The Road to Jan. 6: How 50 years of violent white nationalism inspired the Oath Keepers

The Jan. 13 filing of seditious conspiracy charges against 11 members of the Oath Keepers militia is one of the darkest and most important chapters in the history of right-wing extremism.

The government case opens a window into the comically dangerous world of paranoid coup plotters who stormed the Capitol last Jan. 6. It shows how the Oath Keepers acted as a bridge between far-right extremists and average Trump supporters. The case sheds new light on how the “war on terror” led directly to Jan. 6 by stoking nativism, racism, and Islamophobia and created a huge pool of angry veterans ripe for recruitment by the Oath Keepers.

Most significant, the case shows how the Oath Keepers almost fulfilled the decades-long plotting by violent white nationalists to overthrow the government.

At the center of the conspiracy is Oath Keepers founder and leader Stewart Rhodes. In effect, he organized an insurrection within the government itself. He recruited police and soldiers armed with a zealous faith in the Constitution to wage a “bloody revolution” against a tyrannical government they believed was subverting the Constitution. Instead, the Oath Keepers find themselves accused of trying to violently overthrow the constitutional order.

READ: Converting betrayal into mobilization for violent action: How the Oath Keepers radicalize military veterans

The Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and loosely organized Three Percenter militia, are considered the main instigators of violence among thousands of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol. But with 566 extremist anti-government groups and 169 active militias around the country as of 2020, how did the Oath Keepers, once ridiculed as “keyboard warriors,” become the tip of the spear for Jan. 6?

Tea Party Days

The Oath Keepers began with a blog post. In early 2008, Rhodes fantasized Americans would rise up to stop President “Hitlery” Clinton from imposing martial law, confiscating guns, dragging off patriots to internment camps, and with the public defenseless, ordering soldiers to “shoot old women and little children.” That post caught the attention of Tea Party activists when they burst on the scene weeks after Obama took office. On April 19, 2009, Rhodes turned his fantasy into reality at Lexington Common in Massachusetts. He held the Oath Keepers founding “muster” on the same spot and date when the first shots were fired in the American Revolution 234 years earlier. The date is deeply symbolic to the extreme right. It is also the anniversary of the fiery end to the Waco siege, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the execution of Richard Wayne Snell, a fellow traveler with the ultraviolent Posse Comitatus.

READ: Trump-loving activist with ties to Ginni Thomas making officials nervous back home in Georgia

Rhodes thrived in the hothouse of hate media, earning praise from Pat Buchanan, Glenn Beck, and Lou Dobbs. He found a powerful megaphone on the Alex Jones Show with dozens of appearances and set his sights on the mainstream. On July 4, 2009, Rhodes held swearing-ins for members at 30 Tea Party rallies across the country. But Rhodes wasn’t interested in town halls, emailing, and voting.

Rhodes was recruiting police and soldiers to resist orders they saw as unconstitutional. They recited an oath he adopted from the one military officers and soldiers swear “to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” They also pledged to a “Declaration of Orders We Will NOT Obey” to “prevent the destruction of American liberty.” The Oath Keepers stood apart from other militias popping up around the country: Only current or retired police, soldiers, or first responders qualified as full members.

Based on leaks of Oath Keepers databases, Rhodes’ efforts paid off with 25,000 members who joined by 2015. Some 500 members identified as having police or military experience as of 2021. Rhodes’ apocalyptic vision came to be on Jan. 6. So far at least 134 insurrectionists out of some 700 charged with crimes have been identified as current or former military personnel or police officers.

The Oath Keepers was part of the surge in the antigovernment Patriot movement during Obama’s first three years in office. The Southern Poverty Law Center recorded an eight-fold increase in “conspiracy-minded groups that see the federal government as their primary enemy.” David Neiwert, who wrote the book on the Patriot movement In God’s Country describes its mindset as an “ultranationalistic and selective populism which seeks to return the nation to its ‘constitutional’ roots — that is, a system based on white Christian male rule.”

READ: Pentagon cracks down on extremism in its ranks: report

In leading the first violent coup in American history, the Oath Keepers can trace their success back to how violent white nationalism has gone mainstream over the last 50 years.

The Roots of Extremism

The Patriot movement did not appear out of thin air. It grew out of Posse Comitatus, which nurtured the twisted branches of today’s far-right extremism. Founded in 1971 by Bill Gale, a malingering former Army Lieutenant Colonel, Posse Comitatus advocated for armed insurrection. The son of a Russian Jew who fled pogroms, Gale was a preacher in the viciously anti-Semitic, white nationalist, and anti-communist Christian Identity movement.

Posse Comitatus went on to spawn militias, “constitutional sheriffs” who claim they are the highest law in the land, “sovereign citizens” who reject federal authority, and “common law grand juries” that claim the power to arrest and try public officials. In 2016, each one of these types of extremists converged at the Bundy occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge — including the Oath Keepers and other militias.

According to Daniel Levitas, author of The Terrorist Next Door, Posse Comitatus “embraced Identity theology; preached its unique form of constitutional fundamentalism; opposed taxes, government, and gun control; promoted countless conspiracy theories; and reveled in all things racist and anti-Semitic.” It breathed life back into Klan and neo-Nazi ideologies that had retreated to the darkest corners of America after the defeat of European fascism and the progress of the Civil Rights Movement. By the 1980s Posse Comitatus had won over a thousand hardcore followers with appeals to the Constitution and sovereignty, and capitalizing on anger over the devastating farm foreclosure crisis by “blaming an international Jewish banking conspiracy.”

READ: 'The brazenness is shocking': Former Trump security official stunned by new coup memo revelations

Posse Comitatus carried out bombings, murders, and bank robberies, and Gale told followers to “run a sword” through Jews and to lynch Black people. It was part of a network of violent white nationalists, including the Montana Freeman, Aryan Nations, and the Klan, that was largely eliminated in the 1980s through criminal prosecution, civil suits, and counter-organizing. But Gale started a process of sugarcoating extremism. He founded the precursor to Patriot militias that took center stage during the Clinton era. The militias publicly rejected racism, ties to neo-Nazis, or America ruled by white Anglo-Saxon Christians. They promoted themselves as Constitutionalists, as lawful, as defensive in posture against an out-of-control government.

But key militia figures were affiliated with the Aryan Nations and Christian Identity. They were insurrectionists like Posse Comitatus. Their plans drew from the Klan and The Order, white supremacist terrorists who took their name from The Turner Diaries, “a racist’s vision of a nightmare world, in which ‘The System’—African American enforcers led by Jewish politicians—attempt to confiscate all guns.” Patriot militias slightly toned down the racism to a “New World Order” of powerful bankers who would use the Bloods and Crips gangs to conduct house-to-house searches. Guns would be seized, resistors arrested, and the population culled in death camps. Timothy McVeigh, who in 1995 killed 168 people by bombing the federal building in Oklahoma City, came out of this world, linked to militias and inspired by The Turner Diaries.

The War on Terror Comes Home

A decade later the landscape had changed dramatically. Militias were reviled after Oklahoma City and looked foolish after their prediction society would collapse as a result of Y2K fizzling. They were further isolated by the patriotic fervor for the Republican-led war on terror. By the mid-2000s, active militias dwindled to 35. The Great Recession and Obama’s election that seemed like signs of End Times would revive their fortunes.

It’s clear there was little daylight between Rhodes’ fever vision and that of Patriot militias. From the start, the Oath Keepers traded in extremism. Board members included Richard Mack, a leader of Posse Comitatus-influenced constitutional sheriffs, and the founder of the Three Percenters, an umbrella for violent anti-government extremists that came out of the Patriot militias.

But Rhodes built one of the largest far-right outfits by further sanitizing extremism. He made the Oath Keepers palatable to conservatives by shunning the secrecy of the Patriot movement and denying it was an official militia. He sanded off rough edges by banning racists and attracting some military veterans active in Occupy Wall Street. He walked a line between warning of revolution and rejecting open appeals to violence. He used digital media to draw in thousands of new recruits. And he saw an opportunity in the upheaval created by the Great Recession, the Tea Party movement, and endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Oath Keepers benefited as well from the Fox News and internet pipeline feeding paranoia and conspiracies to the mainstream. The Tea Party movement helped them mask explicit racism and Christian fanaticism even as they fell head over heels for the crude bigotry of birtherism and Obama was a secret Muslim.

At the same time, the Oath Keepers were more than a far-right retread. Just as Posse Comitatus took advantage of the farm crisis and the Patriot movement exploited the anger over the FBI’s disastrous handling of the Waco standoff that killed 76 members of the Branch Davidians, Rhodes mined discontent over the war on terror.

Willing to Die

In 2004, while at Yale Law School, Rhodes won an award for the best paper on the Bill of Rights. He argued the ability of the Bush administration “to designate any person on the planet an enemy combatant” was unconstitutional. He warned unless the Supreme Court vacated this power, not only would it remain “a loaded weapon — a perpetual threat to our liberties — to be picked up by the next overzealous, overconfident and willful president,” it would be national “suicide.”

Rhodes was obsessed with enemy combatants in founding the Oath Keepers. He envisioned police and soldiers going “house-to-house to disarm the American people and ‘black-bag’ those on a list of ‘known terrorists,’ with orders to shoot all resisters.” Militias would be declared enemy combatants and subjected to “secret military detention without indictment or jury trial, ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques, and trial before a military tribunal.”

Rhodes was paranoid, but he wasn’t crazy. He was as incisive as an ACLU lawyer in shredding the flimsy legal architecture of the war on terror. In January 2012 he analyzed the grave dangers posed by allowing the president to declare anyone an enemy combatant, which Bush had done to two U.S. citizens. Days earlier, Obama had signed the National Defense Authorization Act “codifying indefinite military detention without charge or trial into law for the first time in American history,” according to the ACLU. Rhodes noted Obama went further by killing a U.S. citizen without due process— the drone assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki in September 2011.

