WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Joe Biden’s plan to scrap President Donald Trump’s vision of “America First” in favor of “diplomacy first” will depend on whether he’s able to regain the trust of allies and convince them that Trumpism is just a blip in the annals of U.S. foreign policy.
It could be a hard sell. From Europe to the Middle East and Asia, Trump’s brand of transactional diplomacy has alienated friends and foes alike, leaving Biden with a particularly contentious set of national security issues.
Biden, who said last month that “America’s back, ready to lead the world, not retreat from it,” might strive to be the antithesis of Trump on the world stage and reverse some, if not many, of his predecessor’s actions. But Trump’s imprint on America’s place in the world — viewed as good or bad — will not be easily erased.
U.S. allies aren’t blind to the large constituency of American voters who continue to support Trump’s nationalist tendencies and his belief that the United States should stay out of world conflicts. If Biden’s goal is to restore America’s place in the world, he’ll not only need to gain the trust of foreign allies but also convince voters at home that international diplomacy works better than unilateral tough talk.
Trump has insisted that he’s not against multilateralism, only global institutions that are ineffective. He has pulled out of more than half a dozen international agreements, withdrawn from multiple U.N. groups and trash talked allies and partners.
Biden, on the other hand, says global alliances need to be rebuilt to combat climate change, address the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for future epidemics and confront the growing threat posed by China. The national security and foreign policy staff that he has named so far are champions of multilateralism.
His choices for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and foreign aid chief Samantha Power — all veterans of the Obama administration — underscore his intent to return to a foreign policy space that they believe was abandoned by Trump.
“Right now, there’s an enormous vacuum,” Biden said. “We’re going to have to regain the trust and confidence of a world that has begun to find ways to work around us or without us.”
Biden intends to rejoin the Paris climate agreement and cooperate again with the World Health Organization. He plans to smooth relations with Europeans and other friends and refrain from blasting fellow members of NATO, and he may return the United States to the Iran nuclear agreement. Still, many Americans will continue to espouse Trump’s “America First” agenda, especially with the U.S. economy struggling to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, civil strife in American streets over racism and the absence of civil political discourse.
“Whether people liked it or not, Trump was elected by Americans in 2016,” said Fiona Hill, who worked in the Trump White House’s National Security Council and now is at the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution.
Trump’s election in 2016 and the tens of millions of votes he garnered in 2020 reflect a very divided nation, she says.
“We have to accept that the electoral outcome in 2016 was not a fluke,” Hill said.
Steven Blockmans, research director at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Belgium, said Europeans should not kid themselves into believing transatlantic relations will return to the way they were before Trump.
“In all but name, the rallying cry of ‘America First’ is here to stay,” he said. “Biden has vowed to prioritize investment in U.S. green energy, child care, education and infrastructure over any new trade deals. He has also called for expanded ‘Buy American’ provisions in federal procurement, which has long been an irritant in trade relations with the European Union.”
Each part of the world holds a different challenge for Biden.
Fear of China’s quest for world dominance started to mount before Trump came to office. Early on, Trump sidled up to China’s authoritarian president, Xi Jinping. But after efforts to get more than a first-phase trade deal failed, the president turned up the heat on China and repeatedly blamed Beijing for the coronavirus pandemic.
He sanctioned the Chinese, and in speech after speech, top Trump officials warned about China stealing American technology, conducting cyberattacks, taking aggressive actions in the South China Sea, cracking down on democracy in Hong Kong and abusing the Muslim Uighurs in western China.
Increasingly, Republicans and Democrats alike are worried about a rising economic and geopolitical threat from China, and that concern won’t end when Trump leaves office.
Resetting U.S. relations with Asia allies is instrumental in confronting not only China but also North Korea.
Trump broke new ground on the nuclear standoff with North Korea with his three face-to-face meetings with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. But Trump’s efforts yielded no deal to persuade Kim to give up his nuclear weapons in exchange for sanctions relief and security assurances. In fact, North Korea has continued to develop its nuclear capabilities.
Biden might be forced to deal with North Korea sooner than later as experts say Pyongyang has a history of conducting tests and firing missiles to garner Washington’s attention around U.S. presidential elections.
