How the government allowed the Proud Boys’ violence to fester for years

The May 4 conviction of former Proud Boys national chairman Henry “Enrique” Tarrio and three other leaders on charges of seditious conspiracy and dozens of others was made possible by the Proud Boys themselves.

Before, during, and after the Jan. 6 insurrection that briefly stopped the congressional certification of Joe Biden as president, the Proud Boys took credit for storming of the U.S. Capitol that resulted in five deaths.

Simply put, the Proud Boys thought they could get away with it because … they had almost always gotten away with it.

Since crashing on to the political scene in 2016 with a toxic brew of swagger, hate and violence — “We will assassinate you” crowed founder Gavin McInnes — the Proud Boys often operated with impunity. Their hive of white nationalists, fascists, and neo-confederates regularly invaded cities, leaving behind destruction, injuries, fear and death.

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Sure, in a few instances, far-right street brawlers were smacked with lengthy prison sentences. Two Proud Boys received four-year sentences for attacking anti-fascists in New York City in 2018, and a neo-Nazi received a term of life plus 419 years for the car-borne murder of Heather Heyer at the infamous “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., that was organized by Proud Boys Jason Kessler in August 2017.

But Proud Boys leaders typically emerged unscathed despite actively participating in vicious attacks on political opponents. For years the Proud Boys turned Portland, Oregon, into their proving ground. Portland police would let the far right rampage throughout the city, pleased to see them bash their mutually hated left-wing opponents.

In June 2018, police blocked off a group of anti-fascists and then marched a mob of Proud Boys kitted for combat into them, according to witnesses I interviewed. It quickly descended into a scene out of “Gangs of New York,” with a dozen separate melees usually involving a lone anti-fascist being pummeled by a far-right mob.

Police claimed they allowed both sides to “exercise their First Amendment rights to speech and assembly” and declared a riot only after violence began. But that day was one of a number of instances when police allowed Proud Boys to openly carry illegal weapons used to attack anti-fascists. It was later revealed Portland police were in close communication with a far-right firebrand, offering him tactical tips in their street skirmishes with antifascists and advice on how to keep Tusitala “Tiny” Toese out of police hands, a massive Proud Boys brawler who had an open warrant for arrest.

Activists compiled a dossier of 51 individuals whom it claimed could be identified in attacks that day, most by name. Among them was Enrique Tarrio, who can be seen in one video (at the 1:00) throwing punches. Also present that day was Ethan Nordean, one of Tarrio’s henchmen convicted of seditious conspiracy. Despite the visual evidence and naming of dozens of extremists dishing out violence, not one has ever been prosecuted for their acts that day by local or state officials in Oregon.

This gave Proud Boys leaders the sense that they were untouchable — and it proved to be their undoing.

In their own words

The Department of Justice won a crucial victory early on in the case against the Proud Boys, whom they called the “tip of the spear” in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

As Roger Parloff, who reported from inside the courtroom during the four-month-long trial, noted, the prosecution was able to make a critical distinction in its case, “the charge is not seditious plan; the charge is seditious conspiracy” (italics in original).

That allowed the government to mine social media and text messages as to the intentions and mindset of the Proud Boys. One hurdle in the case was that Tarrio was not in Washington, D.C., the day of the insurrection. He had been exiled on January 4 for his role in burning a Black Lives Matter banner in the nation’s capital weeks earlier and then being arrested for carrying a large-capacity ammunition magazine that is illegal in the nation’s capital.

As the riot raged on January 6, Tarrio was brash enough to write on social media, “Make no mistake, we did this.”

Tarrio and other Proud Boys leaders reveled in violence leading up to January 6. About a week before the insurrection, Tarrio wrote on social media, “Let's bring this new year in with one word in mind: revolt.” After the election that Trump lost, Tarrio warned of a “civil war” and threatened, “No Trump … No peace. No Quarter.”

After the 2020 election, Zachary Rehl, president of the Philadelphia Proud Boys chapter who was convicted alongside Tarrio, wrote on Parler, a right-wing social media platform, “Hopefully, the firing squads are for the traitors that are trying to steal the election from the American people.”

Joseph Biggs, the fourth Proud Boys leader convicted of seditious conspiracy and who gained a reputation for graphic threats of violence years before the insurrection, took to Parler as well to make threats. Two days after the election he said, “It’s time for f—ing war if they steal this s—.”

In 2019, before a Proud Boys gathering in Portland that witnessed far-right attacks, Biggs was effusive in calling for violence. On Twitter, he advised followers to pack guns, declared “DEATH TO ANTIFA!!!!!!”, showed off a spiked weapon saying it “will be put to good use” and advocated murdering leftists before his account was suspended.

When I interviewed Biggs in Portland at that Proud Boys rally, he said the FBI asked him to tone down the violence. But FBI agents also spoke regularly to Biggs as a source of information on anti-fascists and he sought advice on march routes in Portland, according to Biggs’ lawyer. NBC News said the FBI relations with the Proud Boys bolstered views that “law enforcement has coddled them, condoned their violence and even protected them during their frequent street brawls with anti-fascists.”

Ethan Nordean also took a war footing after the 2020 vote. He said, “The spirit of 1776 has been resurfaced and has created groups like the Proud Boys. And we will not be extinguished.”

The use of 1776 appears to have been code. Evidence introduced during the trial included a nine-page document found in Tarrio’s possession called, “1776 returns.” It laid out a detailed tactical plan to storm and occupy six “crucial” congressional buildings and the Supreme Court. The document reads, “These are OUR buildings, they are just renting space. We must show our politicians We the People are in charge.”

The 1776 returns plan broke down manpower assignments as well as “January 6 — execution day overview.” It described scouts and infiltration of targeted buildings, “be dressed in suits and unsuspecting,” ensuring crowds are ready to go, and “an entry point for masses to rush the building.” Follow-up included distracting police in other parts of the city and blocking access to the Capitol with semi trucks and car caravans.

While the day’s events did not match 1776 returns exactly, there was crucial overlap. Even before January 6, the Proud Boys were openly telling its forces to ditch their notorious uniform of black-and-gold Fred Perry shirts and go incognito.

The government also detailed how Proud Boys on trial “played crucial roles in the first four security breaches that culminated in rioters invading the Capitol,” according to Parloff.

Prosecutors arrive after a federal jury convicted former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and three of his allies of seditious conspiracy and other crimes at the U.S. District Court on May 4, 2023, in Washington, D.C. Win McNamee/Getty Images

This included Dominic Pezzola, the fifth of the Proud Boys on trial. He used a stolen police shield to smash in a window in the Capitol, creating the first breach on Jan. 6. A foot soldier, Pezzola was convicted of numerous charges but acquitted of seditious conspiracy.

Sentencing for the five Proud Boys is set for August with numerous charges carrying prison sentences of up to 20 years. The Department of Justice is touting the verdict as a major blow against the Proud Boys.. But if it wasn’t for years of law enforcement affinity for the Proud Boys and prosecutorial indifference toward them, they would have found a much harder road to coalescing into Donald Trump’s brownshirts.

The threat still remains. Local chapters of the Proud Boys have found a new role to play in the GOP agenda of sowing hate for political advantage. Proud Boys regularly harass transgender people and their supporters and violently demonstrate against family-friendly Drag Queen story hours.

While the Proud Boys may be done as an openly violent fascist gang, America will almost certainly be plagued by far-right violence for years to come until police, prosecutors, and politicians treat outfits like the Proud Boys as the threat to democracy that they are.

Surviving Election 2024: Don't worry about polls. Or Trump. Or Biden’s age. It's still the economy, stupid.

If you are freaked out that Donald Trump might be elected president again, don't panic.

President Joe Biden’s approval rating may be an all-time low of 37 percent. Trump may be trouncing him by five points in a hypothetical rematch. And Biden’s age looks to be the “But her emails” of the next year’s campaign.

But the motto of Bill Clinton’s winning presidential campaign in 1992 still holds true today: “It’s the economy, stupid.” If employment and wages hold up and inflation ticks down, Biden should emerge victorious after the polls close on Nov. 5, 2024.

Here’s why: While 80 percent of Americans say the country is out of control, given mass shootings, disinformation, extreme weather, and just plain extremism, presidential races are depressingly predictable. Even accounting for the 2016 shocker that brought Trump to power, there are a few hard rules that significantly favor Biden so long as economic fundamentals don’t erode.

His incumbency is a big plus. Everyone has made up their mind about Biden. It is nearly impossible for the GOP to swiftboat him even if Trump is looking to hire the architect of the smear campaign that hobbled the 2004 Democratic Party nominee, John Kerry.

Save for token opposition, the primary field is clear for Biden. A strong sign of a weak incumbent is a serious threat from the flanks, such as Ted Kennedy challenging Jimmy Carter in 1980 and Pat Buchanan taking on George H.W. Bush in 1992. It indicates the base is unhappy, and the discontent carries over into November. In the case of Carter and Bush, both won the primaries only to be trounced in the general election.

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So far the Democratic Party competition to Biden is from the fringe. Marianne Williamson, the “high priestess of pop religion,” may draw progressives pining for Bernie Sanders, who has ruled out again running for the White House. But her schtick that “love will save the world” will be scorned as out-of-touch for voters struggling with bills. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has sterling name recognition but it will be as toxic as an Ohio train wreck after voters learn not just about his anti-vaxxer stance, but his association with ghouls like Steve Bannon, Alex Jones and Roger Stone. If anything, Biden’s campaign will use the two as foils to burnish his image as a sober statesman who will “finish the job” of improving health care, bolstering manufacturing and improving the lives of America’s middle class.

Carter and Bush both lost because the economy fell into punishing recessions on their watches. This is a real risk for Biden. Corporate profiteering and U.S. sanctions that have choked Russia’s massive exports of food, fuel, and fertilizer have stoked inflationary fires. The Federal Reserve has ratcheted up interest rates in response. Their strategy is to rein in consumer demand and high prices by throwing millions of Americans out of work. If the economy contracts or just stagnates that could imperil Biden’s re-election no matter who the Republicans nominate.

On the other hand, the economy could improve as inflation is dropping. That leaves a colossal blunder as the other significant risk. In 1980, Carter’s economic woes were compounded by a foreign policy disaster that played into Ronald Reagan’s bombastic militarism. Carter gave the Shah of Iran refuge in the United States after decades of brutal rule. In retaliation, the revolutionary Islamic regime made Carter look weak by seizing 52 Americans from the U.S. embassy a year before the election and holding them hostage for 444 days.

For Trump, the only other elected incumbent in nearly a hundred years to lose a re-election bid, the economy did not sink him. It was his floundering response to the COVID-19 pandemic that helped deep-six his campaign.