It turns out the militias were right. A rogue U.S. government was waging war on its citizens. But the Oath Keepers could not leave behind their white nationalist past. Rhodes ignored that the targets of post-9/11 government repression were Muslim immigrants. Al-Awlaki was Muslim as were the two U.S. citizens placed in military detention.

White, far-right gun owners, the base of militias, were least likely to draw government scrutiny. Two weeks before the Oath Keepers was founded, the Department of Homeland Security released a report that now reads like a road map to the coup. It warned of Obama’s election and “a prolonged economic downturn … could create a fertile recruiting environment for rightwing extremists.”

DHS could have been talking about the Oath Keepers’ role in Jan. 6 when it stated, “right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat … to carry out violence.”

Predictable right-wing outrage was matched by typical Democratic gutlessness. DHS repudiated the report and gutted the unit tasked with monitoring far-right extremism, ensuring it could spread unchecked.

Even as he dissected the threats posed by the war on terror, what Rhodes advocated in response was ripe with the threat of violence rooted in white nationalism. He bluntly said soldiers should be “willing to die or lose your freedom in order to keep your oath.” If a soldier carried out an unlawful order “that violates the rights of the people, then you’re no different than a traitor who fights for a foreign enemy.”

Soldiers who don’t defend the rights of the people, Rhodes said, are “oath breakers.” To the Founding Fathers that “was like renouncing God.” This is revealing. David Neiwert points out that far-right extremists from the Patriot movement to fringe Mormons like the Bundys treat “the original text of the Constitution as though it were Biblically inerrant.”

Rhodes called on soldiers to refuse orders individually, or even better, organize their units to do a “peremptory refusal,” to revolt. He excoriated senators who voted for the NDAA. “I think they are guilty of treason. I think they should be arrested and indicted and tried for it and then once they’re found guilty they should suffer the proper sentence.” The proper sentence being death.

He saw a stark choice. The United States was at a crossroads. “We’re going to slide into Nazi Germany … or we’re going to have to fight another revolution.”

Everything Rhodes said ten years ago, about soldiers needing to revolt and be willing to die, fighting a revolution, believing members of Congress needed to pay the ultimate penalty, is precisely what happened on January 6, 2021.

But how it came to pass is the story of how Stewart Rhodes and the Oath Keepers moved closer and closer to the white nationalist roots they sprang from, and how they went from opposing government tyranny to being an enthusiastic and bloody arm of it.

Road to Jan. 6: How Portland police grew to love the Proud Boys and paved the way for Trump’s insurrection

There were many points at which if the government had acted the Jan. 6 insurrection might never have happened.

Leading up to the failed coup every alarm was ringing. Capitol Police knew a violent invasion was in the works, the Department of Homeland Security knew, the FBI knew, warning of “war at the Capitol.” Hundreds of security officials at 80 Fusion Centers set up after 9/11 to combat domestic terrorism knew. They shared “an avalanche” of warnings about violence beginning at “1 p.m., U.S. Capitol, Jan 6.” Nonetheless, the police allowed the invasion to happen.

If armed right-wing mobs who invaded state capitols in Idaho, Michigan, and Oregon before Jan. 6 were held accountable, support for the coup might have been squelched. Instead, ProPublica reported, Trump supporters learned “it was possible — even easy — to breach the seats of government to intimidate lawmakers,” they would find sympathizers on the inside, and police would treat them with kid gloves compared to Black Lives Matter protesters.

Years earlier, if the government acted against the Bundy family, who allied with far-right militias and white supremacists to use violence for political ends, Jan. 6 might have been averted.

There is a fourth instance where the chain of events leading to Jan. 6 could have been interrupted if far-right gangs had been stopped. That case is Portland.

Since 2017, police have allowed the Pacific Northwest city to serve as a proving ground for fascists like the Proud Boys. They received legal impunity and even police support with few attempts to stop it. The far-right used political violence to network with white nationalists, militias, and other extremists, raise their image nationally, gain recruits, and build capacity.

Law enforcement support for the far-right was matched by antipathy toward anarchists and anti-fascists in the left-leaning city. This is nothing unusual. Police are inherently friendly to the right and hostile to the left given their origins in slave patrols, enforcing Jim Crow, immigrant round-ups, and squashing labor organizing. This was evident in 2016 when police indifference to or support for far-right violence spread around the country in tandem with Trump’s campaign.

Following the murder of George Floyd, cops responded to protests against police brutality with more brutality. Even in this storm of repression, Portland was an extreme outlier. Bellingcat, the investigative data site, tracked police violence during the last half of 2020 and recorded 142 cases in Portland. This was twice as many documented cases of police brutality as in New York City, which has 13 times the population of Portland.

A sampling of incidents shows how far Portland police will go to abet far-right violence. One important fact is that few right-wing extremists live in the city. The vast majority travel there, often on buses, solely to engage in mob violence against city residents. The police, more than 80 percent of whom live outside Portland and whose union president once called the city a “cesspool,” are in effect attacking the city they are paid to protect. Only in Portland did fascist gangs succeed in turning the city into their fight club; everywhere else they were shut down.

Portland Police Protect Proud Boys

In June 2018, scores of Proud Boys invaded Portland. They joined with Patriot Prayer, a hate group based in Vancouver, Washington, that acts as an umbrella for extremists. Reporters say police marched a hundred-strong Proud Boys gang into anti-fascists. It quickly devolved into a massive brawl with groups of fascists stomping lone counter protesters. One reporter wrote that police appeared “primarily to protect the Patriot Prayer followers.” Another reporter overheard a cop suggest “police should restrict the protesters to one area and ‘just let them fight,’” adding, “That is essentially what happened.” Researchers identified dozens of fascists, many by name, engaging in violence. But no one was ever charged with a crime related to that day, not even Proud Boys president Enrique Tarrio who visibly joined in the assaults.

In August 2018, close to 500 Proud Boys, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, and neo-Nazis gathered in a waterfront park near downtown. Police announced checkpoints to enforce a weapons ban, but dismantled the security measures at the last minute. Fascists carried illegal hunting knives, bear mace, thick wooden poles, and ax handles with no police intervention. Nearly all wore outlawed “sap gloves” weighted, often with metal, for hand-to-hand combat.

Police acted as a force multiplier for fascists. They fired rubber bullets, chemical weapons, and “flash-bang” grenades at counter-protestors, nearly killing two people with direct hits. Police claimed objects were thrown at them, but countless videos showed an unprovoked attack on a peaceful crowd. Police then charged anti-fascists, freeing fascists to roam throughout downtown and attack people.

In October 2018, right-wing troll Andy Ngo claimed a “Leftist Mob” attacked a motorist when the video clearly showed the motorist first tried to run over Black Lives Matter protesters who were in a crosswalk with the walk sign. That prompted Patriot Prayer to invade the city for a Saturday night slugfest with clubs and bear mace amid streets packed with bargoers. Once more Proud Boys, including notorious brawler Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, were filmed stomping and punching opponents with little police intervention and no legal repercussions.

On May 1, 2019, twenty Patriot Prayer members led by Joey Gibson and accompanied by Ngo attacked antifascists at a cidery, fracturing the vertebrae of one person. (Ngo released their name, leading to threats of violence, according to friends). The bar owner claimed the police took an hour to respond. Police released a statement admitting they knew an attack was occurring but tried to justify why they didn’t respond until after the fight had ended.

In June 2019, Andy Ngo was assaulted and splattered with coconut milkshakes while filming a Patriot Prayer rally outnumbered by antifa. Police spread a false rumor on Twitter that the milkshake was made of concrete. Amplified by Pizzagate conspiracist Jack Prosobiec, the disinformation was treated as fact by right-wing media, further inciting extremists. Antifascists were deluged with death threats and City Hall was evacuated after a bomb threat. An inside source said the mayor’s office received “insane vitriol” and every office in City Hall received threats, including harassing calls that tied up emergency service dispatchers.

This was breathtaking. Portland police went from aiding far-right violence to weaponizing social media to terrorize locals and elected officials. It’s an example of psychological warfare that police regularly employ. For example, Seattle police recently admitted to faking radio chatter in June 2020 that armed Proud Boys were headed to an area occupied by Black Lives Matter protesters. The reports led protesters to arm themselves, and a city investigation concluded the police “improperly added fuel to the fire and could have had dire results.”

In August 2019 the far right planned another invasion of Portland after the milkshake incident. Proud Boys such as Joe Biggs flooded social media with graphic threats, displaying spiked bats, vowing “Death to Antifa,” advising followers to bring guns, and indicating specific activists they hoped to kill. A bloodbath in Portland was only averted because of a bloodbath in El Paso. After a Trump-inspired shooter killed 23 people at an El Paso Walmart, the FBI warned Biggs and the Proud Boys of violence but no charges were filed despite specific, felonious threats.

That day was relatively calm, but it was a step forward in far-right organizing. Enrique Tarrio hugged members of the hard-core white supremacist American Guard. Despite claims to the contrary, Proud Boys can’t get enough of neo-Nazis. In New York they fought alongside 211 Bootboys, far-right skinheads, in Charlottesville with Holocaust denier Augustus Invictus and others, neo-Nazi Keystone United in Philadelphia, extremist “Resist Marxism” in Providence, and white-nationalist Identity Evropa in Berkeley.

How It Began

There are dozens more examples of bias. Police documents reveal they see the far right as “much more mainstream” than the left. ”Friendly” text messages between police and Joey Gibson show they fed him real-time information about the movements of antifa during street skirmishes, and advised him twice on how Toese could avoid being arrested. Police once discovered a Patriot Prayer team with a “cache of … long guns” on a roof overlooking hundreds of anti-fascists. Police didn’t arrest the team and didn’t inform Mayor Ted Wheeler for two months they had uncovered what appeared to be an assassination squad despite the fact the mayor is head of the police.

