Planned Violent Protests by Far Right Groups Against Inauguration Should Not Panic US Jewish Community, Say Experts
More than a week after the Jan. 6 storming of Capitol Hill by a mob determined to prevent the certification of US President-elect Joe Biden, law enforcement agencies remain in a heightened state of alert for potentially deadly confrontations involving extremist supporters of President Donald Trump as Biden’s inauguration approaches next Wednesday.
Among US Jewish groups and organizations, there is a natural sense of disquiet over what the coming week may hold, given the presence of white supremacist and other far right elements during the Capitol riot, and the widely-publicized call for protests in advance of the inauguration in all 50 state capitols.
But intelligence gathered from the monitoring of extremist chatter online indicates that the Jewish community and other minorities are not the primary targets of any forthcoming protests. Nor is there a clear sense of how extensive or violent such protests might become.
“There have been a range of reactions,” said Jessica Reaves — the editorial director of the Center on Extremism of the Anti Defamation League (ADL) — when asked about the mood on the far right in the wake of the Capitol Hill riot.
“Some people were frustrated with Trump’s comments after the riot in which he appeared to distance himself,” Reaves explained in an interview with The Algemeiner on Wednesday. “A lot of right-wing extremists get excited about the things [Trump] says, but then he’ll be pressured to say something less incendiary, and they are left disappointed. That’s especially true for the white supremacists.”
Much of the discussion about threats to public security during inauguration week has centered on an “armed march” planned for Jan. 17 — this Sunday — in Washington, DC, with satellite protests in state capitols held simultaneously. A widely-shared poster for the showdown billed it as “Refuse to be Silenced — Armed March on Capitol Hill & All State Capitols!” However, opinion on the far-right is divided over whether to even attend, with some activists insisting that the Jan. 17 rally is a “trap” that has been set by the federal government.
“FFS here we go again,” wrote one commenter on a far-right blog on Monday. “F****** kids don’t learn shit. How many times must you be kicked in the balls before you learn?”
The same commenter then counseled, “It’s coming, be patient, play on your terms, on the field YOU CONTROL…”
“I tend to believe that there will be protests in most of the state capitols,” Mitchell Silber, executive director of the Community Security Initiative of the UJA-Federation in New York, told The Algemeiner on Thursday. “The question is, are they going to be peaceful or not? When people talk about a peaceful march that’s armed, that gets me concerned, because there’s an inherent conflict there. If it’s peaceful, why are you armed?”
Both Reaves and Silber pointed out that a range of right-wing groups have coalesced around the false claim pushed by Trump that Biden’s victory was the result of a rigged presidential election. Not all of these groups advocate white supremacist ideologies.
“In terms of what is playing out right now in the public sphere, it’s being driven mainly by non race-related issues — anti-government fervor, love of Trump,” said Reaves. “That said, on the more extreme platforms, you are seeing perennial antisemitic tropes, such as conspiracy theories about ‘Jewish control,’ and you are also seeing overt racism.”
Silber noted that “the one piece of this that has amplified everyone’s anxieties is when you look at who participated in the Capitol Hill riot. We all saw the ‘Camp Auschwitz’ shirt, and many of the constituent groups have an element of antisemitism in their ideology.” For that reason, he continued, “a hostility to Jews reminiscent of what we saw [at the Aug 11-12, 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ show of strength] in Charlottesville, that Jews are trying to commit ‘white genocide,’ that they are trying to ‘replace us’ with [non-white] immigrants,” remains visible.
Despite the presence of these elements, neither expert believed that a distinct threat was posed to the Jewish community by Sunday’s planned protests or the wider protests around Biden’s inauguration.
“We aren’t perceiving this as a specific threat to the Jewish community,” said Reaves. “It’s a much broader assault on democracy. Of course, when there are people intent on challenging the democratic process, Jews and other minorities are often caught in the crossfire — so it’s not a time to ease up on security, but I don’t advise panic.”
Silber concurred with this assessment, observing that “as of Thursday, we’re not seeing any intelligence or threat information online suggesting that there are plans for marches or violence in the greater New York City area.”
At the same time, Silber urged extra vigilance in the “days, weeks and months” after Biden’s inauguration.
“The concern of Jewish communities will be with those people who participated [in the riot] and who are ultimately thwarted,” Silber said. “When they go back to their homes, when they sit and stew and talk about who to take out their anger on, who to blame, that’s the point at which Jewish targets will rise to the top of the list. When they want retribution over this so-called ‘stolen election’, then the ‘globalist elite,’ and therefore the Jewish population, will be in their sights.”
He pointed out that one week after the election, NYPD Counter-Terrorism officers arrested a 54-year-old Staten Island man who had described New York Sen. Charles Schumer as a “Jew Senator” in a social media post advocating terrorist attacks on the FBI and other agencies he accused of fixing the presidential contest against Trump.
“That’s the type of action that I’m expecting from people who weren’t able to overturn the election result,” Silber warned.