Nearly 20 years after a U.S.-led international coalition toppled the Taliban government that supported al-Qaida, Afghan civilians are still being killed by the thousands. Afghan security forces, in the lead on the battlefield, continue to tally high casualties. Taliban attacks are up outside the cities, and the Islamic State group has orchestrated bombings in the capital, Kabul, including one in November at Kabul University that killed more than 20 people, mostly students.
The U.S. and the Taliban sat down at the negotiation table in 2018. Those talks, led by Trump envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, eventually led to the U.S.-Taliban deal that was signed in February 2020, providing for the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan.
Set on making good on his campaign promise to withdraw U.S. troops from “endless wars,” Trump cut troops from 8,600 to 4,500, then ordered troop levels to fall to 2,500 by Inauguration Day. The United States has pledged to pull all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by May 1, just months after Biden takes office, but it’s unclear if he will.
Trump opted to think outside the box when it came to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and relations with Arab nations.
The Palestinians rejected the Trump administration’s Mideast peace plan, but then Trump coaxed two Arab nations — the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — to recognize Israel. This was historic because Arab nations had for decades said they wouldn’t recognize Israel until the Palestinians’ struggle for an independent state was resolved.
Warming ties between Israel and Arab states that share opposition to Iran helped seal the deal. Morocco and Sudan also later recognized Israel.
In 2018, Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal, in which world powers agreed to lift sanctions on Tehran if it curbed its nuclear program.
Trump said the deal was one-sided, didn’t prevent Iran from eventually getting a nuclear weapon and allowed it to receive billions of dollars in frozen assets that it has been accused of using to bankroll terror proxies destabilizing the Mideast.
Biden says exiting the deal was reckless and complains that Iran now has stockpiled more enriched uranium than is allowed under the deal, which is still in force between Iran and Britain, China, Russia, France and Germany.
Keith Lee, an Air Force veteran and former police detective, spent the morning of Jan. 6 casing the entrances to the Capitol.
In online videos, the 41-year-old Texan pointed out the flimsiness of the fencing. He cheered the arrival, long before President Trump’s rally at the other end of the mall, of far-right militiamen encircling the building. Then, armed with a bullhorn, Mr. Lee called out for the mob to rush in, until his voice echoed from the dome of the Rotunda.
Yet even in the heat of the event, Mr. Lee paused for some impromptu fund-raising. “If you couldn’t make the trip, give five to 10 bucks,” he told his viewers, seeking donations for the legal costs of two jailed “patriots,” a leader of the far-right Proud Boys and an ally who had clashed with the police during an armed incursion at Oregon’s statehouse.
Much is still unknown about the planning and financing of the storming of the Capitol, aiming to challenge Mr. Trump’s electoral defeat. What is clear is that it was driven, in part, by a largely ad hoc network of low-budget agitators, including far-right militants, Christian conservatives and ardent adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory. Mr. Lee is all three. And the sheer breadth of the movement he joined suggests it may be far more difficult to confront than a single organization.
In the months leading up to the riot, Mr. Lee had helped organize a series of pro-Trump car caravans around the country, including one that temporarily blockaded a Biden campaign bus in Texas and another that briefly shut down a Hudson River bridge in the New York City suburbs. To help pay for dozens of caravans to meet at the Jan. 6 rally, he had teamed up with an online fund-raiser in Tampa, Fla., who secured money from small donors and claimed to pass out tens of thousands of dollars.
Theirs was one of many grass-roots efforts to bring Trump supporters to the Capitol, often amid calls for revolution, if not outright violence. On an online ride-sharing forum, Patriot Caravans for 45, more than 4,000 members coordinated travel from as far away as California and South Dakota. Some 2,000 people donated at least $181,700 to another site, Wild Protest, leaving messages urging ralliers to halt the certification of the vote.
Oath Keepers, a self-identified militia whose members breached the Capitol, had solicited donations online to cover “gas, airfare, hotels, food and equipment.” Many others raised money through the crowdfunding site GoFundMe or, more often, its explicitly Christian counterpart, GiveSendGo. (On Monday, the money transfer service PayPal stopped working with GiveSendGo because of its links to the violence at the Capitol.)
