Far Right Organizing Has Shifted to the Local Level, Making It Harder to Track

Thursday marks one year since a mob of white supremacist Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol. This disrupted Congress’s ability to certify the results of the 2020 presidential elections. Five people were killed and hundreds more were injured. We look at where these movements are one year later, with the updated investigative documentary “American Insurrection” by FrontlineIn collaboration with ProPublica and Berkeley Journalism’s Investigative Reporting Program. Director Rick Rowley explains how the far-right social movements have grown since the insurrection and says “the locus of the organizing has shifted really from a national platform to a local one, which makes it more difficult to track and increases the potential for local or regional violence.” Rowley and Frontline correspondent A.C. Thompson interviewed January 6 select committee chair Rep. Bennie Thompson about what makes this a moment for “far-right mobilization” and discussed the significance of the widespread contradictory beliefs by many on the far right that antifa and Black Lives Matter dressed up as Trump supporters and carried out the January 6 riot, but that those who tried to overturn the election are patriots.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be final.

AMY GOODMAN: Thursday marks the first anniversary for the January 6th insurrection. This was when thousands of people attacked and destroyed the U.S. Capitol to overthrow the 2020 election. Many were part in far-right extremist or white supremacist organizations. We will be looking at where these movements are today with an investigation by Frontline, ProPublica and Berkeley Journalism’s Investigative Reporting Program that began in the wake of the deadly 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally. Their reporting revealed that white supremacist groups split up in the aftermath of Charlottesville. However, President Trump gave them new hope.

This is an excerpt from American Insurrection with correspondent A.C. Thompson that actually begins before January 6, 2020, when, on November 14th, one week after the presidential election was called for Joe Biden, Trump supporters took to the streets of Washington, D.C., stirred up by Trump’s refusal to concede. They demanded that the results be reversed.

A.C. THOMPSON: Proud Boys meld with Proud Boys as night falls MAGA People are seen roaming the city looking to fight. Trump supporters confront journalists, vandalize Black Lives Matter signs, and fight with activists trying to stop them.

POLICE OFFICER: Get out of here!

A.C. THOMPSON: A month later, Trump supporters return to Washington. The protests turn violent again. He then calls his supporters to the Capitol for January 6th.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you. We’re going to walk down to the Capitol! … You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you must be strong. We demand that Congress does the right thing. … And we fight. We fight like mad. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.

A.C. THOMPSON: As his presidency draws to a close, he urges them all to go to the Capitol building.

TRUMP SUPPORTERS: Whose house is it? Our house!


A.C. THOMPSON: The Proud Boys are here, but they aren’t wearing their trademark yellow and black. The boogaloo bois also are present, but they are not wearing uniforms. Both blend in with the pro-Trump crowd. The Congress is trying certification of the election from inside. The crowd is pounding on them.

TRUMP SUPPORTERS: U.S.A.! U.S.A.! Whose house? Our house!

A.C. THOMPSON: However, the police on the steps are unprepared and outnumbered.


A.C. THOMPSON: Around 140 officers of the police force are hurt. Brian Sicknick, one of the injured officers, will eventually die. A proud New York boy smashes through the window. The Capitol has been breached. The Capitol was broken by a Proud Boy, but what about those behind him? The president urged a mob to join an insurrectionary violence that was once only available to extreme elements of the far right.

TRUMP SUPPORTER: It’s amazing!

A.C. THOMPSON: Some wander aimlessly through the halls. Others move towards Senate chamber. The police are unable to stop the congressmen, who run for cover through back exits. They come within feet of their targets, as the mob surges down the corridors in search of them.

TRUMP SUPPORTERS: Break it down! Break it down! Break it down!

A.C. THOMPSON: Rioters attempt to break into a corridor that lawmakers are trying to escape through.


A.C. THOMPSON: Protester is shot and killed. Three other rioters are also killed in the chaos. It would take many hours before the Capitol was cleared.

AMY GOODMAN: Here’s an update to the documentary American Insurrection This week, it was released. Frontline A.C. Thompson, correspondent examines how far-right extremists groups have changed since January 6th.

A.C. THOMPSON: Washington, D.C., is now free of fences. The National Guard patrols are also gone in Washington, D.C. The city does not feel like a battle zone. However, almost a year later, I still have many questions about the Capitol.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON: We cannot allow the same thing that happened on January 6th to happen again. We owe it the American people and we will not fail in that responsibility, I assure.

A.C. THOMPSON: The House of Representatives has appointed a committee to investigate January 6, and to make recommendations for changes to prevent it from happening again. The committee chair is Representative Bennie Thomson.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON: January 6th was a difficult one for me because it was my first time at the Capitol. I’ve seen a lot of people come to this Capitol. People in Washington, D.C. have the right to express themselves, I thought. I never imagined that someone would infiltrate the United States Capitol. Despite what all had occurred, we were called back in the early morning hours to complete the certification, because if we don’t certify the election, then Donald Trump is still president. He can do a lot of things. Martial law has potential.

