The Worst of Us

When the Department of Homeland Security released its Homeland Threat Assessment report in October the top threat it identified wasn’t foreign terrorism or Antifa or Black Lives Matter.

It was white supremacy.

Then-acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf said in the 25-page report that “racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists — specifically white supremacist extremists — will remain the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland.”

2019 was the deadliest year for domestic terrorism since 1995, the year of the Oklahoma City bombing. According to DHS data for 2018 and 2019, white supremacist extremists were responsible for half of all terror attacks in the U.S. and a vast majority of the resulting deaths (39 of 48 deaths; 81%).

“[White Supremacist Extremists] have demonstrated longstanding intent to target racial and religious minorities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, politicians, and those they believe promote multi-culturalism and globalization at the expense of the [White Supremacist Extremists] identity,” Wolf said. “Since 2018, they have conducted more lethal attacks in the United States than any other [Domestic Violent Extremists] movement.”

The warning has been a familiar refrain among law enforcement agencies and think tanks alike for years.

FBI Director Christopher Wray told the House Homeland Security Committee in September “the top threat we face from domestic violent extremists stems from those we identify as racially/ethnically motivated violent extremists.”

“[Racially/ethnically motivated violent extremists] were the primary source of ideologically motivated lethal incidents and violence in 2018 and 2019 and have been considered the most lethal of all domestic extremists since 2001,” Wray told the committee.

The Center for Strategic & International Studies found white supremacists “and other like-minded extremists” were responsible for 67 percent of terrorist plots and attacks in 2020.

“They used vehicles, explosives, and firearms as their predominant weapons and targeted demonstrators and other individuals because of their racial, ethnic, religious, or political makeup — such as African Americans, immigrants, Muslims, and Jews,” the CSIS report states.

Jan. 6 was just the latest in a long line of dark days over the last several years (the Charleston AME church shooting, Charlottesville, Tree of Life synagogue shooting, El Paso mass shooting) where we’ve seen white supremacy and violent, right-wing extremism rear their ugly heads.

But it shouldn’t have been a surprise to us. We have seen the warning signs. 

We continue to learn more every day about the Americans who stormed our Capitol. What may be most terrifying is most were more than likely not tied directly to one of these groups, but as Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, told WBUR’s Here & Now last week, “a lot of average Joes and Janes” came to our nation’s capital and were incited to riot.

“They became extremists that day,” he said.

Still, we know a great deal about the driving forces behind the Capitol riot.

Among the thousands who violently stormed and overtook the U.S. Capitol were a motley crew of violent, extremist, militant and white supremacy groups and organizations who have all found a champion and advocate in President Donald Trump. The same ones the FBI, DHS and other organizations have told us about for years.

The Anti-Defamation League, ProPublica, PBS FRONTLINE, The Associated Press and other media outlets have identified members, flags, insignia and regalia associated with several extremist and white supremacy groups, including the Three Percenters, Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Groyper Army, New Jersey European Heritage Association and the Neo Nazi National Socialist Club.

These were not patriots. These were not protestors with legitimate issues.

These were rioters. These were insurgents. These were racists. These were terrorists.

These were the worst of us.

Three Percenters

A Three Percenters flag (left) photographed outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Stephanie Keith/Reuters

The Three Percenters “have a track record of criminal activity ranging from weapons violations to terrorist plots and attacks,” according to the Anti-Defamation League, which identifies the group as an anti-government, extremist organization.

Three Percenters was founded in 2008 and until the election of Donald Trump focused much of its efforts on the federal government. Since then, its ire has shifted to Muslim and immigrant communities and it has carried out violent attacks upon those groups, as well as others.

Six separate incidents since 2015 have resulted in several arrests, charges and guilty pleas. The most recent in May 2020 when Christian Stanley Ferguson was arrested “for an attempted plot to ambush and kidnap law enforcement officers responding to a false distress call,” according to a Department of Justice press release.

In online postings, the DOJ said “[Ferguson] reaffirmed his plan to ambush law enforcement, kill them, rob them of their weapons, and start an uprising.”

Other incidents included a mosque bombing in Minnesota in 2017 — meant to scare Muslims into leaving the country — as well as plots to bomb a bank in downtown Oklahoma City in 2017 and an apartment complex for Muslim immigrants in Kansas in 2016.

Proud Boys

The Proud Boys prides itself on being what it calls “western chauvinists” and a “pro-western fraternity,” but its actions “bear many of the hallmarks of a gang, and its members have taken part in multiple acts of brutal violence and intimidation,” the ADL website states.

“While the Proud Boys insist that they only act in self-defense, several incidents ­—including one in which two members of the group were convicted of attempted gang assault, attempted assault and riot— belie their self-professed peaceful nature,” continues the ADL site. “Indeed, many members have criminal records for violent behavior and the organization actively pursues violence against their perceived enemies.”

The group was founded in 2016 by Gavin McInnes, a darling of the far-right and self-described Islamophobic. Now, it is run by Enrique Tarrio, who was arrested and charged recently for his alleged involvement in the burning of a Black Lives Matter banner that hung from a historically Black church in Washington D.C.

“People affiliated with the Proud Boys have made misogynistic comments, including support for rape, and have espoused anti-homosexual, anti-Muslim and anti-immigration views on social media,” a recent Wall Street Journal article on the group stated.

