It’s even harder to measure how many Americans are ready to actually commit political violence.
Understand the Jan. 6 InvestigationBoth the Justice Department and a House select committee are investigating the events of the Capitol riot. Here’s where they stand:The violent inner circle
Arrests are one indicator. In the year since the storming of the U.S. Capitol, at least 725 people have been arrested for some level of involvement in the riot. Many of them were Trump supporters who weren’t involved in anti-government militias. But several dozen were members of radical groups like the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, which led the charge into the building.
Both groups saw their fund-raising and membership numbers plummet after Jan. 6, according to The Wall Street Journal. “We’ve been bleeding money since January, like hemorrhaging money,” Enrique Tarrio, a Proud Boys leader, told The Journal. Former Oath Keepers said that the group’s membership had dropped to roughly 7,500.
Cassie Miller, a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center who has been tracking the growth of local Proud Boys chapters, said the steady normalization of political violence on the right had given the group new legitimacy.
But their true level of support could be higher. In September, more than 38,000 email addresses purportedly from the Oath Keepers’ private chat room were leaked online. The list included everyone from current members to people who had merely signed up for the group’s mailing list, Oren Segal, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, noted. “In other words,” Segal said, “the data was open to interpretation.”
“I think they are operating from a place of strength in our current political moment,” she said.
The White House pushback
Invoking Jan. 6, the Biden administration has tried to reorient federal law enforcement agencies around fighting homegrown extremism: In March, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence assessed that domestic violent extremists posed a “heightened threat.”
In May, the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security declared, “The greatest terrorism threat to the Homeland we face today is posed by lone offenders, often radicalized online, who look to attack soft targets with easily accessible weapons.” In June, the White House unveiled its strategy to combat domestic terrorism, an entire pillar of which is about preventing radicalization before it starts.
The federal government doesn’t officially track the size of extremist groups, because it’s legal to join them. Membership also tends to be fluid, which means it’s hard to gauge whether Biden’s strategy is working.
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