A.C. THOMPSON: It could have looked like a coup.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON: Absolutely. You get people, who I talk to on a daily basis, who will actually tell me that what I saw and experienced on January 6th really didn’t happen.

A.C. THOMPSON: People come to you, and they say January 6th didn’t happen?

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON: Yeah, and say, “Look, it was the Black Lives Matter folk. It was antifa dressed up as Trump people who did that.” Or, in addition to that, you have those millions of folk who are out there who are convinced that those individuals who broke into the United States Capitol, they were some of the greatest patriots.

A.C. THOMPSON: Right, right. These are heroes, they say.


A.C. THOMPSON: They say that people like yourself are the enemy.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON: Absolutely. And that’s why our mission on this committee is so important.

A.C. THOMPSON: Thompson’s committee has subpoenaed members of Trump’s inner circle and interviewed hundreds of witnesses, including some D.C. and Capitol Police officers.

SGT. HARRY DUNN: The fence was taken down and it has not been removed since. If a hitman hires and kills someone, both the hitman and the person who hired them go to jail. A hitman sent them to the scene of an attack that was carried out on January 6. I want to know the truth.

Those windows were the first to be smashed. They were able to break through that door.

A.C. THOMPSON: The big one is up the steps?

SGT. HARRY DUNN: Yes, go up the steps.

A.C. THOMPSON: Harry Dunn, Capitol Police officer walks me through what happened that morning.

SGT. HARRY DUNN: I was on the opposite side of the Capitol. Once I cleared like this tree line right here, I was just looking out, and I just couldn’t believe what I saw. There were flashbangs. Smoke grenades were also being used.

A.C. THOMPSON: Which side do you prefer?


A.C. THOMPSON: From both?

SGT. HARRY DUNN: I’ve never seen anything like that before. My number one goal was to survive the day. To survive. We had no idea what was happening. We were fighting for our lives, fighting to preserve democracy. How is this going to end?! Like, because we were hours and hours and hours — it’s got to end somehow. How is it going end?

A.C. THOMPSON: Did you think it might end with these men taking over the place?

SGT. HARRY DUNN: Yeah, yeah. It crossed my mind.

A.C. THOMPSON: I was interviewing a recently elected public official. He was also there. He said, “I think maybe that was an antifa event. It was meant for Trump supporters and Republicans to see it. MAGA people, look bad.” What do you think when you hear stuff like that? He was there.

SGT. HARRY DUNN: The rioters that day in the building told us that “Donald Trump sent us.” I don’t know how to make that any more clear to anybody. Now, whether Donald Trump gave what they’ve been saying as the marching orders, whether he did or not, whatever, that’s not — that’s not my job. I know what happened to me. I know what I went through. They were there because Donald Trump sent them. According to them, “Donald Trump sent us.”

A.C. THOMPSON: We tried to get information from Justice Department about the investigation and arrests made after the attack. As well as other news organizations ProPublicaThey were sued for accessing evidence they had gathered.

DANIEL RODRIGUEZ: Trump called us. Trump called us to D.C. I thought there would be wars in the country. I believed that there would be fighting. I kept thinking that we’re going to go to like a civil war.

A.C. THOMPSON: The following dates are approximate: November 2021 to December 2021 DOJ Publicized the interrogation of Daniel Rodriguez who had admitted to assaulting an officer.

DANIEL RODRIGUEZ: What do you want me tell you? That I tased? Yes. Yes. I thought we were going do something. I believed that it would not end and continue as it did. I believed that Trump would remain president.

A.C. THOMPSON: Rodriguez has pleaded not guilt and his lawyers argued that he was being manipulated by the agents. But his words echo the narratives I’ve heard before.

DANIEL RODRIGUEZ: We felt they had stolen the election. We thought — we felt that they stole this country, that it’s gone, it’s wiped out, America is over, it’s destroyed now.

A.C. THOMPSON: Although arrests after January 6th may seem to have slowed the movement for a while, they would prove to be ineffective.

RALLY SPEAKER: We must fight back now.

A.C. THOMPSON: I see momentum building at rallies across America in support of the 2020 election. The crowds include fewer of the characters and groups I’ve been tracking. I am seeing more mainstream Americans. According to polling data around two-thirds (32%) of Republicans believe that the 2020 election was stolen. About a third believe that violence may be necessary in order to save the nation. Mary McCord, I return to speak to her.

