Most people probably think that the insurrection against American democracy by the MAGA right was a one-day thing that happened on Jan. 6, 2021. They don’t seem to realize that Jan. 6 was only the beginning. The insurrectionists not only remain with us and among us, but are actively preparing to bring down our current democratic system and replace it with a far-right autocracy, just as they attempted back then. You could hear them talk about it at Saturday night’s gala of the New York Young Republicans Club (NYRCC).
“We want to cross the Rubicon. We want total war. We must be prepared to do battle in every arena. In the media. In the courtroom. At the ballot box. And in the streets,” NYYRC president Gavin Wax declared. “This is the only language the left understands. The language of pure and unadulterated power.”
This was the same black-tie, white-nationalist event on New York’s Upper East Side at which Marjorie Taylor Greene told the crowd that the insurrection could have been better organized.
“I will tell you something, if Steve Bannon and I organized that, we would have won,” she said, as attendees erupted in cheers and applause. “Not to mention, it would’ve been armed.”
As Hannah Gais and Michael Edison Hayden reported for Hatewatch, the dinner was a chance for establishment Republicans to commingle and get red-pilled by some of the leading figures in the insurrectionist movement—the white nationalists, QAnon conspiracists, and lickspittle authoritarians who are determined to not just overwhelm and overpower liberal Democrats and American democratic institutions, but to eliminate them permanently.
Among the attendees were ex-Trump adviser Steve Bannon and noted white-nationalist “thought leader” Peter Brimelow, along with leading far-right media figures like Jack Posobiec, Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe, and Joshua Hammer of Newsweek. In addition to Greene, other supposedly mainstream Republican figures like Donald Trump Jr. and Rudy Giuliani were among the speakers and guests. They all brushed shoulders with leading European white-nationalist political figures from parties like Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD) and the Austrian Freedom Party.
Posobiec grew so agitated by the presence of Gais and Hayden that he drew a crowd around them, upon which NYYRC executive secretary Viswanag “Vish” Burra forced both Hatewatch reporters to depart the event, giving one of them a shove on the way out.
The scene in New York reflected how the insurrectionist movement is well-moneyed and deep-pocketed, and features a number of leading figures in elite Republican circles. But of course, where they remain the most visible and powerful is in rural red counties where Oath Keepers and “3 Percent” stickers flourish on pickup bumpers: in places where the MAGA army dwells and festers, growing increasingly radicalized by the week.
This army of insurrectionists was profiled in a June 2021 paper by the Chicago Project on Security and Threats, which estimated back then, based on its survey results, that they totaled 8.1% of the American population—which is to say, an estimated 21 million people who believe not only was the Jan. 6 insurrection justified, but that use of force is justified to restore Trump to the presidency even now.
The survey also found that more than 25% of adults agreed that “The 2020 election was stolen, and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.” The report noted:
Today’s 21 million adamant supporters of insurrection also have the dangerous potential for violent mobilization. Our survey also asked pointed questions about membership and support for militia groups, such as the Oath Keepers, or extremist groups, such as the Proud boys, to which approximately, one million of the 21 million insurrectionists are themselves or personally know a member of a militia or extremist group. Six million showed support for militias and extremist groups. At least seven million of this number own a gun, and three million have prior US military service.
The University of Chicago researchers found “two central beliefs occur among adamant insurrectionists statistically significantly than more commonly found in the general population”:
- 63% believe in the Great Replacement: “African American people or Hispanic people in our country will eventually have more rights than whites.”
- 54% believe in the QAnon cabal: “A secret group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles is ruling the US government.”
The problem almost certainly has worsened and spread since then, particularly in terms how it’s playing out: a hundred little insurrections at which right-wing street brawlers and armed militiamen turn out to intimidate local school and health boards and libraries and city councils, and far-right candidates who promote election denialism file to run in hundreds of races up and down the ballot, even winning some critical seats in government eventually.
Most of all, we’ve seen the insurrectionists’ war on democracy spreading on multiple fronts:
- Armed neofascist thugs, mostly in the guise of violent Proud Boys and armed militiamen, have begun making their presence at LGBTQ events—particularly drag-queen performances—such a regular occurrence that it scarcely attracts press coverage now.
