Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos
This past weekend, CNN began running stories ("Assault on Democracy: The Roots of Trump's Insurrection") dedicated ostensibly to examining what motivated the hundreds of people who participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection, but which in the process primarily normalized them. "Before they were at an insurrection, they were regular Americans," read one promotional headline.
But the more we learn about the insurrectionists and their violent intentions, as evidence appears in the court record of their prosecutions, the more apparent it is that there is nothing remotely normal about the far-right movement into which they have eagerly been swept up. Even more self-evident is that, as we learn more about would-be insurrectionary events in the year leading up to Jan. 6—particularly the failed plans that were laid out to attack state capitol buildings in Virginia and Michigan—that the Capitol siege was not simply a one-off event; rather, the far-right extremists who still have not backed down in their belief that the election was stolen from Donald Trump intend to keep attempting it until they succeed.
The plot to unleash terrorist violence in Richmond, Virginia, was laid out in detail this weekend by the Winnipeg Free Press, which did a deep-dive exploration of the would-be terrorist career of Patrik Mathews, the onetime Canadian reservist arrested by the FBI five days before thousands of gun fanatics gathered in Richmond to protest the state's looming gun-control laws.
The Press had earlier exposed Mathews' activities as a budding recruiter for the neo-Nazi terrorist group The Base while serving as an active-duty combat engineer in Canada, leading to an RCMP raid on his home in Beausejour. Mathews fled to the United States in 2019 and began leading the life of a fugitive with other members of The Base, but his activities were being tracked and monitored by federal agents.
At one point, the agents obtained a "sneak and peek" warrant to search an apartment he shared with fellow Base member Brian Lemley Jr., which provided a trove of disturbing information:
What the agents found was disturbing: several self-recorded propaganda videos in which Mathews urged white supremacists to pick up arms and carry out attacks to spark a race war.
"If you want the white race to survive, you're going to have to do your f—king part… This is the age of war," Mathews said.
"Derail some f—king trains, kill some people, and poison some water supplies."
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Maryland — which would later prosecute the criminal charges against the men — many of Mathews propaganda videos discussed killing people in furtherance of the neo-Nazi movement.
"The system has prevented a peaceful solution at every possible turn. It is the system that is fomenting violent revolution—not us—and they shall now reap what they have sown," Mathews said in one of the videos. "This is the century upon which this current civilization's rotting Jew-infested country comes to a collapse."
Moreover, the men were getting worked up about the upcoming Jan. 20, 2020, gun-rights rally in Richmond—whose politics they endorsed, but which they saw primarily as an opportunity to spark a violent conflict by opening up gunfire on rallygoers and on police. Among their purchases in the weeks leading up to the event was a semiautomatic assault rifle they assembled and then practiced with repeatedly at a gun range.
According to the FBI affidavit in the case, the three men discussed "the planning of violence at a specific event in Virginia, scheduled for January 20, 2020."
"Lemley discussed using a thermal imaging scope affixed to his rifle to conduct ambush attacks," the affidavit explains, "including attacks against unsuspecting civilians and police officers. Lemley stated, 'I literally need, I need to claim my first victim,' and when describing the optic, Lemley stated, "It's so unfair what I can do to people with that you know. There is no safety. Don't be caught alone at night in a place where I pop you."
Mathews stated, "We could essentially like be literally hunting people. Um. You could provide overwatch while I get close to do what needs to be done to certain things."
It quoted Mathews observing that "you know we got this situation in Virginia where this is going to be, that opportunity is boundless and the thing is you've got tons of guys who are just in theory should be radicalized enough to know that all you gotta do is start making things go wrong and if Virginia can spiral out to fucking full blown civil war.'"
In preparation for the Richmond event, the men gathered supplies: "bug out bags" they could stash as part of their getaway plans, purchasing body armor and an ammunition stockpile with over 1,600 rounds.
"I need to claim my first victim," Lemley told Mathews at one point.
"We can't let Virginia go to waste. We just can't. … Virginia will be our day," Mathews replied.
The men were arrested in Delaware on January 16. Several other members of The Base and another neo-Nazi terrorist band, Atomwaffen Division, were arrested over the next month on various charges involving their attempts to terrorize their political opponents.
The Richmond rally was raucous but generally nonviolent. However, its organizers made clear that their frequently seditionist rhetoric was not going away. Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes—who eventually played a key role in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, though he has not yet been charged—told protest supporters that the momentum was building for a civil war:
So yes, it could come down to a standoff. That's why it's important for, like I said, we want to reach out to the state police and National Guard as part of our mission when we go to Virginia, is reach out to them and encourage them to stand down because if they do act under the command of the governor, they come into a county, and they're resisted by the local militia or the sheriff and his posse, it will kick off a civil war in this country. That's what will happen. There will be a civil war between the left and the right and we'd prefer to see that not happen. That's where it's going to go.
And that was indeed where it went over the next year, particularly for the far-right "Patriot"/militia movement to which most of these various actors voiced allegiance—even as their opportunistic focus veered suddenly in the direction of anti-pandemic restriction protests. In late April, a group of armed militiamen attempted to take over the Michigan state Capitol in Lansing, and succeeded in threatening legislators who then voted to nullify Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's shutdown orders.
When federal and state investigators arrested 14 militiamen—many of whom had participated in the April protest—in October on charges that they had plotted to kidnap and execute Whitmer, it shortly emerged that the men's original plan had involved a massive takeover of the Capitol, at the culmination of which they intended to hold show trials and televised executions of state officials taken hostage.
Placing state capitols under siege was clearly a developing tactic that the radical right intended to keep repeating until it took hold. In Oregon, a group of far-right protesters successfully, but briefly, invaded the statehouse on Dec. 21; Republican state Representative Mike Nearman, who faces official misconduct charges for allowing the extremists into the building, was expelled from the Oregon Houseon June 11.
CNN should understand that it's true that these extremists all consider themselves not just regular Americans, but the apotheosis of national pride—even though they revealed their deeply seditionist natures on Jan. 6 and afterward. This is largely because the Patriot movement dresses its violent extremism in the swaddling clothes of jingoist patriotism, convincing its bellicose believers that they represent the "silent majority." This is a reality that CNN's project utterly neglects.
So despite a mountain of legal setbacks, many of the insurrectionists and their supporters and apologists remain defiant in their belief that they were trying to save America from a nefarious leftist cabal involving Joe Biden, Chinese communists, and "antifa/BLM leftists." One such activist—a Washington state-based "Patriot" who threatened a woman journalist on camera in Washington, D.C., during a November 14 "Stop the Steal" event—was unrepentant to a Washington Post reporter: "I'd do it all again," he said, "but with the mask on."
What's clear now is that the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol brought a year's worth of gathering momentum to a kind of fruition for the far-right tactic of threatening legislative buildings with invasion—and that the tactic remains a viable option for the future as well, at least until they finally succeed. Jan. 6 was a kind of culmination, but it likely also was a kind of beginning.