bid to prevent others from being inspired to replicate the violent acts that took place at the US Capitol on Wednesday.
Furthermore, since 2018 legislators have introduced multiple bills to improve data collection and prevention of domestic terrorism. Pertinent to this event especially, the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved Rep. Tom Malinowski’s resolution condemning the far-right conspiracy movement QAnon on the basis of the group’s incitement of political violence and domestic terrorism. These efforts have not led to the necessary changes in federal policy, and as shown in this analysis, action is all the more necessary today. As such, the 117th Congress can and should act on the potential to combat the most significant terrorist threat in the United States today.