At the Extremes: The 2020 Election and American Extremism | Part 4

October 15, 2020

In the weeks leading up to the 2020 presidential election, the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) Center on Extremism (COE) in conjunction with ADL’s Center for Technology and Society is releasing a series of news briefs on topics of concern regarding the role extremists and extremism more broadly are playing in our current political environment.  

Here's Part 4:

Extremism Resources: What You Need to Know to Navigate the Last Three Weeks of the 2020 Election

Who/What: Major extremist movements and groups ADL is monitoring

Why it Matters: Reliable information is our most valuable tool

As the 2020 election approaches, intelligence and law enforcement agencies are warning that extremist groups  – including militias, the boogaloo movement and white supremacists – pose a threat in both the run-up to November 3 and in the days and weeks that follow. Dangerous and irresponsible language from political leaders has fanned the flames of political division, and campaign websites actively engage in militaristic, paranoid rhetoric about “armies” dedicated to “poll watching.”

COE analysts, investigators and experts monitor and track extremism, and we share that information with law enforcement and the public. Today, we face a significant challenge: It’s never been more important to educate the public about extremist activity and rhetoric, but we don’t want to amplify extremist voices. We don’t want to promote dangerous commentary, scare voters into sitting out the election, or re-broadcast lies about election fraud. 

The noise and chaos around the election isn’t only coming from extremists. Every week, we hear about shootings or cars ramming into protesters. We hear about anti-mask activists comparing their state leaders to Hitler. The vast majority of the perpetrators are not extremists. They are ordinary Americans who have metabolized the vitriol and anger of today’s political discourse, and who are talking openly about “civil war” if the election doesn’t go their way.

The extremists, of course, have also been busy. They’ve shown up to support anti-mask rallies and to counterprotest Black Lives Matter events. Some of them spent the summer hatching plots to kidnap elected officials. In early October, the FBI announced it had foiled a militia group's plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Several days later, it was revealed that the militia members also discussed kidnapping Virginia’s governor during a June meeting in Ohio, according to an FBI agent's testimony. 

“They discussed possible targets, taking a sitting governor, specifically issues with the governor of Michigan and Virginia based on the lockdown orders,” the agent told a Michigan courtroom.

The country is lurching towards an election unlike any in our history, and there is no doubt that tensions are high. And while it’s clear that some of the contributing fury is coming from “regular” people, a lot of it is emerging from extremist ecosystems.

As we navigate these next few weeks, it will be critically important to understand these extremist ideologies, how they spread -- and why some adherents are moved to violent action.

These COE resources provide background and context on groups currently exploiting or responding to the country’s political divisions:

The Boogaloo Movement: Within the past year, a new extremist movement has emerged in the United States.  The boogaloo movement is anti-government, anti-authority, and anti-police—and already has amassed a sizable track record of crime and violence.

Proud Boys: The Proud Boys represent an unconventional strain of American right-wing extremism. While the group can be described as violentnationalisticIslamophobictransphobic and misogynistic, its members represent a range of ethnic backgrounds, and its leaders vehemently protest any allegations of racism.

QAnon: QAnon is a global, wide-reaching and remarkably elaborate conspiracy theory that has taken root within some parts of the pro-Trump movement. It is an amalgam of both novel and well-established theories, with marked undertones of antisemitism and xenophobia.

Three Percenters: Three Percenters (also known as 3%ers, III%ers and Threepers) are anti-government extremists who are part of the militia movement. They compare their hostility to the federal government with the opposition of American patriots to the British during the American Revolution.

The Militia Movement: An anti-government extremist movement that emerged in the mid-1990s as a reaction to a number of unpopular laws, particularly gun control laws, and to deadly standoffs involving federal law enforcement agencies. The core belief of the militia movement is that the federal government is collaborating with an evil conspiracy known as the “New World Order” to strip Americans of their rights and freedoms, starting with their right to keep and bear arms.

Antifa has become a right-wing bogeyman, and the subject of a number of baseless conspiracy theories, but the loosely connected movement does not pose the same threat as the groups listed above. The primary goal of antifa is to push back against right-wing extremists; by and large, adherents act in response to right-wing violence.

Antifa: A loose collection of groups, networks and individuals who believe in active, aggressive opposition to far right-wing movements. Their ideology is rooted in the assumption that the Nazi party would never have been able to come to power in Germany if people had more aggressively fought them in the streets in the 1920s and 30s.

The following links offer a timeline of events that have attracted and motivated right-wing extremists in 2020:

The ADL HEAT Map is a first-of-a-kind interactive map detailing extremist and anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. This map specifically shows right wing terror plots, attack and murder since 2010.