MPD and Capitol police pull back Trump supporters near the U.S. Capitol on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. The protesters stormed the historic building, breaking windows and clashing with police. Trump supporters had gathered in the nation's capital to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over President Trump in the 2020 election. (Photo by Shay Horse/NurPhoto via AP)
This is just the beginning.
Anyone talking about the deadly siege of the U.S. Capitol as the crescendo of the anti-government movement is guilty of the same magical thinking that got us here in the first place. It’s simply the latest chapter and it’s far from the last.
And anyone surprised by the storming of the U.S. Capitol hasn’t been paying attention. Frankly, most people haven’t, least of all those in the federal government tasked with protecting against disasters like what we saw on Wednesday.
The rioters said exactly what they were going to do and then they did it. President Donald Trump even told them to go to the Capitol and a lot of people still didn’t take it seriously. Perhaps Americans need to believe them the first time, as Maya Angelou wisely counseled.
I’ve been reporting on the self-styled “Patriot Movement” for the past 2 ½ years and I’ve seen it grow in numbers and ambition. In Idaho, where I live, I’ve seen exactly the tactics that were used in D.C.
Ammon Bundy led a storming of the Idaho Statehouse in August, his supporters tussling with police and smashing a glass door as they pushed their way into a gallery that was restricted to stop the spread of COVID-19. Idaho legislators buckled and let them stay. Some cheered them on.
A mob stormed the Oregon Capitol last month. A legislator opened the door for them.
In Michigan, authorities charged men linked to the Wolverine Watchmen, a militia group, in a foiled plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last fall.
All of it almost seems like a dry run for what we saw Wednesday.
I also spent years in Iraq and Afghanistan covering the endless wars there and have seen what happens when armed groups take over and erode the power of the central government. We take for granted the stability we’ve enjoyed in America at our peril.
There are a lot of references to these anti-government groups as “fringe” movements, but that’s wishful thinking. Call it the anti-government government, but these groups are part of the mainstream now. Legislators from at least seven states were at the Capitol on Wednesday and one has been arrested, The Associated Press reported, as of this date.
Is that a surprise? Hardly. Legislators from several states visited Ammon Bundy and his followers during their armed siege at Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016.
In Idaho, there is what amounts to a Patriot Movement caucus in the legislature. They share the stage with Bundy and other militia movement leaders at John Birch Society rallies.
The president himself addressed the rioters before Wednesday’s siege and told them to march to the Capitol before they did just that. How much more mainstream can you get?
Are most people in the movement plotting takeovers of the U.S. Capitol and doing harm to public officials? No. Some leaders of the movement decry the violence, others not so much. But either way, the wildcard is that they don’t have much control over their followers.
You won’t be shocked to find out that central authority is not the strong-suit of anti-government movements. And in the case of the meme turned out of control neo-civil war movement known as The Boogaloo, there isn’t even any leader to listen to. The Boogaloo lives almost entirely online and by some estimates it’s gained tens of thousands of followers. Authorities say adherents have already killed cops and fired on a Minneapolis police building in a bid to spark the war they see as inevitable.
Just before the election, I spoke with former Homeland Security analyst Daryl Johnson, who spent his career monitoring domestic extremism for the federal government and now does so in the private sector. He wrote a report in 2009 warning of the rise of far-right groups and the threat of attacks. The report essentially predicted what happened.
His words to me right before the election were prescient.
“We’re in a period of heightened risk right now when it comes to political violence, given the rise of these groups, the recruitment and radicalization that’s been ongoing for the past 11 years at least,” he said.
But what he said next is equally worrying.
“Given this current administration and their stance and their flirtation with these groups and kind of giving them a green light to continue to operate based on their actions and words, I think it doesn’t matter whether a Republican or Democrats in power because we’re in for more of the same for the foreseeable future,” he said.
In other words, this is no last gasp.
So, the “this isn’t who we are” platitudes? It sounds nice, but it’s bullshit. It’s also a dangerous misconception. This is who we are right now — at least a growing segment of the country — and Americans better come to terms with that or we’re going to keep getting blindsided. Anger against the government is growing, violence is increasing, and there are a lot of Americans who truly believe this presidential election was stolen, whatever the lack of evidence. Ignoring it has not made it go away, not by a longshot.
That brings us back to Johnson, who tried to tell the federal government exactly what was coming from far-right extremism way back in 2009.
His reward for penning an alarming, and, spot-on report on domestic terrorism threats?
He was chased out of government.