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All-American insurrection: Expert explains how right-wing extremists’ targets have shifted

By PhillyNews.FYI , in News , at April 17, 2021 Tags: ,


A scathing new report by the Capitol Police’s internal watchdog reveals officials knew Congress was the target of the deadly January 6 insurrection, yet officers were instructed to refrain from deploying more aggressive measures that could have helped “push back the rioters.” Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports domestic terrorism incidents surged to a record high in 2020, fueled by white supremacist, anti-Muslim and anti-government extremists on the far right. The Post found that, since 2015, right-wing extremists have been involved in 267 plots or attacks, leading to 91 deaths. Reporter A.C. Thompson, who explores the threat of far-right extremism in the new PBS “Frontline” documentary “American Insurrection,” says there was a “massive pool of radicalized individuals” ahead of the January 6 attack who were being pushed toward violence by “an abundance of lies by the former president, by this entire conspiratorial right-wing media and social media ecosystem.” We also speak with director Rick Rowley, who says many white supremacist groups began to splinter during the intense backlash to the violence in Charlottesville in 2017, but Trump gave the groups new life ahead of the January 6 insurrection. “Many elements inside the white supremacist movement found in him a path into the mainstream,” says Rowley. “They took off their swastikas, and they wrapped themselves in the flag.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

A new report by the Capitol Police’s watchdog reveals officials knew Congress was the target of the deadly January 6th insurrection, yet officers were instructed to refrain from deploying a more aggressive response that could have helped, quote, “push back the rioters.” Capitol Police Inspector General Michael Bolton found the agency failed to properly prepare for and respond to the pro-Trump mob despite warnings. The report cites a Capitol Police intelligence assessment issued several days before the attack that warned, quote, “Stop the Steal’s propensity to attract white supremacists, militia members, and others who actively promote violence may lead to a significantly dangerous situation for law enforcement and the general public alike.” The assessment also warned “Congress itself is the target on the 6th.” Well, Bolton is set to testify Thursday before the House Administration Committee.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports domestic terrorism incidents surged to a record high in 2020, fueled by white supremacist, anti-Muslim, anti-government extremists on the far right. The Post found, since 2015, right-wing extremists have been involved in 267 plots or attacks, leading to 91 deaths.

For more, we turn to a new film called American Insurrection, that explores how far-right groups were emboldened and encouraged by former President Trump, and what the fears and concerns are, going forward. The documentary by Frontline premiered Tuesday on PBS in collaboration with ProPublica and the University of California, Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program. In a minute, we’ll be joined by the film’s director, Rick Rowley, and correspondent A.C. Thompson. This is the trailer.

MIKE DUNN: I think about a revolution against the government. We’re past the point of peace.

WHITE SUPREMACISTS: You will not replace us!

NARRATOR: From Charlottesville to the assault on the Capitol —

TRUMP SUPPORTERS: Fight for Trump!

PRESIDENT-ELECT JOE BIDEN: One of the darkest days in the history of our nation.

REP. ANDRÉ CARSON: We’re seeing this country fall apart before our eyes.

NARRATOR: How the former president galvanized an army.

TRUMP SUPPORTER: Who’s our president?

TRUMP SUPPORTERS: Trump’s our president!

BRIEN JAMES: We’ve got a guy who’s a nationalist in the most powerful seat in the world. We can actually win. We can actually get our views represented.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.

ROBIN GILL: So, Trump encouraging calls to lock Whitmer up…

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Lock ’em all up.

MARY McCORD: The far-right militias have felt much more license to publicly engage.

REPORTER: Terror plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

A.C. THOMPSON: And so, you think the guys were planning to arrest her?

MILITIA MEMBER: It was going to be a citizen’s arrest.

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER: Two militia groups were preparing to kidnap and possibly kill me.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If you do not fight like hell, you’re not going have a country anymore.

REPORTER: Violent mob, stoked by the words of President Trump, stormed the building.

REP. ANDRÉ CARSON: They were hostile. They were venomous that their country somehow was being taken away from them.

NARRATOR: In the aftermath of the 2020 election, how these groups have become part of the American political landscape.

A.C. THOMPSON: What was the role of the boog bois on that day?

MIKE DUNN: There was some boogaloo bois in the crowd associated with us. They weren’t there for Trump. They were there just to mess with the federal government one more time.

