The dramatic events yesterday at the U.S. Capitol further open worrisome possibilities for future far right violence and disruptions. An escalation in aggressive actions seems likely, especially in the remaining two weeks of Trump’s term, but the effect may last much longer. However, there is also the possibility that both this and similar recent events could further widen the internal fissures on the right, to the detriment of the Trumpists.
Most immediately, Trump loyalists’ breach of the Capitol will undoubtedly embolden far right street forces who believe that the election was stolen. There were far right demonstrations outside state capitols yesterday, although — contrary to rumors — none were “breached.” (Protesters who entered the Kansas statehouse had a permit to do so.)
The most immediate worry is that, between now and Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20, the Capitol breach will act as an inspiration for similar aggressive actions, if not on Thursday then on the upcoming weekend.
Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, told Truthout that the far right under Trump “not only is bigger, it’s angrier,” adding that Trump has been able to unite “White Supremacists, QAnon, the conspiracy people, the militias, and the ‘Stop the Steal’ type people.” Beirich says, “we have no fringe anymore” since the GOP has refused to act as a “gatekeeper to the right,” as it did under George W. Bush’s administration. (For all his imperialist actions, domestically Bush never reached Trump’s level of demonizing oppressed groups and the left.) Additionally, the previous barriers between far right groups has dropped markedly, and infighting between them has dwindled too.
In the coming days, state capitols might actually be targeted, as happened previously in Michigan and Oregon. But so could Democratic Party offices, or any physical spaces associated — either in reality or imagination — with Black Lives Matter or “antifa.” Even Republicans who are insufficiently loyal to Trump could fall in their cross hairs. A rally on inauguration day is also likely, and it could produce more left/right clashes if the day’s traditional anarchist protest also materializes.
Another worrisome scenario, according to Beirich, could unfold once Trump is out and the far right is deprived of significant political access — a situation that could spur more Trumpists to turn to violence. In the past, only militias and avowed white supremacists have engaged in mass casualty terrorist acts, but Beirich fears that this may soon change. As evidenced by numerous arrests in the last couple of years, the FBI has kept close tabs on the militia and white supremacist networks that have historically sought to plan terrorist attacks. But with this new far right fusion, violence could potentially emerge from a broader array of actors, which would be much more difficult to stop. And the four Trump loyalists who died yesterday — three from medical emergencies, and one shot by police inside the Capitol — will come as ready-made martyrs for the Trumpist right.
A turn away from political work, and even from street brawling, could also be accelerated by the growing confrontations between the far right street activists and police, who have long had a cozy relationship.
The police have, in many cities, treated the far right leniently. In a number of cases, especially in Portland, Oregon, police have simply refused to make arrests for even blatant, public violations of the law by members of the far right — while at the same time cracking down hard on Black Lives Matter and antifascist activists.
But the far right’s turn away from attacking the left and Black liberation movements and instead toward attacking Republican officials and government offices is likely to be deemed a bridge-too-far for most police. And so the far right is getting to understand a bit about what it’s like to be tear-gassed and beaten. Unsurprisingly, they don’t appear to care much for it.
The situation could also be inflamed if the new administration cracks down on white supremacists, as Biden has suggested that he will, and if the FBI makes more wide-ranging arrests. Then the far right would undoubtedly return to the deeply anti-federal position it had held for decades.
Any split over law enforcement, but especially over local police, could potentially do two things. First, it could split Trumpists, creating a fracture between the pro-police “Back the Blue” crowd and the budding insurgent wing, which is more and more openly attacking all organizations, officials and institutions that don’t accept their beliefs. This could split the Trumpist street presence, as it could drive the insurgent faction into greater violence while the moderates attempt to regroup their political position.
Actions like the Capitol breach could also further widen existing divisions in the Republican Party. The Trumpists control a sizeable amount of the party’s base, although far fewer elected officials are adherents. The more moderate elements will undoubtedly try to wrest control back, buoyed by both the fact that Trump lost and the disgrace that the invasion of the Capitol has brought upon them by his followers, who acted directly on his prompt. The GOP, Beirich said, “will have a bit of a war on its hands,” and could only be weakened by such a struggle.
This could make a double split. The more radical Trumpists could turn away from the political process, while those remaining will be forced to fight for the party — but both without a sitting president on their side and with reduced numbers.
However, much remains unclear at the moment. In particular, there are real questions requiring answers about whether police collusion essentially allowed the Capitol breach. The D.C. police are legendary in their ability to contain even large militant demonstrations, and their near-absence — as well as the long lag in calling up the National Guard — will have to be investigated.
At the very least, a long two weeks lie ahead of us.