- As a predictable result of the far right’s demonization of the LGBTQ community as “groomers,” their events are now becoming the target of lethal hate crimes like the recent mass shooting in Colorado Springs. Rather than express sympathy or concern for the victims, right-wing Republican “thought leaders” chose to warn the LGBTQ community that more violence would continue until they stop “grooming”—which is to say, existing.
- Other domestic-terrorist attacks, such as the one in Buffalo that was inspired by the perpetrator’s belief in white-nationalist claptrap about the “replacement” of the white populace, demonstrates how Republican media leaders can indulge in stochastic terrorism by pushing these toxic concept into the mainstream discourse.
- A surge in vicious antisemitism, seemingly unleashed by Kanye West’s Hitler-loving rants, on social media and elsewhere appears to have emboldened mainstream Republicans like Trump to either rationalize or embrace white-nationalist elements.
- Red-pilled billionaire Elon Musk is transforming Twitter into Gab on steroids, encouraging the spread of conspiracist nonsense in his own tweets, while opening the floodgates to white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and COVID denialists of all stripes to return to the forum, turning its once-mostly-moderated content into a cesspool.
- Gunfire attacks on power substations around the country that appear to be largely modeled on a domestic-terrorism blueprint circulating on far-right circles. One gang of Idaho-based neo-Nazis has already been arrested for plotting such attacks as cover for committing assassinations.
The spread isn’t limited to the United States: In Germany, a large group of QAnon-loving white nationalists, inspired by Jan. 6, plotted to bring down their country’s democratic government with a violent coup/takeover—until they were rounded up and arrested by the government’s police.
Thor Benson recently explored for Wired how widely and deeply far-right radicalization has spread in American society, as well as why it’s happening. “What you find is people are most vulnerable to authoritarianism and extremist impulses when they don’t know what they’re supposed to do,” terrorism analyst J.M. Berger told him. “They don’t know where they fit in the world.”
Conspiracism, as I’ve explored elsewhere, is particularly attractive to people who feel a lack of agency. This is how University of Maryland psychology prof Arie Kruglanski explained the current dynamic to Benson, noting that “a need to feel significant” can be an important motivator during unstable social periods.
“These things increase the motivation to reassert your significance. Once you have that, you’re vulnerable to narratives that promise you a restoration of your significance,” Kruglanski says. “Many of these conspiracy theories—most of them, I would think—do that.”
Benson also draws particular attention to “the role of political leaders in America and a Republican Party that has become more extreme itself”:
“We have people who are the top leaders of a right-wing party who are really just willing to come out and express and endorse positions that are much more radical than what used to be the norm in American politics,” Berger says. “They’re creating a permission structure for people to talk about racism and violence in ways that previously would have been outside of the realm of civil discourse.”
The Saturday dinner in New York City embodied this reality. And Gavin Wax’s evocation of the Rubicon—the historic river in Italy whose crossing by Caesar’s army in early January 49 B.C. sparked the Roman Civil War, leading to Caesar’s ascension as dictator—is a theme that has become popular among the insurrectionists.
One of them—a retired police officer from Virginia named Thomas Robertson, who assaulted several police officers during the rioting on the Capitol steps, and was arrested shortly afterward—evoked the Rubicon metaphor in his discussions online with his fellow “Patriots” afterwards. Released by a judge to await trial on his multiple felony charges—among the conditions of which were an order to stay away from gun—he promptly went out and purchased 34 guns online and a large cache of ammunition upon his return home. He also constructed a pipe bomb and a booby trap in his home, and kept an M4 carbine in the house.
Before authorities had caught on and returned him to prison, he also boasted about his participation in the insurrection in online forums. When someone asked him about it on Gunbroker.com, he answered:
I’ve said before. They are trying to teach us a lesson. They have. But its definitely not the intended lesson. I have learned that if you peacefully protest than you will be arrested, fired, be put on a no fly list, have your name smeared and address released by the FBI so every loon in the US can send you hate mail. I have learned very well that if you dip your toe into the Rubicon. ... cross it. Cross it hard and violent and play for all the marbles.
Robertson was convicted and sentenced to seven years in federal prison. The millions of insurrectionists who think like Robertson aren’t going away anytime soon, no small thanks to their well-moneyed movement leaders—but the survival of American democracy will depend on blunting their ceaseless attacks, the first step of which entails taking them seriously. As Benson says: “America will have to deal with these conditions that are making extremism more likely if it’s going to continue to function politically. A house built on dynamite is a dangerous place to live.”