Trump himself is a yuge advantage to Biden. Trump will likely muscle his way to a third straight GOP nomination and a fourth straight electoral loss when accounting for his 2020 flameout and disastrous 2018 and 2022 midterms. His grip on Republican voters looked weak after many of his handpicked candidates lost — some badly — in the 2022 midterms.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was supposed to be the new-and-improved Trump: all of the cruelty but none of the baggage. Lacking charisma, fighting Mickey Mouse and fresh off a blunder-filled trip around the world, his star is already fading. DeSantis also can’t figure out how to handle Trump, whose savage instincts are as sharp as ever — fouling DeSantis hilariously with nicknames such as “Meatball Ron” and the vulgar “Pudding Fingers” ad.

Trump doesn’t have a sure lock on the nomination like Biden, but he looks strong enough that Mitch McConnell is already trying to Trump-proof senate races. His supporters are so devoted that other candidates’ best shot at grabbing the brass ring is Trump “having a heart attack on a golf course.” And his support is so wide, he racks up 62 percent support among Republicans, whereas six high-profile challengers net only 34 percent combined.

Trump, however, is rancid wine in an old bottle. The fizz and novelty that lofted him to victory in 2016 has dissipated. All he has is caustic vengeance, and that translates to a dismal 25 percent approval rating among all voters.

These are not the ingredients for a general election victory, when a Republican must convince many independents and even some disaffected Democrats to vote for them, too.

A Biden-Trump race is the rematch no one wants — and the one Biden needs. Inflation and tepid economic growth is his Achilles’ heel. Biden’s approval rating tracks the economy, particularly gas prices. But a rematch means the election will be a referendum on Trump, not the incumbent, which is normally the case. Even if 71 percent of the public says the country is on the wrong track, millions of voters will panic at the thought of enduring four years of chaos, malevolence, violence and the toxic cloud that is Trump’s ego. They will reluctantly pull the lever for Biden.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the U.S. economy at Steamfitters Local 602 on January 26, 2023 in Springfield, Virginia. President Biden made comments on the economic proposals by Republican lawmakers that could be harmful to the economy. Alex Wong/Getty Images

On top of that handicap, Trump’s legacy will haunt him and any other Republican nominee. Having placed three Supreme Court justices who nullified Roe v. Wade last June, Trump can’t run away from millions of women angered at being reduced to second-class citizens. In race after race since last November, opposition to the right-wing assault on abortion rights has handed the Democrats victories even against fierce economic headwinds.

A normal party would embrace moderation. But the GOP is not a normal party. Beholden to white evangelical zealots who accounted for nearly half of Trump’s winning coalition in 2016, Republicans are doubling down on banning reproductive rights. The extremism is amplified by right-wing media and social media that reward the loudest, angriest voices and brooke no nuance. To win the GOP nomination, candidates must placate fanatics. That’s why DeSantis signed a state law banning abortion after six weeks that is so unpopular 61 percent of Florida Republicans oppose it, damaging his national standing.

The biggest enemy for the Democrats is complacency. That did in Hillary Clinton in 2016. With astonishing arrogance, her campaign left firewall states unprotected in favor of pouring vast effort into Ohio, Florida and North Carolina: states she didn’t need and had little chance of winning. Biden’s 2020 campaign repeated many unforced errors from 2016, dropping more than half-a-billion dollars on television advertising that sways few voters, while waiting inordinately long, a month before the election, to begin the get-out-the-vote effort even accounting for the pandemic.

Biden also risks reproducing another major failing of Clinton: a 7.1 percent plunge in Black turnout in 2016 versus 2012. After eight years of Obama, many Black voters saw little improvement in their lives and the excitement of the first Black president had long since faded. The heavy reliance on Black voters is a structural flaw for Democrats. They surf a wave of Black enthusiasm to the White House, but once in office Democrats do little to uplift African-Americans, which saps their enthusiasm down the road.

The final obstacle Biden has to contend with is not so much his age but bothsidesism. When confronted by the dark force of Trumpism, mainstream journalists search for issues to hammer Democrats, like Clinton’s emails, in a misguided attempt to show they are evenhanded. That’s not to say Biden’s age should be off-limits. But Trump will be 77 years old in June, and he would surpass Biden as the oldest president ever if he served a full term. Additionally, Biden may be slowing and he has a well-known stutter, but those are not mental impairments.

It’s also a virtual certainty there will be an underground inferno of deceptive videos and AI deep fakes featuring an ailing Biden that combine with Republicans openly questioning his mental capacity which will spread like wildfire and jump into the legacy media. It’s an open question if journalists realize that debunking fake claims helps to spread them.

The final factor is Black Swan events. These include the pandemic in 2020, the Wall Street meltdown in 2008, or the Iran hostage crisis in 1980. Possible wildcards this election include the use of a nuclear weapon in Ukraine or a deadly clash with China. But because Black Swan events are inherently unpredictable, there’s no use worrying about them.

In the end, Biden’s north star must be economic recovery and stability — while staving off Republicans in Congress cynically trying to scuttle the economy for political gain. (Take the looming debt ceiling debacle, for example.) And even then, Biden’s campaign has to excite voters enough to account for any dirty tricks and dark arts employed by Trump and his minions.

Nonetheless, Biden is a healthy favorite in election prediction markets, which is a good indicator of the advantages he enjoys and voters’ fears of a return to Trumpism. It’s his election to win, as long as he remembers that it’s still the economy, stupid.

HBO's 'Succession' warned us about Tucker Carlson and why Fox News has to lie

This piece includes spoilers.
There are many reasons that “Succession,” the HBO dramedy about a morally bankrupt family of right-wing media moguls, is crackling good television. It combines a Shakespearean power struggle with acidly clever dialogue, layers of ruthless intrigue, and bottomless emotional savagery amid the height of opulence.

But there is another element, rarely discussed, that makes “Succession” without equal. To borrow a phrase from Trump’s 2016 campaign, it takes right-wing politics seriously, not literally.

In “Succession,” a Fox News-like ATN founded by Logan Roy, a monstrous aging patriarch, rules the airwaves and politics. Flashes of ATN leave no doubt as to its politics. It packs enough hate into its chyrons to make Tucker Carlson envious: “Equality Activist Caught With Child Porn ‘Bonanza,’” “Gender Fluid Illegals May Be Entering the Country ‘Twice,’” and “Tech Giants Plan to Force America to Eat Lab-Grown ‘Human Meat.’”

“Succession” feels real while steering clear of the real world. There’s no pandemic, no January 6 insurrection, no Trump — just a weak-kneed conservative in the Oval Office nicknamed “the raisin.”

But “Succession” captures Fox News’ business model in a way journalism can’t. It shows why right-wing media are addicted to extremism, how they churn out hatemongers, and why they have to brazenly lie. The truth in fiction is more relevant than ever with Fox News’s $787.5 million settlement for knowingly peddling falsehoods about the 2020 election and the firing of Tucker Carlson, its top-ranked demagogue.

The theme of the show is that as Logan Roy dangles the reins of power before his conniving damaged children, he is also running scared that his faltering empire will be swallowed up by a social-media juggernaut and reduced to an app in their digital store.

Like Rupert Murdoch and Fox News, Logan and ATN go to extremes for ratings because more viewers mean more eyeballs, advertisers, dollars, and the wealth and political power that is their lifeblood. But in chasing ratings Logan and company are a Dr. Frankenstein. Their monster is rampaging through the countryside, but they cling to it in a desperate bid to stay profitable and powerful.

One such ogre is Mark Ravenhead. Part Madison Cawthorn, part Nick Fuentes, he’s an ATN talking head who reads Mein Kampf, was married in Hitler’s Eagle Nest stronghold, and named his dog after the Führer’s dog, Blondi, but with a “different spelling.”

The libs and Antifa are all riled up, but “he’s a big draw,” one of ATN’s most popular anchors, “and his demo skews younger.” With no smoking swastika brand to be found on Ravenhead’s forehead, Logan decrees, “we back talent. Ravenhead stays.”

Another character, more Tucker-like, shows how “Succession” brilliantly captures the poisonous realm of politics, money and extremism where Fox News resides.

With a presidential election heating up, Logan attends the Future Freedom Summit, a beauty pageant for right-wing candidates. The men who would be president strut and preen for Logan’s attention because the winner will receive the attention of ATN.

After waving off a gray party stalwart and a dry Hispanic reactionary as unappealing, Logan dispatches his youngest son, the deliciously deviant Roman, to do a minuet with aspirant Jeryd Mencken.

Mencken is a “YouTube provocateur” who declares “rape is natural. It's all red pill, baby,” and a scientific racist, “people trust people who look like them. That’s just a scientific fact.” For Mencken, ATN is dead. “A pudding cup at 5:00 p.m. in the nursing home.” (He’s also scorned as an “Aristo-populist,” just like Tucker.)

Mencken may be a bridge too far for the Roys. “Fascists are kind of cool. But not really,” says Roman. But because “the base does like him” that is enough to court him.

Roman says, “I get it. You're f------ 6G and we're Betamax. But, you know, you need us. I think. Our news, our viewers, those almost-deads. That's a big slice of pie.”

ATN is the dowry for a marriage of convenience with Mencken. Roman says his plans for ATN include “TikTok psychos” and “E-girls with f---ing guns and Juul pods.” “No more pillows and bedpans. We’re strictly bone broth and d--- pills. Deep-state conspiracy hour, but with, like, a f------ wink … And the whole show is kinda set up for the star: President Jeryd Mencken.”

Having won Mencken’s hand, Roman seeks Logan’s blessing. “This guy is box office. He’s f*cking diesel. He’s good on camera. He’s fun. He’ll fight. Viewers will eat from his hand.”

But an alliance is not just for kicks. Roman says, “If we don’t come to an accommodation, we get outflanked, and we lose the ATN dollar machine when we need cash to fight tech.”

Logan bestows approval with a smirk and a barb. The sequence is a perfect distillation of how Fox News operates. “Succession” has cracked the code for why right-wing media are driven to feed off lies and demagoguery.

What sells matters more than what is said. If you don’t stay relevant, you get ejected from the whirly-derby of viewers, advertisers, dollars and power. In the social-media age where outrage and controversy are the content, extremism is not just to be tolerated it is to be embraced like a lifevest.

That dynamic explains why the Murdochs backed Tucker as he turned his prime-time show into the “White Nationalist Power Hour.” His outrages made him stronger, saying immigrants made America “poorer and dirtier,” calling Iraqis “semiliterate primitive monkeys,” echoing the Proud Boy creed that “white men” were responsible for “creating civilization,” spewing misogyny, covid denialism, election falsehoods, the Jan. 6 insurrection was a “false flag.” Even bellowing the neo-Nazi “great replacement theory” — that there is a secret plot by elites to replace whites with dark-skinned immigrants — in more than 400 episodes was enough to get him canned.

The far-right provocateurs on “Succession,” who borrow ideas from anyone including “Franco or H or Travis Bickle,” may seem like hyperbole. “H,” says Roman eyebrows raised, “There was a very naughty boy named ‘H.’”

