COLUMN

We Were Warned

Activists have known for years that far-right online chatter can turn into real-world violence

As insurrectionists stormed the Capitol on Wednesday, encouraged and inspired by Donald Trump, I was struck by how many people were apparently surprised. Pundits and politicians alike remarked how “unbelievable” the terrorism was, how shocking it was to see law enforcement’s lack of preparedness. Chief of DC Metropolitan Police Robert Contee even said on Thursday that there had been “no intelligence” to suggest Trump’s mob of supporters would attempt a breach of the U.S. Capitol.”

That’s just not true. For weeks — months, even — extremist Trump supporters had been openly discussing violently overthrowing the government. Some said they were telling their families goodbye because they expected to be killed in the melee. How is it possible that officials didn’t see it coming when those explicitly laid plans were out in plain view?

Part of the problem is that law enforcement and people in power still don’t see online harassment and threats as real. The largely young white male cohort that spends their days making death threats online get called “trolls” rather than terrorists, and conspiracy theorists peddling false and incendiary narratives are labeled kooks rather than dangers.

What’s particularly frustrating about yesterday’s insurrection is that feminists, Black activists, and others on the left have been raising the alarm about the likelihood of real-life violence for the better part of a decade.

We’ve pointed out time and again how young men are indoctrinated online through white supremacist and misogynist spaces and are radicalized by hate groups that function like any other terrorist organization: by finding alienated and anxious young men and feeding them propaganda about how all of their problems can be traced to a specific group of people (immigrants, women, Black people, Jews, whoever).

We’ve also shared our own stories of harassment and intimidation by online groups, made connections to the rise of the alt-right, and warned about the seriousness of it all. In return, we’ve been told that we’re overreacting or behaving like “snowflakes.” We’ve been assured that the misogynist white supremacy movement is just a few bad actors, not an organized and growing front.

But as the nation saw on Wednesday, as ridiculous and foolish as these rioters were — they were also incredibly deliberate and dangerous.

There’s no excuse for those in power to turn a blind eye toward the hate being carefully cultivated in online spaces. Extremists are strategically planning violent acts out in the open air of the internet, and this week, they were successful in breaking into and desecrating what are supposed to be the hallowed halls of democracy. And apparently, they have more mayhem planned for the future.

You can’t say we didn’t warn you.

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.

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