The story of how Portland became a far-right magnet begins with Trump’s 2016 campaign and the founding of extremist organizations such as the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer. They gave life to Trump’s unabashedly racist and violent rhetoric. Following his victory, right-wing extremists began invading Portland, Berkeley and Seattle to fight the left under the guise of free speech. Many anti-fascists argued allowing the far right to rally would lead to deadly violence. That is precisely what happened in Portland.

On May 26, 2017, Jeremy Christian murdered two men who came to the defense of a Muslim woman he was violently threatening on a train in Portland. Weeks earlier Christian had attended a small Patriot Prayer rally where he threw a Nazi salute and yelled “Die Muslims.” Before the rally, Christian vowed on Facebook to shoot police, and they reportedly knew about it without taking action. The day before Christian killed the two men, he physically assaulted a Black woman on the same train system while yelling about free speech. The victim called the police who declined to arrest Christian at the scene despite multiple witnesses.

Sticking a finger into the city’s raw wound, Patriot Prayer held a tense rally in Portland on June 4, barely a week after the murders. Police separated a small far-right crowd from some 1,500 counter protesters. Both local and DHS police were mobilized to guard federal property in the area. They gave the far-right wide reign to attack leftists and participate in an arrest. After police escorted Patriot Prayer from the area they turned their weapons on anti-fascists.

According to the ACLU, “police deployed flashbang grenades, chemical irritants, and less-lethal bullets at the antifascist gathering—to the cheers of the alt-right group.” The ACLU slammed the police, saying it knows no other force that uses such “dangerous and indiscriminate” weapons “with the regularity of the Portland Police Bureau.” Cops then “kettled” nearly 400 protesters, journalists, legal observers, and bystanders. Violating constitutional rights, police surrounded, detained, and recorded everyone’s personal information before allowing them to leave.

The Big Bang of Terrorism

These events, from the April Patriot Prayer rally to Christian’s murders to the police violence at the June rally, are the big bang of far-right political violence. It started a vicious cycle of fascists invading Portland, carrying out violence with impunity, and using viral images of past violence to recruit extremists with the promise of future violence. Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys adopted the Bundy model of inciting right-wing terrorism in rural areas to cities. This model was a precursor to the deadly Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally in 2017, the invasion of state capitols, Trump’s Jan. 6 insurrection and helped mainstream violence in the Republican Party.

The link between Patriot Prayer and Christian is significant. While they kicked him out of the first rally, researchers who study the far right say it was because Christian was too explicit. “He gave away the game” by throwing a Nazi salute one said. Patriot Prayer claims it’s for free speech and tolerance, but it attracts neo-Nazis, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, anti-gay preachers, Islamophobes, and anti-feminists. Along with its many ties to the Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer has also rallied with the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters — all three of which are heavily implicated in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Patriot Prayer created a broad tent for extremists, painted Portland as a threat to freedom, and threatened “the stench-covered and liberal-occupied streets of Portland will be CLEANSED.” It hit the jackpot in figuring out how to stoke violence and provide cover for “lone wolf” attacks.

This is known as “stochastic terrorism,” meaning inciting “random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.” Trump is the master of stochastic terrorism, having inspired the anti-immigrant shooter who killed 11 Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue, the El Paso Walmart shooter who used anti-Mexican language that echoed Trump, and the Canadian who murdered six Muslims near Quebec City days after Trump’s Muslim ban.

Patriot Prayer served the same function for Jeremy Christian. Their rally gave him space to express his desire to kill Muslims, he used their language of free speech to assault a Black woman and then killed two men as he engaged in an Islamophobic attack. Stochastic terrorism allows Patriot Prayer to deny it had anything to do with the murders despite creating the conditions for Christian’s murders and activating him.

Of course, if police had arrested Christian when he committed the first assault, he would have been unable to commit the murders the next day. That police failed to act when he threatened to shoot them is even more disturbing. It has become common to be arrested and prosecuted for expressing violent intent against police on Facebook. Unlike Christian, those who are prosecuted tend to be Black or leftists.

Christian received two forms of police impunity: impunity for men who assault women and whites who commit racist attacks. On top of that is a history of impunity for the Klan, neo-Nazis, and other extremists. One historian says “murderous violence” from the far-right has “had a shocking amount of support from sectors of the U.S. government committed to ‘law and order.’” Leniency for the right is the flip side of police hammering the left. During the sixties, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover assigned a small army, 2,000 agents, to “discredit, disrupt, and destroy” the Black Panther Party, anti-Vietnam War activists, and student radicals.

Why Portland

In Portland, police impunity for the far-right and hostility toward the left was supercharged by Oregon’s history as a white supremacist state. With Black people barred from living in the state until 1926, Portland became the whitest big city in America, with a Black population of less than 6 percent, and a recruiting ground for extremists such as the White Aryan Resistance. That, in turn, spawned a culture of militant anti-fascists and anarchists willing to confront far-right extremists.

Portland police biases stem from the history of white supremacy, their affinity for the right, and hostility toward the left. In 2017, when asked why Tusitala Toese was not arrested for public assaults, a police spokesman claimed they knew nothing of him and pivoted to describing anti-fascists as their real concern.

Forceful action by elected officials could have halted this dynamic, but political leadership is weak. A source in Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office said in 2017 that they were “scared of the police” and feared “if they pushed on the police, there would be a police slowdown or strike.” The source added that the police have “institutional biases toward Patriot Prayer and white supremacy.”

Other officials are also lenient. For years, the local prosecutor was as lax in holding the far right accountable as police were arresting them. As for the governor and state legislature, one political scientist says, “It’s a white political culture that has a high tolerance for far-right and white nationalist organizing, and seems reluctant to address it for fear of alienating conservative voters.”

If officials do try to hold Portland police accountable, they break the law in retaliation. Weeks after a new district attorney advocating for police reform took office in July 2020, he was doxxed by the police, leading to death threats and forcing his family to leave their home after fascists showed up there. Police twice illegally released information about City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who won office in 2018 on a platform of police accountability, including feeding false information to the media that she was responsible for a hit-and-run accident. Police are so out of control, one court issued an order to try to stop them from tear-gassing, pepper-spraying, beating, and arresting journalists. Another court found the bureau was engaged in large-scale doxxing by live streaming participants in protests in violation of state law.

In this atmosphere of police criminality, their support for far-right violence only became more extreme.

Wild West

On August 22, 2020, a hundred fascists rallied in Portland. Kitted for combat, they stood in front of the Multnomah County Justice Center that houses the sheriff’s department, and, in back, the police headquarters. The agencies have nearly 1,400 sworn law-enforcement officers between them. Facing off against the far-right extremists were twice as many anti-fascists, Black Lives Matter activists, union organizers, and other leftists.

For two hours the opposing sides battled with mace, fireworks, blunt weapons, and fists. The fascists fired paintball guns and attacked with shields and metal and wood poles as well. There were broken bones, abdominal wounds, and chemical weapon burns. People were pummeled and stomped. Even by Portland standards, the violence was extreme.

It could have been worse. Alan Swinney, an eagerly violent Proud Boy and hulking Desert Storm veteran, aimed a revolver with his finger on the trigger at antifascists, though he didn’t fire. Many asked why Swinney was on the streets to begin with. A week earlier he shot a videographer in the face with a paintball gun and threatened to shoot him “with a real gun.” Eventually, the antifascists forced the fascists out of the area.

Here’s where things go down the rabbit hole. Despite a fascist gang on their doorstep for hours, the police were nowhere to be seen. Once the right-wingers were run out of Dodge, however phalanxes of Robocops appeared and forced anti-fascists out of downtown.

Police issued a rambling press release to justify the abdication of public safety. It whined policing is “complex,” bizarrely said they told everyone to “self-monitor for criminal activity,” and complained they were worn out by months of “violent actions directed at the police,” otherwise known as racial justice protests. Yet they weren’t too worn out to dispatch scores of riot cops hours later “to arrest and beat marching demonstrators” at a BLM protest.

A clue to police intentions came when they said they didn’t declare a riot because the two sides were “willingly engaging in physical confrontations.” You see, for a few years Portland police had been telling the far right they could engage in “mutual combat” with antifascists. But not only is mutual combat explicitly banned, but it also would never be legal because it would quickly lead to blood sport, deadly duels, and Squid Games.

That day was indicative of police’s utter indifference to fascist violence and their victims. This is the same dynamic that went on in Trump’s insurrection.

Police allowed Alan Swinney to roam the streets for weeks until a growing public outcry led to his arrest and eventually a 10-year prison sentence. He joins Tarrio who is serving a sentence in prison, Joe Biggs who is jailed awaiting trial in conjunction with Jan. 6, and Toese who was recently arrested on numerous charges.

But this is closing the pen after the horses have bolted. By the fall of 2020, the Proud Boys took their cavalcade of violence on the road to D.C. with multiple riots in the city. Then two weeks before Jan. 6, fascists stormed the Oregon state capitol in Salem, let in by a GOP legislator who was subsequently expelled from the legislature and currently faces criminal charges. The fascists were ready for the big time: Trump’s insurrection.

The dangers have only grown since the coup in a political system incapable of even mounting minimal defenses against a fascist takeover such as by strengthening voting rights and election security being shredded by an extremist GOP.

Portland officials degenerated into self-caricature by August 2021. When fascists planned another riot, police announced they would let the two sides duke it out, Mayor Wheeler took to video to proclaim “choose love,” and in the real world fascists and anti-fascists traded gunfire in Downtown Portland.

Not long after, it was revealed that “more than two dozen current and former police officers, sheriff’s deputies, corrections officers, and members of the military in Oregon” had apparently joined the Oath Keepers.

The same Oath Keepers who were just charged with seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6 coup.

After the Storm: A year after Jan. 6, a sprinkling of Trump followers gather in DC lost in a blizzard of conspiracies

WASHINGTON, D.C.—On January 6, 2022, the first anniversary of the storming of the Capitol, the one thing Trump loyalists could agree on was everyone else was to blame for the carnage that day but them.

