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While Trump Floundered in 2022, His Far Right Acolytes Built a Movement

Whether the far right's political influence starts to fade, or turns to more violent means, remains to be seen.

Donald Trump greets supporters before a rally at the Dayton International Airport on November 7, 2022, in Vandalia, Ohio.

As in past years, the U.S. far right has continued to have a political impact far in excess of anything seen before Donald Trump’s presidential term. What was new in 2022 was that activists who emerged from his base have also achieved a level of autonomy from their leader which they had not seen before. However, this year’s most visible spotlight on the far right was the January 6 committee, which culminated in the recommendation that Trump be charged with federal crimes. Additionally, there have also been numerous arrests, trials and sentences related to the Capitol breach. While what’s now called the “MAGA Movement” has outlived its leader’s fall from power, it remains to be seen what effect his 2024 presidential campaign will have on it — especially after the disappointing midterms. The year has also been marked by the Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade. Alongside the boost to Christian nationalism this provided, far right groups have targeted LGBTQ+ events this year, focusing on drag shows. And extreme violence also reared its head again as two significant far right massacres marked the year.

January 6

The House of Representatives’ January 6 committee has overshadowed almost everything else happening on the far right. Investigating the raid on the Capitol and how it came about, the committee’s televised hearings helped keep the event in the public mind. Alongside the committee, almost 200 new arrests, as well as numerous convictions of January 6 participants, have continued throughout the year.

A former New York City cop received 10 years for attacking Capitol police, while an armed man who entered the building received seven. At least a dozen members of the Groypers, a white supremacist grouping, were arrested. The most significant charges, however, targeted two organizations. A dozen members of the Oath Keepers — an armed group which is part of the “Patriot” and militia movement — were charged with seditious conspiracy, including their leader Stewart Rhodes, who was convicted in November. Numerous members of another key group, the Proud Boys — an all-male group that is centered on using violence against their perceived opponents — have also been arrested. In June, Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and four others were also charged with seditious conspiracy.

Nonetheless, Republicans have overwhelmingly supported the insurrection; the Republican National Committee declared it “legitimate political discourse” (with a June poll finding that 61 percent of Republican voters agreed), and it went so far as to censure the two party members serving on the January 6 committee.

Midterms

Another focus of 2022 was the midterm elections. Fortunately, the worst predictions about them did not come to pass. While the Republicans did well nationally, retaking the House, it was hardly the predicted landslide. Worries were also overblown about both widespread voter intimidation and a kiboshing of Democratic victories by local election boards which had been taken over the last year through a coordinated effort by Trump loyalists. (However, individual cases did occur; in Arizona, armed militias stood by ballot drop-off boxes, and an election board initially refused to certify returns — at least until the courts stepped in in both cases.) Nonetheless, three of the most prominent far right congressional representatives — Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar and Lauren Boebert — were reelected, and lower-level candidates also did extremely well.

Trump

As expected, immediately after the election, Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential candidacy. But things have changed since 2015, including Trump’s mounting legal problems. An FBI raid on his Mar-a-Lago residence uncovered classified documents he illegally took from the White House, and he lost a financial fraud lawsuit brought by the New York attorney general. Trump was already moving further to the right before the midterms — including by embracing the still-popular QAnon conspiracy theory — but after the underwhelming GOP performance was widely blamed on the former president, more and more Republicans have taken pains to separate themselves from him. This pattern was accelerated after Trump posted online about wanting to suspend the U.S. Constitution.

In another move to the far right, Trump met with the musician Kanye West (now known as Ye), who was accompanied by white supremacist Nick Fuentes, the leader of the Groypers. Outrage over the meeting, even from some of Trump’s most stalwart supporters, was followed by increasing antisemitic statements by Ye, culminating in him praising Hitler. This blatant example of antisemitism came in the context of reports of U.S. antisemitism hitting record highs.

Twitter

The spread of these attitudes more generally is being fueled by billionaire Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, during which his far right views have become increasingly obvious. Numerous previously suspended far right accounts have been restored, ranging from Trump himself to extreme neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin, while simultaneously a number of left-wing accounts have been suspended, such as the anarchist website It’s Going Down and anti-fascist journalist Chad Loder. Unsurprisingly, these new policies have been accompanied by a huge upsurge in hate speech on the platform.

Far Right Groups

Some of the rise in antisemitic incidents was the product of organized groups, especially the Goyim Defense League and its ongoing national campaign of antisemitic provocations. It, and other aggressive neo-Nazi groups like the NSC-131 (National Socialist Club-Anti-Communist Action), are helping fill the vacuum of the “alt right’s” collapse. Many of the major alt-right players who were loudly white supremacist, like Richard Spencer, have faded into the background, if not retired. Even other violent factions like the Proud Boys present themselves as more “moderate” politically.

