Over three dozen members and partners across both the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers have been charged with crimes. Some local chapters cut ties with federal leadership in the weeks after the deadly siege.
Some extremism experts see parallels between the fallout from the Capitol riot and the schisms that split far-right figures and groups following their violent clashes with counter-protesters in the”Unite the Right” white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017. The white supremacist”alt-right” movement fractured and finally faded from public opinion after the violence erupted that weekend.
“I think something sort of like that is happening right now in the broader far-right movement, where the cohesive tissue that brought all of them together — being the 2020 election — it is kind of dissolved,” explained Jared Holt, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.
“Like’Unite the Right,’ there is a massive tragedy, a P.R. disaster, and they’ve got the eye of the feds. And it is even more intense now because they have the national security apparatus breathing down their necks,” he added.
But others believe President Joe Biden’s success and the Jan. 6 evaluation, the largest federal prosecution in history, could reestablish the militia movement — fueled by an anti-government anger.
“We are already seeing lots of this rhetoric being spewed in an effort to pull in people,” said Freddy Cruz, a Southern Poverty Law Center research analyst who studies anti-government groups. “It is very possible that individuals will get energized and try to coordinate more action given that we now have a Democratic president in office.”
The insurrectionists who descended on the nation’s capital briefly disrupted the certification of Biden’s presidential win and sent terrified lawmakers running for their lives.
Some rioters came prepared with pepper spray, baseball bats and other weapons.
Members of the Proud Boys as well as the Oath Keepers make up just a small fraction of the greater than 400 individuals charged so far. Prosecutors have narrowed in on the two extremist groups as they try to determine how much preparation went into the attack, but police have said they are intent on persuading anybody involved in the riot.
Over two dozen Proud Boys leaders, associates or members are among those detained. The team claims it has over 30,000 members nationwide.
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In the ongoing protests past summer over police brutality, their counter demonstrations often devolved to violence. Law enforcement stepped in during a demonstration in Michigan. Participants were accused of vandalizing property at Washington, D.C. Then, during a presidential debate with Biden, the group gained greater notoriety after Trump refused to condemn white supremacist groups and told that the Proud Boys right into”return and stand by.”
Chairman Henry”Enrique” Tarrio has not been billed in the riot. He was not there on Jan. 6. He had been arrested in an unrelated vandalism case as he arrived in Washington two days ahead of the insurrection and was ordered out of the area by a judge. Law enforcement later said Tarrio was picked up in a part to help quell potential violence.
Tarrio insists the criminal charges have not diminished or split the group. He says he’s met with leaders of chapters which declared their own independence and patched up their differences.
“We have been through the wringer,” Tarrio said in a meeting. “Any other group following January 6th would fall apart.”
But leaders of many local Proud Boys chapters, including in Seattle, Las Vegas, Indiana and Alabama, said after Jan. 6 that their members were cutting ties with the organization’s national direction. Four leaders, such as national Elders Council member Ethan Nordean, have been charged by federal officials with planning and leading an attack on the Capitol. Among Nordean’s lawyers said he wasn’t accountable for any crimes committed by other men and women.
The Las Vegas chapter’s announcement about the instant messaging platform Telegram in February didn’t mention Jan. 6 directly, but it claimed that the”overall direction of the company” was endangering its own members.
The Alabama team expressed concern about reports that Tarrio had been a national informant. It was revealed in court records lately that Tarrio had worked undercover and cooperated with investigators after he was convicted of fraud in 2012.
“We reject and disavow the proven national informant, Enrique Tarrio, and all chapters which choose to connect with him,” that the Alabama group posted online in February.
Tarrio stated he suspended federal Proud Boy rallies soon after Jan. 6 in part to focus on helping members facing criminal charges. Tarrio described Jan. 6 as”horrible” but said police overcharged his imprisoned lieutenants and are persecuting them.
Complete Coverage: Capitol siege
Meanwhile, 16 associates and members of the Oath Keepers — a militia band based in 2009 that recruits former and current military, police and first responders — have been charged with conspiring to block the certification of the vote. The band’s founder and chief, Stewart Rhodes, has stated that there were too many as 40,000 Oath Keepers at its summit, but one extremism expert estimates the team’s membership stands approximately 3,000 nationwide.
Rhodes has not been billed, and it’s uncertain if he will be. However he has repeatedly come up in court documents as”Individual One,” indicating he’s a principal focus of researchers.
Days after the election,” Rhodes instructed his followers during a GoToMeeting telephone to go to Washington to let Trump understand”that the people are supporting him,” and he expressed hope that Trump would call up the militia to help the president stay in power, authorities say. Rhodes warned they could be headed for a”bloody, bloody civil war, along with a bloody — you can call it an insurrection or you can call it a war or fight,” according to court records.
On Jan. 6, several Oath Keepers, wearing helmets and reinforced vests, were spotted on camera shouldering their way up the Capitol steps within an military-style stack formation. Rhodes was communicating that afternoon with a few Oath Keepers who entered the Capitol and was spotted standing with several of the defendants outside the building after the riot, prosecutors say.
Rhodes has sought to distance himself from those who have been detained, insisting the members went rogue and there wasn’t a strategy to enter the Capitol. However he’s continued in interviews with right-wing hosts since Jan. 6 to push the lie which the election was stolen, while the Oath Keepers website remains active with articles painting the group because the victim of political persecution.
Messages left at amounts listed for Rhodes were not immediately returned.
Court records reveal discord among the group as early the night of the attack. Someone identified at the records only as”Person Eleven” blasted the Oath Keepers in a Signal chat with Rhodes and others as”a huge f–n joke” and known as Rhodes”that the dumbass I discovered you had been,” court documents state.
Two months later, Rhodes lamented at a message to another Oath Keeper the federal team had gotten”too lax” and”too complacent.” He pledged to”tighten up the command and control” from the group –“even though it means losing some folks,” according to court documents.
Its president, who did not return messages from the AP, told The News Reporter paper it wouldn’t be”a part of whatever terrorizes anybody or goes against law enforcement.”
A leader of an Arizona chapter slammed Rhodes and those facing charges, saying on CBS'”60 Minutes” that the attack”goes against everything we have ever taught, what we believe in.”
The Oath Keepers’ leader has also implied the group may be facing financial pressures. In an interview posted on the Oath Keepers’ website, Rhodes stated it has been hard for the team to raise money because it’s been kicked off particular websites.
The group also lost the capability to process credit card payments on the web after the company required that Rhodes disavow the detained members and he refused, Rhodes stated in a March interview for far-right site Gateway Pundit. The Oath Keepers website says it can’t accept new memberships on line because of”malicious leftist attacks” and instructs people to trade in dues and applications.
A member of the Oath Keepers was the primary defendant to plead guilty at the riot. Jon Ryan Schaffer has also agreed to cooperate with the government’s investigation. The Justice Department has promised to look at putting him in the witness security system, indicating he sees him as a valuable cooperator from the Jan. 6 probe.