A few prominent firebrands, an opaque pro-Trump nonprofit and at least one wealthy donor had campaigned for weeks to amplify the president’s false claims about his defeat, stoking the anger of his supporters.
A chief sponsor of many rallies leading up to the riot, including the one featuring the president on Jan. 6, was Women for America First, a conservative nonprofit. Its leaders include Amy Kremer, who rose to prominence in the Tea Party movement, and her daughter, Kylie Jane Kremer, 30. She started a “Stop the Steal” Facebook page on Nov. 4. More than 320,000 people signed up in less than a day, but the platform promptly shut it down for fears of inciting violence. The group has denied any violent intent.
By far the most visible financial backer of Women for America First’s efforts was Mike Lindell, a founder of the MyPillow bedding company, identified on a now-defunct website as one of the “generous sponsors” of a bus tour promoting Mr. Trump’s attempt to overturn the election. In addition, he was an important supporter of Right Side Broadcasting, an obscure pro-Trump television network that provided blanket coverage of Trump rallies after the vote, and a podcast run by the former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon that also sponsored the bus tour.
“I put everything I had into the last three weeks, financial and everything,” Mr. Lindell said in a mid-December television interview.
In a tweet the same month, he urged Mr. Trump to “impose martial law” to seize ballots and voting machines. Through a representative, Mr. Lindell said he only supported the bus tour “prior to December 14th” and was not a financial sponsor of any events after that, including the rally on Jan. 6. He continues to stand by the president’s claims and met with Mr. Trump at the White House on Friday.
By late December, the president himself was injecting volatility into the organizing efforts, tweeting an invitation to a Washington rally that would take place as Congress gathered to certify the election results.
“Be there, will be wild!” Mr. Trump wrote.
The next day, a new website, Wild Protest, was registered and quickly emerged as an organizing hub for the president’s most zealous supporters. It appeared to be connected to Ali Alexander, a conspiracy theorist who vowed to stop the certification by “marching hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of patriots to sit their butts in D.C. and close that city down.”
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Mr. Alexander could not be reached for comment, but in a video posted to Twitter last week, he denied any responsibility for the violence.
While other groups like Women for America First were promoting the rally where Mr. Trump would speak — at the Ellipse, about a mile west of the Capitol — the Wild Protest website directed Trump supporters to a different location: the doorsteps of Congress.
Wild Protest linked to three hotels with discounted rates and another site for coordinating travel plans. It also raised donations from thousands of individuals, according to archived versions of a web portal used to collect them. The website has since been taken down, and it is not clear what the money was used for.
“The time for words has passed, action alone will save our Republic,” a user donating $250 wrote, calling congressional certification of the vote “treasonous.”
Another contributor gave $47 and posted: “Fight to win our country back using whatever means necessary.”
Mr. Lee, who sought to raise legal-defense money the morning before the riot, did not respond to requests for comment. He has often likened supporters of overturning the election to the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and has said he is willing to give his life for the cause.
A sales manager laid off at an equipment company because of the pandemic, he has said that he grew up as a conservative Christian in East Texas. Air Force records show that he enlisted a month after the Sept. 11 attacks and served for four years, leaving as a senior airman. Later, in 2011 and 2012, he worked for a private security company at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan.
In between, he also worked as a police detective in McKinney, Texas.
He had never been politically active, he has said. But during Mr. Trump’s presidency, Mr. Lee began to immerse himself in the online QAnon conspiracy theory. Its adherents hold that Mr. Trump is trying to save America from a shadowy ring of pedophiles who control the government and the Democratic Party. Mr. Lee has said that resonated with his experience dealing with child crimes as a police officer.
His active support for Mr. Trump began last August when he organized a caravan of drivers from around the state to show their support for the president by circling the capital, Austin. That led him to found a website, MAGA Drag the Interstate, to organize Trump caravans around the country.
By December, Mr. Lee had achieved enough prominence that he was included in a roster of speakers at a news conference preceding a “March for Trump” rally in Washington.
“We are at this precipice” of “good versus evil,” Mr. Lee declared. “I am going to fight for my president. I am going to fight for what is right.”
He threw himself into corralling fellow “patriots” to meet in Washington on Jan. 6, and at the end of last month he began linking his website with the Tampa organizer to raise money for participants’ travel.