The ADL classifies the Proud Boys as Islamaphobic, transphobic and anti-immigrant.

Tarrio, who is Cuban American, vehemently denies the group supports white supremacy; however, anti-hate organizations have shown its members engage with white supremacy groups and espouse white supremacist phrases and slogans.

“McInnes himself has ties to the racist right and has contributed to hate sites like VDare.com and American Renaissance, both of which publish the work of white supremacists and so-called ‘race realists,’” according to the Souther Poverty Law Center.

McInnes “reluctantly” left Proud Boys in 2018 after group members were involved in a fight with Antifa supporters outside the Metropolitan Republic Club in Manhattan where McInnes had just spoken. The Proud Boys reportedly fought beside members of the 211 Bootboys, a New York City-based white supremacist gang. Two Proud Boys were convicted for their involvement.

“I do all this reluctantly because I still see this as the greatest fraternal organization in the world but rumors and lies and terrible journalism has made its way to the court system,” McInnes was quoted as saying in a YouTube video that has been removed.

In 2019, Proud Boys members from Denver marched with Patriot Front, a white supremacist group based out of Texas.

Proud Boys were also present at the 2017 United the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Jason Kessler, a white nationalist, was the rally’s organizer and was reportedly a member of the Proud Boys at the time.

According to SPLC, Kessler was a guest on McInnes’s show a couple of months before the 2017 rally and stated during the interview, “What’s really under attack is if you say, ‘I want to stand up for white people. I want to stand up for western civilization. I want to stand up for men. I want to stand up for Christians.’”

Kessler was expelled from the group by McInnes after the Charlottesville rally and his white supremacist views became public.

Last year, The New York Times reported the Proud Boys have levels of memberships and it was at one time directly tied to violent acts carried out by the members.

Violence is built into the group’s very DNA. There are four levels of membership, starting with saying the pro-Western creed aloud, then moving higher to a Proud Boys tattoo. The highest level was once reserved for those who engage in violence on the group’s behalf.

The New York Times

During the first presidential debate, President Donald Trump was asked to denounce Proud Boys for its actions at Black Lives Matters protests in 2020, but instead responded by telling the group to “stand back and stand by.”

Oath Keepers

Stewart Rhodes, founder of Oath Keepers, photographed outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Ford Fischer/PBS FRONTLINE

The Oath Keepers calls itself the “Guardians of the Republic.”

It is reported to have “tens of thousands” of members who are current and former law enforcement and military veterans and is “one of the largest radical anti-government groups in the U.S. today” and is “based on a set of baseless conspiracy theories about the federal government working to destroy the liberties of Americans,” according to the SPLC.

While the group accepts all members, the ADL says what separates it from others is its recruitment of law enforcement and military members.

The Associated Press reviewed video of the riot and discovered “the group marching up the steps to help breach the Capitol shows they wore military-style patches that read ‘MILITIA’ and ‘OATHKEEPER.’ Others were wearing patches and insignias representing far-right militant groups, including the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters and various self-styled state militias.”

As President Donald Trump’s supporters massed outside the Capitol last week and sang the national anthem, a line of men wearing olive-drab helmets and body armor trudged purposefully up the marble stairs in a single-file line, each man holding the jacket collar of the one ahead.

The formation, known as “Ranger File,” is standard operating procedure for a combat team that is “stacking up” to breach a building — instantly recognizable to any U.S. soldier or Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a chilling sign that many at the vanguard of the mob that stormed the seat of American democracy either had military training or were trained by those who did.

The Associated Press

“The Oath Keepers have been particularly active in 2020, participating in various anti-lockdown protests, providing vigilante-style ‘security’ for local communities and businesses during the Black Lives Matter protests that spread in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, and warning about a potential takeover by the ‘Marxist left’ during the 2020 election,” the ADL website states.

Oath Keepers members have been arrested and charged for violations such as “firearms violations, conspiracy to impede federal workers, possession of explosives, and threatening public officials.”

Other Groups and Individuals

In addition ones mentioned above, several other groups and individuals have been identified through social media and photographs as being present at the riot.

This includes followers of the Groyper Army, “a loose network of alt right figures who are vocal supporters of white supremacist and America First podcaster Nick Fuentes,” according to the ADL.

Fuentes was spotted at the riot, but stated he did not go inside the Capitol. In the days before the riot, Fuentes jokingly encouraged his followers to kill state legislators. ProPublica and PBS FRONTLINE had this to say about Fuentes’ belief system:

Fuentes, who marched in Charlottesville during the 2017 white power rally there, speaks frequently in anti-Semitic terms and pontificates on the need to protect America’s white heritage from the ongoing shift in the nation’s demographics. He has publicly denied believing in white nationalism but has said that he considers himself a “white majoritarian.”

ProPublica & PBS FRONTLINE

The ADL describes the Groyper Army as a “white supremacist group that presents its ideology as more nuanced than other groups in the white supremacist sphere. While the group and leadership’s views align with those held by the white supremacist alt-right, groypers attempt to normalize their ideology by aligning themselves with ‘Christianity’ and ‘traditional’ values ostensibly championed by the church, including marriage and family.”

Another extremist spotted was Vincent James Foxx, a Holocaust denier who runs the site The Red Elephants which is known for its white supremacist and anti-Semitic views.

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