But consider that Tucker trumpeted the incendiary “white genocide” conspiracy, a lie that white South African farmers are being wiped out by savage Blacks. According to the New York Times, a senior Fox executive told other network executives that pretty much everything Carlson said was false and his “coverage had been ripped from far-right sites, including the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer.”

Unlike Murdoch, the Roys have a few misgivings about consorting with fascists. Nonetheless, Logan would have protected Tucker like he did Mencken and Ravenhead — because he brought home the bacon. Despite a widespread advertiser boycott of his show, ad dollars increased as his audience grew. Plus Fox used Tucker’s show to boost the rest of its news channel and revenue.

Tucker was not done in by text messages that came to light in the lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems claiming defamation by Fox News for its lies about a rigged election. Carlson knew that Trump lawyers like Sydney Powell were lying about 2020 election fraud, but nonetheless he repeatedly went on air to push lies he knew were lies. He led the pack of Fox News personalities who ridiculed in private lies they promoted nightly.

What did in Tucker was text messages in which he bit the hand that fed him. He blasted Fox News for correctly projecting that Biden won Arizona, saying, “Those f---ers are destroying our credibility. It enrages me.” And he lambasted executives in another message for costing “trust and credibility … with our audience.”

The messages from Tucker, other provocateurs like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, and a slew of executives including Rupert Murdoch reveal ATN-worthy business ethics. They were panicking that viewers "abandoned Fox in droves” after the Arizona call.

Fox executives fretted about bleeding viewers to even Trumpier news channels like Newsmax that surged after the 2020 election. One exec said Fox viewers felt “betrayed.”

Another executive said of the fringe news channels, “They are just whacking us.”

Like Logan Roy, Murdoch’s primary concern was the bottom line. Murdoch bemoaned being the first network to call Arizona for Biden, emailing his son and successor, Lachlan, “but at least being second saves us a Trump explosion.” Ten days after the election, Rupert was nervous a growing Newsmax would attract financing to transform it into a genuine rival. According to the Wall Street Journal, he wrote to the Fox News CEO, “Everything at stake here,” and warning “against antagonizing Mr. Trump.”

On-air, of course, Fox News was hyping election fraud stories around the clock: suitcases full of secret ballots; Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who died in 2013, fixed the election; Dominion software shaved votes from Trump and added them to Biden; Dominion voting machines could be hacked; 35,000 votes illegally cast in Georgia; George Soros stole the election, and many more.

The end result was the insurrection. Murdoch admitted it while erasing his role in instigating the first-ever coup attempt on the U.S. Capitol. “Trump insisting on the election being stolen and convincing 25 percent of Americans was a huge disservice to the country. Pretty much a crime. Inevitably it blew up Jan. 6th.”

Tucker is gone, joining other departed Fox hate meisters who seemed too big to fail: Bill O’Reilly, Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck and Roger Ailes. Fox is out nearly a billion dollars with other lawsuits in the works with even larger potential payouts. U.S. politics are broken with a hollow centrist party formally in power but too cowardly to do anything bold.

Fox News marches on. There will be new demagogues. There will be new groups to demonize. Its business model — ATN’s business model — of harnessing extremism for power and profit remains intact.

Logan Roy would be smiling wherever he is.

Arun Gupta is a journalist who has written for the Washington Post, The Nation, Raw Story, The Guardian, and Jacobin. He is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York and author of the upcoming “Bacon as a Weapon of Mass Destruction: A Junk Food-Loving Chef’s Inquiry Into Taste” (The New Press).

Guilty! How the Feds convicted Oath Keepers' Stewart Rhodes of seditious conspiracy

If one thing did in Stewart Rhodes, the Oath Keepers founder who was found guilty today of seditious conspiracy for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection, it was his decision to testify on his own behalf.

Rhodes was on trial with four other Oath Keepers. Kelly Meggs, a member of the far-right militia, was found guilty of seditious conspiracy, while the other three were acquitted of that charge. All five were convicted of obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting.

While on the witness stand, Rhodes came across as anything but credible. Federal prosecutors had built a strong case to prove the three components of seditious conspiracy: that there was a conspiracy, forced was used, and the goal was “to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States.”

In this case, Rhodes and the Oath Keepers were trying to stop the legal transfer of power to President Joe Biden.

Beginning just two days after the Nov. 3, 2020 election, and continuing for more than two months, Rhodes used encrypted Signal chats with other Oath Keepers to incite violence aimed at preventing Biden from becoming president.

The feds introduced statements by Rhodes from chats and phone calls including:

“We are not getting through this without a civil war. Prepare your mind, body and spirit.”

“It will be a bloody and desperate fight. We are going to have a fight. That can't be avoided.”

"You've got to make sure [Trump] knows that you are willing to die to fight for this country.”

“Either Trump gets off his ass and uses the Insurrection Act to defeat the ChiCom [Chinese Communist] puppet coup or we will have to rise up in insurrection (rebellion) against the ChiCom puppet Biden. Take your pick.”

“We will have to do a bloody, massively bloody revolution against them. That's what's going to have to happen.”

“They won’t fear us until we come with rifles in hand.”

“There is no standard political or legal way out of this.”

Prosecutors then showed Rhodes put his words into actions by recruiting dozens of Oath Keepers, outlining “preparations for the use of force,” and spending about $40,000 on rifles, ammunition, and weapons accessories.

Rhodes even plotted out loud. In December 2020, he published an open letter to the Oath Keepers website “advocating for the use of force to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power.” In a second letter in December, Rhodes wrote that “tens of thousands of patriot Americans, both veterans and non-veterans, will already be in Washington, D.C. and many of us will have our mission critical gear stowed nearby just outside D.C.”

That was no idle chatter. In preparation for Jan. 6, the Oath Keepers amassed an arsenal in Virginia guarded by a Quick Reaction Force designated to ferry “heavy weapons,” possibly by boat across the Potomac River, to D.C. if needed.

Days before Jan. 6, Rhodes texted to his co-conspirator Meggs, “We WILL have a QRF. The situation calls for it.”

One Oath Keeper said on the stand of the weapons cache in Virginia, “I had not seen that many weapons in one location since I was in the military.”

Meanwhile, Meggs and other Oath Keepers held trainings before Jan. 6 for “unconventional warfare,” “hasty ambushes,” and to be “fighting fit” by inauguration day.

Against the evidence, Rhodes tried to bamboozle the jury. He claimed the two stacks of Oath Keepers who invaded the Capitol building were “stupid” and had gone off-mission. Rhodes denied knowledge of the Quick Reaction Force. When prosecutors confronted Rhodes with evidence that he texted from his phone telling others to delete incriminating messages, he blamed his girlfriend Kellye SoRelle, who has been separately indicted, for sending the message.

The jury did not buy Rhodes’ explanations, and he further hurt himself when he claimed his real concern was that civil war might break out after Biden was inaugurated. The prosecution jumped on that to note that Rhodes was not denying he wanted to wage war against the government, he was only quibbling over the date when it would happen.

The most farcical moment at the trial belonged to Thomas Caldwell, the Oath Keeper in charge of the QRF arsenal of weapons. The prosecution bolstered evidence for the conspiracy by showing that in November 2020, Caldwell provided “the results of a lengthy ‘recce’ [reconnaissance] trip he had taken into Washington, D.C., and to coordinate planning with Rhodes for an upcoming "op" in Washington, D.C.”

Caldwell was outside the Capitol during the insurrection accompanied by his wife Sharon. She was caught on video during the riots saying, “Congress is gone because they are p*ssies.” When asked about that on the stand, Thomas claimed she really meant that “there was a great opportunity for us to start the healing process in our country.” When asked about his comment about ferrying weapons in a boat across the Potomac River to the Capitol, Caldwell said, it was “creative writing for a screenplay.”

Having succeeded in convicting Rhodes of seditious conspiracy, the next major target is Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, former national chairman of the Proud Boys, who is also charged with seditious conspiracy. Five members of the fascistic street gang have been indicted for seditious conspiracy and their trial is expected to start soon.

Judgment day for Stewart Rhodes and the Oath Keepers

The government case charging Stewart Rhodes, founder and leader of the Oath Keepers militia, and four co-defendants of seditious conspiracy for their role in the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection is not a slam dunk.

But with the case now before a jury after 29 days of testimony in a Federal District Court a short walk from where Trump supporters rioted at the U.S. Capitol nearly two years ago, there is good reason to believe that Rhodes and the others may be found guilty of sedition, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

The Oath Keepers trial is the highest profile federal case against insurrectionists. It’s the first trial involving an extremist organization that joined forces with former President Trump. Prior to this, the government has prosecuted or struck plea deals with hundreds of the 955 individuals charged so far in the failed coup incited by Trump.

Charging the Oath Keepers with the rarely used seditious conspiracy was seen as a gamble. The government must convince jurors not only did militia members conspire to stop the legal transfer of power to President Joe Biden, they also must have used force. The last time the feds charged far-right extremists with seditious conspiracy, they were left with egg on their face. In 2012, a judge threw out sedition charges against five members of the far-right Hutaree militia, saying evidence they were plotting an anti-government war was “utterly short on specifics.”

That case seems to have shaped the prosecution and defense strategy in the Oath Keepers trial. The crux of the Oath Keepers defense was they lacked a specific plan to assault the Capitol on Jan. 6. Similar to how counsel for the Hutaree militia said their talk may have been “highly offensive,” but it was protected political speech, lawyers for the Oath Keepers called their talk of violence “horribly heated rhetoric,” but not illegal or evidence of any conspiracy.

But there is a big difference in the Oath Keepers case. The government presented detailed evidence of a violent plot for Jan. 6. The defense could not dispute that dozens of Oath Keepers joined the insurrection, including two stacks that breached the Capitol. Prosecutors built a strong case using video from the assault, encrypted messages from accused conspirators, the testimony of Oath Keepers who struck plea deals in exchange for serving as cooperating witnesses, and Rhodes' own words endorsing violence against the government.

The government described Oath Keepers training before Jan. 6 for “unconventional warfare,” “hasty ambushes,” and to be “fighting fit” by inauguration day. It counted about $40,000 that Rhodes spent on rifles, ammunition, and weapons accessories before and after the insurrection. Those weapons were among an Oath Keepers arsenal in Virginia guarded by a Quick Reaction Force designated to ferry “heavy weapons,” possibly by boat across the Potomac River, to D.C. if needed.

During the trial, Rhodes tried to dismiss his talk as Boomer bravado and drunken bluster, but the government case undercut claims of being keyboard warriors ranting on the internet. Rhodes recruited dozens of Oath Keepers for the assault on the Capitol. One Oath Keeper who testified said of their weapons cache “I had not seen that many weapons in one location since I was in the military.”

Damaging testimony came from Oath Keepers who took plea deals. Graydon Young, an Oath Keeper from Florida, who joined a crowd of Trump supporters on Jan. 6 fighting with police defending Senate chambers inside the Capitol, told the jury, “I felt like it was a ‘Bastille-type’ moment in history, like in the French Revolution. … I guess I was acting like a traitor, someone acting against my own government.”