The fund-raiser, who has identified himself as a web designer named Thad Williams, has said in a podcast that sexual abuse as a child eventually led him to the online world of QAnon.
While others “made of steel” are cut out to be “warriors against evil” and “covered in the blood and sweat of that part,” Mr. Williams said, he sees himself as more of “a chaplain and a healer.” In 2019, he set up a website to raise money for QAnon believers to travel to Trump rallies. He could not be reached for comment.
By the gathering at the Capitol, he claimed to have raised and distributed at least $30,000 for transportation costs. Expressions of thanks posted on Twitter appear to confirm that he allocated money, and a day after the assault the online services PayPal and Stripe shut down his accounts.
Mr. Lee’s MAGA Drag the Interstate site, for its part, said it had organized car caravans of more than 600 people bound for the rally. It used military-style shorthand to designate routes in different regions across the country, from Alpha to Zulu, and a logo on the site combined Mr. Trump’s distinctive hairstyle with Pepe the Frog, a symbol of the alt-right that has been used by white supremacists.
Participants traded messages about where to park together overnight on the streets of Washington. Some arranged midnight rendezvous at highway rest stops or Waffle House restaurants to drive together on the morning of the rally.
On the evening of Jan. 5, Mr. Lee broadcast a video podcast from a crowd of chanting Trump supporters in the Houston airport, waiting to board a flight to Washington. “We are there for a show of force,” he promised, suggesting he anticipated street fights even before dawn. “Gonna see if we can do a little playing in the night.”
A co-host of the podcast — a self-described Army veteran from Washington State — appealed for donations to raise $250,000 bail money for Chandler Pappas, 27.
Two weeks earlier in Salem, Ore., during a protest against Covid-19 restrictions, Mr. Pappas had sprayed six police officers with mace while leading an incursion into the State Capitol building and carrying a semiautomatic rifle, according to a police report. Mr. Pappas, whose lawyer did not return a phone call seeking comment, had been linked to the far-right Proud Boys and an allied local group called Patriot Prayer.
“American citizens feel like they’ve been attacked. Fear’s reaction is anger, anger’s reaction is patriotism and voilà — you get a war,” said Mr. Lee’s co-host, who gave his name as Rampage.
He directed listeners to donate to the bail fund through GiveSendGo, and thanked them for helping to raise $100,000 through the same site for the legal defense of Enrique Tarrio, a leader of the Proud Boys who is accused of vandalizing a historically Black church in Washington.
By 10:45 a.m. the next day, more than an hour before Mr. Trump spoke, Mr. Lee was back online broadcasting footage of himself at the Capitol.
“If you died today and you went to heaven, can you look George Washington in the face and say that you’ve fought for this country?” he asked.
By noon, he was reporting that “backup” was already arriving, bypassing the Trump speech and rally. The Proud Boys and Oath Keepers were among the groups that went directly to the Capitol.
“Guys, we got the Three Percent here! The Three Percent here that loves this country and wants to fight!” Mr. Lee reported a little later, referring to another militant group. “We need to surround this place.”
Backed by surging crowds, Mr. Lee had made his way into the Rotunda and by 3 p.m. — after a fellow assailant had been shot, police officers had been injured and local authorities were pleading for help — he was back outside using his megaphone to urge others into the building. “If we do it together,” he insisted, “there’s no violence!”
When he knew that lawmakers had evacuated, he declared victory: “We have done our job,” he shouted.
Reporting was contributed by Kitty Bennett, Stella Cooper, Cora Engelbrecht, Sheera Frenkel and Haley Willis.
Video production by Ainara Tiefenthäler.
The supporters of President Donald Trump who rioted in the US Capitol building on Wednesday had been openly planning for weeks on both mainstream social media and the pro-Trump internet. On forums like TheDonald, a niche website formed after Reddit banned the subreddit of the same name, they promised violence against lawmakers, police, and journalists if Congress did not reject the results of the 2020 election.
In one interaction four days ago, a person on TheDonald asked, “What if Congress ignores the evidence?”
“Storm the Capitol,” said one reply, which received more than 500 upvotes.
