BOISE — As rioters laid siege to the U.S. Capitol, the seat of American democracy became a melting pot of extremist groups: militia members, white supremacists, paramilitary organizations, anti-maskers and fanatical supporters of President Donald Trump, standing shoulder to shoulder in rage.
Experts say it was the culmination of years of increasing radicalization and partisanship, combined with a growing fascination with paramilitary groups and a global pandemic. And they warn that the armed insurrection that left five people dead and shook the country could be just the beginning.
“We look at it like a conveyor belt of radicalization,” said Devin Burghart, executive director of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights. “Once they step on that conveyor belt, they’re inundated with propaganda that moves them along that path until they’re willing to take up arms.”
Photographs and video of the Capitol siege showed people wearing attire with symbols associated with the anti-government Three Percenters movement and the Oath Keepers, a loosely organized group of right-wing extremists.
Many of those who stormed the Capitol were wearing clothes or holding signs adorned with symbols of the QAnon conspiracy theory, which centers on the baseless belief that Trump is waging a secret campaign against the “deep state” and a cabal of sex-trafficking cannibals. One of the intruders was wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt, a reference to the Nazi death camp.
Those who monitor online chatter say the threat of more violence by far-right fringe groups hasn’t abated, though it has been tougher to track since the social media platform Parler, a haven for right-wing extremists, was booted off the internet.
“We’re certainly not out of the woods yet. I’m afraid that we’re going to have to be prepared for some worst-case scenarios for a while,” said Amy Cooter, a senior lecturer in sociology at Vanderbilt University who studies U.S. militia groups.
The FBI is warning of plans for armed protests at all 50 state capitals and in Washington in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next Wednesday. Cooter believes smaller gatherings at state capitals are a greater threat than a large, centrally organized event in Washington, given the heightened security there.
How many extremists are out there is unclear. Individual fringe groups tend to be small, with the largest claiming hundreds of members, but countless others have been swept up in the fury of late.
To understand the mix of extremists in the Capitol melee, it helps to look at history.
Much of the modern militia movement was a reaction to the push for tougher gun control laws in the 1990s. An 11-day standoff that left three people dead on Idaho’s Ruby Ridge in 1992 galvanized the movement, as did the disaster in Waco, Texas, the following year, when 76 people died in a fire after a 51-day standoff at the Branch Davidian cult compound.
A decade later, Cliven Bundy and his sons Ryan and Ammon Bundy engaged in armed standoffs with the federal government, first in a fight over grazing rights on federal land in Nevada in 2014, then in a 40-day occupation of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon in 2016. Those standoffs drew the sympathies of some Western ranchers and farmers who feared they were losing the ability to prosper financially.
Meanwhile, America’s white supremacy movement — as old as the country itself and energized by the civil rights movement of the 1960s — used every opportunity to stoke racism and increase recruitment. Within the last two decades, nationalists and white supremacists were especially successful in leveraging anti-immigration sentiment and the backlash over Barack Obama’s election as the nation’s first black president in 2008.
Some who follow such movements say the coronavirus pandemic provided the perfect recruitment opportunity.
Militias helped distribute surplus farm produce to the unemployed. Neo-Nazis pushed conspiracy claims that the government was trying to limit “herd immunity.” An anti-government group launched by Ammon Bundy last spring called People’s Rights held an Easter church service in defiance of a lockdown order in Idaho.
“That was the moment that sent a message nationwide that it was OK to take an insurrectionist posture toward COVID guidelines — and from that moment you saw this take hold across the country,” said Burghart, whose organization published an October report on the People’s Rights network.
While previously those upset about COVID-19 rules would complain online, suddenly individuals were defying authorities by opening their gyms or refusing to wear masks in very confrontational ways. For these individuals, social media accelerated a radicalization process that normally takes years into just a few months, fueled by the powerlessness many felt amid COVID-19 shutdowns.
“You had all of these kind of small interventions to try to fight against any kind of common-sense health restrictions,” Burghart said. “And in that moment you saw, simultaneously, militia activists getting involved in the COVID struggle and COVID insurrectionists taking up the militia posture and wanting to get involved with militia groups.”
The danger could intensify. The Capitol insurrection both further normalized the idea of violent government overthrow and allowed extremist groups to network with a broader population, said Lindsay Schubiner, an expert in extremism with the Western States Center.
As those groups continue to train and expand — many already offer instruction in weapons, first aid, food storage and ham radios — the risk of “lone wolf” actions also increases, she said, with members taking matters into their own hands when they feel their group has not gone far enough.
