Please read on for the Executive Summary.
About this Study
- This report provides an overview of domestic extremism in the United States. It examines the various groups and movements that gained momentum under the administration of former President Donald Trump, the key discourses and motivations of those that were a part of the 6 January insurrection, and how these have evolved in the first 100 days of the Biden administration.
- Through analysis of the MAGA movement and some of its various components, including the Oath Keepers, the Boogaloo Bois, Three Percenters, Proud Boys, and QAnon, this report reveals a country contending with a persistent domestic extremist threat which, despite Trump’s defeat, is unlikely to dissipate any time soon.
- The 100 days that followed the inauguration of President Biden revealed a number of common narratives under which previously distinct groups have begun to converge, including anti-government ideologies, COVID conspiracy theories, election misinformation, racism, antisemitism, misogyny and transphobia. This report considers how these have evolved, and how they may continue to be a threat in the coming months and years.
- The authors applied a mixed methods approach, leveraging data scientific methods and digital ethonography, in an effort to better understand MAGA-related groups, movements, and narratives both prior to and after Biden’s inauguration.
- The authors suggest that the militia movement should be conceptualised as having undergone a number of “waves” relating to its rise and fall, and changes to prominent narratives
in the movement related to the results of various US elections. The movement has long feared that the US is under threat from a New World Order which intends to strip citizens of their freedoms. Militias were significantly emboldened by Trump’s presidency and redirected much of their efforts against the political left and “Antifa” throughout his presidency.
- The militia movement is extremely hostile towards President Biden, and, after backing the “Stop the Steal” campaign during the US election, many members view his presidency as illegitimate and as a sign of the impending New World Order.
- The militia movement is on the brink of a “fourth wave” since Trump left office. This wave may be marked by increased fears of citizens’ freedoms diminishing and severe opposition to President Biden.
- Some Oath Keepers members who participated in the insurrection appeared to feel they were doing so as a direct response to a call to action issued by Donald Trump. We warn that Trump’s influence and ability to mobilise Oath Keepers members is likely to continue despite the fact he is no longer in office.
- The insurrection is likely to have inspired Three Percenters and may be taken as a signal that the American people can stand up to perceived tyrannical governments. As such, the concept is likely to remain a dominant influence within the broader militia movement.
- While the Boogaloo movement was not a dominant force during the insurrection itself, members are likely to have been inspired by it, and it may influence them to take part in further organised actions against the United States government.
- The Proud Boys experienced a substantial rise in popularity towards the end of Donald Trump’s presidency and gained a significant number of followers, largely as a result of the success of the alternative social media platform Parler. The group also had a significant presence during the insurrection, and multiple members face charges of conspiracy.
- In 2021, the group has faced a considerable decline after Parler was dropped by their hosting provider, and they have lost around 150,000 followers as a result. Multiple chapters have also “splintered” from the central Proud Boys organisation after it was revealed that their chairman has been a longtime FBI informant. This means that the group is in a comparatively precarious situation compared to where it stood in 2020.
- However, the Proud Boys continue to be active on Telegram, and have two large channels each with over 30,000 members. Their ability to mobilise on Telegram should not be underestimated.
- In particular, the Proud Boys’ second channel has over 45,000 members and consistently shares content which is explicitly linked with white supremacy and the neo-fascist ideology Third Positionism. Therefore, a significant number of Proud Boys are likely to espouse, or at least tolerate, white supremacist ideology – although this is not directly endorsed by the main group itself. Thus, the Proud Boys should be recognised as a group with tangible links to the extreme right and should continue to be monitored as a security threat.
- The insurrection of 6 January 2021 is a stark example of what happens when an ideological movement such as QAnon is taken seriously, especially in the context of how some of its adherents have evolved into an ideologically motivated violent extremist movement. However, due to the mass deplatforming of QAnon, creating a mass exodus to alternative social media platforms, the group has balkanised into various ideological ecosystems, thus the threat is not consistent across the board and should be considered as a spectrum.
- Neo-QAnon influencers like Sidney Powell and Lin Wood, as well as QAnon elected officials Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, will continue to play an influential role on QAnon adherents and those adjacent to the movement due to their nexus to political power, as well as advancing and adapting conspiracy theories to current political environments. Their future actions will potentially continue to radicalise and mobilise individuals in the QAnon ecosystems to action.
