After Jan. 6, Investigating the Contours of a “Broad Fascist Movement” in the U.S.
After a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as lawmakers were certifying the Electoral College vote for Joe Biden, members of the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, the Boogaloo movement and other groups with extremist ideologies were identified as among those present. Videos reveal the presence of several noted hardcore nativists and white nationalists who had also attended the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
A new documentary from FRONTLINE, ProPublica and Berkeley Journalism’s Investigative Reporting Program traces the road that led to this American Insurrection and the evolution of right-wing extremism over the past several years — including how fallout from Charlottesville prompted some groups to change their tactics, the mounting acts of political violence that preceded the Capitol attack, and the contours of the right-wing extremist movement today.
“We get fixated on all these different groups out there,” extremism expert Pete Simi of Chapman University, a sociologist and the co-author of American Swastika, tells producer and correspondent A.C. Thompson in the above clip from the documentary. “From my perspective, I think it’s more helpful to think about this as a broad worldview.”
Thompson sat down with Simi to understand the current makeup of violent right-wing extremism in the United States, including the nature of the Proud Boys, a self-described “Western chauvinist” group that has been involved in clashes. Simi says that while the Proud Boys may have worked to gain a foothold in the mainstream, many still subscribe to extremist beliefs. In the above clip, he pulls up a photo of a man wearing a T-shirt with Proud Boys colors and a neo-Nazi slogan.
“So, this is, you know, a T-shirt in reference to the mass slaughter of Jewish people during the Holocaust, that stands for ‘Six million wasn’t enough,’” Simi says.
Thompson asks Simi about a seeming contradiction: the fact that the ultra-nationalist Proud Boys have been led by Enrique Tarrio, a Cuban American man of color.
“If you look at, for instance, the history of the racist skinhead movement in the United States, any number of different racist skinhead crews across the country, they wouldn’t be exclusively white necessarily,” Simi says.
“You have the capacity for people of various different backgrounds to embrace fascism as an ideology, as a worldview,” he says. “And I think, in many respects, that’s what we’re dealing with here, is a broad fascist movement.”
For the full story, watch American Insurrection, which is now streaming online and on demand and is embedded below:
In the aftermath of the January assault on the U.S. Capitol, the documentary continues FRONTLINE and ProPublica’s years of reporting on violent right-wing extremism in America, including Documenting Hate: Charlottesville and Documenting Hate: New American Nazis. The new film examines how far-right groups were emboldened and encouraged by former President Donald Trump, how individuals were radicalized and brought into the political landscape, how they have organized and what form these violent energies may take next.
The documentary is supported by Exploring Hate, a new, multiplatform public media initiative from The WNET Group in New York aimed at offering an in-depth understanding of the rising tide of hatred, hate crimes, anti-Semitism and racism.
American Insurrection, a 90-minute documentary special, premiered April 13, 2021, on PBS stations. It is available to stream in FRONTLINE’s online collection of documentaries, on YouTube and in the PBS Video App. The writer and director of American Insurrection is Richard Rowley; the producer and correspondent is A.C. Thompson; the producers are Karim Hajj and Jacqueline Soohen; and the consulting producer is Ford Fischer.