Right at the time that the congressional Democratic Party is falling apart and turning away from the last shreds of its progressive heritage, fascism has taken a firm death grip on the GOP-- and, worse, on its voter base. The best thing that could happen now is for the two corrupted major parties, each in thrall too corporate interests, to disintegrate into either 3 parties or 4. Four would mean the Democratic Party splits into a corporate party-- New Dems, Blue Dogs and other centrists- and a progressive party while the GOP splits into a mainstream conservative party and a fascist white nationalist party. Three parties is more likely-- mainstream conservative Republicans and conservative Democrats joining to form a corporate "centrist" party while a progressive party and a fascist party fights to represent the working class.
Speaking of which... you probably already read how a bunch of Proud Boys leaders were charged with sedition yesterday. Good. But I would like to see the people who planned the conspiracy-- Trump and his inner circle-- being charged with sedition as well. Reporting for the New Yorker yesterday, Andrea Bernstein and Ilya Marritz wrote about the consolidation of right-wing extremism in conjunction with Trumpism. They focused on two violent fascist misfits, Guy Reffitt from Texas and Jessica Watkins from Ohio. "In March," wrote Bernstein and Marritz, "Guy Reffitt, a supporter of the far-right militia group the Texas Three Percenters, became the first person convicted at trial for playing a role in the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. After three hours of deliberations, a federal jury found Reffitt guilty on all five counts, including entering a restricted area with a firearm and obstructing an official proceeding. After the verdict, Reffitt returned to the section of the District of Columbia jail where, for more than a year, the mostly white rioters have been held separately from the jail’s mostly Black and brown general population. The January 6th defendants call it the 'patriot wing.' Each night, they sing 'The Star-Spangled Banner' together. Reffitt resumed his jailhouse pastime, playing Magic: The Gathering-- a card game that involves wizards, spells, and strategy-- with Jessica Watkins, a [transgender] bartender and militia leader from rural Ohio who is awaiting trial on seditious conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding, and four other charges. Watkins has pleaded not guilty. Of the more than eight hundred people charged with participating in the insurrection at the Capitol, Reffitt and Watkins have been accused of some of the most significant crimes... They expressed certainty that law-enforcement officials had staged the attack, entrapping them and hundreds of other protesters. Watkins called January 6th 'a setup.' The correspondence revealed an intense bond underpinned by wild conspiracy theories and a deep-rooted sense of grievance."
Stephen Brennwald, an attorney for another rioter said in court that "the political views of defendants in the so-called patriot wing were growing increasingly extreme. The unit is 'radicalizing the people who are there,' Brennwald said. 'It’s, like, this herd mentality... It was almost cultlike.' (A jail official said in a court filing that the group is housed separately from the general population 'for their own safety and security.')"
John Cohen, who served as the acting chief of intelligence for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under President Biden until this April, said in an interview that the bond Reffitt and Watkins have formed is emblematic of a consolidation of right-wing extremism that has taken place since January 6th. “One of the things that make the current threat environment complicated for law enforcement and intelligence is the blending that occurs,” Cohen said. “People who may have come from very different ideological backgrounds or somewhat different ideological backgrounds are coalescing around certain things.” In the seventeen months since the insurrection, Cohen said, a unit of some nine hundred analysts had picked up on a number of disturbing patterns. “Anti-government militia, hard-core white supremacists, and even people more from the anarchist movement have come together,” he said. Their goals are explicit: “assassination of elected officials, and violent activities to resist government activities, or programs.”
The ideological hardening was predictable, and predicted, after the attack on the Capitol, according to Elizabeth Neumann, who served as the D.H.S.’s Assistant Secretary for Counterterrorism and Threat Prevention during the Trump Administration. “On January 6th, we had neo-Nazis hanging out with a bunch of otherwise just maga people,” Neumann said, in an interview. “That’s an opportunity to recruit.”
