It’s been six months since the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. This year’s insurrection represented one of the lowest days in American democracy and has ignited debate in the United States about how America should handle extremism within its borders. Congressional hearings have ensued, and extremists and those inciting violence at the Capitol that day have been removed from mainstream social media applications. The FBI has arrested hundreds of Americans, some associated with extremist groups—namely the Oath Keepers, III%ers and Proud Boys—who played a role in one of the United States’s most embarrassing days.
For extremists, the insurrection brought a mix of acceleration and retreat. As represented here at Selected Wisdom on March 4, 2021, in the post and supporting diagram “Virtual Insanity To Real World Calamity, How Will Lies Power Domestic Terrorism in 2021?,” we outlined the overall size and dynamics of a chaotic stew of domestic extremists driving violence in America based upon their average age, how they organize, and what they believe in.
Six months later, here are three trends we’ve observed and some thoughts on what we might look for in the coming months to anticipate where violence might break out:
Militia extremists are morphing - They’re tied up with lawsuits, and appear to be largely de-escalating in the wake of law enforcement pressure, with only some really committed members branching off to form new chapters or join other extremist groups.
There’s a new, younger generation of white supremacists who are inspired and seemingly committed to on-the-ground action and violence. They remain excited online, and increasingly organize in person.
What are Boogaloo adherents doing? - Those associated with the anti-government movement that has been connected to a spate of accelerationist violence are less visible online but more digitally savvy than other militia groups. How much should we worry about them?
Militia extremists (MVE): Shifting sands in the wake of investigations
The FBI’s indictments of militia members since January 6 have been revelatory. In the near future, militias like the Oath Keepers present a diminished threat. The Oath Keepers’s well-documented role in the Capitol insurrection precipitated a storm of federal investigations and media probes. Internal strife and external stresses appear to have decelerated the group for now—following the Capitol riot, Oath Keepers have reportedly seen a dip in membership. At least six chapters have reportedly splintered or distanced themselves from the national group. The Oath Keepers’s former secretary, who quit over Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes’s spending, told the Wall Street Journal that Rhodes’s indulgences have “shot membership and morale to hell.”
The Proud Boys—a moniker that blurs the lines between militia, nationalist group, drinking club, and street gang—are collectively at odds, splintering in the aftermath of the insurrection. Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio’s outing as a former federal informant and squabbles over centralization have drawn fault lines within the group. Since January 6, crackdowns by card payment processors and popular streaming services have also hit the group’s income. Several state and local chapters have distanced themselves from the national organization in recent months, some posting declarations of official splits from the national organization online, although the degree of actual separation is unclear.
Despite these broader issues within the Proud Boys’s national organization, some local chapters have been going about business as usual, attending rallies and brawling with Antifa groups. The Proud Boys’s movements are somewhat predictable. Most reported appearances since January 6 have occurred at well-publicized events, including demonstrations against gun restrictions and protests against COVID-19 restrictions. The group seems poised for a broader shift toward localization in the near future. Tarrio claims he will step down from national leadership to focus on the group’s Florida chapter, and other Proud Boys aim to inject members into local governments.
A smaller number of Proud Boys-associated social media channels have turned sharply toward white supremacist rhetoric online since January 6, taking a more overtly racist tone. One example of this rhetorical shift is evidenced by a Telegram channel formerly titled “Proud Boys Uncensored” but now rebranded as “The Western Chauvinist,” which often posts white supremacist content. This shift in focus online for some aligns with what is likely one of the biggest threats in the domestic extremism landscape: A new generation of less visible but overtly white supremacist groups threatening accelerationist violence (see Figure 4 above).
Next-generation white supremacists & neo-Nazis: Smaller needles and bigger haystacks
The newest generation of young neo-Nazi and white supremacist extremists poses the biggest threat to public safety since January 6 by a wide margin. New England-based white supremacist group NSC-131 showed up to the Capitol, but there are others increasing discussion and networking online since January.
Today’s emerging white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups believe in creating a society conforming with their hate-driven world views like their predecessors. But widespread Internet access means some encounter these ideologies at increasingly young ages, and alternative “free speech”-oriented forums and social media platforms with limited moderation, like Telegram and Gab, connect the like-minded with unprecedented ease. Individuals from the resultant groups and cells in this online networking aim to commit violence and mass terror for their causes. In the months since January 6, these factions have continued to evolve and, in some cases, coalesce to form increasingly dangerous networks (see Figure 4).
White supremacist and neo-Nazi groups consolidated quickly in the post-January-6 social media environment. One example of this shift is evident in the case of Coleman Blevins, a neo-Nazi who was closely associated with online group Injekt Division. Blevins reportedly made threats about committing a mass shooting at a Walmart, and was arrested by Texas authorities in late May for “terroristic threat to create public fear of serious bodily injury.” Immediately after the arrest, Injekt Division (ID), announced an “alliance” with Feuerkrieg Division (FKD), a notorious international online group linked to multiple bombing plots in the U.S. This linked FKD not only to ID, but also to ID’s larger online network with other white supremacist groups, which had grown considerably since early 2021. The broader network also includes Generation Z-oriented white supremacist groups, including one discussing acquiring land in the southern United States as well as weapons training online.