Oath Keeper Josh Dolan, a 19-year Marine veteran, talked of the plotting and his violent mindset leading up to Jan. 6. “I helped coordinate. I helped plan. I helped set up. I helped drive up to D.C. I talked about my desire … [of] wanting to stop what I saw as an illegitimate government — or not duly-elected government — from taking power.”

Dolan said while at the Capitol, he wanted Congress members “to stop what they were doing. I wanted them to be afraid of me.” Dolan said before Jan. 6 he thought about how far he was willing to go and he accepted it could mean prison, treason, or “a bullet.”

The star witness for the prosecution was Stewart Rhodes himself.

Rhodes claimed everything he did was legal and only in anticipation of Trump invoking the Insurrection Act. But the government sought to make him collateral damage from his own outbursts.

Prosecutors introduced many of Rhodes’ violent threats mined from seized cell phones.

On Nov. 5, 2020, two days after the election, before Biden was declared president, Rhodes wrote, “We are not getting through this without a civil war. Prepare your mind, body and spirit.”

On Dec. 11, Rhodes wrote to Oath Keepers leadership in a Signal chat, “It will be a bloody and desperate fight. We are going to have a fight. That can't be avoided.”

On December 14, Rhodes texted Oath Keepers from Alabama and Georgia. Calling Biden a “ChiCom puppet’” — Chinese Communist — Rhodes wrote, “They captured nearly every level and branch of power. Without consequences. They think they have it all figured out. But we armed Americans have one good trick left up our sleeve.”

Referring to a 78-year-old American colonist who killed three British soldiers during the Revolutionary War, Rhodes wrote, “May there be ten thousand Samuel Whittemores and a thousand Bunker Hills (where we also made the Red Coats pay dearly).”

On Dec. 20, Rhodes wrote, “Either Trump gets off his ass and uses the Insurrection Act to defeat the ChiCom puppet coup or we will have to rise up in insurrection (rebellion) against the ChiCom puppet Biden. Take your pick.”

He followed it up on Dec. 29, “They don’t give a shit how many show up and wave a sign, pray or yell. They won’t fear us until we come with rifles in hand.”

On Dec. 31 Rhodes wrote, “There is no standard political or legal way out of this.”

Days after the insurrection, Rhodes was still threatening violence. Prosecutors played a secretly recorded clip of Rhodes from Jan. 10. Speaking of Trump, Rhodes said “If he’s not going to do the right thing, and he’s just going to let himself be removed illegally, then we should have brought rifles. We could have fixed it right then and there. I’d hang f**king Pelosi from the lamppost.”

The defense team’s argument boiled down to “there was no plan.” They told the jury. “Did you find a plan to storm the Capitol? No. Did you find a plan to breach the Rotunda? No. Did you find a plan to stop the certification of the election? No.”

When questioned by defense lawyers, Young, the Florida Oath Keeper, conceded, “There was no specific plan … to breach the doors of the Capitol.”

Defense lawyers told jurors because not one of the 50 witnesses could point to any such plans, they should acquit Rhodes and his co-defendants of the conspiracy charges.

The flaw in the Oath Keepers' defense is there doesn’t need to be a detailed plan to convict them of seditious conspiracy. The jury only needs find a “meeting of the minds.”

Toward that end, Young said he conspired to stop the transfer of power even if the Oath Keepers didn’t have the details worked out. “I participated in a conspiracy to obstruct Congress. … We were going to disrupt Congress, wherever they were meeting.”

He said, “I felt like it was common sense. We talked about doing something about fraud in the election when we got there on the sixth, and when crowds went over the barricades into the building, the opportunity presented itself to do something.”

Stewart Rhodes also proved to be his own worst enemy by choosing to testify. Having shot out his left eye in 1993, which his estranged wife Tasha Adams speculates was a drug deal gone wrong, Rhodes shot himself in the foot on the witness stand.

Before the trial began Adams said, “Stewart believes as long as he’s in front of any audience, he can sway them. He thinks he has mystical powers.”

But those mystical powers failed him. He credibility appeared shaky by throwing other Oath Keepers under the bus, blaming them for the violence on Jan. 6 despite his enthusiasm for it. He denied knowing of the Quick Reaction Force despite sending messages saying, “We WILL have a QRF. The situation calls for it.”

Among the five charges Rhodes is facing is tampering with evidence for texting others after Jan. 6 to delete messages. That order came from Rhodes phone. But he blamed his girlfriend Kellye SoRelle, the general counsel for the Oath Keepers who has been separately indicted as a Jan. 6 conspirator, for sending the instructions on his phone to delete text messages.

Perhaps Rhodes' lowest moment was when he said he was hoping to avoid conflict on Jan. 6 but believed civil war might break out after Biden was inaugurated. As the Lawfare website pointed out, which covered the trial, the prosecutor pounced on his statement. In effect, Rhodes was conceding he was intent on sedition, waging war against the government. He was only quibbling over the date.

The jury is a wildcard, however.

Hanging over the Oath Keepers' trial is the government’s failure to convict Ammon and Ryan Bundy in their armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. The brothers were acquitted after the jury allegedly demanded an absurd level of proof to convict them of conspiracy in the takeover.

If Rhodes and the others are acquitted of sedition, it will be another example of how the legal system gives far-right extremists leeway that few other groups enjoy.

But, if Rhodes is found guilty, the government will finally have taken a small step in holding accountable those who tried to over throw the constitutional order.

The Republican Party is little more than a death cult — and they are eager to sacrifice women on their altar

In looking to understand how America arrived at the disastrous point of women being reduced to second-class citizens with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, look no further than the corporate news media.

It laid the groundwork for the right’s crusade to enforce pregnancy with decades of false equivalence and mushy objectivity. It portrayed women-hating fanatics as a legitimate side in a debate. It credulously accepted right-wing senators’ excuses they were betrayed by Supreme Court nominees like Brett Kavanaugh who proclaimed Roe was settled law in the confirmation process. It treated propaganda as fact by using the term “pro-life” for a movement that is fundamentally against life.

But there is an even graver failing by the corporate media, its inability to connect the dots of the right’s war on women. The ruling against reproductive rights is linked to the Supreme Court’s ruling expanding the gun rights and the Jan. 6 coup attempt.

These three issues reveal different ways in which the right tries to violently subjugate women. Guns are the most common weapon used by men to intimidate or attack women, with about 800 women shot and killed by a current or former intimate partner every year.

By expanding concealed carry of guns, the Supreme Court will enable more violence by men toward women. It will also create more mass shooters, nearly two-thirds of whom have a history of domestic violence. Before killing 19 children and two teachers, the mass shooter in Uvalde, Texas, threatened girls online with “sexual assault, like rape and kidnapping,” as did Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz. The shooter who carried out a racist massacre in Buffalo mainly targeted Black women. The two deadliest mass shooters in American history, the Pulse Nightclub massacre, and the Las Vegas music festival killings, were violent toward women. Other mass shooters identify as “incels,” involuntary celibates, who seek to kill women.

READ: Voters will have a chance to defend abortion rights in up to 5 states — here's what to watch

However much the right claims it doesn’t support gun violence, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer wasn’t fooled. He stated in his dissent that the Court “severely burdens” efforts to curb mass shooters. Republicans outright enable gun violence against women. The day after a mass shooter killed six Asian women in Atlanta, 172 Republicans in Congress voted against the Violence Against Women Act precisely because it placed restrictions on owning guns by those who had committed domestic violence.

Mass shooters and gun violence are a form of random, criminal violence against women. A second type of far-right violence against women is extralegal, but is more organized and is supported at the highest levels of the Republican Party, most notoriously by Trump. White supremacist gangs that spearheaded the failed January 6 coup are misogynist to their core. The Proud Boys are anti-women to their name and their slogan of “venerating the housewife,” a fascist fantasy of forcing women into domestic servitude.

Following their participation in the failed coup, the Proud Boys lowered their profile by inserting themselves into the anti-abortion movement, including harassing patients at reproductive health clinics. Violent extremists are flooding the anti-abortion movement, including “the white nationalist Aryan Nations and the neo-Nazi Traditionalist Worker party.” Far-right misogyny is inseparable with violence against the LGBTQ community, including recent threatening incidents by the Proud Boys and Patriot Front. Terrorizing women fits into their broader fascist plan to eliminate or oppress anyone who doesn’t fit into their vision of a white male Christian America, especially transgender people, immigrants, Muslims, and African-Americans.

Immediately after the Supreme Court struck down Roe, the Proud Boys and other extremists “celebrated” on social media by fantasizing about sexually assaulting and raping women, while others talked of burning crosses and brandishing concealed firearms to intimidate pregnant people.

Some far-right extremists invoked the Supreme Court decision on guns to threaten pro-choice activists, “It's a good thing the Supreme Court affirmed our right to conceal carry right before this ‘night of rage’ you guys are planning.”

READ: Former marketing executives launch campaign to keep Fox News from 'fueling next insurrection'

In this context, banning abortion legalizes violence against women and anyone else capable of pregnancy. It is both the most mundane and extreme form of violence. Overturning Roe won’t end abortion. It will only end the possibility of medically safe, legal abortion for many. Before Roe, estimates of illegal abortions a year ranged from 200,000 to 1.2 million. Annual deaths ranged from 2,700 a year in 1930 to “just under 200” by 1965.

But just as police killings of unarmed Black people are the tip of a racist criminal justice system, deaths from botched illegal abortions will be the tip of widespread harm to women’s health and anyone else who wants to terminate a pregnancy. The right has claimed for decades it would carve out exceptions for “rape or incest, or to save the life or health of the woman” if it succeeded in overturning Roe. But this was just another right-wing lie that the media swallowed.

Out of 41 abortion bans on the books at the state level, only 10 have exceptions for rape or incest. This means thousands of women will endure psychological trauma in being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. Even when there are exceptions for health or rape, pregnant people will “face significant hurdles” in meeting requirements, and healthcare workers may balk at performing the procedure as they could face years in prison for an unauthorized abortion.

Those states at the forefront of banning abortions will unleash police and prosecutors to arrest, prosecute, and imprison anyone they allege sought an illegal abortion and those who helped them, even a driver taking them to an appointment. There is already a “pregnancy panopticon” at work employing an array of surveillance and digital tools to track anyone who is pregnant. It creates space for non-state actors like far-right extremists to harass, threaten, and snitch on anyone they decide may try to terminate a pregnancy.

READ: Clarence Thomas claims he had 'no idea' why he was nominated to be on the Supreme Court

As such, pro-choice activist pleas that “Women will die” misses the mark. Many women and pregnant people will die, and many thousands more will be physically and psychologically harmed by being forced to carry pregnancies to term.

