Since the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, researchers have discovered that many of the people charged for their alleged involvement in the attack had prior connections to extremist groups or movements. Here’s how members or subscribers to the Proud Boys, the QAnon conspiracy theory and the Oath Keepers connected to one another before Jan. 6, 2021.
Since the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, some Republicans have framed the rioters as concerned Americans who just went a little overboard in their defense of former President Donald Trump. But researchers are finding that many of the people charged for their alleged involvement in the attack have a connection to an extremist group or movement. In fact, these organizations, which don’t usually band together, coordinated beforehand, helping the attack become so big and destructive.
Michael Jensen, a senior researcher who studies terrorism at the University of Maryland, combed through court documents, news reports and social media posts to identify every person charged in relation to the Jan. 6 attack who had preexisting ties to extremist groups. He found that roughly a third of the nearly 900 individuals charged had some kind of connection to extremist ideology, including far-right groups like the Proud Boys and the QAnon conspiracy theory.
Jensen also found that many of these individuals were connected to one another prior to January 6. They had been to rallies together, or were in the same chat groups, or interacted on social media. Of the individuals with ties to extremist groups who were charged, roughly one in five had a preexisting connection to another defendant. Take, for example, Enrique Tarrio and Stewart Rhodes. At the time of the attack, Tarrio was the leader of the Proud Boys and Rhodes was the leader of the Oath Keepers, another far-right group. When we look at the connections between other defendants and extremist groups, Tarrio and Rhodes are basically in the center. They’re just one or two degrees away from dozens of other people charged and three-quarters of the known extremist organizations present on that day. The Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers both had a large presence on the day of the attack, and have been accused of coordinating beforehand.
What this data shows is a tangled web of connections between individuals from different extremist groups. This isn’t typical. Normally, these far-right groups tend to keep to themselves — they don’t get together on the weekend to go bowling. But this data demonstrates how certain ideologies — like belief in the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen — can bind extremist groups together. And as we saw on Jan. 6, that kind of unifying ideology can be a powerful and destructive force.