When a crowd invaded the Capitol, Arie Perliger was not surprised. Or rather, he was even surprised – not by the attack, but by the fact that the security forces were not ready to deal with something so predictable.
“The leaders of the groups present had been very clear on their intentions,” explains University of Massachusetts criminology expert Lowell. He is the author of “American Zealots”, a book on right-wing domestic terrorism in the United States.
The militias had explicitly stated that they wanted to prevent the confirmation of Joe Biden’s election and that they would use force if necessary. However, the terrorists were able to enter the building. Five people died.
In this sense, it will not be a surprise for him either if there are more attacks on Wednesday (20), the date on which Biden takes office, replacing Donald Trump as president.
“It is possible that cells of these militias across the country are trying to do something”, explains the researcher. After the arrests of several of its members, “they feel even more marginalized, more besieged, more irritated and frustrated”. “We talk about it a lot on digital platforms. They talk about the need to avenge the death of their martyrs.
Marginal groups willing to use violence are not really new to the United States, Perliger says. What is really new is that the militias believe they have the backing of top political figures, including Trump, who was ousted on the 13th precisely for inciting insurgency.
“If the president says it’s fine, it’s fine. It’s something they’ve never had, ”he says. “When you think that you represent a large part of the population, that the president supports your actions, you feel that you can act.”
Were you surprised by the Capitol invasion? Definitely not. The leaders of the groups who were there had been very clear on their intentions. They said they were going to prevent the certification of the elections, that they were ready to use force, talked about their preparations. Anyone who heard it would know that the protest would not end with their return home. This means it was a colossal security failure.
Does that frustrate you, as someone who predicted the outcome of the protests? We researchers don’t expect people to hear us. The security forces had a lot of information. Some of the members who invaded the Capitol had been there days before to prepare. They had brought equipment.
If this happens again in Biden’s possession, will you be surprised? No, but I don’t think it will happen in exactly the same way. The security forces are much better prepared now. And there has been considerable repudiation of what has happened, both by the public and by figures in the conservative movement. Now the militias understand that not all Trump supporters agree with their actions.
Did the arrest of several militiamen have an impact? These groups did not expect the security forces to act so quickly and aggressively. That is why we should not see anything equal to that of 6. Yet there is a possibility that cells of these militias across the country are trying to do something. Because they feel even more marginalized, besieged, angry and frustrated. We talk about it a lot on digital platforms and a language of martyrdom. They speak of the need to avenge the death of their martyrs.
How central will the threat of right-wing domestic terrorism be to the Biden government? It will be a major concern. More and more people today recognize that domestic terrorism on the right is a threat, especially since there is popular support. The problem is not that people on the fringes want to use violence. It has always existed. The difference today is that they have a lot of support, a kind of legitimacy.
What is Trump’s role in inspiring these movements? He gave them legitimacy, gave them power. They are ready to go further because they feel they have the support of politicians. If the president says it’s okay, it’s okay. It’s something they never had. When you think that you represent a large part of the population, that the president supports your actions, you feel that you can act.
What is the origin of this internal terrorism? It is a combination of many factors. First, the demographic changes in the country since the 1970s and 1980s. For example, the growth of migrant populations, which has caused a lot of anxiety. There has also been a cultural shift that began with the election of Barack Obama in 2008, when we see a spike in the number of violent attacks.
There is an idea that all of American society is changing. These people believe that there are political actors who are changing America, undermining their way of life, changing the way the economy works. They really believe that the Democrats want to promote socialism, that the government is invasive, that it violates their rights, that they are threatened. They believe the United States is in danger.
How does access to weapons in a possession-eligible country contribute to this threat? There is an idea that weapons are part of the identity of the country. Part of the culture. In some areas of the United States, children learn to shoot from an early age. Far-right movements operate in fairs and arms stores.
Another important thing is that there is a difference between the far right movements in Europe and the United States. In Europe, there are extreme right-wing parties in Parliament, they are part of the political system. In the USA, where there are only two parties, these movements do not have the same access. They cannot speak out and resort to violence.
There are more and more members of the police and the army in these movements. Because? Far-right movements are working hard to recruit members of the security forces. And many of these groups create a military environment in which these people are comfortable. There is military training, the handling of weapons. A sense of camaraderie. Not to mention that research shows that members of the police and military tend to be more conservative.
What should the Biden government do in the coming years to deal with this problem? You have to be very vigilant. And it is possible to adopt specific laws, mechanisms allowing the security agencies to act more vigorously against national terrorism. If someone incites violence, they should be punished. In addition, it is necessary to restore confidence in the government, which must be more transparent and more unifying. Finally, mechanisms are lacking to deal with the spread of conspiracy theories and hate online.
We are a family business.
A criminology specialist at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, he is the author of “American Zealots”. He was principal and professor at the counterterrorism center at West Point Military Academy.