NARRATOR: Over the last several years, Frontline and ProPublica have been reporting on the rise of hate groups —

A.C. THOMPSON: Talk to you about what you were doing in Charlottesville last year.

NARRATOR: — and their violence.

A.C. THOMPSON: What do you think was going on in this house?

UNIDENTIFIED: They were making bombs.

NARRATOR: Now correspondent A.C. Thompson investigates the surge of far-right political violence.

A.C. THOMPSON: What do soldiers and marines bring to the boogaloo?

MIKE DUNN: They bring training expertise in certain areas.

REP. KEITH ELLISON: They have decided this is a strategic initiative for them. There is a real, legitimate fear. We’ve got to be vigilant about it.

UNIDENTIFIED: I’m afraid that more innocent civilians will be targeted and actually victimized by these violent offenders. Everything that we had predicted has come to fruition. And it’s actually even worse.

NARRATOR: The first in a series of films on the rise of extremism around the world.

MIKE DUNN: We definitely are the modern militia.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the trailer for American Insurrection, the new Frontline documentary, now streaming on PBS.org.

For more, we’re joined by A.C. Thompson, PBS Frontline correspondent and staff reporter with ProPublica, who’s covered the rise of right-wing extremist and white supremacist groups for years, and director Rick Rowley, the Oscar-nominated, Emmy-winning filmmaker, independent journalist with Midnight Productions.

We welcome you both back to Democracy Now! A.C., you begin this documentary on January 7th, the day after the deadly insurrection in Washington, and then you make your way back to the University of Virginia. Talk about what we’re facing now and the buildup.

A.C. THOMPSON: You know, the concern that I have at this point is that we may see an act of mass casualty terrorism sometime in the relatively near future, because we have a massive pool of radicalized individuals who have been fed an abundance of lies by the former president, by this entire conspiratorial right-wing media and social media ecosystem. And that is the concern I have.

For us, the film traces sort of what happens from Charlottesville with the white power movement, which was emboldened and catalyzed by former President Trump, up to now, where we see the sort of white supremacists fading and these groups we saw on January 6th coming out, the street fighters, like the Proud Boys, the militias, the boogaloo bois. And that’s sort of the arc that we’re tracing here. We expect trouble from those groups in the future.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, A.C., in the film, you explore several of these groups. In the Proud Boys, for instance, the Cuban American, Enrique Tarrio, who is the — one of the leaders of the group — several of these folks are not — they’re white supremacists, but they’re not white themselves. And those of us who know the Latin American history know there’s always been an extreme-right-wing trend among people of Latin American descent. Could you talk about Tarrio and the Proud Boys and what you found?

A.C. THOMPSON: Yeah, that’s a great question. Honestly, a few years ago, our colleague Karim Hajj and I were filming in Portland and filming these Proud Boys rallies. And we thought, you know, “How do we even make sense of these guys?” Like, you know, because they’re ethnically mixed. They’re sort of white supremacist-adjacent, like they’re hanging out with white supremacists, but that’s not how they categorize themselves. And I think the term that we came up with was sort of multicultural fascism, multiethnic fascism.

You know, in the film, we meet a member of the Proud Boys, and he’s wearing a shirt that says “Pinochet did nothing wrong,” referring to the fascist Chilean dictator. And that’s a thing that we saw over and over again with the Proud Boys, is shirts that said “right-wing death squads,” shirts that talked about throwing socialists and leftists out of helicopters, as happened in Chile and Latin America during the dirty wars. So, that’s the sort of thing that I think these movements, the ultranationalist movements, really represent, is a multiethnic fascism.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to a clip from your documentary, American Insurrection. You report on Steven Carrillo, the active-duty Air Force sergeant accused of shooting dead a federal security officer in Oakland during last year’s protests over the police killing of George Floyd. Remember, it was originally blamed on antifa. But then it turns out to be that Carrillo killed not only him, but a deputy sergeant in the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office. He belonged to the anti-government boogaloo bois movement and was interviewed by investigative journalist Gisela Pérez de Acha from jail.

A.C. THOMPSON: Before he was captured, Carrillo wrote messages in his own blood, including a single word that would be the key to all the chaos: “Boog.”

STEVEN CARRILLO: What the boogaloo is, is a revolution, a revolutionary thought.

A.C. THOMPSON: Carrillo told Pérez de Acha that he was part of a movement called the boogaloo bois.