Stewart Rhodes, an Army veteran who founded the Oath Keepers in 2009, had been saying for weeks around the election that his group was preparing for a civil war and was ready to take orders from Trump. The group recruits current and former law enforcement officers and military personnel.
During a Nov. 10 appearance on far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Infowars show, Rhodes said he had “good men on the ground already” in the Washington area who were “armed, prepared to go in if the president calls us up.”
“In case they attempt to remove the president illegally, we will step in and stop it,” he said.
Users on militia forums cheered on the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol and hailed them as patriots, according to a review of social media posts by the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. Many saw the attack as a call to arms.
Authorities have arrested more than 100 people on charges linked to the Capitol siege, but court documents don’t publicly identify any of them as members of a militia-style group, according to an Associated Press review of records.
Less than a week after the riot, several armed men in tactical gear with “Texas Militia” labels on their combat fatigues gathered at the Texas state Capitol as lawmakers returned to work for a new legislative session. Texas GOP chairman Allen West posed with the group for a photo and shared the picture on the party’s Twitter account.
The gathering at the Texas statehouse in Austin came the same day President Trump flew to the southern border in Alamo, Texas, where he took no responsibility for his part in fomenting the violent insurrection in Washington, D.C. “People thought that what I said was totally appropriate,” Trump said.
Stopping extremist groups may be impossible, but pushing those groups further to the political margins is possible, Schubiner said.
“Everyone who believes in inclusive democracy and does not believe in political violence needs to come out and say so strongly, and then back that up with actions,” she said.
This story has been corrected to show that the “Texas Militia” group gathered at the Statehouse in Auston while Trump was at the Texas border. Flaccus reported from Portland, Oregon and Kunzelman reported from College Park, Maryland. Associated Press writer Paul Weber in Austin, Texas contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump was impeached by the U.S. House for a historic second time Wednesday, charged with "incitement of insurrection" over the deadly mob siege of the Capitol in a swift and stunning collapse of his final days in office.
With the Capitol secured by armed National Guard troops inside and out, the House voted 232-197 to impeach Trump. The proceedings moved at lightning speed, with lawmakers voting just one week after violent pro-Trump loyalists stormed the U.S. Capitol, egged on by the president's calls for them to "fight like hell" against the election results.
Ten Republicans fled Trump, joining Democrats who said he needed to be held accountable and warned ominously of a "clear and present danger" if Congress should leave him unchecked before Democrat Joe Biden's inauguration Jan. 20.
Trump is the only U.S. president to be twice impeached. It was the most bipartisan presidential impeachment in modern times, more so than against Bill Clinton in 1998.
The Capitol insurrection stunned and angered lawmakers, who were sent scrambling for safety as the mob descended, and it revealed the fragility of the nation's history of peaceful transfers of power. The riot also forced a reckoning among some Republicans, who have stood by Trump throughout his presidency and largely allowed him to spread false attacks against the integrity of the 2020 election.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi invoked Abraham Lincoln and the Bible, imploring lawmakers to uphold their oath to defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign "and domestic."
She said of Trump: "He must go, he is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love."
Holed up at the White House, watching the proceedings on TV, Trump later released a video statement in which he made no mention at all of the impeachment but appealed to his supporters to refrain from any further violence or disruption of Biden's inauguration.
"Like all of you, I was shocked and deeply saddened by the calamity at the Capitol last week," he said, his first condemnation of the attack. He appealed for unity "to move forward" and said, "Mob violence goes against everything I believe in and everything our movement stands for. ... No true supporter of mine could ever disrespect law enforcement."
Trump was first impeached by the House in 2019 over his dealings with Ukraine, but the Senate voted in 2020 acquit. He is the first president to be impeached twice. None has been convicted by the Senate, but Republicans said Wednesday that could change in the rapidly shifting political environment as officeholders, donors, big business and others peel away from the defeated president.
Biden said in a statement after the vote that it was his hope the Senate leadership "will find a way to deal with their Constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation."
The soonest Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell would start an impeachment trial is next Tuesday, the day before Trump is already set to leave the White House, McConnell's office said. The legislation is also intended to prevent Trump from ever running again.
McConnell believes Trump committed impeachable offenses and considers the Democrats' impeachment drive an opportunity to reduce the divisive, chaotic president's hold on the GOP, a Republican strategist told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
McConnell told major donors over the weekend that he was through with Trump, said the strategist, who demanded anonymity to describe McConnell's conversations.
