Members Only | March 5, 2021 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

GOP radicalization won’t stop on its own

María Isabel Puerta Riera says a legislative response is needed.

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Images of a violent mob storming the United States Capitol on January 6 were the backdrop to hearings on Capitol Hill last week during which former and acting chiefs of Capitol and DC police warned that threats against the US government continue.

Sadly, the ongoing threats did not deter those abetting insurrection. Instead of denouncing insurgents, some Republicans celebrated their “patriotism” across formerly conservative media platforms. Contrast that with the response, by Trump’s White House, against protesters during the social and racial unrest of 2020.

These hearings have led to the belief that an intelligence failure caused the security breach. That stands in contradiction to the public record. Former President Trump called on his followers to fight against President-elect Joe Biden’s certification: “Be There. Will Be Wild!”; and significant analysis, coming from all sides of the political spectrum: from the Rand Corporation to the Southern Poverty Law Center, substantial advice about the threats of domestic terrorism has been available.

Far from meaning automatic electoral victories for the Democratic Party, GOP radicalization will only increase distrust on the electoral system, and in democracy itself.

In addition, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said back in September that one of the most serious national security threats the country is facing come from anti-government white-supremacist groups: “Racially motivated violent extremism, mostly from white supremacists, has made up a majority of domestic terrorism threats.”

While the SPLC reports the KKK has seen a decrease in interest, the Proud Boy’s leader said his hate group has doubled its members since Donald Trump’s praise of them. This shouldn’t come as a surprise given the presence of these groups is historical. There seems to be a cycle in their prominence that law enforcement agencies know well. The FBI: “Domestic right-wing terrorist groups often adhere to the principles of racial supremacy and embrace anti-government, anti-regulatory beliefs. Generally, extremist right-wing groups engage in activity that is protected by constitutional guarantees of free speech and assembly. Law enforcement becomes involved when the volatile talk of these groups transgresses into unlawful action.”

Brian Michael Jenkins laid out the scenario: larger constituencies; improved domestic extremists’ organization; fractured social fabric; armed right-wing extremists; law enforcement participation in right-wing extremist groups; ineffective radicalization prevention efforts; and the constraints for surveillance due to human rights violations. These, among other factors, paint a very difficult path to controlling the rise of domestic terrorism if there are no legislature measures taken, since, under current statutes, there are no penalties associated to domestic terrorism crimes.

The concern among civil liberties advocates is that criminalization could lead to the violation of civil rights, which should require a more comprehensive approach.

However, there does seem to be a double standard when it comes to civil rights. While right-wing media responded to the January 6 insurrection with bothsidesism, comparing the attack on the Capitol to the events in Portland last year, they are careful enough to avoid mentioning the militia groups at the Michigan State Capitol, and former president Trump’s call to “Liberate Michigan! These events are not isolated. In fact, Michigan is known for its anti-government groups, having seen a rise of this behavior along with right-wing extremist embrace of the Michigan GOP: This building resentment that people just didn’t agree economically or culturally with the direction percolated and exploded,” a former state Republican senator said.

The party of grievance turned into the party of extremism to hold onto a constituency shrinking due to demographic change and ideology swings: These people had always been marginalized, but you’ve got leaders in the party enabling their behavior now,” said Paul Mitchell, a retired GOP congressman. “It’s a total pendulum swing.”

Finally, whether there’s an economic or cultural motivation to adopt fringe beliefs that the GOP has mainstreamed, there continues to be an indisputable racist incitement for this behavior, reinforced from the highest office during the previous administration. As US District Court Judge Esther Salas revealed, the man who murdered her only child had also planned to carry an attack against US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Judge Salas’ attacker might not have had ties to white supremacists, but he was identified as an anti-feminist, and a racist.

As the Republican Party turns more extreme, its radicalization might drain the moderate voices it once attracted, but far from meaning automatic victories for the Democratic Party, radicalization will only increase distrust on the electoral system, and democracy itself. There has to be an institutional response with a broad range of legislative measures that can bring the country together against the threat of domestic terrorism, and make sure these crimes are fully prosecuted.

María Isabel Puerta Riera


María Isabel Puerta Riera is a political scientist, currently adjunct professor at Valencia College (Florida), and former associate professor at the Universidad de Carabobo (Venezuela).

Published in cooperation with Alternet.

María Isabel Puerta Riera is a political scientist, currently adjunct professor at Valencia College (Florida), and former associate professor at the Universidad de Carabobo (Venezuela).

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