Some groups involved in the insurrection have increased in size, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks domestic extremist groups. The Proud Boys, whose members prosecutors said were key conspirators on January 6th, have grown from forty-three chapters in 2020 to seventy-two in 2022. Their over-all membership appears to have risen as well, despite multiple investigations, indictments, and the arrest of the Proud Boy leader, Enrique Tarrio. Susan Corke, the center’s director of intelligence, said that far-right members of the Republican Party are normalizing anti-government conspiracy theories and talk of political violence. “People like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar, and Lauren Boebert-- what was extreme is now acceptable for people in elected office,” Corke said. Greene and Congressman Louie Gohmert have visited the D.C. jail where Watkins and Reffitt are being held. Greene has compared the conditions there to a “prisoner of war” camp. Gosar, Boebert, and Gohmert did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Greene said that she “has denounced political violence repeatedly.”
...In the first days of the new year, according to prosecutors, Watkins was one of a number of Oath Keepers who coördinated the transport of weapons and ammunition to sites outside Washington, to be used by “quick reaction force” teams in support of a plot to block Biden from taking office. On January 6th, federal prosecutors say, Watkins and about a dozen others, all wearing camouflage and tactical gear, approached the Capitol on foot. “Y’all, we’re one block away from the Capitol now,” Watkins said, in a walkie-talkie-style conversation recorded that day. “I’m probably gonna go silent when I get there, because I’m gonna be a little busy.”
At 2:35 p.m., Watkins and others dressed in camouflage moved in a “stack” formation up the east steps of the Capitol, passing through the mob to enter the building. They roamed the halls for about an hour. At one point, Watkins urged a group of rioters to breach a line of police guarding the Senate chamber. “Push, push, push,” she said, according to an indictment. “They can’t hold us.” Others from Watkins’s stack peeled off to look for Nancy Pelosi. After leaving the building, Watkins returned to Ohio and boasted about her experience on Parler, a social-media app popular with conservatives. “So these were the fuckweed cops killing Patriots, and assaulting us when we WERE peaceful,” Watkins wrote. “Our election was stolen, an offense that cannot and should not go unchallenged. Extreme times call for extreme measures.” Eleven days later, her neighbors were awakened by flash-bang grenades. F.B.I. agents had come to arrest Watkins. She wasn’t home, but she turned herself in the following day.
...On January 6th, Reffitt arrived at the Capitol along with thousands of other Trump supporters. Dressed in a helmet and a tactical vest, he carried a .40-calibre Smith & Wesson pistol, zip ties, and a helmet-mounted video camera. At Trump’s Stop the Steal rally, the device recorded Reffitt boasting about wanting to assault members of Congress. “We’re all gonna drag them motherfuckers out kicking and screaming,” he said. “I don’t give a shit. I just want to see Pelosi’s head hit every fucking stair on the way out. Fuck yeah. And Mitch McConnell, too. Fuck ’em all.”
...While Reffitt was in Washington, his eighteen-year-old son, Jackson, had been trying to warn the F.B.I. about his father. Two weeks before the assault on the Capitol, Jackson sent an online tip to the Bureau that his father seemed to be planning “something big.” On the afternoon of January 6th, he got a call back from an F.B.I. agent. “Your timing is impeccable,” Jackson recalled telling the agent, who did not laugh.
After Reffitt returned to Texas, Jackson secretly recorded his father boasting of his exploits in Washington, and shared the recording with an agent. He also described a heated conversation in which Reffitt warned Jackson and his sixteen-year-old sister not to turn him over to law-enforcement officials. “Traitors get shot,” Reffitt told his children. A few days later, the F.B.I. arrested Reffitt in an early-morning raid. At Reffitt’s trial in March, Jackson testified against his father and helped prosecutors convict him of obstruction of justice. Nicole, though, was defiant after the verdict. She said that her husband had been victimized and urged other January 6th defendants to reject plea bargains. “They are making a point out of Guy. And that is to intimidate the other members of the ‘one-sixers.’ And we will all fight together.”