STEVEN CARRILLO: The boogaloo movement, it’s about people that love freedom, liberty, and they’re unhappy with the level of control that the government takes over our lives. Being free to do what you want as long as you don’t hurt anyone else.

GISELA PÉREZ DE ACHA: Aren’t you accused of hurting someone?

STEVEN CARRILLO: Oh, that’s — you know, that’s what I’m accused of, but — yeah, so, back to the example, that’s what I wanted to get to, you know, is the freedom of choice, the freedom of expression.

A.C. THOMPSON: Carrillo has pleaded not guilty, and he wouldn’t answer questions about the shootings.

Did you find it hard to get him to actually —

GISELA PÉREZ DE ACHA: It was so hard. It was so hard. He would just deny and skirt every question.

How did you come to this? How did you — because you said you didn’t read a lot before.

STEVEN CARRILLO: Basically, through friends, friends, you know, the Air Force. Once I joined the Air Force, you know, I traveled around the world. I met people from all over the world. And just talking to people changed my whole views.

A.C. THOMPSON: So, do you think that he’s saying that he found these radical ideas in the military?

GISELA PÉREZ DE ACHA: Yeah, I think — mainly from my conversations with him, I think he was definitely radicalized at the Air Force.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we were hearing the voice of Carrillo there from jail, thanks to the investigative journalist Gisela Pérez de Acha. And you’re talking to her, A.C. Thompson. Now, central to this is the military’s prominent role in the white supremacist movement. I mean, you even interview a Pentagon spokesperson who says this is what they’re looking at now, the disproportionate representation of police and military in the white supremacist movement. Tell us more through the story of Carrillo.

A.C. THOMPSON: Yeah. So, Steven Carrillo is a 32-, now-33-year-old Air Force staff sergeant. He was assigned to a sort of elite security unit called the Phoenix Ravens within the U.S. Air Force. He had been in the service for many years.

And the truth about Steven Carrillo, who is facing the federal death penalty for allegedly killing a federal security officer, facing state charges for murder for allegedly killing a deputy down in Santa Cruz County, California, is that he’s representative of a much, much broader nexus between the military and extremist movements, most prominently anti-government militias and the white supremacist movement. Now, Steven is Mexican American. He wouldn’t identify as white supremacist in any way. But he does identify with these sort of extremist, extreme libertarian ideas and this really anti-government sentiment that we’ve seen swirling around many people in the armed forces in recent years.

We did reporting that found — that basically found some 20 members of the boogaloo movement with military ties, many of them active-duty. Thirteen of them had been jailed on serious, serious criminal charges in the last year. Our colleagues at Berkeley found another 15 active-duty airmen, many of them connected to Carrillo online, who are promoting boogaloo anti-government content, while collecting a government paycheck.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Rick Rowley, I’d like to bring you into the conversation, as well. Could you talk about this — first of all, the timeline of the film, starting from Charlottesville through a variety of other events, that most people don’t — most Americans don’t associate as part of any kind of continuum, but also the role of social media, as you got into this story, in the growth of these groups?

RICK ROWLEY: Yeah. Thanks, Juan.

I mean, I think, really, the important — a major, important takeaway for everyone is that, you know, we look too often at these movements as a monolith, as an unchanging kind of thing. But actually, the far-right ecosystem is diverse, and it evolves, and it takes advantage of political crises as they appear. And if you don’t understand how it’s growing and changing, then it becomes impossible to understand the kind of threat they pose.

So, yeah, we begin in Charlottesville with Unite the Right, the explosion of the largest white supremacist — openly white supremacist demonstration in our lifetimes. And there was a backlash after that, that was actually quite effective in splintering and breaking up the overt, explicitly white supremacist organizations that were there. The main groups behind that, you know, they dissolved, or they changed their names, or they just kind of disappeared.

But what happened was, something else happened there, and that was that Trump, with his response to Charlottesville, he made explicit something that had been imminent inside his campaign for a long time. And many elements inside the white supremacist movement found in him a path into the mainstream. And so, they took off their swastikas, and they wrapped themselves in the flag, and they joined groups like the Proud Boys.