The right wing isn’t indifferent to violence and death caused by abortion bans. It welcomes it. Women who die or are debilitated under the new anti-abortion regime will be dismissed as part of God’s plan, the natural order. Pregnant people who die or are harmed by illegal abortions will be blamed for their sinful actions.

The Republican Party is little more than a death cult, and they are eager to sacrifice women on their altar.

Meet the 'Replacement Killers' groomed by Trump and Tucker

Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson have convinced millions of Americans they need to kill or be killed: If conservative whites don’t act now, they will be wiped out and replaced by Black Lives Matter mobs, criminal immigrants, Islamic terrorists, and deviant gays.

This is the great replacement conspiracy animating the GOP. It’s an apocalyptic vision of sinister elites plotting to replace whites with subservient and subhuman people.

Trump, Tucker, and other Republican firebrands have galvanized a white-rage minority against an existential threat that is everywhere so anything is permissible from banning Mexicans, refugees, and trans people, to voter suppression, election theft, and deadly coups.

As a result, Trump’s followers think most Americans are the devil incarnate. But most Americans aren’t simply going to disappear.

So far-right extremists are taking cues from Trump, who acts like a strongman and endorses violence with sadistic glee. They have carried out massacres against people he demonizes: Blacks, Jews, Asians, Muslims, and immigrants.

These killers want to eliminate entire groups of people. Some publish manifestos to justify mass murder, lifting ideas and language from Trump and Tucker. The replacement killers are part of a spectrum of far-right terror under Trump: election violence, incels and “manosphere” ideologues killing women, school shootings by Trump fans, accelerationists seeking to destabilize society, and white nationalist violence.

Terrorism is inherent to Trumpism because he is an avatar of white backlash. Every time Blacks have made gains, there has been a violent white reaction: Reconstruction, the great migration, the Civil Rights movement, Obama’s election, Black Lives Matter. Trump rose to political prominence by spreading the racist birther conspiracy that Obama was not born in the United States. Then he doubled down on GOP smears that Obama is a Muslim Manchurian agent, personally responsible for terror attacks like the Pulse nightclub massacre in 2015.

This thinking, combined with Trump-bashing Obama and Democrats for letting in criminal hordes who kill regular Americans, is great replacement in all but name. He plants the idea in the minds of his followers there is a plot to replace whites with inferior people. Tucker then feeds the conspiracy, having mentioned great replacement in 400 shows. Trump’s red-cap MAGA movement weaves together various strands of vicious reactionary politics — racism, Islamophobia, nativism, transphobia, misogyny. The explosion of far-right violence is cut from the same cloth. The killers attack different groups that Trump demonizes, but more and more they justify massacres by pointing to great replacement.

Great replacement is the framework, but not the sole motive. Payton Gendron, who murdered 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo on May 14, mentioned replace or replacement 76 times in his 180-page manifesto. But he also advocated for accelerationism, calling on followers to “incite conflict,” and used manosphere language, “Men of the West must be men once more.”

Gendron’s manifesto is another effect of Trumpism. Racist killers have adopted the viral tactics of Trump’s dark meme army, which catapulted him into the White House in 2016, and applied them to massacres. Each manifesto and livestream is designed to spawn more mass murderers who terrorize and polarize society.

This list of replacement killers covers the most notorious ones in recent times and begins with a massacre during the 2008 campaign with the killer motivated in part by his hatred of Obama.

On July 27, 2008, inside a Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, Jim David Adkisson pulls a sawed-off shotgun out of a guitar case and opens fire as children performed the musical, Annie Jr. The unemployed 58-year-old killed two and injured six before congregants overpowered him. Inside his vehicle was a four-page manifesto that seethed with racist vitriol and presaged Trump. Adkisson said, “Liberals have attacked every major institution that made America great.” Like Trump, who as president called Democrats “un-American” and “treasonous,” Adkission called liberals “traitors” and “un-American.” Similar to Trump’s vow, “I alone can fix it,” Adkission believed himself the lone warrior who would fix the problem of evil liberals. “Someone had to get the ball rolling. I volunteered.” Most chilling, in a portent of the great replacement conspiracy that would be introduced in 2011 in a book by that name, Adkisson called for the wholesale slaughter of his enemies. “Go kill liberals … kill them in the streets. Kill them where they gather.”

On January 21, 2009, the day after Obama was inaugurated as the first Black president, Keith Luke goes on a rampage in Brockton, Massachusetts, killing two African immigrants and raping and critically wounding a third. Luke’s motive was textbook great replacement. After learning “about the demise of the white race,” from white nationalist websites, Luke hatched a plan to “kill as many non-whites as possible,” saying he was “fighting for a dying race.”

Obama’s first year in office saw a deluge of deadly far-right terrorism, much of it a mix of white supremacy, gun fetish, and anti-government sentiment. In April, a white supremacist killed three Pittsburgh police officers fearing an “Obama gun ban,” and in May, two sheriff’s deputies in Florida were killed by a National Guard soldier who was “severely disturbed” by Obama’s election.

A series of terrorist murders in 2009 established patterns for future far-right killers, particularly ones obsessed with great replacement. In February, Dannie Roy Baker, a former GOP volunteer who ranted “Washington D.C. Dictators” were conspiring to “overthrow us with foreign illegals,” opened fire on Chilean exchange students in Florida, killing two. In May, Shawna Forde, a border vigilante paranoid about immigrants “taking over” America, orchestrated a home invasion in Arizona to steal money to finance her anti-immigrant militia and murdered Raul “Junior” Flores, 29, and his 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia. Also in May, an anti-abortion extremist assassinated Dr. George Tiller, who performed abortions in Wichita, Kansas. In June 88-year-old neo-Nazi James von Brunn opened fire at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., killing a security guard. In a notebook left in his car, von Brunn ranted, “You want my weapons — this is how you'll get them. The Holocaust is a lie. Obama was created by Jews.” In August, an incel or involuntary celibate opened fire in a gym in Pennsylvania killing three women. He left a blog expressing deep hatred toward women and anti-Black racism.

Far-right terror attacks continued for the next few years, including a killing spree in 2011 by white supremacist David “Joey” Pedersen, who massacred four people in an effort to incite a racist revolution because “Western identity is being destroyed.”

August 5, 2012, Wade Michael Page kills six worshippers in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. In the 1990s, Page was radicalized as a soldier stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, which had an active neo-Nazi scene. He then entered the white power music scene and eventually joined the Northern Hammerskins, “one of the most violent” skinhead groups in the country. Page was openly racist toward Jews, Blacks, and Muslims. While he did not explain his choice of target, it is believed he confused Sikhism, a 16th-century religion founded in Northern India, with Islam, which has occurred numerous times since the 9/11 attacks with deadly consequences.

April 13, 2014, Frazier Glenn Miller Jr., kills three people outside of two Jewish sites in Overland Park, Kansas. Miller, a Klansman who founded two different white supremacist militias, promoted great replacement conspiracies, writing, “Our race is drowning literally in seas of colored mongrels.”

May 23, 2014, in a “Day of Retribution” to “punish” all women, Elliot Rodger murders six people in Isla Vista, California. Rodger penned a 137-page manifesto indicating he plotted the bloodbath for more than a year. He stated, “My hatred and rage towards all women festered inside me like a plague. Their very existence is the cause of all of my torture, pain and suffering throughout my life.” In death, Rodger became the “patron saint” of incels who embrace violent misogyny, including murderers such as:

  • Christopher Sean Harper-Mercer, an incel who killed nine people at Umpqua Community College in Oregon on October 1, 2015, and wrote in his manifesto that mass shooters are “people who stand with the gods,” starting with Eliott Rodgers.
  • Alek Minassian, who minutes before killing 10 people on a crowded Toronto street with a cargo van on April 23, 2018, wrote on Facebook, “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! … All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”
  • Scott Beierle, who shot six women, killing two, at a yoga studio in Tallahassee, Florida on November 2, 2018, had previously posted an online video titled, “Plight of the Adolescent Male” in which he likened himself to Elliot Rodger.

June 17, 2015, hoping to spark a race war, Dylann Roof kills nine Black churchgoers holding a Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina — the day after Trump began his presidential campaign. Roof said in a manifesto that the white race has to “stop fighting for the Jews,” Hispanics are “our enemies,” and racial segregation was a “defensive measure.” Like Trump, Roof presented himself as the lone savior of a white America, saying, “Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.” The viciousness of his words and actions have earned him admiration among far-right extremists with other mass killers citing Roof as one of their example.

October 14, 2016, the FBI foils a plot by three militiamen to kill hundreds of Somali-Americans in Garden City, Kansas. Calling themselves “the Crusaders,” the men labeled the Somalis “a threat to American society” and hoped a bloodbath would “wake up” people to “decide they want this country back.” Defense attorneys for the men described them as among Trump’s “lost and ignored” white working-class base and blamed his anti-Muslim rhetoric during the 2016 campaign as well as right-wing windbags Sean Hannity and Michael Savage for provoking their violent plot.

January 29, 2017, days after Trump took office and issued his first Muslim ban, Alexandre Bissonnette opens fire on worshippers at the Islamic Cultural Center in the Quebec City suburb of Sainte-Foy, killing six and wounding 19. Bissonnette offered a great replacement rationale for his attack, telling police,“the Canadian government was going to take more refugees, you know, who couldn’t go to the United States, and they were coming here. I saw that and I, like, lost my mind.”

February 22, 2017, Adam Purinton attacks two Indian engineers at a restaurant in Olathe, Kansas, yelling “get out of my country. He shot and wounded one man and murdered Srinivas Kuchibhotla. Purinton later said “he had just killed some Iranians.”

March 20, 2017, in another anti-Black murder, Army vet James Jackson murders Timothy Caughman, a 66-year-old Black man, by plunging a sword into him in Midtown Manhattan. Jackson traveled to New York to kill Black men so as to “deter white women from interracial relationships.”

May 26, 2017, Jeremy Christian stabs to death Ricky John Best, father of four, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche in Portland, Oregon, after they come to the aid of two Black women, one wearing a hijab, being threatened by Christian. Weeks earlier, Christian had attended a rally by the pro-Trump Patriot Prayer in Portland where he threw a Nazi salute and yelled “Die Muslims.”

August 12, 2017, at the pro-Trump “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that drew hundreds of neo-Nazis and white supremacists, neo-Nazi James Alex Field drives his car into a crowd of anti-fascists, killing Heather Heyer and wounding 19 others. Afterward Trump says there were “very fine people” among the deadly white nationalists.

November 1, 2017, Scott Ostrem “nonchalantly” shoots dead three Hispanic people in a Walmart near Denver, Colorado. Ostrem “often expressed dislike for Hispanics to their faces,” according to a local news station. An employee at his apartment building said, “If he saw a Hispanic person, he would tell them to get out of his way.” One neighbor said Ostrem would say, “’This is America. You shouldn’t be here.”