Trump continues to falsely claim that the 2020 election was stolen. At a rally in Texas in January, he declared the prosecutions of the January 6th rioters “a disgrace.” He said, “If I run and if I win, we will treat those people from January 6th fairly. We will treat them fairly. And, if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons, because they are being treated so unfairly.” Last month, in Wyoming, Trump called the detainees “political prisoners.” Polls show that the proportion of Americans who believe that violent attacks against the government can be justified is rising. A January Washington Post survey found that one in three respondents supported such acts, twice the level in 2010. The D.H.S.’s National Terrorism Advisory System is now issuing warnings at the fastest rate since it was created, in 2011. In February, D.H.S. issued its sixth warning in a little more than a year to local law-enforcement officials: “Mass casualty attacks and other acts of targeted violence conducted by lone offenders and small groups acting in furtherance of ideological beliefs and/or personal grievances pose an ongoing threat to the nation.”
Law-enforcement officials say that they have learned from the January 6th riot and become more adept at responding to potential threats. They point to a rally last September, outside the Capitol, that was organized by supporters of the January 6th defendants. Law-enforcement officials were alarmed when they spotted calls online for protesters to storm the building once again, kidnap members of Congress, and put them on trial. The agency expanded its intelligence gathering and worked closely with the F.B.I. and local law-enforcement agencies to make plans to contain protesters if extreme rhetoric sparked violence. Most important, they publicly announced their extensive preparations. Extremists took note, messaging one another not to go to Washington, and dismissed the protest as a “trap by the Feds.” The rally fizzled. The actions that D.H.S. took read like a checklist of the steps that the agency had failed to perform prior to January 6th.
But Cohen, the former acting head of intelligence at D.H.S., is in no way reassured. A white supremacist’s mass shooting in a Buffalo grocery store in May, which claimed the lives of ten Black people, demonstrated law enforcement’s inability to contain the threat. “In my thirty-eight-plus years of law enforcement, this is the most complex threat environment I’ve ever seen,” Cohen said. “We have unacceptable levels of violence by people who are influenced and inspired by content they see online.” Cohen, who is now the executive director of the Program for Countering Hybrid Threats at the Center for Internet Security, a nonprofit, added, “I am really fucking concerned about where we are.”
Neumann, the former D.H.S. Assistant Secretary for Counterterrorism, has an additional fear: a second Trump Administration. The former President’s return to the Oval Office would signal to white supremacists and other right-wing groups that they have “an ally in government,” Neumann said. “I think you would see mass resignations, not just at D.H.S. but across the government.” Neumann and other former Trump Administration officials said that Trump and his allies were initially slowed by their lack of experience in running large government agencies. “But toward the end they were figuring it out,” Neumann said. “And it concerns me that the damage they could do would far exceed what they did in their four years in power. Exponentially worse-- because he has no constraints at that point.”
...Reffitt, who is scheduled to be sentenced later this month, is unrepentant. He remains convinced that law-enforcement officials staged the riot and entrapped him and other protesters. Shortly after he was convicted, Reffitt wrote that the riot was caused not by Trump supporters but by “a very concerted operation of out [of] control police officers.” He said he has requested their body-cam video and is planning an appeal.
In Watkins’s framing, what happened on January 6th was the fault of an election system that she feels can no longer be trusted. “I believe every election should be automatically contested and audited by both political parties independent of each other,” she wrote. “Then the results brought before the American people in an open forum and open source for review by anyone.” What Watkins is proposing would remove a cornerstone of American democracy-- both sides, win or lose, agreeing to accept the results provided by state and local election officials, and peacefully transferring power.
For Cohen, the former D.H.S. intelligence official, the deliberate spread of false election-fraud claims is a recipe for continued polarization and violence. “I’ve seen intelligence calling on people to go self-deploy as poll watchers, to take actions to determine whether people should be legitimately voting,” he said. “We can anticipate as we get closer to the midterms that polarization will increase.” He added, “The more that’s out there, the higher the likelihood that someone will consume that disinformation and act in response to it.”
Being lenient towards these people-- and their leaders-- absolutely guarantees a bloodier recurrence. I know the death penalty for treason and sedition is out of fashion, but decades in maximum security prisons should serve to send a message almost as well. Almost.