When the right wing rallies

When the right wing rallies

Reuters examined data from the U.S. Crisis Monitor on political protests across the United States to provide a look at the spread of right-wing demonstrations in 2020. Our visualization shows how the incendiary concept of a stolen election brought together a disparate collection of anti-government militias, conspiracy theorists, white nationalist and ordinary Americans, and how those protests continue into 2021.

To chart the role of far-right groups at political protests, Reuters consulted Roudabeh Kishi, the Director of Research & Innovation at the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), a non-profit organization that monitors political violence and demonstrations around the world.

We used data from ACLED’s U.S Crisis Monitor to illustrate the arc of the rallies leading up to the deadly storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, and focused on right-wing groups whose members were charged in the breach. We also spoke to specialists in political extremism, including Ari Perliger, author of “American Zealots: Inside Right-Wing Domestic Terrorism.”

On Jan. 6 there was a steady drumbeat of right-wing political activity around the country, but for a wide swath of Americans, the events in Washington came as a shock.

The force of ideas

Reuters tallied more than 2,100 right-wing demonstrations in 2020 by searching for protests against COVID-19 restrictions, perceived election fraud, the Black Lives Matter movement and President Joe Biden, as well as rallies for Second Amendment rights, in support of the police and former President Donald Trump.

We included events where far-right groups both were and weren’t present – of those, only about 100 were classified by ACLED as riots. Authorities arrested individuals belonging to at least a dozen right-wing groups for alleged involvement in the Capitol riot. Members of those groups were present at roughly half of events classified as riots in 2020.

Jeff Gruenewald, director of the Terrorism Research Center at the University of Arkansas, notes that much activity of far-right groups last year were marches and rallies: activities that were protected under the First Amendment.

George Floyd’s death at the hands of police sparks thousands of demonstrations.

November

5,900

Rallies for Trump and allegations of election fraud become the predominant form of protest.

DEMONSTRATIONS

Left-wing

Right-wing

J

J

2020

2021

Note: Data are as of the 20th of each month

Source: U.S. Crisis Monitor, Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project

George Floyd’s death at the hands of police sparks thousands of demonstrations.

November

5,900

Rallies for Trump and allegations of election fraud become the predominant form of protest.

DEMONSTRATIONS

Left-wing

Right-wing

J

J

2020

2021

Note: Data are as of the 20th of each month

Source: U.S. Crisis Monitor, Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project

George Floyd’s death at the hands of police sparks thousands of demonstrations.

November

5,900

Rallies for Trump and allegations of election fraud become the predominant form of protest.

DEMONSTRATIONS

Left-wing

Right-wing

J

J

2020

2021

Note: Data are as of the 20th of each month

Source: U.S. Crisis Monitor, Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project

DEMONSTRATIONS

2020

George Floyd’s death at the hands of police sparks thousands of demonstrations.

5,900

Left-wing

Right-wing

Rallies for Trump and allegations of election fraud become the predominant form of protest.

November

2021

Note: Data are as of the 20th of each month

Source: U.S. Crisis Monitor, Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project

Perliger, director of security studies at University of Massachusetts, Lowell, points out that extremism itself is not new. Every political movement has a core, and around it there may be a fringe that turns violent. He said that while we don’t have a good theory for how demonstrations tip into violence, the more people buy into conspiracy theories, the more potential there is for radicalization.

The far-right organizations in the ACLED dataset comprise a spectrum of ideologies, from right-wing militias like the Three Percenters, to street movements like the Proud Boys, and groups that are skeptical of state intervention, like the Boogaloo Bois. The timelines below show their protest activity in 2020.

Conspiracy theorists

The most loosely-organized of these groups are QAnon followers. They believe in a mysterious online figure called “Q” who alleged in online forums to have inside knowledge of the Trump administration. “Q” posts falsely alleged the existence of a deep state conspiracy meant to take control of the American people, and of a child pedophile ring among elite members of the U.S. government and Hollywood circles.

J

2020

Pro-Trump

demonstration

F

M

A

Against stay- at-home orders

M

J

J

A

Protests to end purported celebrity child sex trafficking rings drew hundreds to more than half-dozen cities.