“You’re fucking right we do.”
On pro-Trump social media website Parler, chat app Telegram, and other corners of the the far-right internet, people discussed the Capitol Hill rally at which Trump spoke as the catalyst for a violent insurrection. They have been using those forums to plan an uprising in plain sight, one that they executed Wednesday afternoon, forcing Congress to flee its chambers as it met to certify the results of the election.
“This is America. Fuck D.C. it’s in the Constitution. Bring your goddamn guns.”
“Extremists have for weeks repeatedly expressed their intentions to attend the January 6 protests, and unabashedly voiced their desire for chaos and violence online,” said Jared Holt, a visiting research fellow with DFRLab. “What we’ve witnessed is the manifestation of that violent online rhetoric into real-life danger.”
“The earliest call we got on our radar for today specifically was a militia movement chatroom talking about being ‘ready for blood’ if things didn’t start changing for Trump,” Holt said.
Law enforcement, however, appeared unprepared for the scale of the violence on Wednesday. Capitol police were quickly overwhelmed, dramatically outnumbered by Trump supporters. While thousands of National Guard troops were posted throughout Washington, DC, during Black Lives Matter protests, the DC National Guard was not deployed Wednesday until well after the Capitol’s perimeters had been breached.
Hundreds of extremists’ posts discussed bringing firearms in violation of Washington, DC, law. Nevertheless, people displayed weapons that they had brought with them.
“All this bullshit about not bringing guns to D.C. needs to stop,” read one post from Tuesday with more than 5,000 upvotes. “This is America. Fuck D.C. it’s in the Constitution. Bring your goddamn guns.”
According to Advance Democracy, a nonprofit research organization, all corners of the social web were signaling imminent violence in the days leading up to the riot.
“On TheDonald, more than 50% of the top posts on January 4, 2021, about the January 6th Electoral College certification featured unmoderated calls for violence in the top five responses,” the organization found.
“ARMED WITH RIFLE, HANDGUN, 2 KNIVES AND AS MUCH AMMO AS YOU CAN CARRY,” one post on the website said.
This was also the case on Parler, ADI found. One account, with the name No Trump No Peace #GoTime, posted a GIF with a noose and a caption that said, “Who would you like to see ‘dispatched’ first? 1) Nancy Pelosi 2) John Roberts 3) Pence 4) other (please name) I was leaning towards Nancy, but it might have to be Pence.” (Two days after that post, a livestream of the violent mob standing outside Congress showed them chanting “Hang Mike Pence.”)
Even on mainstream social media channels like Twitter and TikTok, calls for violence were easy to find. According to Advance Democracy, more than half QAnon-related accounts on Twitter — about 20,800 — mentioned Jan. 6, although the majority of the posts didn’t explicitly call for violence.
“No wonder the President said January 6 in DC was going to be wild.@LLinWood just told us many of our politicians are raping and killing children. They won’t be able to walk down the street,” a post said.
Calls for violence could even be heard the night before the protests. “Tomorrow — I don’t even like to say it because I’ll be arrested — I’ll say it. Tomorrow, we need to go into the Capitol,” one man said on a livestream by white supremacist Baked Alaska, a far-right internet troll whose real name is Tim Gionet and who once briefly worked for BuzzFeed. The next day, Gionet was sitting in a Senate office, having stormed the building as part of the mob.
On Facebook, a group called Red State Secession gathered nearly 8,000 members. The group sent people to a website that offered travel routes to DC and provided memes to post on social media.
There was no channel that seemed more important than The Donald.
“I’m thinking it will be literal war on that day,” said one commenter, according to the Daily Beast. “Where we’ll storm offices and physically remove and even kill all the D.C. traitors and reclaim the country.” A Jan. 4 post on the website featuring an image with the words “Pepe army” and “stop the steal” gathered 5,500 upvotes. “Stop the steal and execute the ‘stealers,’” the top comment read.
A memorial for U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who was killed by rioters in the Jan. 6 attack, is set up near the U.S. Capitol. Andrew Harnik/AP hide caption
A memorial for U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who was killed by rioters in the Jan. 6 attack, is set up near the U.S. Capitol.