December 7, 2017, posing as a student at a high school in Aztec, New Mexico, William Edward Atchison kills two students before committing suicide. The 21-year-old was said to have “a prolific life as a white supremacist, pro-Trump meme peddler who was most known for his obsession with school shooters.” An autopsy found Atchison had faint ink markings on his legs of a Swastika, “SS,” and “BUILD WALL.”

February 14, 2018, in what remains one of the deadliest school shootings ever, Nikolas Cruz kills 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and wounds 17 others. Cruz was “obsessed with race, violence, and guns,” revered Trump, and snapped a picture of a MAGA hat he placed on his mother’s remains at her funeral three months before the massacre. In a private Instagram chat group, filled with “hundreds of racist messages, racist memes and racist” videos, Cruz talked “about killing Mexicans, keeping black people in chains and cutting their necks,” shooting gay people in the back of their heads, and saying he hated “jews, ni**ers, immigrants.”

October 27, 2018, ranting against Jews for bringing in “hostile invaders to dwell among us,” which would lead to “certain extinction,” Robert Bowers attacks The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing eleven. Bowers took his cues from Trump, who had been whipping his base into a xenophobic frenzy as the midterm elections approached that November by disparaging Central American migrants as an “invasion.”

The prior day, on October 26, the FBI arrested Cesar Sayoc, Jr., a “Donald Trump superfan” and white supremacist nicknamed the MAGA bomber. Sayoc took cues from Trump as well, mailing 16 letter bombs to prominent opponents of the president including Barack Obama, CNN, George Soros, and Hillary Clinton.

March 15, 2019, Brenton Tarrant perpetrates one of the deadliest individual terrorist attacks this century, killing 51 Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Tarrant entitled his manifesto, “The Great Replacement,” ranting about immigrant “invaders” who would “result in the complete racial and cultural replacement of the European people.” This is one of the first explicit connections between mass murder of a hated group as part of a war on behalf of the white race. Tarrant also hailed Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose” and Dylann Roof as an influence. Trump gave a callback to Tarrant within a day, seething about an “invasion” at the Southern border during a White House ceremony.

April 27, 2019, John Earnest opens fire inside the Chabad Synagogue in Poway, California, killing a 60-year-old woman and then flees after his gun malfunctions. In a manifesto, Earnest cited Robert Bowers and Brenton Tarrant as inspirations and mentioned great replacement conspiracy, saying, “Sp*cs and ni**ers useful puppets for the Jew in terms of replacing Whites.”

July 28, 2019, Santino Legan shoots up the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California killing three before police kill him. Legan didn’t provide a motive, but clues indicate he may have been motivated by white supremacist ideology. He posted on Instagram, “Why overcrowd towns and pave more open space to cater to make room for hordes of mestizos and Silicon Valley white twats?” and encouraged people to read Might Is Right, a 19th century novel promoting Social Darwinism that is highly regarded among white supremacists today.

August 3, 2019, Patrick Crusius drives more than 600 miles to a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, where he slaughters 23 people and wounds 22 in “response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Crusius begins his manifesto, “I support the Christchurch shooter and his manifesto. … I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.” The Walmart killings establish viral massacres as a genuine phenomenon, and Crusius’s debt to Trump, his thinking, and white-power presidency are so blatant that he denies he was influenced by Trump.

March 16, 2021, Robert Aaron Long kills eight people including six Asian women at three separate spas in the Atlanta area following months of Trump stoking anti-Asian racism over the Covid-19 pandemic. Police who apprehended Long, expressed sympathy for him, saying the massacre was “a really bad day for him” and downplayed racism. A Korean newspaper reported that Long said, “I am going to kill all Asians” during his murder spree, and Long expressed incel-style feelings of vengeance, saying, “I wanted to stop the places and basically punish the people.”

June 26, 2021, in an incident echoing Keith Luke’s attack on Black immigrants, Nathan Allen murders two Black retirees, David Green and Ramona Cooper, in Winthrop, Massachusetts, before police kill him in a shootout. Allen called racism “healthy and natural” in a notebook entitled “The Allen Diaries,” filled with anti-Black and anti-Jewish diatribes. The name refers to The Turner Diaries, which is about a white nationalist revolution that has inspired numerous terrorists including Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

December 27, 2021, acting on personal vendettas James McLeod kills five people across Denver. McLeod is associated with the “manosphere,” an ideology in the same orbit as incels and which promotes “anti-feminist and sexist beliefs blaming women and feminists for all sorts of problems in society.” His extensive writings were marked by white supremacy, anti-Semitism, opposition to abortion, as well as revenge-fantasy fiction in which he named two people he would go on to kill.

May 14, 2022, Payton Gendron kills 10 African-Americans at a supermarket in the Buffalo area. Like other replacement killers, Payton planned the massacre for months He wrote in his 180-page manifesto, “This is ethnic replacement. This is cultural replacement. This is racial replacement. This is WHITE GENOCIDE.” Among those he supported for taking “a stand against cultural and ethnic genocide” were Brenton Tarrant, Patrick Crusius, John Earnest, Robert Bowers, and Dylann Roof.

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The Replacement Killers: How Trump and Tucker spawned a new breed of terrorists

He said he was “fighting for a dying race” and “fighting extinction” after his deadly rampage against Black people. He was caught before he could execute the next part of his plan: burst into a nearby synagogue and gun down “as many Jews as possible.”

A troubled student who spent hours surfing the internet, he was inspired by websites that “spoke the truth about the demise of the white race.” He plotted for months to kill Blacks, Jews and Hispanics, and he apologized to some of those he shot at because “They were whites.”

This sounds like Payton Gendron, who killed 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo on May 14. Gendron threatened to shoot up his high school last year. He said “sorry” to a white person in the store after pointing, but not shooting, his assault rifle at them. Gendron said his murderous rage against Blacks, Jews, and immigrants was meant to prevent “white genocide.”

Except it is not Gendron. In 2009 another avowed white supremacist named Keith Luke went on an anti-Black killing spree.

The day after Barack Obama was inaugurated, Luke murdered two African immigrants and raped and shot a third immigrant in Brockton, Mass. He planned to “kill as many non-whites as possible” before attacking a synagogue. But he was thwarted after a shootout with police, to whom he later apologized because of their race.

Few connected Luke to the right at the time, even though the GOP led by Sarah Palin had spent months smearing Obama as a secret Muslim plotting against the United States, as a Black radical who threatens whites, as someone who “pal[s] around with terrorists.”

Palin was Trump before Trump. She was the bridge into the poisonous swamp of online conspiracism, Islamophobia, and nativism inhabited by demagogues like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Michael Savage for years.

In post-9/11 America, anti-immigrant sentiment was at a fever pitch. In 2007 alone, Beck, Lou Dobbs, and Bill O’Reilly bloviated about illegal immigrants on more than 400 shows. The result was a sharp rise in violence against immigrants, with Hispanics the victims of 64 percent of racist attacks in 2008. That year white high-school athletes murdered Latino immigrants in New York and Pennsylvania. Their killers yelled such things as, “Tell your Mexican friends to get the f*ck out of Shenandoah,” the Pennsylvania town where Luis Ramirez was beaten to death.

The common thread, from the murders of the Latinos to GOP attacks on Obama to Keith Luke, was “great replacement.” That is the white nationalist conspiracy that elites and globalists, code for Jews, are scheming to replace whites with inferior people: immigrants, Muslims, and Black people. Now, the term itself has been around only since 2011 when Frenchman Renaud Camus penned The Great Replacement. But the idea that white Americans are under threat from dark hordes has been the hobgoblin of prominent racists from Pat Buchanan today, who bellows about an “invasion of the West,” to Theodore Bilbo a century ago, a vicious Jim Crow senator from Mississippi who wanted to send Black Americans back to Africa.

The right was gripped by a great replacement mindset after Obama took office. The Tea Party movement was a just-add-Fox News white backlash against the first Black president. Its followers idolized Palin and echoed her “Take our country back” cry that is all but great replacement. There was an explosion of hate groups, an 800 percent increase during the first three years of Obama’s presidency.

Into this lynch mobocracy rode Donald Trump on a horse called birtherism. He shot off racist broadsides that Obama was an illegitimate president and a secret Muslim who doesn’t love America. Trump slimed Muslim Americans as deadly traitors, refugees as poisonous snakes, Mexicans as agents of drugs, crime and rape. And Trump openly encouraged violence by his supporters.

Trump’s genius is fine-tuning demagoguery. He never says great replacement or “white genocide,” but his simple sinister tones make him indistinguishable from white nationalists and neo-Nazis obsessed with these conspiracies.

In light of Trump, Keith Luke takes on added clarity. It was a preview of what was to come. Luke’s rampage commenced an upsurge of terrorism during the Obama years: against Blacks, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, women, the government and abortion doctors.

Trump took far-right terrorism and unified it under the umbrella of great replacement. He has an ally in the Hindenburg of Hate, Tucker Carlson. An incendiary gasbag, Carlson has spewed great replacement ideas on more than 400 shows on Fox News and says it openly. The Republican Party is now the party of great replacement. Every issue is about great replacement and the extinction of regular white Christian Americans: abortion, critical race theory, transgender children, even the conspiracy that there is a baby formula shortage because undocumented babies are drinking it all up.

In Trump and Tucker’s America far-right extremists still target a wide range of groups. More and more they use great replacement and white genocide to justify it, sometimes issuing an explicit manifesto.

That’s what Dylann Roof did. He wrote a manifesto to justify murdering nine Black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17, 2015 — the day after Trump kicked off his campaign. Roof’s mind is a venomous pit of racism, but he is rational. He sounded like Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, saying, “It is far from being too late for America … we could take it back completely.” When Roof’s manifesto is read side-by-side with Trump’s first speech, they form “a duet in racial grievance,” writes Jamelle Bouie.

Once Trump took office in January 2017, the floodgates of far-right terrorism opened. Trump supporters and followers of far-right extremist groups he inspired committed 25 murders that year. Many used Trumpian language, attacked members of groups he demonized and employed great replacement ideas. Then came the first explicit outburst that August in Charlottesville by torch-bearing white nationalists chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” The next day a neo-Nazi from their ranks killed anti-racist Heather Heyer in a car attack.

Deadlier great replacement massacres followed. The killers sounded like Trump, some praised him: Tree of Life synagogue, mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, Gilroy Garlic Festival, Poway Synagogue, the Walmart in El Paso, Buffalo supermarket and more.

There will be more. Republicans are a minoritarian party. Their positions are unpopular, some extremely so like banning abortion and covid denialism, they can’t win without voter suppression, and their base is a dwindling cult of violent white conservatives. All the party of Trump and Tucker has left to stay in power is dirty tricks and grooming teenagers to be racist mass murderers.

Banning abortion is key to Trump’s fascist agenda

If a majority of Supreme Court justices follows through on its plans to outlaw abortion, then America will cross the threshold into full-blown fascism. This is controversial, so let me explain.