Jim Griffin, who was outside the Capitol last January, claimed FBI infiltrators were all “over the entire event and they were telling people to go inside the Capitol.”

Griffin, who handed out business cards calling himself “The True Captain America” with photos in costume parading a 20-foot-tall American flag on the Capitol grounds, knew who the infiltrators were.

“QAnon is FBI. … FBI infiltrators is QAnon. They’re the ones who organized the event,” referring to the failed coup. Griffin said it was QAnon who broke into “Nancy Pelosi’s and all their offices and all that crap.” At the same time, the infiltrators “was only two of them [among] at least 4 million people” at the Capitol last Jan. 6.

Griffin spoke as he held a lit candle shielded in a clear Starbucks cup during a nighttime vigil outside of D.C.’s Central Detention Facility, which holds the remaining band of hardcore insurrectionists as they await trial. His millions at the coup had dwindled to a dozen at the vigil.

READ: A dress rehearsal for fascism: The complete Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection timeline

Griffin said antifa and BLM were also responsible for Jan. 6. “There were four busloads of … antifa and they were in Trump outfits. And the guy who got paid $75,000 admitted it,” he said.

Griffin was apparently referring to John Earle Sullivan, who sold footage of the shooting of Ashli Babbitt to news outlets for $90,000 but was stripped of the money as ill-gotten gains after the government indicted him for allegedly participating in the insurrection.

Accompanying Griffin last year and this one was “Big John.” He blamed militias, not QAnon or antifa for violence on Jan. 6. “The FBI had people that were infiltrated into the Proud Boys, into the Oath Keepers, who were actually leading people up to the steps to doors that were thrown open in front of them and to barricades that were pulled away in front of them.”

Big John was more modest in his estimates of the Jan. 6 crowd than Griffin, putting it at “well over a million.” He said of Trump supporters who entered the Capitol, “Nobody got into that building that wasn’t allowed into the building.”

READ: From the Bundys to the Rotunda: How allowing far-right terrorism to fester led to Trump's Jan. 6 coup attempt

Wilma Ward claimed antifa stirred the pot as well. She said videos show “people pointing out antifa in the crowd and some of them were saying, ‘Yeah.’” Ward was one of the few at the vigil who wasn’t there in 2021. She came from San Diego “to keep Ashli’s name alive and hopefully the prisoners get some justice.” Babbitt was killed by a Capitol Hill officer who claimed he warned her repeatedly as she climbed through a broken window that was the last barrier between the insurrectionists and members of Congress.

When asked if there were members of antifa in the jail, Ward said, “Yes, there are. There are. At least that’s what we’re being told when we write the prisoners … who to trust, and who not.”

These conspiracies could have come from Newsmax, “the Trumpiest channel on TV,” known for hiring journalists previously fired for sexual harassment. Its daily viewership has plunged to 93,000, a drop of more than 70 percent since briefly surging post-election after feeding its audience a steady diet of the Big Lie that the election was stolen from Trump. Newsmax’s bootlicking has earned it a spot in lawsuits seeking billions of dollars from individuals and outlets promoting “baseless election fraud claims.”

Michael, a correspondent for Newsmax, was among the journalists outside the D.C. jail who outnumbered conspiracists about five to one. He asked, “Was there any evidence that showed President Trump asked people to break through windows or doors,” an allegation he seemed to have invented, and answered his own question, “There hasn’t been any evidence.”

READ: How Donald Trump killed America

Following a testy exchange, with Michael asking me, “Are you larping as a conservative,” he gave his take on Jan. 6. He did blame Trump supporters while trying to spin the day as MAGA gone wild, “I think it was a celebration of President Trump’s candidacy of his time as president that got out of hand and mob mentality took over.”

His opinion might put his colleagues at Newsmax in a tizzy. Even as the insurrection was in full swing, they were already blaming antifa and BLM “infiltrators.” By the night of Jan. 6 Newsmax declared the mob innocent, “Trump supporters don’t do these things” — as supporters partied at hotels across the city, defied mask mandates and curfews, abused staff and guests, and declared, “We won.”

Since Jan. 6, Newsmax has left no conspiracy behind. It called it a “false flag operation.” It speculated that Michael Fanone, the D.C. cop pummeled and Tasered by the Trump crowd until he had a heart attack and a traumatic brain injury, was “mistaken for antifa.” It has amplified Matt Gaetz histrionics that the FBI organized and participated in the insurrection.

One Jan. 6 participant seemed to have learned the error of his ways. Keith Scott said he survived Trump’s “Election Fraud Cult.” Before Jan. 6, “It consumed my life.” A resident of Corpus Christi, Texas, Scott said, “If a Tweet came from Stop the Steal that there was a rally in Lansing, Michigan, I would drop everything and go there.” He crisscrossed the country, listening to testimony about voter fraud, but he was disillusioned by Jan. 6.

Scott says, “Trump didn’t go far enough.” Scott didn’t want the insurrection to go further, but rather, “It was just political theater. Was [Trump] just trying to get eyeballs that day on Jan. 6 for his speech or was he trying to really show everyone there was fraud and expose the fraud?”

Scott wanted Trump to appoint Sidney “Release the Kraken” Powell as special counsel. He said Trump “could have gotten rid of the head of the FBI and CIA. There are things that he could have done to really dive in and look into” election fraud.

Scott’s faith was unshakeable: the election was stolen. He walked away when asked for evidence of voter fraud other than verbal claims. Scott’s problem wasn’t the cult. It was the cult leader. A publicity-hungry Trump had abandoned him and the true cause of election fraud.

Julie, a D.C. native, shared Scott’s delusions. She watched on election night as “The machines couldn’t keep up with Trump’s votes. They shut down all at once in six states: Nevada, Georgia, Nevada, Michigan, others.”

In the cult that may prove stronger than the leader, Micki Witthoeft has a special status. She is the mother of their martyr, Ashli Babbitt. Earlier in the day outside the Capitol, Witthoeft embraced Marjorie Taylor Greene and the falsehood that the election was stolen.

Outside the jail, she said, “Patriots are scared to show up in numbers now and who can blame them they’re still being hunted down.” Insurrectionists in jail “did little more than carry a flag.” Ashli “had every right to be in the building.”

“Where are our leaders,” Witthoeft pleaded, expressing appreciation for the Representatives from Jewish space lasers, child sex trafficking, and palling around with Holocaust deniers.

It’s easy to make fun of Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar. The detachment from reality is wondrous to behold close up. Four million on Jan. 6! Antifa! Stolen Election! QAnon!

But being mesmerized by conspiracies is like thinking the sun is nothing more than the gaseous eruptions bursting from it rather than understanding the fury on the surface is powered by the incendiary core.

On the anniversary of Jan. 6, there were glimpses of the white-hot core.

Scott said he favored picture I.D. laws for voting and to “get rid of all this mail-in voting.”

Jim Griffin, upset at my questions, said, “You’re not one of us,” pointing at my Gadsden hat. That’s the one with a coiled rattlesnake reading “Don’t Tread On Me.” I had disguised myself. When interviewing Trump cultists, friendly apparel elicits more honest responses and fewer assaults.

“You are not one of us,” he repeated. “You know what we are? The backbone of America. The people that work every day. The people that are in the freaking military. The people that are law enforcement. The people that work and sacrifice. That is the American people.”

Micki Witthoeft said, “This country’s not lost. Know that in your heart, we’re not lost.”

The sentiments fit together seamlessly. Beneath flights of deadly fancy is a sense of searing loss. America is being lost, but in their mind, it’s a romanticized vision that never existed. Hard work isn’t respected anymore. Manly virtue, cop and soldier, aren’t respected. Voting, the one rare system free of fraud, is thoroughly corrupted.

And they are right that America is dying, but they can’t recognize the disease or the symptoms. It’s dying from oligarchs, climate chaos, gun culture, racist policing, a pandemic without end, infotainment, misery for the proles, welfare for the fat cats.

The Trump cultists have convinced themselves they are superheroes saving the nation when in fact they are wielding the knives, killing America with a thousand cuts.

To combat fabricated voter fraud, Scott demanded actual voter suppression.

Witthoeft’s plea, “We’re not lost,” is kin to Tucker Carlson’s “Great Replacement” conspiracy that whites are being replaced by diseased barbaric hordes pouring across our borders.

Griffin’s rant, “The people that work hard and sacrifice,” is producerism. It’s the ideology of President Andrew Jackson. White Americans are the producers, the hard workers who sacrifice and create the wealth. But they are beset by parasites above and below. Trump loved Jackson so much he put a portrait of the genocidaire of Native Americans in the White House.

Trump and Tucker have convinced the insurrectionists that America is dying because of “illegal aliens” and Blacks on welfare on the ladder right below them and sneering liberals and arrogant experts on the ladder right above them. The Trump cult refuses to blame or even idolizes those at the top of a ladder so tall it is being stretched into the heavens by men racing to be the first trillionaire and the first to colonize space.

To reconcile the harsh reality that America is dying with the demented fantasy that blame falls on immigrants, Black people, public-school teachers, Muslims, public-health experts requires a con game so elaborate that even if QAnon disappeared today, new insane conspiracies would appear tomorrow to bridge the chasm between the far-right bizarro world and actual reality.

The Trump cult is no joke. The fanatics are a small portion of the country, perhaps 15-20 million voters. But they are the malevolent heart of a party that sees a winning formula in conspiracism, voter suppression, Democratic incompetence, manufactured outrage that teaching racism is the real racism (otherwise known as CRT), and a propaganda machine that would make Joseph Goebbels envious.

If the fascistic right gains power then the deranged mythology that the 2020 election was stolen and FBI and antifa were behind the insurrection becomes our reality. We will be dragged into a world where “Anyone who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

From the Bundys to the Rotunda: How allowing far-right terrorism to fester led to Trump's Jan. 6 coup attempt

The sight of violent Trump supporters invading the Capitol a year ago may have been shocking but it was not surprising. It was the direct result of the government allowing right-wing political violence to smolder for years until it burst into a conflagration on Jan. 6.