What do you think has happened to those organized groups now — the Proud Boys, the boogaloo bois, the militias? What about their strength at this point?

MARY McCORD: They began finger-pointing in days. Some dissolved. Some were reconstituted. You know, I think the Three Percenters said, “We are no longer.” And you had all these Three Percenters nationally saying, “OK, we need to find another group.” And they also started, you know, making up other disinformation, like this was all an antifa plot, this was a law enforcement plot. But Americans have a very short memory. Time has passed. Now, it has been several months. And we’re starting to see, at least in the social media and online forums, you know, organizing again in very dangerous ways.

A.C. THOMPSON: The movement continues to thrive.

MARY McCORD: It lives on. And, you know, in a way, it’s harder for law enforcement to deal with when it’s so disparate like that, right? You know, a dozen individuals going to a local school board meeting in a rural county without a big police force, that’s harder to protect against than the Capitol, right? The Capitol will not again be infected by an insurrection.

A.C. THOMPSON: What are your thoughts on the threat coming from now and in the future? What keeps your awake at night?

MARY McCORD: I mean, I see a lot of the threats still coming from disinformation getting into political discourse. And particularly as we come into another election year, what I’m really seeing is, you know, the seeds are just being planted already of fraud rampant throughout our election systems.

A.C. THOMPSON: The polling on this topic is very chilling. Tens of millions believe that the 2020 election was a fraud. And a lot of them have said, “I’m willing to use violence to change things.”

MARY McCORD: First of all, it’s astounding to see that data. And I tell myself sometimes that surely there’s something wrong about that data collection and that some of that is hyperbolic, right? All of this said, we know gun purchases increased significantly over 2020. We have seen more and more armed individuals coming out to government proceedings, whether it’s the counting of the vote after the elections, whether it’s public health meetings, school board meetings. The willingness to be threatening government officials, and even threatening them with arms, is — you know, is something that really needs to be addressed, because that could just snowball.

A.C. THOMPSON: One year later, the country still lives in the shadows of January 6th. My journey from Charlottesville to Charlottesville has taken a new turn. Along the way, I’ve seen up close the peril posed by a resurgent white supremacist movement, armed militias pledging to execute police and elected officials, ultranationalists brawling in the streets, would-be revolutionaries wearing Hawaiian shirts, and now this: millions of people convinced that the 2020 election was a fraud, some of them angry enough to turn to violence. Charlottesville and January 6th were once seen as the end of an era. But today it’s clear: The movements I’ve been covering have been changing, evolving, but they are not going away.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s an excerpt from the updated version of the American Insurrection Documentary with A.C. Thompson. It was released this past week. You can see the video. full report at PBS.org/FrontlineYouTube.

For more, we’re joined by the director and writer of this documentary, Rick Rowley. He’s also the director of their Emmy-winning series Documenting Hate.

Rick, you are welcome back to Democracy Now! You now have the latest version of American InsurrectionHow do you see these white supremacist or extremist militias today? What do you think is most important to understand about what we’ve learned in this last year?

RICK ROWLEY: It’s great to be with you, Amy and Juan.

Yeah. Mary McCord does an excellent job of summarizing the current position of the movement. There was a real backlash against January 6th’s perpetrators in the weeks that followed, just like there was after Charlottesville. Some of the larger above-ground national organizations split. However, the backlash was very short-lived. Over the next few months, they reconstituted their networks. Mostly, the national networks have disarticulated themselves, and they’re being organized locally — so, Proud Boys chapters showing up at school board meetings around the country. And the locus of the organizing has shifted in many ways from a national platform to a local one, which makes it more difficult to track and increases the potential for local or regional violence, which was already a trajectory we were seeing — right? — with the plot to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan, last year. That is where I believe the threat to right-wing violence is at the moment.

But I think it’s important also to remember that, like — or, think of these things as — of this as a far-right social movement. There are groups within it, such as small, committed militant groups like lifelong white supremacist groups or militias who are committed to bringing about a civil war. There are those groups that push the boundaries. But they’re swimming in a sea of a much larger group of people, millions of people, who, in the words of the national security analysts, are vulnerable to radicalization, you know, a sea of people who are on the edge and could be recruited into violence by these groups. That pool of radicalizable, vulnerable people is growing larger and larger every day. Today, more people believe that the election was stolen then they did on the morning January 6th. Today, more people believe that violence may be necessary to defend America today than they did on January 6th. The wider kind of environment these movements have created and the violence that has been generated within has only grown.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Rick, I wanted to ask you — you did get a chance to interview Congressmember Bennie Thompson, who’s chairing the House investigation of the January 6th insurrection, his committee. In recent months, all the media attention has been on Trump and his circle being able to draw out the demands, or subpoenas, for investigation into the next electoral season. What was your sense of how — of Thompson’s resolve and what his committee has already found and is seeking to prove?

