Maybe now we’ll crack down on the alt-right
No one should be shocked by what happened Wednesday in Washington.
The mob that crashed into the Capitol building and carried the flaccid banners of white supremacy to the floor of the House did not suddenly start marching following President Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally.
“If you’re at all surprised by what’s happening now,” Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg tweeted, “you haven’t been paying attention for a long, long time.”
She’s right. But what still shocks even those of us who have been paying attention is just how much our media and law enforcement continue to coddle, ignore or even allow white-supremacist ideologies and groups to thrive.
Wednesday’s violent spasm really began four years ago when Trump launched his campaign for the presidency by demonizing Mexicans and immigrants.
It wasn’t an accident, it was a strategy. His then-adviser Stephen Bannon made that clear: the goal was to energize the alt-right. And the alt-right, it soon became evident, was just a clumsy attempt to rebrand neo-Nazis. Bannon didn’t like or respect these people — he was recorded calling them losers — but he understood their ability to power a candidacy and draw media attention to Trump.
Early in his campaign, as I reportedin February 2016, Trump received an endorsement from Klan leader David Duke, then denied knowing who Duke was. The leader of the American Freedom Party William Johnson paid for a series of robocalls on Trump’s behalf. Vanguard News Network, the largest white-supremacist website, hailed Trump as “Glorious Leader.”
At a 2015 rally in Bakersfield, California, Matthew Heimbach of the Traditionalist Youth Network gave a speech blaming Jews for destroying the white race. Two years later, the same Heimbach would egg on the neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville whom Trump conflated with “very fine people.”
The non-nutty pro-Trump Republicans averted their eyes from the rot in Trump’s base, or dismissed warnings of it as overblown or politically motivated. What about the far left, they asked?
That response was either willful blindness or blatant obfuscation. The danger these groups and individuals pose to public safety far exceeds that of groups on the left. In fact, they’re America’s biggest terrorist threat.
These groups have inspired, planned or perpetrated dozens of attacks, killings and plots against the Jewish community and other minority groups. According to the Anti-Defamation League, members of the far right or white-supremacist movements accounted for 71% of the extremist-related fatalities in the United States between 2008 and 2017, while Islamic extremists were responsible for 26%.
Between Jan. 1 and May 8, 2020, right-wing extremists carried out 90% of terror attacks in the United States, according to a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The report predicted that November 2020 could be particularly violent, due to the presidential election. What it couldn’t foresee was that months after the election, the president would stand before an assemblage of these groups and urge them to march on the United States Capitol in a show of strength.
There was really no other way for this presidency to end. The arc of hatred bends toward violence. The race-baiting rhetoric and appeals to prejudice and conspiracy didn’t backfire, the fuse just took four years to burn.
And then, on Wednesday, it exploded.
All the crackpots, extremists and fringe groups were there, as the Forward’s reporting showed: QAnon, the Proud Boys and their even more antisemitic offshoot the Proud Goys, Heimbach, the Nationalist Socialist Club and more. Some of these didn’t exist four years ago— COVID-19 is not the only virus that has flourished.
And there was hate to spare! Alt-right groups gathered at state capitols in New Mexico, Michigan and Georgia, where Chester Doles, the former Ku Klux Klan member and American Patriots USA leader, burst into the building to speak with Brad Raffensperger, the Republican Secretary of State Trump tried to bully into overturning the state’s presidential election results.
“These were rioters and insurrectionists, goons and thugs, domestic terrorists,” Senator Chuck Schumer, the soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader said. “They must and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, hopefully by this administration, certainly by the next. They should be provided no leniency.”
That’s true, but the problem is that they’ve already been provided leniency. Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook carried their drivel without consequence. The president used Twitter before, during and after Wednesday’s violence to encourage and praise the mob — in clear violation of Twitter’s rules against incitement — but it took a full-fledged riot inside the Capitol for Twitter to find the nerve to temporarily lock his account, a step it should have taken years ago.
For four years, Fox News provided an echo chamber for some of the president’s most incendiary statements. Lou Dobbs and Laura Ingraham amplified the anti-immigrant rhetoric that fueled extremist hate. Sean Hannity was every bit as loud as Trump in asserting the presidential election was “rigged.”
And law enforcement treated the mob with underwhelming restraint. This summer police met Black Lives Matter protesters with zip ties, tear gas and mass arrests. Two months after a May 31 Black Lives Matter protest in Long Beach, California, police were still tracking down and impounding the cars of people parked nearby BLM marches. But break into the Capitol, smash windows and sit in the Speaker’s office— you’ll just be asked to leave.
The double standard with which law-enforcement agencies treat white supremacism wasn’t just televised live on Jan. 6, it’s part of the reason white supremacy remains such a persistent threat to our nation’s security.
“In this atmosphere of apparent indifference on the part of government officials and law enforcement,” The New York Times reported in a 2018 investigation, “a virulent, and violent, far-right movement has grown and metastasized.”
The cancer metaphor is apt. It’s long past time to cut it out.