At the time, the Proud Boys seemed to me to be kind of a joke — right? — not a very serious player in this space. But they became a vehicle through which neo-Nazis and white supremacists could enter into a mainstream kind of organization. You know, one of the great interviews that A.C. does is with this guy Brien James, who is — his career is like a bingo card of far-right violence, like the Klan, militias, where he met Tim McVeigh. He’s founder of a neo-Nazi skinhead gang whose members have been committed — who have been convicted of multiple murders. Now he’s a Proud Boy. And he says to us on camera that he sees that now they can win with someone like Trump in power, in office, and then also just offering them this vehicle into the mainstream.

And so, you know, what you mentioned earlier, Juan, about Enrique Tarrio and the Black and Latino members of the Proud Boys, this is a very self-conscious move by the movement to put forward an image of themselves that is difficult for people who haven’t watched them evolve to classify. So, people look at them, and it’s hard to call them white supremacist, because they can’t — you know, it’s hard for them to square that image because they haven’t seen them evolve. I mean, the slogan, “Pinochet did nothing wrong” — “Hitler did nothing wrong” was a slogan, you know, started, I think, on Stormfront a couple decades ago and sort of popularized. They just take the “Hitler” out, put the “Pinochet” in, and suddenly they’re a multiethnic, multicultural fascist movement that finds a way to become more acceptable.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to another clip of American Insurrection. This is about the boogaloo bois.

A.C. THOMPSON: I need to see the movement for myself. I go to Virginia, where a boogaloo cell is marching against a local gun ordinance. Fifty protesters show up. They have body armor, assault rifles and outlawed high-capacity magazines. They carry igloo flags and wear Hawaiian shirts and ironic patches. The group is led by Mike Dunn.

So, how are you feeling about today?

MIKE DUNN: Liberty shall not be infringed.

A.C. THOMPSON: Has this been a success, in your mind?

MIKE DUNN: Liberty shall not be infringed.

A.C. THOMPSON: Dunn postures like a seasoned squad leader. But this doesn’t look like a group that’s going to lead a violent insurrection. I can see the threat they pose, though. Boogaloo bois have demonstrated the potential to carry out acts of violence. Some in law enforcement and the intelligence community also saw this threat. I’ve been told that their concerns were rejected by the White House.

ELIZABETH NEUMANN: Among the counterterrorism community, we took it very seriously. But you really do need that presidential-level leadership saying, “This is a threat. We are going to use all of our tools to go after this threat.” That never happened under Trump.

A.C. THOMPSON: Elizabeth Neumann was one of the top counterterrorism officials in the Trump administration. She says she tried to warn the White House about the rising threat of far-right extremists, but the president and his allies claimed the real threat was from Black Lives Matter and antifa.

ELIZABETH NEUMANN: Does antifa exist? It’s not an organization; it’s a movement. You have groups of people that associate with them. Do they show up at protests? Sure. Is it a massive conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government and kill a lot of people? No. You know where that is? It’s on the right. It’s in the white supremacist movement. It’s in the anti-government militia movement. It’s in the boogaloo bois movement.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that is key. That was Elizabeth Neumann, who was a Trump administration official, who quit then because the White House kept stressing the threat was Black Lives Matter and antifa, when all of the facts indicate the overwhelming level of violence, the number one domestic terror threat in this country are the white supremacists, are the anti-government groups, this right wing that coalesced on January 6th. You have Mike Dunn in there. A.C., you say he’s gone underground now? What do you see as the next insurrection or threat? And what about how the Biden administration is dealing with this?

A.C. THOMPSON: You know, I think the fear that I have, and I’ve gotten this from our interviews with people like Mike Dunn, is both federal agencies and federal law enforcement being targeted. They are a particular target for people in these militia and militant anti-government groups. As well, I think there’s a real concern with state-level and county-level officials being targeted, particularly in states that maybe have more serious COVID restrictions — I think that’s the thing we saw in Michigan with the kidnapping plot there against the governor — particularly in states where they may be moving to enact some forms of slightly more aggressive gun control laws. Those are the concerns I think that we should all have. And that’s what’s been articulated to us, is like, “Look, it’s not just that we’re targeting the federal government; we’re targeting everybody.”

AMY GOODMAN: A.C. Thompson, we want to thank you for being with us, PBS Frontline correspondent, ProPublica reporter, and Rick Rowley, Oscar-nominated, Emmy-winning filmmaker, just released American Insurrection, a new Frontline documentary, now streaming at PBS.org.

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