S

O

Claims of election fraud sent QAnon flocking to ‘Count all votes’ and ‘Stop the Steal’ rallies.

N

D

J

2021

Protests to end purported celebrity child sex trafficking rings drew hundreds to more than half-dozen cities.

Claims of election fraud sent QAnon flocking to ‘Count all votes’ and ‘Stop the Steal’ rallies.

Against stay- at-home orders

Pro-Trump

demonstration

J

M

A

M

J

J

A

S

O

N

D

J

F

2020

2021

Protests to end purported celebrity child sex trafficking rings drew hundreds to more than half-dozen cities.

Claims of election fraud sent QAnon flocking to ‘Count all votes’ and ‘Stop the Steal’ rallies.

Against stay- at-home orders

Pro-Trump

demonstration

J

M

A

M

J

J

A

S

O

N

D

J

F

2020

2021

J

2020

Pro-Trump

demonstration

F

M

A

Against stay- at-home orders

M

J

J

A

Protests to end purported celebrity child sex trafficking rings drew hundreds to more than half-dozen cities.

S

O

Claims of election fraud sent QAnon flocking to ‘Count all votes’ and ‘Stop the Steal’ rallies.

N

D

J

2021

Anti-government militias

According to Perliger, these groups tend to believe the federal government is interested in stripping away the civil liberties of citizens, and that their right to bear arms is their first line of defense. They aggressively oppose the existing U.S. political establishment and the American left. Groups shown here include the Three Percenters, Oath Keepers, Sons of Liberty, American Patriots USA and others.

J

2020

Political 'intolerance'

of right-wing views, imposing caps on carbon emissions, gun rights

F

M

A

M

J

Armed militia groups showed up at protests against police brutality “to maintain safety,” some flying Confederate flags.

J

A

S

O

Allegations of election fraud on social media ignited these groups ahead of the election.

N

D

J

2021

Armed militia groups showed up at protests against police brutality “to maintain safety,” some flying Confederate flags.

Allegations of election fraud on social media ignited these groups ahead of the election.

Political 'intolerance'

of right-wing views, imposing caps on carbon emissions, gun rights

J

F

M

A

M

J

J

A

S

O

N

D

J

2020

2021

Allegations of election fraud on social media ignited these groups ahead of the election.

Political 'intolerance'

of right-wing views, imposing caps on carbon emissions, gun rights

Armed militia groups showed up at protests against police brutality “to maintain safety,” some flying Confederate flags.

J

F

M

A

M

J

J

A

S

O

N

D

J

2020

2021

J

2020

Political 'intolerance'

of right-wing views, imposing caps on carbon emissions, gun rights

F

M

A

M

J

Armed militia groups showed up at protests against police brutality “to maintain safety,” some flying Confederate flags.

J

A

S

O

Allegations of election fraud on social media ignited these groups ahead of the election.

N

D

J

2021

Right-wing street movements

These groups (the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer) share similarities with the right-wing militias, but the ADL describes them as anti-immigration, anti-Semitic, misogynistic and nationalistic. However, members come from varied ethnic backgrounds, and while there are white nationalist factions within the Proud Boys, many in the movement disavow outright white nationalism. Data include Patriot Prayer, said to be allied with the Proud Boys. Both groups support Trump and oppose liberalism.

J

Opposition to gun laws drew thousands to rally in Virginia, including militias and hate groups.

2020

F

M

A

M

J

Proud Boys show up to counter Black Lives Matter protests and in support of ‘Back the Blue’.

J

A

S

O

In November the Proud Boys were at more than 40 rallies across 17 different states to support Trump.

N

D

J

2021

In November the Proud Boys were at more than 40 rallies across 17 different states to support Trump.

Opposition to gun laws drew thousands to rally in Virginia, including militias and hate groups.

Proud Boys show up to counter Black Lives Matter protests and in support of ‘Back the Blue’.

J

F

M

A

M

J

J

A

S

O

N

D

J

2020

2021

In November the Proud Boys were at more than 40 rallies across 17 different states to support Trump.

Opposition to gun laws drew thousands to rally in Virginia, including militias and hate groups.

Proud Boys show up to counter Black Lives Matter protests and in support of ‘Back the Blue’.

