We Still Don’t Take Online Extremism Seriously

What happened was a result of months’ worth of post-election conspiracy theories and incitement to action

Jared L. Holt
GEN
Published in
3 min readJan 7, 2021

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Photo: Probal Rashid/Getty Images

The insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol building on January 6 confirms what extremism researchers have warned for years: The rhetoric and activity of radical online communities and the actions they inspire are inseparable. Too many people treat these internet groups as fringe and inconsequential. It’s beyond time for that to change.

As a professional researcher of extremist political movements, I observed as these groups — particularly those affiliated with militia movements — discussed wielding the unruliness of large crowds against law enforcement to violate laws and enter federal buildings in the days leading up to Wednesday’s riot at the Capitol. They shared maps of entry points into the Capitol, encouraged violence against their perceived political enemies in Black Lives Matter and anti-fascist political movements, advised each other on weapon carrying, and plotted ways to communicate with each other that would avoid detection by police. The revolutionary and violent rhetoric seen online poured out of the mouths of protesters on the ground.

“If you don’t get the right answer today, you come back with your rifles!” one protester said through a megaphone hours before the siege of the Capitol.

The attack was the natural byproduct of months’ worth of post-election conspiracy theories and incitements to act on those beliefs, often coming from the highest Republican political powers in the nation. Since the election was called for President-elect Biden, President Trump and his allies in politics and media have perpetuated falsehoods alleging that the democratic process was compromised by nefarious forces. Whether these claims were made for political gain, they animated extremists and offered them justification for radical actions.

If the lessons learned do not match the severity of…

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Jared L. Holt
GEN
Writer for

Political reporter, tech junkie, and dog owner in Washington, D.C.