While far-right terrorism is the story of America — Native genocide, slave codes, Klan terror, anti-Asian pogroms, racist mass shooters today — there was a specific path to Trump’s coup that might have been avoided if the government had taken the threat seriously.

That path runs through the Bundy family. They incubated Jan. 6 by bringing together key actors who joined in the insurrection, showing the government was reluctant to confront right-wing terrorism, and proving that terrorism could work.

The deadly virus has spread with 40 percent of Republicans supporting violence for political ends. This genie can’t be put back in the bottle. But right-wing terrorism can be eliminated root and branch by using the full force of the state. That was the mistake with the Bundys, which lead to the Jan. 6 insurrection. They were allowed to foment political violence with little pushback.

READ: Raw Story’s Arun Gupta caught up in same trap that snared Oregon militants

The story starts in April 2014 when the Bureau of Land Management tried to enforce court-ordered penalties on patriarch Cliven Bundy. He owed $1.2 million in fees for illegally grazing cattle on federal lands for 21 years, so BLM officials seized hundreds of them. But Cliven, driven by messianic Mormonism and a fringe interpretation of the Constitution that he has a divine right to the land and Washington almost no rights to the land, called for a “range war.”

Hundreds of armed militiamen responded. They came from extremist groups that had grown by 600 percent after the election of the first Black president. In a foreshadowing of Jan. 6, the BLM was ill-prepared to deal with such a complex operation despite Cliven’s threats he was “ready to do battle.” Confronted by the militia, the feds stopped the roundup to lower tensions. That was a mistake, one being repeated with the kid-gloves treatment of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists.

Leniency emboldened the Bundys. They surrounded the feds with snipers, one of whom stated, “I’ve got a clear shot.” The feds retreated, the Bundys unlawfully retrieved their cattle.

The first effect of the Bundy standoff was images that thrilled anti-government extremists. It showed viral clips of right-wing violence were effective recruiting tools. The far-right realized not only could they play war against the government, but they could also reap followers and political gains. The lure of viral fame helps explain why so many Jan. 6 rioters posted their illegal exploits on social media, leading to their arrest.

The second effect was the Bundys acted as accelerants of far-right terrorism. Among those who flocked to Bundy were Jerad and Amanda Miller, who expressed an eagerness for violence against federal agents. The two were kicked off the ranch, but weeks later went on a killing spree. They gunned down a bystander and two cops, sticking a note on one cop saying “the beginning of the revolution,” and tossing a swastika on the second, before killing themselves.

Trump threw gasoline on the terrorism fire: in Portland, Charlottesville, among mass shooters, “Boogaloo extremists,” anti-BLM killings, an epidemic of ISIS-style car attacks encouraged by the GOP, with child-killer and right-wing hero Kyle Rittenhouse. On Jan. 6

A third effect of the Bundy standoff was to catalyze events that led directly to Jan. 6. Among those who traveled to Nevada in 2014 were the Oath Keepers and militiamen associated with the Three Percenters, which functions more like a network.

The two militias were all over the Capitol on Jan. 6. Twenty-one members of the Oath Keepers allegedly “played a critical role” in the insurrection, and four men affiliated with the Three Percenters have also been charged in connection. (Another 30 members and supporters of the fascistic Proud Boys have been arrested for involvement in Jan. 6, including four leaders.)

Both militias reek of white supremacism. The Oath Keepers have rallied with ACT for America, an anti-immigrant hate group, promoted racist Great Replacement-style conspiracies, and are anti-Black Lives Matter. Three Percenters provided security for white nationalists during the deadly Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally in 2017. The next year the leader of a Three Percenter affiliate masterminded a Mosque bombing in Minnesota.

Racists gravitated to the Bundys because they are unreconstructed racists. Days after sending the feds packing, Cliven mused that Blacks were “better off as slaves.” In his holy vision, white men have “ancestral rights” to the land, not the Shoshone Nation that has a treaty claim to nearly all of Nevada, including the land on which he illegally grazes his cattle. While fils Bundy are savvier than père in posing as defenders of freedom for all, Ammon removed his mask after a bit of praise for BLM. He now calls it “a wicked, Marxist, communist organization that deceives its members and destroys Black people’s lives.”

The infernal combination of militias, white supremacy, and frontier justice that coalesced at the Bundy ranch was the mood on Jan. 6. Foremost it came from Trump. Bellowing “take back our country,” he repeated falsehoods that the election was stolen from him by non-citizens before he directed his mob to storm the Capitol.

Trump presided over a white-nationalist hate orgy: Confederate flags, a noose, rioters hurling N-words and flag poles, a “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt. One prominent face at the Capitol was Nick Fuentes, usually described as a white nationalist, but when combined with his Holocaust denialism, love of dictators, opposition to “race-mixing,” and participation in Charlottesville, makes him hard to distinguish from Nazis.

The onslaught on the Capitol is a companion to the Bundy standoff in that both spring from the view that as white people alone own the land and the institutions, they can break any laws, commit any crime to secure them.

The fourth effect was Nevada created a model for right-wing violence. After the 2014 standoff, the Bundys and the militias took their show on the road. First, Ryan Bundy joined forces with a Utah county commissioner and backed by the sheriff, to lead a convoy of ATVs into Recapture Canyon, where they are banned because the area is rich in ancient Native American sites. Then rifle-toting Three Percenters and Oath Keepers descended on a mining site in Southern Oregon after the owners had a minor dispute with the BLM over their plans. In the summer of 2015, the two militias joined by the Pacific Patriot Network established a new front in Montana to confront the National Forest Service in another trivial beef over a mine.

The next incident delivered the drama the Bundys sought. On Jan. 2, 2016, nearly five years to the day before Trump’s coup, Ammon, Ryan and a dozen heavily armed men seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Oregon. They claimed to be defending a father-son pair of ranchers who had been sentenced to five years in jail after years of criminal behavior and violent threats against federal employees and their families. But the takeover was just another battle in their range war.

I was in Malheur for a week, reporting for The Raw Story until the feds nabbed the Bundys. I sat in Ryan’s pickup truck, across from magazines of .223 ammo nestled in cup holders, as he held forth for hours on his fringe constitutional views. That inspired their revolt to take back land for the people, even if the people save a few in nearby towns rejected them. When questioned, Ryan did not deny they aimed to overthrow the federal government. Toward that end, they invited in a self-appointed judge who tried and convicted local officials in star chambers and planned to remove them from power.

By making themselves the law, the Bundys foreshadowed Trump’s attempt to overthrow the government by whatever means he wished, martial law, suspending the Constitution, the Insurrection Act, or a violent conspiratorial mob.

The Bundys were sidelined for a couple of years by their arrest. But they emerged victoriously. The brothers were acquitted in the Malheur occupation after the jury allegedly demanded an absurd level of proof for a charge of conspiring to prevent refuge employees from doing their jobs. The feds’ hands-off approach, allowing the Bundys to turn the refuge into a media circus for more than a month, also apparently led jurors to believe their presence was not illegal. Then in 2018, a judge in Nevada dismissed all the charges against all three Bundys in relation to the 2014 standoff because of prosecutorial misconduct.

Ammon Bundy found a new cause to spread his gospel of violent Christian nationalism: Covid. In April 2020, Ammon launched People’s Rights, an anti-mask, anti-vax, anti-lockdown movement. Bundy talks of freedom and liberty, but he is building an army of anti-vaxxers, conspiracists, militia members and members of violent white nationalist groups like the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer.

This is the fifth effect of the Bundys: The violent, conspiratorial white nationalist fringe is becoming the Republican mainstream. FOX News greeted the 2014 standoff enthusiastically, and the Bundys garnered support from a few obscure elected officials. The cross-organizing among militias and white nationalists in Nevada was hardly a lovefest, however, with rival groups reportedly pulling guns on each other. But as the Bundys kept provoking confrontations and Trump blew open space for white nationalism, they helped turn the GOP into a big tent of violent extremists.

Prior to the Jan. 6 Capitol invasion, there were five attacks on state Capitols. Ammon Bundy was in the forefront of the August attack on the Capitol in Boise. In Malheur, there was little support for Trump, but five years later, in December 2020, Ammon encouraged supporters to attend the “Stop the Steal” rally in D.C. On the day of the invasion, Cliven took to Facebook to lend unabashed support for Trump’s coup.

The Bundys themselves are for the most untouchable. Ammon is running to be the Republican nominee for governor of Idaho. In a state where the GOP is so extreme it is Taliban-like, it has nonetheless spurned Ammon. But that is of no matter to him. As shown by the mob attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, he and his family have held the line. It’s Trump and the Republicans who’ve rushed toward the Bundys.

Stop treating the Jan. 6 insurrectionists with leniency. Throw the book at them — including Trump

Understanding why January 6 happened is not merely a question for the history books. It’s about the future. It’s about stopping Trump’s next coup — which has already begun.

To that end, there is one big reason, much overlooked, why thousands of Trump-supporting conspiracists, extremists, and white supremacists stormed the Capitol on January 6: they were supercharged by impunity.

Evidence shows they had every reason to believe they could get away it. And despite their Bud Light Putsch having failed, they are getting away with it.

Lawmakers have blasted U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland for giving “slaps on the wrist” to insurrectionists. Of 71 rioters who have been sentenced so far, most have avoided jail time and many of the rest have been allowed to be confined temporarily in the comfort of their home, or given token sentences of weeks or months.

The Department of Justice is tying its own hands. It “has failed to charge anyone with sedition or treason” despite the fact trying to stop Congress from certifying the electoral vote is “textbook sedition.”

