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United States & World

Did Minimizing Far-Right's Threat Lead To The Breach Of U.S. Capitol?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Donald Trump, the departing president, gave a video address last night. He called the attack on the U.S. Capitol heinous. He did not mention his own role inciting that attack. In the video, the outgoing president also largely acknowledged the reality of his defeat and promised an orderly transition to a new administration. So now we have his word on that, the word of a president who lied for months about his own defeat.

NPR's Hannah Allam covers extremist groups, like the extremists who raided the Capitol, and is on the line. Good morning.

HANNAH ALLAM, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So what are conspiracy theorists and white power groups and self-styled militias and so forth, how are they responding to the president's condemnation of this attack?

ALLAM: Well, there has been a shift. At first, there was a lot of celebration and bragging, but reactions did split somewhat after that condemnation video with some feeling that the president had betrayed them. I want to play you a little bit of what Megan Squire has to say on this. She's a professor at Elon University in North Carolina who monitors far-right networks. And she says the reactions to the storming of the Capitol tend to fall into three categories. So first, there are the sympathizers.

MEGAN SQUIRE: They probably weren't there. They're all over social media and on regular media. These are the ones who are, you know, blaming antifa. They're making up stuff about that this was a false flag.

ALLAM: And then there are the ones, she says, who are proud to have been there, who felt like they were part of a moment in history.

SQUIRE: They are taking, you know, bounty shots, trophy pics, making memes, just talking it up.

ALLAM: And finally, she says, there's the group that Squire usually studies, the hardcore white supremacists. She says they're thinking long term about how to exploit all this, use it for recruiting. And, you know, let's remember, many of these factions have been talking about violent uprisings like this for years.

INSKEEP: Well, given that they have been talking for years, what's that say about authorities' preparedness for the threat of far-right extremism?

ALLAM: Yeah. I mean, if we think back to 2017, that deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, that was a watershed moment in public awareness of the violent far-right, which, you know, U.S. authorities say it's the deadliest and the most active domestic terrorism threat. But fast-forward nearly four years, and some of the same white supremacist figures from Charlottesville were at the Capitol Wednesday, part of another violent mob. But this time, the traditional extremists were alongside more traditional conservative voters who have been radicalized by disinformation and conspiracy.

So, you know, authorities have arrested more than 90 people. Federal authorities have charged at least 50. More are expected in this crowdsourcing effort to identify people. So there have been changes in how the authorities prioritize and investigate these crimes, but many analysts I talked to say there's still a long way to go. The Trump administration has routinely played down this threat to focus on their favorite recent targets, activist movements like antifa and Black Lives Matter.

INSKEEP: Oh, well, that brings up the contrast people have noticed between police confrontations with Black Lives Matter and the much more, shall we say, restrained police approach to this mob.

ALLAM: That's right. It's a central criticism. Ashley Howard is an assistant professor of history and African American studies at the University of Iowa. And she says what happened Wednesday wasn't an aberration, but part of a pattern of responses to white mob violence.

ASHLEY HOWARD: The terror that we see here and the lack of response in - or equivalent response once again really highlights that crisis just brings out things we already know about this country. It amplifies the trends and the themes and the narratives of American history.

ALLAM: So, yes, we're seeing arrests and condemnation, but there's still critical questions about whether the long-time minimizing of right-wing violence paved a way for the shocking security lapse we saw this week.

INSKEEP: NPR's Hannah Allam.

Thanks.

ALLAM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.