Threats posed by the newest generation of neo-Nazi extremists differ qualitatively and quantitatively from violent militia threats. While militias often focus efforts on specific targets or provocations, new-generation white supremacist extremists seek to maximize casualties. These groups may fixate threats on broad ethnic or religious populations, creating pools of potential targets exponentially larger than those of militias and far more difficult to anticipate—stochastic threats. And while the list of these extremists’ potential targets is extensive, the perpetrators often plan to act alone or with small cells, making themselves smaller needles in bigger haystacks for law enforcement.
These groups—striking in their relative youth—idolize figures like Christchurch shooter Brenton Tarrant and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh online. For example, this past May, courts dealt the first sentencing to a McVeigh-emulating terrorist cell that included an active-duty Marine and an individual associated with Atomwaffen.
Boogaloo: How big is the threat?
Boogaloo adherents remain a sub-surface concern that has continued to fly under the radar since January 6. These armed anti-government extremists mobilized to state capitols immediately after January 6, but they’ve largely kept in the shadows since then. Boogaloo adherents have reduced their public footprint, but some adherents’ commitment to violence remains unbroken. Although these groups are staying out of sight to some degree, we need to keep them in mind. Boogaloo movement-associated groups have discussed attacking and have targeted law enforcement officers and, like neo-Nazi cells, the movement’s small-scale yet heavily armed militias continue to have the potential to inflict considerable casualties should they evade detection.
Where will domestic extremism go in the next six months?
Since January 6, several forces have changed direction and now begin to subside. Our post-January 6 conclusion offered some key drivers to look for, and today, on July 6, 2021, we can see some signs of a shifting landscape.
“In short: Once Trump starts squawking, domestic extremists will start walking to the targets he designates in speeches and social media feeds. Not all will wait for Trump’s direction, but then a tertiary force still slows plots and plans—the opportunity to strike targets has been limited by pandemic lockdowns. By the summer of 2021, it’s likely all of these factors currently suppressing domestic terrorism will subside and, I believe, will reveal several currents that may drive a shifting extremist landscape in America.”
As noted in March 2021, the sands are shifting as we’ve arrived in summer. Former President Donald Trump recently began a summer campaign of rallies echoing the same false election stories that provoked the January 6 insurrection in the first place. The reach of these rallies and their message had been muted to only the most ardent supporters of the former president, but that may soon change. The social media purge of the former president and the most violent white supremacists and militias left them scurrying for months to find a new digital home, with only Telegram ultimately becoming a popular place to congregate. With Parler gone, and the president’s poorly executed blog lasting only a short time, the steam powering insurrectionists, seditionists, and extremists had no engine. This may change in the next few months as pro-Trump social media platform GETTR has emerged. Thus far, the site appears to be better-policed than Parler, but it’s unclear if the platform will morph into the same vitriolic stew witnessed during the election 2020 period—a place where a former president and his political supporters can incite domestic extremists to conduct violence.
The January 6 insurrection provided a silver lining in one respect by providing the probable cause for criminal investigations into the most violent militia violent extremists. Many militia extremists and conspiracists have de-escalated in the wake of intense law enforcement pressure, and QAnon remains, but in an alternative reality bubble. However, the ripple effects of the insurrection have ultimately bifurcated America’s domestic terrorists between the larger proponents who like talking of a Second Civil War and a smaller committed minority determined to provoke a violent conflict. Indicators of what might precipitate violence from these committed lone wolves and armed cells include:
Cascading lone-wolf terrorism - Similar to this spring when a spate of lone gunmen attacked a range of targets over a series of weeks, a visible mass casualty domestic terrorist attack would quite likely initiate a chain reaction of stochastic terror attacks in its wake.
Political leaders inciting violence & pointing to targets - Consistently in the last few years, as political leaders have pointed to their political opponents, their supporters have moved to commit violence. Should the political dynamics of last winter return, shooters and bombers would be likely to surface.
Pandemic reverberations - Some joy has returned to life as vaccines have kicked in for many Americans, Covid-19 deaths have fallen, and restrictions have eased. But only part of the U.S. population believes in vaccinations and the rise of the Delta variant has resulted in massive spikes in Covid-19 cases in certain parts of the country. As fall comes—and if Covid-19 benefits end, cases accelerate, and lockdowns renew—some domestic extremists will be primed for revolt.
Is there a plot already underway? - As much as is available on the surface, extremists are always plotting under the surface as well. The most capable and most committed will go underground to plot their attack. We can’t see evidence of these plots in the open, but they may very well exist below the surface.