Capitol attack forces reckoning with radical, right-wing political factions


William Brangham:

As more video emerges, the clearer it becomes just how violent last week’s mob was at the U.S. Capitol.

In a crowd carrying flags that declared support for police, many at the Capitol last Wednesday went at the police with dangerous, deadly intent. Amongst the crowd were also many wearing or carrying the insignia of a litany of the extremist neo-Nazi and conspiracy-minded groups in America.

There were multiple images about QAnon, the conspiracy theory that believes a cabal of Democrats and wealthy elites are secretly running a child sex trafficking ring, one that President Trump has been quietly working to destroy.

There were members of the 3 Percenters in the Oath Keepers, both among the many armed militant anti-government groups in the country. There were various neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic symbols. These are members of the violent hate group the Proud Boys flashing their white supremacist OK hand signal.

In the aftermath of this attack, many of the largest social media and Internet companies sought to clamp down on those the companies say are encouraging violence online. YouTube began removing livestreamed videos of the violence on Capitol Hill.

Facebook said it took offline several forums, including one with thousands of members who, in advance of Wednesday’s riot, posted the home addresses of federal judges and politicians, often accompanied with images of guns and weaponry. Facebook stopped the president from posting to his page.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg justified the ban, saying — quote — “We believe the risks of allowing the president to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great.”

After some back-and-forth, Twitter permanently took the president’s account offline and removed all his prior messages. In a statement, the company said — quote — “After close review of recent tweets from the @realDonaldTrump and the context around them, we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.

These moves by the social media giants were applauded by some, though many said it was far too late in coming. Many conservatives, meanwhile, cried foul, alleging censorship against their political views.

The social media app known as Parler, which was created to be a conservative alternative to Twitter, had been surging in popularity in recent weeks. It became not just an organizing platform for last week’s Capitol protest, but full of numerous calls for violence and mayhem.

Apple and Google both removed Parler from their app stores. And then, yesterday, Amazon, which hosted Parler on its cloud web servers, booted the app offline, citing its inability to curtail violent language and imagery.

As of late last night, Parler’s Web site and app was not functioning. And, today, Parler announced a lawsuit against Amazon, accusing the tech giant of trying to stifle competition.

For more on these extremist groups and whether these moves by the tech companies will help, I’m joined by Cynthia Miller-Idriss. She’s a professor at American University. And she runs the school’s Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab. And by J.M. Berger. He’s the author of several books, including “Extremism.” He has conducted research and training about homegrown terrorism, online extremism and how to counter it.

Thank you both very, very, very much for being here.

J.M. Berger, to you first.

If you were — help us understand how large a presence we know that these extremist groups were at the rally on Wednesday, meaning, if you could show have taken them off the chessboard — I don’t mean arrest them, but I mean magically remove them from the circumstances — would Wednesday have been a different day?