The White Supremacist Insurgency Was Always America’s Biggest Threat
Dr. Julia R. DeCook is an Assistant Professor of Advocacy and Social Change in the School of Communication at Loyola University Chicago. Her research focuses on how online extremist groups, particularly male supremacists, navigate the affordances and constraints of online platforms and infrastructure. She also focuses on online disinformation and propaganda in her research and teaching.
On March 8, a task force that was convened to make recommendations to improve congressional security after the January 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill proposed establishing a permanent military presence in Washington, D.C., to be on standby in the event that similar security breaches take place. Recommending the establishment of a permanent Quick Reaction Force made up of National Guard troops, the task force was in effect responding to reports of the unusual restrictions in place by the Trump Administration’s Pentagon that hindered the ability of the D.C. National Guard Commander to deploy troops as the mob descended on the Capitol.
All of this points to signs that we are entering into an era where the U.S. will be in a constant state of counterinsurgency with itself. Although the events of January 6 were of no surprise to anybody who had been paying attention, especially considering these groups planned in plain sight, the chaos of that day and the imminent threat to congressional members made the threat of cis-hetero white supremacist patriarchy hard to ignore for even those who vehemently denied the impact of Trump’s rhetoric that mobilized the mob in the first place.
Although the “Capitol Rioters” violated many people’s popular perceptions of far-right extremists as lower-class, uneducated, and/or poor, the fact is that economic anxiety has always been a poorly veiled excuse for white entitlement. These upper-class, well-educated, suburbanites that made up the Capitol Mob were trying to reclaim what they had been brainwashed by Conservative and far-right media and then-President Trump himself to believe was at risk – their right to rule.
The counter-insurgency that the U.S. has always prided itself in quelling abroad, and an important part of their military strategy, has actually been slowly simmering on U.S. soil – and January 6 was just the visual and spectacular view of it boiling over. But the boil had been rolling and ongoing for some time – in the past few years, white supremacist groups have carried out the majority of terrorist plots and attacks, and hate crimes in the U.S. reached the highest level in more than a decade in November 2020.
It’s important to note here, however, that these are just the attacks and hate crimes that result in deaths, injuries, and formal reports – but the true nature of cis-hetero white supremacist patriarchy is so insidious because it is often hidden and systemic, and not as spectacularly violent as many people want to believe.
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It is this ideology that drove the Capitol Mob in the first place, goaded on by their gleeful leader who reveled in cruelty. As Adam Serwer wrote for The Atlantic, the appeal of Trump’s speech and political positions was that his supporters rejoiced in the suffering of the people they had been socialized to hate and fear. These spectacles of violence, which these supporters both observe and take part in, are a part of the draw.
A gallows – complete with a noose – was erected in on the Capitol Mall on January 6 – and if the rioters had managed to reach the Senate chambers, it was probably far from just being a symbolic prop. Pipe bombs were found in the vicinity, a rioter with zip ties had stashed weapons and had an arsenal at home, and the mob that entered the Capitol Building was chanting to “hang Mike Pence.” It’s not hyperbolic or outrageous to make the assessment that this mob was out to dole out punishment to those they viewed as traitors and to incite a civil war.
White supremacists in the military and police is not a new phenomenon and, in fact, has been a strategy used by white supremacist groups for decades, and has been brought back to the forefront of mainstream discussion after it was discovered that dozens of law enforcement officials, active-duty military members and veterans were a part of the mob that engaged in the January 6 insurrection. Ashli Babbitt, who was killed by a Capitol Police officer after she attempted to force her way into the House Chamber, was an Air Force Veteran. Even before the insurrection, in the Summer of 2020, an Air Force sergeant with ties to the Boogaloo Bois was charged with the murder of a California federal security officer. Despite all evidence pointing to the counter-insurgency being a domestic issue, the FBI and other agencies have long either downplayed or dismissed the true threat of white supremacist groups, who are only becoming more organized and more violent.
Indeed, in October of 2019, the Department of Homeland Security finally announced that it was beginning to address white supremacist terrorism as a security threat, and one year later, a report was released that finally admitted that the biggest threat to U.S. democracy was not the invisible face of Russian troll farmworkers who pushed disinformation onto social media platforms, but violent far-right extremists who used online platforms exactly as they were designed to spread their ideology and mobilize their adherents.
For so long, the U.S. and most of the West had turned their eyes to the “threat” of extremism outside of its borders, and ignored the growing wave of white supremacist terrorism, for reasons that extol and uphold the cis-hetero white supremacist patriarchal system and ideology that dictate our day-to-day culture and lives. But now that the call is coming from loudly inside their own house, it has become too pernicious and too lethal to ignore – but despite all of the growing media attention, task forces, and other resources being thrown at the problem, the worry could be that it may be too little too late.
The Pandora’s Box of white supremacist organized violence has been opened, and shutting it will take more than just classifying and acknowledging its threats. The very structures that allowed for it to fester, flourish, and spread must be dismantled, and this would require a rethinking of our entire digital ecosystem, a reckoning of traditional media that have long pushed these ideas in the form of Fox News and other conservative outrage media outlets, and the very systems that supported these two institutions in the first place.
It’s easy to try and name the groups that haunt and frighten us, but the groups are merely a physical manifestation of the ideologies that drive and ground them. The insurgency has always been here. Without cutting off hate at the source, it will merely keep growing and evolving again, and it will always go back to the same roots even if its appearance has changed.
This article is brought to you by the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). Through their research, CARR intends to lead discussions on the development of radical right extremism around the world.