In contrast, the Goyim Defense League has toured the country in vans adorned with antisemitic slogans while shouting slurs at passersby and distributing hate-filled fliers. Meanwhile, the NSC-131 has also spread antisemitic propaganda while being more focused on provoking violent confrontations.

Lawsuits

Arrests aside, lawsuits against the far right are showing success. For example, the fascist organization Patriot Front is engaged in what clearly appears to be a coordinated national campaign of violence based on “vandalism and intimidation,” such as defacing murals to prominent Black figures. The lack of action from authorities prompted the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights to file a civil suit against the group. Patriot Front was further hampered when 31 members were arrested as they prepared to disrupt a Pride event in Idaho, leading to the unveiling of said members through public arrest records.

Far right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones lost multiple lawsuits by the parents of the victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting, which he claimed was faked. He was ordered to pay almost $1.5 billion in damages. Meanwhile, alt-right Islamophobe Laura Loomer not only lost her congressional primary race, but was ordered to pay the Council on American-Islamic Relations $125,000 for attorney’s fees after a failed lawsuit.

Attacks on LGBTQ+ and Abortion Rights

The year also saw a massive wave of anti-LGBTQ+ activism, with a focus on trans people. Drag Queen Story Hours have been the favored target of numerous disruptions across the country. One report found that far right anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrations tripled by November, compared to last year. Those targeted have been repeatedly falsely accused of being “groomers” who seek to entice children into sexual acts, a slander repeated by everyone on the right from neo-Nazis to congressional representatives. Disruptions and takeovers of school boards, with a focus on purging libraries of LGBTQ+ books, have also become popular right-wing grassroots organizing tactics.

These politics are closely linked to the new level of visibility and popularity for the Christian right. After decades of work, they achieved their most sought-after goal when the Supreme Court, bolstered by Trump’s three appointees, overturned Roe v. Wade, which ensured a constitutional right to an abortion. This, in turn, accelerated a turn to explicit Christian right politics, with its related fixation on sexuality and gender, by Trumpists who had previously focused on issues of race and opposition to the left.

Massacres

The slew of Trump-era mass shootings committed by white supremacists came roaring back in 2022. Early in the year, 10 people were murdered in a supermarket in a predominantly Black area of Buffalo, New York. The perpetrator followed a pattern of actions previously used in other massacres, such as in the 2019 Christchurch, New Zealand massacre, which involved posting a manifesto beforehand on social media and then livestreaming the event. Near the year’s end, five were killed at Club Q, an LGBTQ+ bar in Colorado Springs, Colorado; the shooter also appeared to valorize previous far right massacres. And relatedly, on an Oklahoma compound connected to the white supremacist prison gang Universal Aryan Brotherhood, the remains of up to 12 bodies were found.

Other Violence

As with every year, some parts of the far right, which were not part of the organized white supremacist movement, also have engaged in acts of violence. Sometimes overlooked, these attacks clearly illustrate how violent the far right is, even in its more ideologically “moderate” forms.

After breaking into the residence of Nancy Pelosi and finding only her husband, a home invader seriously injured the 82-year-old with a hammer. (Elected Republicans mocked the horrified response to this incident.) A Tennessee man who was part of the January 6 riot was suspected of burning down a Planned Parenthood office and shooting at a federal building, although he died in jail before he could be tried. Several murders were committed by followers of QAnon. And in Portland, Oregon, a man came out of his house and started shooting at a Black Lives Matter demonstration, killing an unarmed 60-year-old woman; he was stopped when a member of the protest returned fire.

What Will Happen in 2023?

In recent months, effective opposition to these grassroots right-wing campaigns have mounted. The disruptions of Pride events and drag shows are being halted by mass mobilizations, sometimes including armed elements, to defend them. The Trumpist takeovers of school boards, with the intent of banning LGBTQ+ books and diversity training, are being contested by a new wave of grassroots groups on the left.

Despite hopes that the U.S. far right would deflate after Trump’s fall from power, it has remained a buoyant force able to move from issue to issue; even revulsion over the Capitol takeover has not halted it. The last two years have shown that the movement’s core has remained intact and has by-and-large functioned independently of Trump. But the midterm slump appears to show that the far right’s influence on the GOP as a whole has stalled, and Republicans are not united behind Trump for his new bid for power. If his campaign fails to inspire his own far right base, it may be that the movement will become isolated from its access to mainstream conservatism.

At that point, whether it starts to fade or becomes even more radical, turning to more violence, remains to be seen. Predictions are unreliable, however, especially as the current wave of far right politics has defied expectations over the last seven years.

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