Perhaps Garland thinks sedition charges would be unorthodox. But he can easily apply terrorism enhancement charges, as is often done to Muslim and left-wing defendants. Biden said the rioters were terrorists and Capitol Police who testitied to Congress asserted the actions of Trump’s mob met the definition of terrorism under federal law. Such charges would add decades to sentences to coup participants, showing there is a price to pay. But that has not yet happened.

Garland doesn’t even need to hit them with terrorism enhancement. A threat is enough to make most defendants plead guilty to serious charges instead of the probation, 40 hours of community service, and $500 fine that some defendants are walking away with.

Nor has any insurrectionist been charged in the deaths of five people that day despite the “felony murder rule” that “holds a person who commits a crime responsible for any deaths that result.”

Judges are frustrated at government leniency. Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell has blasted prosecutors as “schizophrenic” and “baffling” for describing the insurrectionists as a grave threat to democracy and then letting them off the hook with petty misdemeanors. Howell has also pushed prosecutors on why weren’t they charging more defendants with “obstructing an official processing,” which carries a sentence of up to 20 years.

The cost of government leniency is evident in how violence has infected the GOP. A new Washington Post poll found 40 percent of Republicans say violence against the government can be justified. The right-wing glorification of political violence is spreading through society.

Reuters has documented more than 850 threats against election officials in sixteen states in the wake of the 2020 election. Virtually all expressed support for Trump and 110 “appear to meet … the federal threshold for prosecution.” Yet no arrests have been made.

With far-right media having whipped the GOP base into a frenzy over critical race theory and mask policies, school-board officials are now regularly subjected to death threats, violence and in need of police protection, leading some to resign.

Attacks on school boards are hardly the work of overly passionate parents. With more than a dozen members and leaders arrested in connection with Jan. 6, the fascistic Proud Boys have invaded school board meetings, seemingly to stoke violence and gain recruits.

Assaults against airline employees soared after Jan. 6 — including on flights carrying pro-Trump rioters home from the nation’s capital. According to the latest data for 2021, nearly 75 percent of 5,779 unruly passenger incidents involved mandatory mask policy on airlines, a measure of how much of the violence is motivated by pro-Trump sentiment.

Violent rhetoric that is a precursor to far-right attacks is inside Congress among extremists such as Rep. Paul Gosar tweeting an anime video of him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Lauren Boebert suggesting Rep. Ilhan Omar is a terrorist.

The violence has a calculated political effect. It’s emboldening Trump loyalists like Steve Bannon and Mark Meadows who are stonewalling Congress’s probe of Jan. 6 by defying subpoenas. They are trying to run out the clock on any possible prosecution, betting that Republicans will take back Congress in the 2022 midterms and shut down the investigation.

Some are turning the failed coup into political gold. On election day in November, at least seven Jan. 6 rallygoers were elected to state or local office. Since then another 13 participants have thrown their hat in the ring for the 2022 vote, including two facing charges.

With Trump little different than classic fascists, the most worrying trend is the Big Lie that the election was stolen from him being used to justify a legislative coup now underway. The GOP went into overdrive last year passing 34 laws in 19 states that restrict the right to vote. Republicans have passed laws in 14 states stripping election officials of powers.

Barring a blood vessel clogging or bursting, Trump is likely to be the Republican nominee in 2024, and signs point to him carrying out a “respectable coup” by having a Republican Congress steal the election even if he loses.

“Every day is Jan. 6,” warns the New York Times. Democrats led by Biden “have so far failed … to take action to protect elections from subversion and sabotage.” Passing a new voting rights law is a crucial step, but just one. The Brennan Center has listed other measures to make it harder for Trump to interfere in future elections, to tamp down disinformation, to protect election officials, and to prosecute those who threaten them.

It’s those prosecutorial powers that are lacking. The DOJ and state prosecutors need to use their legal powers to crush the violent elements of the GOP.

One encouraging sign is the lawsuit by the D.C. Attorney General against the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers that could financially cripple the organizations. It would follow the jury verdict in November awarding $25 million to plaintiffs against 17 white nationalists and organizations who organized the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017, including Jason Kessler, who was inducted into the Proud Boys in Charlottesville.

Then there is the big fish himself. Such is the sad state of American democracy that it was left to Rep. Liz Cheney to ask did “Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress’s official proceeding to count electoral votes?” She was all but saying Trump should be charged, which needs to happen swiftly.

Trump would undoubtedly go ballistic and incite more mob violence, which would only land him deeper in the drink.

The alarm bells are going off about a second coup — even louder than they were before the Jan. 6 coup. Will they be ignored again?

'Our grief is not a cry for war': The hidden history of 9/11

I watched people jump from the burning towers.

It was a picture-perfect day. Thousands of pieces of paper blown out of the wounded skyscrapers fluttered in the breeze, catching the crystal-clear morning light. Smoke drifted south over Brooklyn. From my rooftop a mile away the people looked tiny as they arced and accelerated on a one-way journey.

One dot split into two as they plummeted. They must have held hands, only able to summon courage by doing it together even as the punishing gravity separated them right before their demise. So many hundreds fell that witnesses on the ground said it was raining bodies. One falling woman struck and killed Daniel Suhr, the first New York firefighter known to be killed that day.

An F-16 shrieked over Manhattan, banking and passing for a close-up of the towers before roaring off.

On neighboring rooftops only a few people were watching a devastating war unfold on American soil. Months earlier on the same rooftops thousands oohed and aahed to simulated war on the Fourth of July. A camera was produced. Pictures were taken. Men posed grimly pointing at the burning towers, chance masquerading as grit. A pretty blonde posed sitting up with a knee bent and chin on hand smiling with the towers in the background, a pin-up at the end of the world.

We wondered why helicopters didn't try to rescue the desperate when the South Tower collapsed in a shower of debris sending us staggering backwards. "It collapsed," a few eventually muttered trying to sync their brains with their eyes.

Six helicopters, Coast Guard, fire department, police, formed a ring around the surviving North Tower and turned outward. We had no information. We didn't know United Airlines Flight 93 was still on its suicide mission. But there could be only one explanation. The choppers were also on a suicide mission, intent on ramming any more incoming planes. Two F-16 pilots had been dispatched with such orders. There wasn't time to arm their jet fighters. They were told to crash into UA 93, which is believed was aiming for the White House or U.S. Capitol.

At 10:28 A.M. on September 11, 2001, the North Tower fell 102 minutes after being struck. One corner gave way and the 362-foot antenna fell toward me disappearing in a plume of smoke and ash. A fireball of orange and red and yellow boiled upward hundreds of feet. We were as stunned as when the first tower fell.

An ambulance caked in debris crept down the empty street below leaving a shroud of ash in its wake. Thousands of office workers followed moments later, shuffling in stunned silence north away from the inferno at Ground Zero. Mourners at their own funeral, many were painted ghostly white by wildly toxic dust containing mercury, lead, dioxin, PCBs, and asbestos.

No one knew what was going on least of all the media. The news said eight planes had been hijacked, not four, and imaginations ran wild with what would be bombed next. Reports came in of a car bomb at the State Department, a bomb at the U.S. Capitol, bombs exploding all over Washington, D.C.

The fevered rumors dissipated quickly but not the fear. Weeks later pedestrians ran panicked down 5th Avenue away from the Empire State Building yelling, "There's a bomb." Office workers sobbed, "I can't take it anymore" outside of Grand Central Terminal after a false bomb threat emptied the complex.

***

A refuge from the madness emerged. The day after the attacks people began to gather at Union Square at 14th Street as the public was blocked from traveling further south. The park drew mourners, gawkers, anyone seeking comfort amid the devastation. Flyers of the missing were plastered on any available surface. Hundreds of smiling faces peered out, putting names and images to the death toll. Notes pleaded for information and help.

American flags sprouted and debates ensued about who was to blame and who should pay. But the mood was mostly one of peace. The martial statue of George Washington on a horse had messages of "Love" and "No War" chalked on its base and a peace flag taped to his outstretched hand.

Union Square became a 24-hour festival of mourning and life. Crowds sang "New York, New York," they argued, Buddhist monks chanted, musicians serenaded the crowds, poems, essays, and children's drawings papered fences, artists created stunning replicas of the towers from aluminum foil, roses, and mini-license plates with names.

"Our grief is not a cry for war" rose above the din. We experienced war. The dead were our dead. We were the ones poisoned by the smoke that billowed from Ground Zero for months. We said no to war in our name. Visiting the horrors of mangled flesh and steel on other countries would only punish the innocent. Starting new wars would end in disaster.

In Blowback, a prophetic book written before 9/11, Chalmers Johnson argued that terrorists bombing civilian targets was an unintended consequence of America's secret wars. "Terrorists attack innocent and undefended American targets precisely because American soldiers and sailors firing cruise missiles from ships at sea or sitting in B-52 bombers … or supporting brutal and repressive regimes from Washington seem invulnerable." Blowback means our assets became our enemies, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, Iran and Cuba.

Days after 9/11 a friend reminded me of my own prophecy. We used to hang out on the roof at night drinking beer, the Twin Towers dominating the skyline. He told me, "'They're coming down' you would say." I shrugged. "They were such a tempting target, and we have created such hatred around the world." The second intifada had been raging for a year. Palestinians rejected a U.S.-brokered peace deal to live under Israeli apartheid. Anger across the Arab world was boiling over at us.

***

September 11 was not a clash of civilizations. They didn't "hate our freedoms." They hated our wars, the dictators we backed, the coups we instigated. They hated Israel's colonization of Palestine. Bin Laden and Al Qaeda used terrorism, the weapon of the weak, because their goals were geopolitical. They thought the United States would abandon the corrupt monarchs and dictators it supported throughout the Muslim world. They didn't bank on America, an enraged giant, lashing out.

By lashing out with lies and deception, America supercharged the blowback. It took all of five hours on 9/11 for Donald Rumsfeld, the butcher of Iraq, to ask if there was intelligence "good enough [to] hit SH [Saddam Hussein]." Two days later the EPA began lying to millions of New Yorkers that the toxins in the air and water were at "safe" levels. On September 20, 2001, President George W. Bush stood before a joint session of Congress and declared a "war on terror." Nations were put on notice, "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists."