J

F

M

A

M

J

J

A

S

O

N

D

J

2020

2021

J

Opposition to gun laws drew thousands to rally in Virginia, including militias and hate groups.

2020

F

M

A

M

J

Proud Boys show up to counter Black Lives Matter protests and in support of ‘Back the Blue’.

J

A

S

O

In November the Proud Boys were at more than 40 rallies across 17 different states to support Trump.

N

D

J

2021

White nationalists

Groups in this category include the Ku Klux Klan and the Groypers. They believe in the superiority of the white race and support policies and structures against immigration, a multicultural society and racial minority groups’ rights. The Groypers are named after a version of a cartoon frog meme, a popular symbol of the alt-right.

J

2020

F

M

A

M

Confronting Black Lives Matter protestors in Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Virginia

J

J

A

S

O

The Groypers marched around the Capitol in Atlanta, Ga., for Trump, protested at the Governor’s mansion.

N

D

J

2021

Confronting Black Lives Matter protestors in Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Virginia

The Groypers marched around the Capitol in Atlanta, Ga., for Trump, protested at the Governor’s mansion.

J

F

M

A

M

J

J

A

S

O

N

D

J

2020

2021

Confronting Black Lives Matter protestors in Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, New York, Penn- sylvania, Nevada, Virginia

The Groypers marched around the Capitol in Atlanta, Ga., for Trump, protested at the Governor’s mansion.

J

F

M

A

M

J

J

A

S

O

N

D

J

2020

2021

J

2020

F

M

A

M

Confronting Black Lives Matter protestors in Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Virginia

J

J

A

S

O

The Groypers marched around the Capitol in Atlanta, Ga., for Trump, protested at the Governor’s mansion.

N

D

J

2021

Convergence

As Black Lives Matter protests spread across the country, extremists showed up on the fringes. Then, with the run-up to the election came a sea change. Kishi told Reuters that by that point in the year far-right groups were mobilizing around the same cause – perceived election fraud.

As a result, many different factions were often at the same rallies and riots at the same time. Below, data show how often various far-right groups overlapped at the same demonstrations.

FAR-RIGHT GROUPS

Three

Percenters

Proud

Boys

Patriot

Prayer

Oath

Keepers

QAnon

Boogaloo

Bois

Groypers

SAME EVENTS

CAPITOL RIOT

PROTESTS

1

4

RIOTS

Proud Boys and Three Percenters were at the same rallies in California, Minnesota, Oregon, and Texas and at the Capitol.

QAnon and the Proud Boys overlapped at Trump rallies. The Proud Boys also attended one “Save the Children” event.

The Boogaloo Bois, Groypers and QAnon were at the same “MAGA” marches and a rally where far-right personality Alex Jones was a speaker.

Note: Data comprise events where more than one group was present.

FAR-RIGHT GROUPS

Proud

Boys

Three

Percenters

Patriot

Prayer

Oath

Keepers

QAnon

Boogaloo

Bois

Groypers

SAME EVENTS

CAPITOL RIOT

PROTESTS

1

4

RIOTS

Proud Boys and Three Percenters were at the same rallies in California, Minnesota, Oregon, and Texas and at the Capitol.

QAnon and the Proud Boys overlapped at Trump rallies. The Proud Boys also attended one “Save the Children” event.

The Boogaloo Bois, Groypers and QAnon were at the same “MAGA” marches and a rally where far-right personality Alex Jones was a speaker.

Note: Data comprise events where more than one group was present.

FAR-RIGHT GROUPS

Proud

Boys

Three

Percenters

Patriot

Prayer

Oath

Keepers

Groypers

QAnon

Boogaloo

Bois

Proud Boys and Three Percenters were at the same rallies in California, Minnesota, Oregon, and Texas and at the Capitol.

ATTENDING SAME EVENTS

PROTESTS

1

4

CAPITOL RIOT

QAnon and the Proud Boys overlapped at Trump rallies. The Proud Boys also attended one “Save the Children” event.

RIOTS

The Boogaloo Bois,

Groypers and QAnon were drawn to the same “MAGA” marches and a rally where far-right personality Alex Jones was a speaker.