Any discussion of fascism quickly veers into jargon, qualifiers, and deep history, because it can cover many different movements with contradictory ideas. But there is an easy way to understand what drives fascism and how it relates to abortion.

Banning abortion is indisputably about controlling women’s bodies. The body is central to fascist ideas and practice. Simply put, fascism is fixated with the corruption and purity of the body. The body can be an individual, a community, or most important, the nation.

Trump is obsessed with the body. If he likes something it is beautiful. War, his border wall, dying doctors and nurses, coal, pipelines, Confederate statues, sleeping gas, missile strikes, Black reporters injured by police are all “beautiful.” If Trump hates someone, they are physically disgusting or dangerous. Hillary Clinton, Mika Brzezinski, Rosie O’Donnell and Megyn Kelly are disgusting. Entire countries are “shitholes,” Syrian refugees are snakes, Muslims are an enemy within, immigrants are animals, diseased, rapists, and criminals who are poisoning us.

Trump turned his politics of bodily disgust into policy about the national body. If America is diseased, poisoned, corrupted, then it needs to be purified. Upon entering the White House, Trump and his chief henchman, Stephen Miller, began the ethnic cleansing. Within a week they issued executive orders to round up more immigrants, reject refugees, and ban Muslims.

Trump didn’t have a clear political program like Mein Kampf, although Hitler’s speeches served as his bedtime reading and as president Trump said, “Hitler did a lot of good things.”

But Trump has a slogan that is fascist to its malevolent heart: “Make America Great Again.” You see, fascism combines extreme nationalism with an invented past of a pure master race. For fascists, the past is a blueprint for the future. They seek to purify the nation by violently imposing strict identities around race, sexuality, and gender they claim are ancient and eternal.

Trump said the master race part out loud during the 2020 campaign, and it was pure biology. While speaking to a virtually all-white rally in Minnesota, he praised the “racehorse theory of genes,” which is unvarnished Nazi eugenics.

Trump said, “You have good genes, you know that, right? You have good genes. A lot of it is about the genes, isn't it, don't you believe? The racehorse theory. You think we're so different? You have good genes in Minnesota.”

Trump’s obsession with bodily purity and corruption makes him a natural fascist despite his lack of erudition. The same is true for his base. They don’t need to know any history or philosophy. In fact it’s better if they don’t. As a practice, fascism is visceral. The followers only need feel they are part of a great, heroic community under siege. Anyone unlike them, anyone impure, needs to be excluded or even exterminated. Their great leader Trump will tell them what to do.

Fascism is a project of racial purification, and Trump is obsessed with race. But gender and sexuality are integral to creating the master race. Once elected, Trump said he would appoint judges who would ban abortion.

In the last year the fascist project of cleansing the body has spread to other identities. Outlawing abortion is happening as white nationalists and the Chistian right are attacking any group who doesn’t fit their totalitarian worldview.

Republicans are stripping trans people of basic rights. The “groomer” smear against the LGBTQ community is aimed at hounding them out of public life and targeting them for violence. It’s a classic fascist strategy of demonizing anyone who threatens the patriarchy. Racism, according to the right, is talking about racism, so the history of African-Americans must be suppressed and public schools must teach a white nationalist version of U.S. history. And voting rights are being eroded for Black and brown communities.

Republicans led by Tucker Carlson embrace white genocide and great replacement conspiracies. It’s warmed-over Nazi propaganda about how elites are replacing white people with dirty, savage foreigners. Sometimes the right explicitly blames Jewish elites for plotting to replace whites. Sometimes torch-bearing neo-Nazis whom Trump calls “very fine people” chant, “Jews will not replace us.”

Under Trump the main enemy was without: immigrants, refugees, Muslims. Fascism can not exist without enemies, so now the enemy within has to be purged. Seen through this lens, banning abortion is the essence of Trump’s all-American fascism.

Abortion bans are not inherently fascist; virtually every country has outlawed abortion at some point. But a Supreme Court ruling to return to a past of where abortion is illegal is fascist. It is a violent imposition of a strict identity. The highest role for women is to be mothers and wives, which also means to be heterosexual.

Women who don’t want to be mothers, who want to terminate pregnancies, who don’t want to be married, or have different sexualties or gender identities are all a threat to the fascist project. If white America is being corrupted from within and without, white motherhood and children are needed to save it. And if necessary it must be done by force.

If it sounds like Gilead, well, The Handmaid’s Tale is prophetic. Controlling race, sexuality, gender, and reproduction powers fascism, as is in Margaret Atwood’s novel. An abortion ban is enforced pregnancy, enforced motherhood. Women will be second-class citizens, baby machines who are property of the state, church, and men. Trump embodies this. He views women as his personal property having been accused by 26 women of sexual harassment, assault, and rape as well as marital rape.

Forcing women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term combined with shredding the social safety net is also enforced marriage. This has been the Christian Right’s agenda since Reagan: make women desperate enough to marry any man no matter how irresponsible or violent.

While many abortion-rights protesters plead, “Women will die,” fascists welcome their deaths. Umberto Eco, who grew up in Mussolini’s Italy and wrote one of the best primers on fascism, says fascism is a cult of death that sees life as “permanent warfare.”

Trump’s cult of death is the main reason 1 million Americans have died from Covid-19. His cult of death wants to ban all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest. Women must be punished for their sins, whether it’s being raped or trying to abort an unwanted fetus. America’s fascists are eager to return to a past when hundreds of women died every year from illegal abortions. Killing women is political and religious theater that serves as warnings of their defiance of the law, their wickedness, and divine wrath.

The right isn’t waiting for a Supreme Court ban. It is plotting violence against any woman who would seek an abortion or anyone who would help. Laws charging women with murder and seeking to imprison them for having an abortion will proliferate. White nationalists who are swarming the anti-abortion movement will escalate violent physical attacks, arson, bombings, and assassinations that have been going on for decades. They won’t be satisfied with bans in Red States. They will bring violence to wherever abortion remains legal.

If fascists can roll back constitutional precedent that Americans support by a nearly two-to-one margin, then comes the deluge. The right wants to ban contraception, marriage equality, and different gender expressions. They will seek to gut laws against marital rape and violence against women. Attacks on education and culture will spread as is already happening in Florida. Then comes censorship. Protest will be suppressed when not criminalized. Violence against dissenters, intellectuals, and journalists will be encouraged or ignored.

By banning abortion, the Supreme Court will become the leading agent of fascist purification.

It is opening the door to legal assaults on interracial marriage, same-sex couples, and birthright citizenship. Undermining the humanity of entire groups will embolden the right to throttle the legal rights of Blacks, Muslims, and immigrants, and encourage more violence by the police and far-right militias. Fascists will try to destroy any independent source of power, especially the left, unions, and workers movements because they are among its most powerful opponents. Whatever misgivings corporate leaders have about fascism, they accommodate it in the end because it’s good for business.

The fascist appetite for purifying and cleansing the body is endless. Banning abortion will not sate it. Trump’s fascism will devour everything until it is eliminated root and branch.

How Trump’s extremism turned the Oath Keepers from keyboard warriors into seditious coup plotters

In January former President Trump told supporters in Arizona, “If you’re white you don’t get the vaccine or if you’re white you don’t get therapeutics. … In New York state, if you’re white, you have to go to the back of the line to get medical health.”

With that, Trump said the quiet part out loud. He was endorsing “Great Replacement theory,” a conspiracy that sinister forces are replacing white people with dark hordes from backwards cultures. If that sounds like an idea halfway between red-faced Nazis screaming, “Jews will not replace us” and Tucker Carlson ranting about poor, dirty immigrants invading America, that’s because it is.

It is besides the point that the claim is a vile lie. Trump was cranking up the cycle of far-right extremism again. It’s a ploy that goes back to the 1990s when Pat Buchanan normalized “overt white supremacy” and authoritarianism among Republicans, and it’s a tool Trump has mastered to further his divide-and-rule strategy.

During the 2016 presidential campaign Trump brandished extremism as his superpower. It was more than show or shock value. Extremism allows Trump to mold the political debate in his demagogic image and it spawns far-right forces completely loyal to him.

There is a method to how Trump uses extremism and why he makes the right more and more extreme. He spreads poison that bubbles up from below, Islamophobia, bashing immigrants, crude racism, misogyny, and transphobia. The targets of his bigotry are turned into scapegoats that he uses to rile up his followers who have been primed by right-wing media to crave easy answers, enemies, and violence. Scapegoating leads to bans: on Muslims, abortion, books, teaching racism, protests, transgender people.

But bans are based on wild conspiracies that do nothing to solve the real problems America faces — the pandemic, extreme economic inequality, deteriorating healthcare and schools, global warming, racist policing. Bans are legal and ideological forms of violence. Since they don’t produce the desired results, the next logical step is physical violence.

If you can’t eliminate the problem, then eliminate the scapegoat. Trump dog-whistled about Great Replacement the moment he stepped off the escalator in 2015 and attacked Mexicans and immigrants. His words have inspired supporters who have committed Great Replacement-style massacres. The gunman who killed six Muslims in Quebec City in 2017 was angry Canada was letting in Muslim refugees while Trump was banning them. A mass shooter killed 23 people in El Paso in “response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” The shooter who killed 11 at the Tree of Life Synagogue was angry that Jews “bring invaders that kill our people.”

“Lone wolf” attacks are too obscene and random, however, for Trump’s goal of becoming a white nationalist dictator. To make that happen he needs organized vigilante violence, which he encourages incessantly. His calls have energized extremists such as the Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer, Identity Evropa, Atomwaffen Division, Three Percenters, Patriot Front, Rise Above Movement. Their strategy is ethnic cleansing. They seek to eliminate scapegoats whether based on demographics, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, or brown and Black people, or based on politics, Black Lives Matter, Marxists, or antifa.

Cosplay Boomers

Explicit racists are still a fringe, however, with membership ranging from dozens to perhaps hundreds for the Proud Boys. To mainstream white nationalism, Trump wraps it in the flag and “law and order.” The evolution of one group in particular shows how Trump has radicalized the right bit by bit: the Oath Keepers.

The Oath Keepers are the largest far-right group advocating violence. A leaked database in 2021 contained 38,000 email addresses of possible current and former members. Unlike many other extremists, they formed years before Trump was on the scene and were slow to join his camp. But they were eventually swept up in Trump’s violent conspiracism and are a dire omen of where the Republican Party is headed.

While notorious for leading the Jan. 6 coup, and with founder Stewart Rhodes and 10 members indicted for seditious conspiracy, the Oath Keepers were unlikely insurrectionists. Founded in 2009, the Oath Keepers focused on recruiting soldiers and police officers to prepare for “another American Revolution.” They were among hundreds of hate groups and militias that appeared as part of the racist backlash to the first Black president.

The Oath Keepers talked big but were risk averse. They banned racists, denied they were a militia, and claimed to be nonpartisan. When it came to action they were all cosplay. At Tea Party rallies with suburban Boomers role-playing in tricorn hats, powdered wigs and muskets, Oath Keepers would administer an oath to new recruits to defend the Constitution.