The aggression and duplicity was scaffolding for Guantanamo, enhanced interrogation, extraordinary rendition, Abu Ghraib, prisoners tortured to death in CIA black sites. At home came the Patriot Act, the massive illegal NSA domestic spying program, threats that Americans "need to watch what they say, watch what they do."

Immediately after 9/11, racists attacked and killed Sikhs simply because they wear turbans as part of their faith. Then nearly 13,000 American Muslims were rounded up and deported on flimsy if not illegal grounds, devastating communities.

Muslim neighbors in my building lost a relative in the Twin Towers. Others were being sought by FBI agents who brushed off requests for a warrant before entering the building to hunt for them. Strangers called them terrorists for the crime of having the wrong appearance.

Many New Yorkers protested the impending war. One demonstration coincided with the start of the U.S. and U.K. bombing of Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. Thousands marched against war in Times Square. Construction workers yelled, "Traitors." Tourists looked on angrily as protesters exercised their freedoms.

Liberal media painted antiwar protesters as appeasers of bin Laden. "Marchers Oppose Waging War Against Terrorists," the New York Times wrote. It was a preview of worse to come. Media, led by the Times, hyped Bush's fake case for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Bipartisan wars killed millions: Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Syria, and more.

Osama bin Laden is dead and Al Qaeda smashed. Nonetheless, 9/11 was a catastrophic success because we failed in every way.

We failed because no matter how many times presidents have declared the war on terror over, it has never ended. We continue to wage it around the world. We radicalize new generations by supporting despots who rob their countries, brutalize their people, and rob youth of a future. We have franchised the war on terror to Israel and India, Canada and Turkey, Brazil and Russia, which use the framework of terror to persecute their own people.

We failed because the main political threat is now within. Trump's governing strategy was to bring the war on terror home. His politics of sectarianism, violence, and propaganda culminated in the attempted January 6 insurrection. That may turn out to be a dress rehearsal for a genuine fascist takeover if Trump gets into office again.

We failed because we went from a day when 3,000 dead Americans from a preventable terrorist attack "changed everything" to 3,000 dead Americans every day from a preventable pandemic is background noise.

We failed because the gravest threat is climate change. What if instead of spending 20 years to fight a losing war, we had fought climate change? Floods, fires, and droughts from a warming globe are far deadlier and disruptive than Al Qaeda ever was. And they will get worse and worse.

If there is a glimmer of hope it's that Biden ended the war in Afghanistan. The exit may have been messy, but there is no good way to lose a war.

Biden's team seemed to have learned a lesson, even if it was 20 years late. It's hard to say that about the rest of the political and pundit class. They attacked Biden for not continuing a war that was an abomination, that was unwinnable, and contrary to their fantasies, harmed far more Afghan women than it helped.

I will never unsee people jumping from the burning towers. But even in that moment of shock I knew politics as usual would lead to disaster. The stakes are much higher now. So too is the danger of politics as usual.

No bail and Mexican getaways: How the Feds are going lenient on the insurrectionists as Trump's second impeachment trial begins

Former President Donald Trump's historic second impeachment trial is set to begin this week for inciting the January 6 Capitol Hill insurrection. Since then federal authorities have arrested about 200 individuals for their role in the putsch that claimed five lives. The Department of Justice labeled the event "an intolerable attack on a fundamental institution of our democracy" and vowed it will "spare no resources in investigating and holding those accountable those responsible."

But the government appears to be treating many arrestees with kid gloves. Some have been spared pretrial detention despite being charged with assaulting federal police officers, with one killed and 140 reportedly injured. The Department of Justice and FBI are debating not charging some rioters. Others are being allowed to vacation in tropical beach resorts, being fed special diets, or are walking free despite violent pasts and ties to extremists.

The Raw Story has rounded up some of the most flagrant cases of leniency, which serve as a warning that if the feds go easy on extremists who tried to overthrow the government, then that is likely to embolden more political violent in the future.

Charged with five offenses for her role in the deadly insurrection, Texas resident Jenny Cudd has been given permission to go on a four-day getaway to Cancun, Mexico. Cudd livestreamed as she strode through the Capitol of January 6 wearing a Trump flag like a cape, crowing, "We did break down Nancy Pelosi's office door." She bragged on Facebook, "Fuck yes, I am proud of my actions. I fucking charged the Capitol today with patriots." Two days later, Cudd told an NBC news affiliate, "I would absolutely do it again." Trump-appointed U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden approved her request to travel to the Caribbean resort starting February 18. He said "there was no evidence she was a flight risk or posed a danger to others." Back in Cudd's hometown of Midland, one pro-mask advocate told the Washington Post that she feared for her safety as Cudd targeted "those who supported mask ordinances and openly discussed buying ammunition and a coming 'revolution.'"

Jacob Anthony Chansley, the infamous "Q Shaman" who invaded the Capitol wearing a coyote-skin and buffalo-horn headdress was transferred to a jail in Alexandria, Virginia, solely to meet his demands for organic food. His attorney claimed organic food is part of his "shamanic belief system and way of life." Chansley carried a metal-tipped spear into the Senate and sported Nordic tattoos on his bare torso, including a valknut, composed of three interlocking triangles, that is associated with white supremacists. Prosecutors said, "Chansley is an active participant in—and has made himself the most prominent symbol of—a violent insurrection that attempted to overthrow the United States Government." Meanwhile last summer ICE forced several dozen Muslims, members of an actual religion, imprisoned in Florida to accept meals with pork.

Among Republican lawmakers from at least seven states who joined Trump's putsch was Derrick Evans, who had been sworn into the West Virginia House of Delegates weeks earlier. Livestreaming while invading the Capitol, he yelled, "We're in, we're in! Derrick Evans is in the Capitol." Evans, whose charges include violent entry and disorderly conduct, built his political brand on filming himself while screaming at women and people of color. Prosecutors did not ask for Evans detention in connection with the insurrection and he was freed. While Evans resigned his seat, his arrest did not come as a surprise for those he harassed for years. Staff at a women's health clinic said Evans would scream at them, "You are pathetic! You are a witch! You are a baby killer!", while indicating he was armed with a gun.

To join Trump's mob, Texas real-estate agent Jenna Ryan hopped a private jet to Washington. The morning of the coup, Ryan posted a video to Facebook saying, "We're gonna go down and storm the Capitol. … This is a prelude going to war." She doubled-down afterwards, saying of the deaths in the Capitol, "we don't care because our freedom is more important to us than our lives." Ryan was released shortly after being arrested and told the media, "I think we all deserve a pardon."

Riley June Williams was charged with helping to steal a laptop from Nancy Pelosi's office and plotting to sell it to Russian intelligence services. Williams, who was caught on video directing other rioters towards Pelosi's office, was released into her mother's custody in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on January 21. Prosecutors argued initially for her continued detainment as a flight risk, noting that after the putsch, she changed her phone number, deleted all her social media accounts, and fled her home saying "she would be gone for a couple of weeks."

Rendall Brock, Jr., a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, was pictured on the floor of the U.S. Senate in a combat helmet, tactical gear, and carrying zip ties. U.S. prosecutors asked for detention, saying "his prior experience and training make him all the more dangerous. They claimed of Brock, "He means to take hostages. He means to kidnap, restrain, perhaps try, perhaps execute members of the U.S. government." Family and friends added that "he's gotten extreme" and "they believed white-supremacist views may have contributed to his motivations." Brock was freed by Magistrate Judge Jeffrey L. Cureton on January 15.

At least six members of the "violent neo-fascist gang the Proud Boys" have been indicted, including leader Joseph Biggs, who is also a former associate of conspiracist Alex Jones. The Department of Justice has hinted in filings against the Proud Boys of evidence of a coordinated attack, which could lead to seditious conspiracy or RICO charges typically used against the mafia. Biggs is known for using social media to broadcast violent threats against his opponents, which earned him a visit from the FBI two years ago, while The Raw Story described in a 2018 investigation the links between the Proud Boys and violent neo-Nazis. Despite this, federal prosecutors let Biggs off with a $25,000 unsecured bond. At the same time, prosecutors pointed to the Proud Boys as a reason to detain Ethan Nordean, a well-known street brawler who appears frequently with Biggs in public. The feds convinced a judge to deny Nordean bail saying he "was part of the group that helped plan how the Proud Boys would act during the riot."

Olympic gold medalist Klete Keller can now add Capitol Hill insurrectionist to his resume. In recent years, Keller's social media "included a stream of pro-Trump messaging" and he participated in a previous protest promoting the falsehood Trump won the 2020 election. Keller has been charged with three offenses and was freed without bail.

Robert Packer, who donned a "Camp Auschwitz" sweatshirt for the storming of the Capitol, was released on personal recognizance. Packer has a criminal history including a felony conviction for forgery and is a "long-time extremist" according to those who know him.

Adam Johnson who was pictured smiling and waving while pilfering a podium belonging to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was freed on a $25,000 bond.

Some of the most notorious individuals involved in the failed coup were ordered free or allowed to post bond before other judges stepped in to keep them detained.

Beverly Hill salon owner Gina Bisignano readily identified herself as mascara-stained tears ran down her face during the insurrection. As the mob broke into the Capitol Bisignano yelled through a bullhorn, "Everybody, we need gas masks. We need weapons. We need strong angry patriots." One of three Beverly Hills residents arrested for their role in the coup, Bisignano was indicted on seven counts including engaging in physical violence and obstructing an official proceeding, which carries a 20-year sentence. She was freed on $170,000 bail before being taken back into custody days later.