The U.S. House of Representatives has opened an investigation into this month’s attack on the U.S. Capitol. In a letter to the heads of America’s leading intelligence and law enforcement agencies, House lawmakers asked for any information that could help them understand whether warning signs were missed.
Lawmakers want to know what the intelligence community and federal law enforcement knew about the threats of violence and whether that information was shared with the right people. Capitol Police have said they were unprepared for the ferocity of the attack, which left one of its officers dead.
“Security and logistical preparations before January 6 were not consistent with the prospect of serious and widespread violence,” lawmakers wrote Saturday. “Yet, according to media accounts that have surfaced in recent days, federal and other authorities earlier on possessed — and may have shared with some parties — intelligence and other information forecasting a dire security threat against the Congress’s meeting to certify the election results.”
“These latter reports, if acted upon, might have prompted more extensive planning for the event, and the infusion of far greater security and other resources,” the letter continued. “Tragically that did not happen.”
The letter was signed by Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Committee on Oversight and Reform Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.
Lawmakers are also looking for any potential collaborators within the U.S. government itself. They’ve asked for any intelligence about people with security clearances or who hold positions in U.S. national security organizations who may have participated in the insurrection.
They’re also seeking information about potential foreign involvement in the attack: Did the insurrection have “any nexus to foreign influence or misinformation efforts”?
Also Saturday, Democratic members of the Committee on Oversight and Reform wrote to an association of police chiefs to determine how much local law enforcement was involved in the Capitol attack and to see whether any threats remain.
Nearly 30 police officers from departments across the country participated in the pro-Trump rally before the Capitol was stormed. Several are facing federal criminal charges in relation to the riot.
“We are deeply disturbed by reports that a small number of law enforcement officers participated directly in this despicable act of violence against the U.S. Government, thereby placing innocent people and their fellow officers at risk,” said the letter, written by Maloney and Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.
The letter continued: “As law enforcement officers fulfill their responsibility — and put their lives on the line — to defend our country, we must work to identify any individuals within police ranks who have taken action to undermine those efforts, and prevent others who seek to join them.”
On Friday, the Department of Justice said it had begun an internal review of its response to the Capitol attack, including “whether there are any weakness in DOJ protocols, policies, or procedures” that impacted its ability to prepare for the attack.
In the 10 days since the violent Jan. 6 rampage at the U.S. Capitol by President Donald Trump’s supporters, a fuller picture has emerged about the rioters, with researchers identifying members of more than a dozen extremist groups that took part in the riots.
The storming of the Capitol drew extremists that included adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory, the far-right group the Proud Boys, militiamen, white supremacists, anti-maskers and diehard Trump supporters, all gathered to stop Congress from certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
“There have been any number of groups that the Southern Poverty Law Center normally tracks and monitors as a part of our work addressing hate and extremism,” said Lecia Brooks, chief of staff for the SPLC.
Brooks shared with VOA the names of more than a dozen extremist groups that she said took part in the riots. Other extremist researchers interviewed by VOA confirmed the list. While designated as hate groups by the SPLC, none of the organizations is considered a domestic terrorist entity, and law enforcement officials have not accused any of them of conspiring to mount an attack on the Capitol.
Clues into the rioters’ affiliation came from their clothes, signs, flags, banners and other markers, experts say. While some groups sought to disguise their ties, others flaunted their ideological affiliation. A group of Proud Boys in orange hats identified themselves on camera as members of a state chapter. The Three Percenters carried a U.S. Revolution-era American flag.
“They were operating in plain sight,” said Brian Levin, executive director of the center for the study of hate and extremism at California State University.
While the presence of the militias and the Proud Boys has attracted the most attention, members of lesser-known groups also joined the rioters.
One is the Nationalist Socialist Club, or NSC-131, a recently founded hate group known for disrupting Black Lives Matter protests. Another is No White Guilt, a white nationalist group whose founder has blamed “anti-whiteism” for the spread of the coronavirus in the United States.
Levin said that a combination of national groups, smaller state chapters and autonomous regional entities “participated in one way or another in the gathering.”
Just how many extremist group members took part in the rioting is unclear. While QAnon boasts tens of thousands of adherents, several of the groups identified by the SPLC have far fewer members. The precise number taking part in the riots may never be known.