Note: Data comprise events where more than one group was present.

FAR-RIGHT GROUPS

Proud

Boys

Three

Percenters

Patriot

Prayer

Oath

Keepers

QAnon

Boogaloo

Bois

Groypers

SAME EVENTS

CAPITOL RIOT

PROTESTS

1

4

RIOTS

Proud Boys and Three Percenters were at the same rallies in California, Minnesota, Oregon, and Texas and at the Capitol.

QAnon and the Proud Boys overlapped at Trump rallies. The Proud Boys also attended one “Save the Children” event.

The Boogaloo Bois, Groypers and QAnon were at the same “MAGA” marches and a rally where far-right personality Alex Jones was a speaker.

Note: Data comprise events where more than one group was present.

The attack on the Capitol was the final of three ‘Million MAGA’ marches. From the first march to the second the size of the crowd declined, but the numbers of far-right activists rose, according to analysis by the Chicago Project on Security and Threats (CPOST) at the University of Chicago.

The ACLED data show that the Proud Boys and the Three Percenters had the largest overall presence at rallies attended by more than one far-right group. This is in part because both groups are relatively large: Each had several hundred members in chapters across the United States in 2021, according to estimates from the ADL. The Proud Boys were at all three ‘MAGA’ marches.

Since the Capitol riots

Robert Pape, the director of CPOST, said the events of Jan. 6 signal a turning point in right-wing protests; individuals who had previously come to simply protest at ‘Stop the Steal’ rallies and had no affiliations with far-right groups, joined with them to commit an act of political violence in an attempt to overturn an election.

Right-wing protests

Anti-government militias

2021

Right-wing street movements

Capitol riot

White nationalists

QAnon

J

F

M

A

Coronavirus

restrictions

Banning ghost guns

Supporting an

arrested activist

Right-wing protests

Anti-government militias

2021

Right-wing street movements

Capitol riot

White nationalists

QAnon

J

F

M

A

Coronavirus

restrictions

Banning ghost guns

Supporting an

arrested activist

QAnon

2021

White nationalists

Capitol riot

Right-wing street movements

Anti-government militias

Right-wing protests

JANUARY

FEBRUARY

MARCH

APRIL

A ‘Save our children’ rally in Los Angeles, CA

Against alleged Communist groups

Protesting charges against activist Ammon Bundy

Armed groups rally against a bill banning ghost guns in Carson City, NV.

Rally against coronavirus measures and mask mandates in Minnesota.

Right-wing protests

Anti-government militias

2021

Right-wing street movements

Capitol riot

White nationalists

QAnon

J

F

M

A

Coronavirus

restrictions

Banning ghost guns

Supporting an

arrested activist

Gruenewald, who follows the history of these factions, said the extremist groups ebb and flow with the political climate. After high-profile incidents, like the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, some groups splinter or dissolve. Some become even more radicalized. Others go underground and incidence of lone wolf domestic terrorism may rise.

Perliger, who recently received a million dollar grant from the Department of Justice to provide data on right-wing groups, says that the fringe is growing and because of that there is potential mobilization to the core.

Since Jan. 6, far-right groups have continued to protest the results of the presidential election, Coronavirus restrictions and firearm regulations. Demonstrations have taken place at Capitol buildings and courthouses in more than 30 states.

Methodology

Reuters identified more than 2,121 right-wing demonstrations from within the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project’s U.S. Crisis Monitor database of demonstration activity in the U.S. from Jan. 1, 2020 to April 6 protests against COVID-19 restrictions, Black Lives Matter, perceived election fraud and President Joe Biden, as well as rallies in support of Blue Lives Matter and former President Donald Trump. We included groups that were not identified as present at the Capitol riots but focused on those arrested for breaching the Capitol. We organized the groups based on criteria from ACLED, and in consultation with experts at the Chicago Project on Security and Threats at the University of Chicago, and the School of Criminology and Justice Studies at University of Massachusetts, Lowell.

Sources

Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) U.S. Crisis Monitor Project

Photos

REUTERS | Stephanie Keith, Dustin Chambers, Jim Urquhart, Shannon Stapleton

Edited by

Matthew Weber