RICK ROWLEY: Representative Thompson stated that January will be a busy month for them. They’re going to start to make — much of the work that the committee has been doing in private, it’s going to become public. And there will be more public hearings, and we’ll begin to see, you know, what’s going on there.

I mean, I think — I mean, the danger that I fear is that, you know, this — so, Trump obviously played a key role, and has over the entire course of this rise in far-right violence, from before Charlottesville through today. Trump, his candidacy and then his presidency, has been a key player and catalyst for these organizations. And then, obviously, on the morning of January 6th, he pointed to the Capitol and said, you know, “You’ve got to fight.” So, you know, his role is absolutely key.

But I think it’s important for us to remember that it doesn’t have to be a smoke-filled room with three people who, like, planned a very sophisticated operation. I mean, what you have is currents, like deeper political sicknesses inside America, that are being — and fault lines and fissures, that are being tapped into, cynically sometimes, by political players that make this, you know, moments like this, kind of happen. So, you know, I mean — and there’s many things that make this a moment that is incredibly ripe for far-right mobilization and populist mobilization. This is what I mean. [inaudible]The rampant economic inequality and the disastrous wars against Iraq and Afghanistan are two of the major factors. These were two major factors in creating a large portion of the population who has lost faith in this country or believes that it has failed them in some way. Many of those grievances can be legitimate. You have then old, legacy, far–right, white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups, and then there are political actors such as Trump, who can mobilize these energies and direct them in the right direction.

So, that, I think, is why you see that this is not — it’s an argument that can be won with facts and evidence, right? I mean, the whole narrative around the 2020 election being stolen, time and again it faces what appear to be — on the surface, to be sort of crippling defeats — right? — the Arizona recount, or audit, you know, every single one of the cases brought by Giuliani and company being thrown out of court. Those don’t actually matter. The narrative that is feeding this social movement all continues to exist and will continue to reconstitute itself until the underlying issues and sicknesses that feed it are addressed in a more systemic manner.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Talking about lies and narratives, the narrative that right-wing media tries to push, which still claims that antifa was somehow involved in the insurrection. Could you speak about that and how important it is to the narrative?

RICK ROWLEY: Yeah, it’s kind of amazing. It’s amazing. And authoritarian narratives and authoritarian political systems are known for their ability to hold completely opposing ideas within the same movement. There are people who say it was fake; it wasn’t a true flag operation; antifa/Black Lives Matter disguised themselves as Trump supporters and organized the whole operation. And then, inside the same movement, shoulder to shoulder with them, you’ll have — and inside the same person sometimes — you’ll also have the belief that the January 6th rioters are patriots and that they’re being crucified in these trials that are just now beginning to happen against them. These two contradictory beliefs are being held together.

The creation of this bogeyman on Black Lives Matter and antifa has been crucial to the reformulations of far-right groups after Charlottesville. We see this in action early in the film.

So, one of the guys we talk to in — we interview in America Insurrection is Brien James, who’s a lifelong, hardcore leader in white supremacist groups — you know, the Klan, the early militia movement where he met Timothy McVeigh, skinhead gangs. Trump then rode down to the golden escalator, started his campaign. He said that he realized that he was better off removing all explicitly racist politics. He also decided to rebrand himself, remove the swastika armband and wrap himself in the American Flag, becoming a Trump supporter. He joined the Proud Boys. He’s a regional leader of the Proud Boys in Indiana. And he says that using — rather than naming a racial enemy, saying, “We’re against Blacks or Mexican immigrants,” or whatever, naming a political enemy — “We’re against the communists who want to destroy everything that you love about this country” — was the way that they retargeted their political message so that they could reach into the mainstream. It was very effective. I mean, Brien James says that throughout his career in the far right, he’s always had 20 guys in Minneapolis, you know, maybe 40 statewide. He now has 200. We witnessed him in Washington, D.C. with a crew made up of ex-skinhead gang members, all sporting racist tattoos on their faces. They were dressed in the Proud Boys’ yellow and black, and were welcomed by a large number of Trump supporters. So, yeah, I mean, you’re right, Juan, the creation of this leftist kind of communist threat to mobilize against, of that kind of enemy to mobilize against, is central to the work that the extreme far right is doing to penetrate the mainstream.

AMY GOODMAN: Rick, we would like to thank you for being here, Rick Rowley, director at the PBS FrontlineProPublicaDocumentary American InsurrectionNow updated and available at their websiteIn collaboration with A.C. Thompson.

Next, “Is the ‘smoking gun’ in Trump’s Jan. 6 attempted coup hiding in plain sight?” We’ll speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Will Bunch. Stay with us.