While most Americans watched in horror as Donald Trump supporters attacked their own government on Jan. 6, Dr. Erroll Southers wasn’t surprised. He was only surprised at the extent of the violence.
Southers, a former police officer and FBI agent, is a professor of the Practice in National and Homeland Security at the University of Southern California. He said the Capitol attack was the next progression from the Unite the Right March in 2017, which ended with the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer, who was killed by a white nationalist. The Capitol attack included an assortment of white nationalists, conspiracy theorists and Christian nationalist groups.
According to Southers, there are several troubling aspects about the attack. Firstly, he said former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund didn’t tell the truth about not being warned about the attack. Southers said Capitol Police received an intelligence briefing two days before the attack that warned about 20,000 people would attend the march on the Capitol.
“They ignored their own intelligence,” he said.
A huge intelligence failure
Southers added that the Capitol Police should have received a briefing from the Department of Homeland Security’s Intelligence and Analysis Unit, but the Trump administration shut that unit down.
Southers said this type of intelligence failure is unacceptable.
Southers said right-wing extremists were ignored under the Trump administration. “That’s his base,” he said.
“They had information that Congress itself was the target,” said Southers. “They didn’t stop it from happening.”
Apart from failing to anticipate the attack, Capitol police were also poorly equipped to handle the assault. Some of the helmets officers used during the assault were rotted out.
According to Southers, there has been a general failure to acknowledge right-wing terrorism under the Trump administration. He works with an organization called Life After Hate that helps people leave white supremacist groups. But as soon as Trump took office, the group lost its $750,000 grant.
Southers said right-wing extremists were ignored under the Trump administration.
“That’s his base,” he said.
Fear of changing American society
According to Southers, several factors are spurring right-wing extremists. Many of them are anxious that America will soon become a majority-minority country. They’re also concerned about immigration and believe the Great Replacement conspiracy theory. This is a neo-Nazi conspiracy that claims that white people are being replaced by brown and Black immigrants. This conspiracy theory is often repeated by FOX News commentators Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham.
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Trump exploited this fear and spoke to people like this with his anti-immigration message and promise to “Build the Wall.”
Southers added that Black Lives Matter protests and messages such as “Defund the Police” and “Stop the Steal” further agitated these groups. That anger eventually exploded in the Capitol attack.
Anti-government groups recruit from military
Another disturbing aspect of the Jan. 6 attack was the number of police and service members who took part in the attack. But Southers said that was also not surprising. He said that with their weapons training and operational skills, police and military are perfect recruits for anti-government organizations.
“These are the skill sets these organizations are looking for,” he said.
CNN stated that Pentagon records show that 15 percent of the 150 people arrested for the Capitol attack were police officers or service people.
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Also, both organizations have long-standing problems with infiltration by white supremacist groups. Former FBI agent Michael German, a fellow with the Brennan Center, warned of the ties between law enforcement and far-right groups in an August 2020 report.
“Since 2000, law enforcement officials with alleged connections to white supremacist groups or far-right militant activities have been exposed in Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and elsewhere,” said German, who investigated far-right groups when he was with the FBI. “Research organizations have uncovered hundreds of federal, state, and local law enforcement officials participating in racist, nativist, and sexist social media activity, which demonstrates that overt bias is far too common.”
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Southers said we’re looking forward to a long battle to defeat these groups. And he said that America doesn’t seem to be taking the offenders seriously. He pointed to Riley Williams, a Capitol invader who stole Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s laptop and talked about selling it to a Russian intelligence operative. She was allowed to remain in her mother’s custody while awaiting trial. Recent Internet videos showed Williams performing Nazi salutes.
“If we don’t respond to this the way we’d respond to any other national security threat, we are not going to make any headway,” said Southers.