So how did they transform into a trained militia with an arsenal of weapons, seized by white-nationalist paranoia, and eager to “help Trump crack American skulls in the streets” by the Jan. 6 coup?

There were red flags from the start. Like the broader Patriot movement, the Oath Keepers sprang from violent white nationalists such as Posse Comitatus and their conspiratorial mindset. Rhodes was a frequent guest on The Alex Jones Show, which inflamed his manic imagination and supplied a pool of delusional recruits. Rhodes was obsessed with warmed-over anti-Semitism: a shadowy New World Order filling in for “International Jewish Conspiracy.”

Conspiracism tends to lead to violence. As the enemy is portrayed as all powerful and less than human, any means to eliminate them is justified. From their founding, the Oath Keepers allied with other violence-prone conspiracists such as “constitutional sheriffs” who reject federal authority, the Islamophobic Three Percenter militia, and old-line conspiracists like the John Birch Society.

They were all gripped by far-right paranoia that only armed men can save a society on the brink. The Oath Keepers remained keyboard warriors until 2013 when they formed guerilla-style “civilization preservation cells … necessitated by the country’s impending (and possibly government-created) economic collapse.”

The Phantom Drone Menace

A year later the Oath Keepers went into battle. In April 2014 Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy declared a “range war” after federal officials seized his cattle as penalty for stiffing taxpayers $1.2 million in unpaid grazing fees. Rhodes helped mobilize hundreds of armed extremists to aid Bundy, who said he didn’t “recognize the federal government to have authority, jurisdiction, no matter who the president is.” The standoff climaxed with a dozen militiamen with long guns surrounding federal agents as news cameras rolled, leading the government to abandon its botched operation. The Patriot movement thrilled at the rout and for striking a propaganda coup with footage of snipers taking aim at officials and then freely walking away.

The Oath Keepers shot themselves in the foot, however. Weeks after the standoff ended, Rhodes pulled his forces out of Bundy’s ranch. High on conspiracism, he claimed Attorney General “Eric Holder … has given approval for a drone strike on the ranch.” Branding the Oath Keepers deserters and traitors, remaining militiamen warned, “You’re lucky that you’re not getting shot in the back.” Rhodes countered that opposing militiamen drew guns on the Oath Keepers, and it “was this close from being a gunfight, right there inside the camp.”

Despite the fallout over the phantom drone menace, the Bundy standoff was “a bonanza” for the Oath Keepers. Their membership soared and donations poured in, according to Buzzfeed. Emboldened, they sought new confrontations that could yield publicity, recruits, and money. They showed up in Ferguson in 2014 after unarmed teen Michael Brown was killed by an on-duty cop. Armed Oath Keepers turned bureaucratic disputes at small mining operations on public lands in Oregon and Montana into armed confrontations with government agencies in 2015. The next year they acted as a self-appointed buffer between law enforcement and Ammon and Ryan Bundy’s militia that seized a wildlife refuge in Oregon.

The Trump Factor

Sam Jackson, author of Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-wing Antigovernment Group, describes three episodes that show how they veered right as they moved from the digital world to the real one. In 2014 Oath Keepers descended on Ferguson to guard local businesses, allegedly from looters. The images epitomized American history: rifle-toting white men in military outfits defending property against a largely defenseless Black community. The next year the Oath Keepers showed their true colors by refusing to support an open carry march by mostly Black residents of Ferguson. A local Oath Keeper called the decision a “racist double standard.” He said Rhodes was eager to “confront the cops” during the Bundy standoff, but not when Black people wanted to confront cops.

In July 2015, after a Kuwaiti-American killed four Marines at a recruiting center in Tennessee, the Oath Keepers initiated “Operation Protect the Protectors” to provide armed security for military recruiters, claiming they were vulnerable to “any jihadist.” Months later they offered to protect Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky who infamously refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

By itself, anti-Black, anti-gay, and anti-Islam politics are nothing unusual for conservatives. But for the Oath Keepers it was a sign of their drift toward racism and bigotry. Then came a wild card that sent them spiraling into far-right extremism: Donald Trump.

In 2016, says Jackson, “Trump had energized the far right throughout his campaign, and … enjoyed widespread enthusiastic support” from the Patriot and militia movement. They ate up Trump’s birtherism, his hatred of anything Obama, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim racism.

Rhodes’ estranged wife says he and Trump are “very similar in that they both push conspiracy theories. It’s like watching a demagogue be attracted to a demagogue.” Rhodes’ family makes him out to be mentally unhinged. He imagined himself “the next George Washington.” Once when the power went out at their remote Montana home, Rhodes believed an FBI raid was imminent and forced his family to bug out. Another time he made them dig an escape tunnel and practice using it.

The affinities led Rhodes to jump on the Trump train as the 2016 election drew to a close. The Oath Keepers organized covert teams, seeking out “Special Warfare veterans,” to spy on the polls to “prevent Clinton from stealing the election,” says Jackson. When that failed to happen, they declared “Communists Intend to Overthrow the United States Before Inauguration Day,” and called for 10,000 men with guns in the streets of D.C. to prevent a coup. In a sign of things to come, Rhodes attended the inauguration night “DeploraBall” organized by white nationalists.

The shift in 2016 is important for a number of reasons. While they had been anti-government and critical of police militarization, the Oath Keepers were positioning themselves to be Trump’s Blackshirts. They dropped any pretense of opposing racism. And they were caught up in Trump’s cycle of extremism, becoming ever more conspiratorial and prone to violence.

The Oath Keepers found a new mission with Trump in office: defending the free speech of white nationalists. In May 2017, at one of the “Battle for Berkeley” dustups, Rhodes came dressed for combat in helmet, goggles, and padding and joined an alt-right crowd that included neo-Nazi Tim “Baked Alaska” Gionet. A month earlier, Oath Keepers were reportedly in Berkeley when the notoriously violent Rise Above Movement sent ten people to the hospital. In June, as Portland reeled from a double murder committed by a neo-Nazi after he attended a Patriot Prayer rally, Oath Keepers guarded the Proud Boys and other extremists to “protect free speech from terrorism.” The same month Oath Keepers joined “March Against Sharia” rallies held in dozens of cities that drew white nationalists such as Identity Evropa and Vanguard America.

The Oath Keepers chummy relations with extremists came screeching to a halt that August after a Vanguard America supporter rammed a car into anti-fascists in Charlottesville, murdering Heather Heyer and injuring 19 people. (Oath Keepers were reportedly in Charlottesville guarding neo-Nazis.) After that Rhodes canceled an event with Patriot Prayer citing the presence of white nationalists.

But there was one white nationalist the Oath Keepers couldn’t quit: Donald Trump.

Follow the Leader

The Oath Keepers were among a growing number of extremists for whom Trump’s bombast was their marching orders. WhenTrump ranted in December 2018 that migrants seeking asylum were an “invasion, Rhodes called for a “border operation” to stop the “invasion [of] illegals.” The Oath Keepers were following the KKK playbook, which in the 1970s pioneered the use of terror against migrants crossing the border. The Oath Keepers may not have been explicit white nationalists, but they were increasingly indistinguishable from them. They called asylum seekers “a military invasion by the cartels and a political coup by the domestic Marxist controlled left” that was “a matter of national survival.” Months earlier Rhodes went full Great Replacement, claiming Democrats were replacing Americans “through illegal immigration en masse.”

In 2019, after Trump called the first impeachment proceedings against him a “coup,” the Oath Keepers responded, “We ARE on the verge of a HOT civil war.” They begged Trump to “call us up [to] suppress Insurrections.”

With Covid-19 and the George Floyd protests the Oath Keepers went overboard into paranoid white nationalism.

When the pandemic began in January 2020, the Oath Keepers said “the virus was worse than government officials were saying” and warned followers to prepare for chaos, according to ADL. By April they flipped 180 degrees and raved that “the Chinese government deliberately created the virus,” and Bill Gates and Anthony Fauci were “agents in a plot to control the population through a mandatory vaccine.” They protested public health measures as “Orwellian violations of liberty,” and organized armed protests to protect business owners defying lockdowns.

Protests over the police murder of George Floyd completed the Oath Keepers’ transition from being anti-government to seeing the people as the enemy. Days after Floyd’s death, Trump called protesters “Thugs,” and added, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

Rhodes jumped in to dispel any misgivings Oath Keepers had about police violence against overwhelmingly peaceful protests. He wrote, “Once these thugs turned to burning, killing and looting, they became domestic enemies. Weeks later he called Black Lives Matter “a communist front organization with the central goal of the destruction of the United States.”

The Oath Keepers worked themselves into a frenzy all summer. In July, Rhodes called a brief and shambolic BLM occupation of a Seattle neighborhood a “coordinated, intentional, national and international terrorism and insurrection campaign … to also destroy our nation and our Constitution.” A month later, after a Patriot Prayer member was shot and killed in Portland by an anti-fascist, Rhodes announced, “Civil war is here, right now.”

By the time the 2020 election arrived Rhodes was champing at the bit for war. On Nov. 9, two days after Biden was declared the winner, Rhodes spoke on Alex Jones’s program, urging Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act “to suppress the deep state.” He claimed the Oath Keepers had men “stationed outside D.C. as a nuclear option.”

Rhodes’s desire to have the Insurrection Act invoked was not idle chatter. He believed Trump would authorize the Oath Keepers to crush any opponents to his restoration, whether it was “Communists” inside Congress or antifa outside. One ringleader of Jan. 6, Oath Keeper Jessica Watkins, said a week before the coup, “If Trump activates the Insurrection Act, I would hate to miss it.”

Also on Nov. 9, according to the federal indictment, coup-plotting began. Rhodes held a covert online meeting with other Oath Keepers in which he “outlined a plan to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power, including preparations for the use of force, and urged those listening to participate.”

The revolution the Oath Keepers envisioned for a decade had arrived. Under Trump’s influence, they had moved from the idea of insurrection to carrying it out. They were going to overthrow a puppet government controlled by sinister globalists and protected by Communists, antifa, and Black Lives Matter. It’s a conspiracy Trump promoted, and it’s the same one that inspired white nationalists in the Pacific Northwest who waged violent insurrection in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

To prepare for Jan. 6, the Oath Keepers stockpiled weapons and formed heavily armed “quick reaction forces” outside D.C. to bring the war home. One chapter trained in “unconventional warfare,” another in “setting up hasty ambushes, and reacting to ambushes.” They plotted using boats to ferry their armed forces across the Potomac to assault the Capitol.

Rhodes warned before the coup, “It will be a bloody desperate fight. We are going to have a fight. That can’t be avoided.”

Having started as opponents of government tyranny, fighting to preserve liberty, the Oath Keepers’ journey ended as agents of tyranny, fighting to crush liberty. They have been sidelined by the prosecution, but Trump has passed the baton of violent extremism to the Republican Party.

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?