Prominent right-wing extremist groups took part in Wednesday’s events at the U.S. Capitol as supporters of President Donald Trump tried to stop the certification of his election defeat.
Photos of individuals, flags and logos in the crowd in Washington, D.C. showed the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers participating, as well as the Three Percenters militia group.
Followers of QAnon conspiracy theories were caught on camera, along with individuals known for promoting white supremacism. The New England Neo-Nazi group NSC-131 posted on social media that it was there.
“Some groups who were partaking have touted their involvement online, likely to impress followers and raise their stature as action-oriented groups,” said Mollie Saltskog, a senior intelligence analyst at the Soufan Group.
“Most disturbingly, many prominent white supremacy channels that flaunt accelerationism have proclaimed that yesterday was only the beginning and discussed how much more successful they will be with taking over government buildings once organized and with clear leadership.”
Far-right imagery was prominent during the rioting.
One man was photographed carrying a Confederate flag inside the Capitol building. Another wore a sweatshirt that read: “Camp Auschwitz.” Far-right groups were also present at state protests.
“I would summarize them as a collection of rag-tag neo-Nazis, white supremacist groups and individuals who were hellbent on insurrection,” said Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
U.S. Capitol Police made several arrests, but of the suspects publicly identified to date, none appeared to be key far-right figures.
The FBI has asked witnesses to help identify instigators of the violence.
“Make no mistake: With our partners, we will hold accountable those who participated in yesterday’s siege of the Capitol,” FBI director Christopher Wray said in a statement Thursday.
Oren Segal, vice-president of the Anti-Defamation League’s Centre on Extremism, wrote on Twitter that the far-right Proud Boys had amassed in Washington on Tuesday night.
“On Wednesday afternoon, Proud Boys’ ‘Uncensored’ Telegram channel showed members breaching security at the U.S. Capitol and engaging in fist fights with Capitol police,” he wrote.
Segal said anti-government extremist Oath Keepers, including founder Stewart Rhodes, were photographed in the crowd on Wednesday, while Three Percenters were at simultaneous rallies in California.
Trump supporters entered the Capitol as Congress was certifying the victory of president-elect Joe Biden. The rioting followed a rally at which Trump repeated the false claim the election was stolen from him.
Farber said he was worried about the long-term impact of the assault on the U.S. Capitol.
“This is probably the most significant victory for the far right in modern history,” he said. “This is a serious moment.”
He said the incident could be used to radicalize a new generation with a narrative about how the far right almost succeeded in seizing state power.
“This will be one of those legacy far-right stories that will be used for recruitment,” he said.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh called for the Proud Boys to be listed as a terrorist group in Canada, saying the group had “helped execute” the Capitol attack.
According to a Canadian military report, the Proud Boys are “an extremist conservative group that uses confrontational and at times violent tactics to promote its goals.”
It is “openly Islamophobic and misogynistic” and “has an active and physical presence” in the U.S. and Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces report on hate and racist groups said.
On Monday, the leader of the Proud Boys was arrested in Washington for allegedly setting fire to a Black Lives Matter banner belonging to a Black church on Dec. 12, 2020.
The Oath Keepers is “one of the largest radical anti-government groups in the U.S. today,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Centre.
“While it claims only to be defending the Constitution, the entire organization is based on a set of baseless conspiracy theories about the federal government working to destroy the liberties of Americans.”
The Three Percenters, meanwhile, are a “paramilitary militia style group harboring anti-Muslim, anti-government views bolstered by extreme right wing conspiracy theories,” the Canadian military report said.