In a note to colleagues Wednesday, McConnell said he had "not made a final decision on how I will vote."
Unlike his first time, Trump faces this impeachment as a weakened leader, having lost his own reelection as well as the Senate Republican majority.
Even Trump ally Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, shifted his position and said Wednesday the president bears responsibility for the horrifying day at the Capitol.
In making a case for the "high crimes and misdemeanors" demanded in the Constitution, the four-page impeachment resolution approved Wednesday relies on Trump's own incendiary rhetoric and the falsehoods he spread about Biden's election victory, including at a rally near the White House on the day of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
A Capitol Police officer died from injuries suffered in the riot, and police shot and killed a woman during the siege. Three other people died in what authorities said were medical emergencies. The riot delayed the tally of Electoral College votes that was the last step in finalizing Biden's victory.
Ten Republican lawmakers, including third-ranking House GOP leader Liz Cheney of Wyoming, voted to impeach Trump, cleaving the Republican leadership, and the party itself.
Cheney, whose father is the former Republican vice president, said of Trump's actions summoning the mob that "there has never been a greater betrayal by a President" of his office.
Trump was said to be livid with perceived disloyalty from McConnell and Cheney.
With the team around Trump hollowed out and his Twitter account silenced by the social media company, the president was deeply frustrated that he could not hit back, according to White House officials and Republicans close to the West Wing who weren't authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
From the White House, Trump leaned on Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to push Republican senators to resist, while chief of staff Mark Meadows called some of his former colleagues on Capitol Hill.
The president's sturdy popularity with the GOP lawmakers' constituents still had some sway, and most House Republicans voted not to impeach.
Security was exceptionally tight at the Capitol, with tall fences around the complex. Metal-detector screenings were required for lawmakers entering the House chamber, where a week earlier lawmakers huddled inside as police, guns drawn, barricaded the door from rioters.
"We are debating this historic measure at a crime scene," said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.
During the debate, some Republicans repeated the falsehoods spread by Trump about the election and argued that the president has been treated unfairly by Democrats from the day he took office.
Other Republicans argued the impeachment was a rushed sham and complained about a double standard applied to his supporters but not to the liberal left. Some simply appealed for the nation to move on.
Rep. Tom McClintock of California said, "Every movement has a lunatic fringe."
Conviction and removal of Trump would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate, which will be evenly divided. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania joined Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska over the weekend in calling for Trump to "go away as soon as possible."
TWIN FALLS — Two members of Idaho’s Congressional delegation are among the nearly 200 Republicans who voted against impeaching President Donald Trump on Wednesday.
In a 232-197 vote, the House passed an article of impeachment charging Trump with “incitement of insurrection” following his role in the protest at the Capitol last week that lead to the death of five people.
Trump encouraged supporters who attended his rally on Jan. 6 to march to the Capitol as Congress met to certify the results of the November election. Ever since he lost the election to President-elect Joe Biden, Trump, has baselessly claimed he lost his bid for reelection due to widespread voter fraud.
While the House’s vote mostly broke along party lines, 10 Republicans joined more than 200 Democrats in voting in favor of the move. Idaho’s Reps. Mike Simpson and Russ Fulcher were among the Republicans who didn’t vote in favor of impeaching the president for the second time of his term.
Both Congress members released statements on Wednesday explaining their opposition to impeachment.
In his statement, Simpson called the protest at the Capitol a “dark and tragic moment” for the U.S. He said the country is facing a time of reckoning and that it needs to heal mend its divisions. But this impeachment vote doesn’t bring the country any closer together, Simpson said.
“Today’s vote unfortunately does not put us on a path to healing,” Simpson said.
In his statement, Simpson also said that the House rushed through this impeachment process. Democrats introduced a draft article of impeachment only a few days ago, and Wednesday’s vote took place without any hearings or testimony. When the House impeached Trump in 2019, the process took more than a month.
The impeachment will only drive Americans further apart, Fulcher said in a letter he sent to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on Saturday. In the letter, Fulcher urged Pelosi not to pursue impeaching Trump about a week before his term ends and he leaves office.
“Yet another attempt to prematurely end the Trump presidency by mere days — will not succeed and will only fan the flames of division in our country,” Fulcher said in the letter.
The other half of Idaho’s Congressional delegation — Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo — didn’t publicly comment on the president’s impeachment Wednesday. But they will have a chance to weigh in whenever the Senate convenes to hold its impeachment trial.
This likely won’t take place until after Trump leaves office on Jan. 20. But if the Senate votes to convict Trump, it may bar the president from running for federal office again.