With All Eyes on Washington, the Real Far-Right Threat Has Moved On

The much-hyped Justice for J6 rally was held on Saturday to support those being charged for their participation in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. It ended in less than an hour.
A small group of protestors were surrounded by hundreds of police officers in riot gear and a crowd of less than 450. A former campaign staffer for Donald Trump organized the speeches. They were brief and unremarkable and repeated talking points about the unfair treatment of those who were charged with their Jan. 6 actions. A few times, the crowd sang USA! The rally was attended by nine members of Congress, but none of them turned up.

However, anyone trying to draw any conclusions about the future of right-wing groups from the paltry turnout that stormed Capitol on Jan. 6, is not looking in the right place. There was no evidence that these groups were mobilized to attend the event. The Oath Keepers and Proud Boys were the largest groups, and discouraged supporters from going to D.C. by claiming that it was a false flag designed to trap them. Critics may be satisfied with the inability of the crowd to appear, but any relief is not informed: The groups responsible for the attack on the U.S. Capitol simply moved their focus closer to home.

In the wake of the Jan. 6, riots, more than 600 people were charged in a broad federal investigation. This drove many far-right groups involved in organizing it underground. They have not abandoned the cause and they aren't going to repeat the Jan. 6 events. Many of the same groups have been forming new alliances at a local level over the last nine months. They protested the tyrannical COVID-19 controls at community meetings, anti-vaccine rallies and QAnon-linked events. They are congregating online on harder-to-monitor platforms and urging one another to overcome their disappointment at Trump's defeat by registering for local elections.

TIME spoke with experts who compared it to what happened after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and the subsequent crackdown by the Justice Department on domestic extremist groups. These groups go into hiding. Many of these groups go into hiding.

These years events only fuelled the narratives of some hardened groups, including white supremacists as well as self-described anti-government militias. Domestic violent extremists have been planning several attacks on the country, including those involving vaccine mandates and other stressors related to pandemics. A DHS bulletin in August warned that they could contribute to even more violence this year. White nationalist movements were fueled by endless talk about the release of 2020 census statistics in August, which showed that white Americans have declined as they became more diverse.

Despite the fact that Trump was no longer in the White House, 20QAnon supporters have continued to gather at large conferences, one of which is scheduled for next month in Las Vegas. TIME's April investigation revealed that many of its adherents, including some who participated in Jan. 6, were elected to local school boards and councils.

Johnson says this is a period when hardcore people can become more radical. Johnson notes that the return to vaccination and mask mandates is bringing together Americans who view it as an infringement of their rights and creating an opportunity to recruit in extremist groups. This is a dangerous period. Previously, these threats were easily visible on social media. However, we cannot see all that's happening now.

This is how we will take back our country.

Saturday's Washington rally was founded on the notion that Jan. 6 rioters were killed by a vengeful Democratic government. This idea has gained momentum because rightwing media and elected officials have recast Capitol attack as peaceful demonstrations by pro-Trump protestors exercising their First Amendment rights. This message has been heard in many areas of the country. People see the actions of the rioters as patriotic, not criminal. One person posted on a right-wing forum Sept. 16 that he believes we will be able write correct information in textbooks after the next civil war. The future will find out who the true patriots are.

Speakers led a small group of people gathered at the U.S. Capitol Saturday in chanting Ashli Babbitt's name. She was a 35-year old Air Force veteran who supported the QAnon conspiracy theory and became a martyr for far-right groups when she was shot to death by a cop while trying to enter the Capitol's inner chamber where lawmakers were hiding.

Furious debates erupted on right-wing messaging apps and forums ahead of the Justice for J6 rally. A meme that was widely shared showed a uniformed agent wearing an FBI patch poking someone representing far-right groups, urging them to come to DC.

One user said that spontaneous rallies are needed to ensure they don't infiltrate. It would be far more effective to find patriots and hold a peaceful protest in your local area.

Others were frustrated by the timid approach. There has never been a better time to protest than now. However, we have been put in a position where people don't feel safe exercising our rights because of the threat that they will be set up, according to one rightwing messaging app. When will it be better?

In the end, despite the negative headlines about the rally's low turnout on Saturday, the event's message of continuing the fight resonated with many beyond the small Washington crowd. The battle does not end today, Matt Baynard (an ex-Trump campaign aide) told the crowd. This is actually the beginning of America First, which will take over community organizing in the country.

As he listened to the speech, Tom, a man who chose not to give his first name, showed TIME texts from his brother in Olympia (Wash.) who was planning to attend an anti-vaccine mandate rally along with the Proud Boys or other far-right groups later that day. He said that it wasn't about getting out there to shout outside the Capitol or White House. This is how we are going to take back our country.

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