While prosecutors have so far identified about 300 suspects accused of involvement in the riots, with one or two exceptions, they’ve not tied them to any known extremist groups. Two days after the riots, the FBI arrested Nick Ochs, the founder of the Proud Boys Hawaii, who was among the rioters.
Michael Sherwin, the acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, said law enforcement officials are aware of the ties between the rioters and extremist groups and are seeking to determine the extent to which the attack was a coordinated effort among multiple groups.
“If you look at social media you could see a lot of affiliation with some of the protest activity, some of the rioting activity, and it runs the whole gamut of different groups, from soup to nuts, A to Z,” Sherwin told reporters Friday. “But right now … we’re not going to label anything because everything’s on the table in terms of extremist groups.”
Arie Perliger, an extremism researcher and professor at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, said that the extremist groups that took part in the Capitol riots also attended the sometimes-violent protest against state-imposed lockdowns earlier this year.
“I’m talking about the Boogaloo, I’m talking about the Proud Boys, I’m talking Rise Above Nation,” Perliger said. “I think what really brings all these groups together is their perception that Trump was a very effective vehicle to try to disrupt, to dismantle, to undermine the capabilities of the federal government.”
Among those who stormed the Capitol were participants of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that resulted in the death of a counterprotester.
One was Tim Gionet, a far-right activist who goes by the online pseudonym “Baked Alaska.” Gionet livestreamed a video of himself on DLive from inside the capitol.
He was arrested Friday by the FBI in Houston, Texas, and charged with participating in the Capitol riot.
Another is Nick Fuentes, an organizer of the Charlottesville rally who attended Trump’s speech before the riots but did not enter the building, according to Brooks.
Here is a look at some of the groups involved in the Capitol riot.
The Proud Boys describe themselves as a “Western male chauvinist” club.
The group came to national attention after Trump, asked during a presidential debate in late October to denounce them, declared, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.”
The Proud Boys’ leader, Enrique Tarrio, is a staunch Trump supporter and led the Latinos for Trump group during the campaign.
Brooks said the Proud Boys were among the organizers of the Capitol rioting. In the days leading up to the riots, Brooks said, the Proud Boys used social media platforms popular with extremists to telegraph that “this was something that was going to happen, that other extremist groups should be involved in, so they kind of they kept this going.”
In late December, Tarrio wrote on Parler that the Proud Boys “will turn out in record numbers” on Jan. 6 without their traditional black and yellow uniform.
Tarrio was arrested days before the riots and barred from returning to Washington. Two days after the riots, the FBI arrested Nick Ochs, the founder of Proud Boys Hawaii.
Oath Keepers and Three Percenters
The Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters are part of a growing anti-government “Patriot” movement known for recruiting members of law enforcement and the military.
The Oath Keepers was founded in 2009 by Stewart Rhodes, a former paratrooper and Yale Law School graduate. The oath in the name is a reference to the vow military personnel make to defend the Constitution. The group requires its members to pledge, among other things, not to “disarm the American people,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.
The Three Percenters, established in 2018, view themselves as the ideological descendants of the purported 3% of Americans that took part in the Revolutionary War.
Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, said dozens of Oath Keepers took part in the riots, many carrying the group’s flag. Rhodes was seen in photographs standing outside the Capitol building.
The Oath Keepers took to Telegram and other social media and messaging platforms to urge their followers to show up for the protest, according to Beirich. In an interview after the Nov. 3 election with Alex Jones, a far-right radio show host and conspiracy theorist, Rhodes said “we have men stationed outside D.C. as a nuclear option. In case they attempt to remove the president illegally, we’ll step in and stop it.”
QAnon is not an organized group but rather a growing conspiracy theory movement that believes Trump is secretly battling a “deep state” cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles that control the world.
Trump has repeatedly retweeted messages from accounts that promote QAnon, and more than a dozen Republican candidates running for Congress in the November election have embraced some of its tenets.
Beirich said a number of people marching on the Capitol were carrying QAnon signs.
“QAnon were everywhere,” she said. “So it sure seems like a large chunk of the people who stormed the Capitol were members of QAnon.”
The FBI has identified QAnon as a potential domestic terror threat.
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