- The breadth of the fragmentation of QAnon across alt-tech platforms is still unknown, and it remains to be seen how this will impact the threat posed by the movement. Close attention is needed to evaluate how this will develop in the coming months.
- The symbiosis between QAnon adherents and other extremist actors on alt-tech platforms requires continued monitoring as there is continued community building that will be taking place and will inform which ecosystems may lead to long term viability especially with the overlap between QAnon and ideologically motivated violent extremist (IMVE) actors.
- Threat actors on alt-tech platforms will continue to seek to recruit disenfranchised QAnon adherents to further radicalise and mobilise them to action.
Narratives and Motivation
- A diversity of ideologically distinct actors, from neo-Nazis to Orthodox Jews, were present at the 6 January insurrection, united around common narratives of anti-government and anti-COVID conspiracies. Popular conspiracy theories among insurrectionists, such as a New World Order, QAnon and the Great Reset, converged around common mistrust in liberal democratic institutions and theories of an alleged malignant global actor pulling the strings, propped up by the complicity of governments.
- Although not universal, insurrectionists were mobilised by election misinformation and the Stop the Steal movement, where accusations of voter fraud were viewed as confirmation of existing anti-government conspiracies. With the election of Joe Biden, such actors have been pushed out of the mainstream political system, which may lead some to see violence as the only possible solution. Whilst key events have increased mainstream public awareness of the extreme nature of anti-COVID and election fraud conspiracies, these narratives continue to motivate and radicalise IMVE actors.
- COVID health restrictions were seen as evidence of a deep state conspiracy encroaching on individual freedoms, capitalising on chaos, panic and fear to push conspiracies into the mainstream. Whilst such narratives placed blame on different actors and incited varying levels of violence, many of the insurrectionists shared a common anti-government conspiratorial framework.
- In the first 100 days of the Biden administration, various ideological strands have converged under a “big tent” conspiracy, increasingly adopting narratives from other IMVE movements.
COVID conspiracies have been entrenched by the vaccine rollout and hesitancy in re-opening the economy, including discussions about vaccine passports.
- Anti-Asian narratives, which boomed under the Trump administration, have been integrated into wider anti-COVID and anti-leftist ideologies. In the first 100 days of the Biden
administration, anti-Asian narratives have spiked on social media and attacks on Asian-Americans have been recorded.
- Narratives about Jewish people and Judaism were not monolithic in the insurrection, with the recorded presence of neo-Nazis, antisemitic conspiracy theorists, philosemitic far-right actors and Jewish people themselves. This generates a complicated and nuanced threat picture. However, while not the primary motivation of most insurrectionists, the intrinsic nature of antisemitism within the movement is evident. In the first 100 days of Biden’s administration, a move towards a “big tent” conspiracy has generated a “big tent” enemy, often seen as the Jew. This is likely to continue to grow antisemitism among American IMVE actors.
- Under Trump, misogynistic discourse was mainstreamed, present within the administration itself and bolstered by the online ecosystem known as the Manosphere, which is a broad coalition
of actors united by a hatred of feminism.
- While numerous women have been important players in the MAGA movement, misogyny has also been central to some of its key groups and movements, in particular the Proud Boys who are self-described Western chauvinists and have widely promoted hegemonic masculinity and traditional gender norms.
- Transphobia has long been one of the most major and ubiquitous narratives around which the far right mobilises. The way in which transphobia is utilised as a narrative within the far right
must be afforded considerably more academic and policymaker consideration. Transphobia should be recognised as a security concern.
- Further efforts should be made to communicate and educate both far-right groups and the general public on the lived realities of various trans experiences. In particular, these efforts should focus on dispelling myths, such as that children are being forced to transition biologically and surgically at young ages, which are commonly used to mobilise transphobia within the far right.
- Under the Biden administration transphobia has been amplified by various factions of the far right against the appointment of Dr Rachel Levine, the first openly transgender individual to be confirmed by the US Senate. While her appointment should be viewed as an important step forward in normalising the visibility of transgender people, it is a rallying point for various far-right groups and narratives.