Richard Barnett was granted pretrial release before being overruled by a U.S. district judge. He was photographed with feet on Pelosi's desk and is accused of stealing mail from her office. The judge who ordered Barnett's release said, "He appears to be a law abiding citizen." Leading up to the failed Capitol Hill coup, Barnett called himself a white nationalist, purchased a stun gun, pepper spray, and walkie-talkies, and wrote on Facebook, "I'm not afraid to go out … kicking and screaming, covered in someone else's blood."

QAnon supporter Douglas Jensen who chased Capitol Hill police officer Eugene Goodman through the Senate building was set to be freed before another judge ordered his continued detention. Goodman was hailed as a hero for leading the mob away from the open Senate chambers while Jensen's past achievements include domestic assault, drunk driving, theft, and conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance.

One commentator wrote of the Mexican-bound Jenny Cudd that her case "proves white privilege defines our justice system." If that white privilege allows people who tried to overturn a legitimate election to escape justice, then the result will be the rise of a smarter and more competent Trump down the road.

Years of impunity for right-wing extremists began with the Bundys and led to the failed Capitol Hill coup

The Raw Story went to the Bundy occupation five years ago and warned the impunity would "blaze into another firestorm." That's exactly what happened on the US Capitol -- and could happen again.

In January 2016 a heavily armed militia led by Ammon and Ryan Bundy seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Oregon. For 41 days the two brothers used it as a base to carry out their fantasy of sparking a revolt against the U.S. government. They failed, but the impunity the Bundys enjoyed — before, during, and after their insurrection — proved to be a model and a source of inspiration for Trump's self-coup on January 6.

The lesson of the Bundy occupation was white conservatives with guns could threaten violence to further their political goals and face minimal consequences. That led to the deadly unrest of the Trump era: Charlottesville, Portland, Proud Boys, and Atomwaffen. Despite this, conservative white extremists were still able to incite violence. Before January 6, there were so many attacks on state capitols one expert on the extreme right asked, "how many times do they have to storm a capitol before it's taken seriously?"

Armed hordes storming the Capitol finally shocked the feds into action, and they have arrested 155 insurrectionists and counting. But the impunity remains. Just as the government went easy on the Bundys despite their blatant lawlessness, the government may go easy on a mob that wanted to put "heads on pikes" and came within a minute of carrying out their wish to "Hang Mike Pence."

Taking a bite out of violent white nationalism will fall to the incoming Biden administration. The last thing needed is new domestic terrorism laws that "will inevitably be used … against Black and brown people," says the ACLU. The government has plenty of powers to prosecute the extremists. While that won't end the threat of far-right terrorism, punishing insurrectionists with something to lose, the lawyers, doctors, executives, cops, politicians, military, entrepreneurs, Beverley Hill salon owners in Chanel boots and Louis Vutton sweaters, and most of all Trump and his accomplices in Congress, will isolate the most violent elements from broader public support.


Cliven Bundy family rallies support for bill banning federal ownership of land in Nevada Cliven Bundy news conference. State Assemblywoman Michelle Fiore on the far left (Screencap)


The road to insurrection began in Nevada where rancher and family patriarch Cliven Bundy launched an anti-government crusade in 2014. After decades of illegally grazing cattle on public land, Bundy was ordered to pay $1.1 million in fees and fines. Bundy, who boasts, "I abide by almost zero federal laws," refused and after three court orders, the government began seizing his 500 cattle. Bundy called for a "range war," and hundreds of heavily armed "patriots" and militiamen answered. The feds' tepid response backfired. Surrounded and outgunned, federal police retreated, returned the cattle, and allowed Bundy to continue his criminal activities.

The right was galvanized, particularly by the image of a sniper on a highway overpass aiming his rifle at the feds. It was a model for the social media violence the right used to recruit new extremists during the Trump years. The sense of impunity the imagery conferred was likely why so many of the QAnon mob provided evidence of their guilt with selfies and videos inside the Capitol. Like the Bundys, like Trump, they thought documenting their crimes would allow them to get away with it.

The Bundy standoff also foreshadowed Trump by drawing extremists with white supremacist sympathies. Cliven Bundy, who mused that Blacks "were better off as slaves," attracted the Three Percent militia, which faced off against clergy protesting at the deadly Neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville in 2017, and the Oath Keepers which promotes racist conspiracy theories. Both militias were on the frontlines of the battle of the Capitol.

Treated with kid gloves, the Bundy gang were emboldened to stoke more conflicts with the first Black president. Ryan Bundy led an illegal ATV foray into a canyon in Utah in May 2014, weeks after the feds stood down in Nevada. Then the Oathkeepers tried to turn a minor legal dispute over a gold mine in Southern Oregon into an armed confrontation. In August 2015, militias rallied at a mine in Montana hoping to ignite another anti-government conflict.

In the fall of 2015 Ammon and Ryan set their sights on Malheur. They arrived in Eastern Oregon championing two ranchers, Dwight and Steve Hammond, convicted of setting fires in Malheur. The Bundys and their supporters warned the local sheriff if he didn't stop the ranchers from being imprisoned, they would return with hundreds of armed men and "do the sheriff's job for him." One supporter talked of killing the sheriff.

Despite the clear threat the Bundys posed, it's never been explained why they were allowed to operate freely, just as all the forewarnings of violence on Capitol Hill went unheeded. On January 2, 2016, the Bundys and a dozen armed men took the refuge unopposed. That impunity extended to the father-son ranchers who were little more than criminals. As The Raw Story reported at the time, the Hammonds had for decades allegedly destroyed Malheur's delicate ecosystem with cattle, damaged government vehicles and property, hunted animals by air in the refuge, and threatened to kill Fish and Wildlife employees and their families.


FBI agent charged with lying about Oregon refuge shooting: report Robert "LaVoy" Finicum speaks to The Oregonian (screen grab)


The Raw Story went inside the Bundy occupation. Nearly every occupier was armed, some with multiple guns, despite a prohibition of firearms. They used government equipment, buildings, and vehicles as if they were their own. They built fortifications that damaged "an archaeological site sacred to the Burns Paiute Tribe."

By flaunting their lawlessness, the Bundys believed they could get away with it. Trump used the same playbook, planning his crimes in the open, culminating in the insurrection. The Bundys' plotted to ignite a sagebrush revolt against Washington. To that end they set up a shadow government with their own legislative and judicial bodies to displace the real one.

The Bundy's cast included a self-appointed judge running secret grand juries to indict county commissioners and the sheriff and remove them from office. How they planned to do that without violence they couldn't say. When asked by reporters for the names of the grand jurors, the "judge" threatened to charge the reporters with felonies. When a reporter told Ryan Bundy, during a two-hour lecture on the Constitution conducted from inside his pick-up truck, "You want to overthrow the government," he went silent. It wasn't a secret. From the start of the occupation, the sheriff accused the Bundys of wanting to "overthrow the county and federal government."

They wanted to spark a revolution. Their followers knew it. But they never said it outright because their strategy was to pose for the cameras as homespun cowboys defending the flag and freedoms. And the media lapped it up. Trump used the same strategy on January 6. He told the MAGA crowd, "If you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore." He never told the mob to storm the Capitol, so he can play innocent. But his followers knew exactly what he meant as many of those arrested are now claiming in self-defense, "Trump said to do so."

In the name of freedom, the Bundys and the hundreds of malcontents who flocked to the nearby town of Burns terrorized local residents. Federal employees were stalked and eventually fled with their families. The Bundys showed up to town meetings and surrounded the room with armed men. Supporters drove around town waving guns and Confederate flags. Police disappeared from the streets and hunkered down in the courthouse behind concrete barriers and earthen berms used to fend off car bombers. This set a pattern for the Trump years. The Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer have invaded cities such as Portland, Washington, D.C., and Charlottesville, marching under the banner of freedom, while attacking and terrorizing locals with little police interference and few legal consequences.


America has shown a fidelity to white supremacy we can't dismiss -- regardless of the election's final outcome White supremacists march on Charlottesville, VA during the August 2017 "Unite the Right" rally that left a woman dead. Image via Karla Cote/Creative Commons.


The feds ambushed the Bundys after 41 days, gunning down their spokesman LaVoy Finnicum. But they got away with it. Ammon and Ryan Bundy and five defendants were acquitted in 2016, days before Trump's election. The prosecution botched the case. They were accused of undercharging, sloppy legal work, and the defense was allowed to stack the jury with rural gun owners sympathetic to the Bundy's weepy Western tale of rugged individualism. The Bundys caused $6 million in damage to the refuge and the bill for law enforcement was another $12 million. They agreed in principle — but not actuality, — to pay back $78,000 and were freed from further prosecution. To top it off, Cliven Bundy and his followers walked free after a judge threw their case out of court, citing flagrant prosecutorial misconduct by Department of Justice lawyers in Nevada.

The Bundy acquittal was proof of racial double standards and forms a straight line to January 6. The danger for Biden is going easy on the Capitol Hill rioters as juries and judges will look on them sympathetically because they are conservative and white. Unless the punishment fits the crime of insurrection, the right will take it as a license to use more violence.

Disturbingly, prosecutors are already raising the evidentiary bar far higher for MAGA rioters than against Black Lives Matter and anti-fascist protesters. After claiming insurrectionists were planning to "capture and assassinate" politicians, prosecutors walked it back in court, saying, "There is no direct evidence at this point of kill-capture teams and assassination."

Except the world can see and hear all the evidence of individuals vowing to kill elected officials, coming equipped with weapons and zip ties to do so, and fighting their way into the Capitol to do so. Compare that to more than 300 federal prosecutions of George Floyd protesters that is unprecedented in its harshness. It includes such absurdities as charging a defendant for a federal crime because the bottle allegedly used to make a molotov cocktail came from Mexico and hauling defendants into federal court for trifling offenses such as "failing to obey a lawful order."

The threat of violence will remain high as Trump and FOX News gain from stoking conflict, while the thousands of extremists he inspired will see violence as the answer now that they believe they are out of power. Unless the Biden White House acts decisively to douse the fire of right-wing terrorism, the next time it may consume us all.

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