A Timeline of Domestic Extremism in the U.S., from Charlottesville to January 6
A crowd attempts to overcome barriers outside the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Reporting for the new documentary “American Insurrection” found domestic extremism evolved in the years leading up to the Capitol attack. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
By the morning of August 12, 2017, the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., was the largest public gathering of American white supremacists in a generation. By that afternoon, a neo-Nazi had murdered 32-year-old counterprotester Heather Heyer.
FRONTLINE and ProPublica have followed the rise of domestic extremism in the United States from Charlottesville through the U.S. Capitol insurrection on January 6, 2021. During that period, the context of extremist violence has changed, according to reporting for the new documentary American Insurrection.
“We’ve seen a rising tide of attacks by far-right extremists in recent years,” Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, told FRONTLINE. “The threat is coming from a host of ideologies, from white supremacists to incels, to everything in between. Unfortunately, the attacks are becoming both more frequent and deadly.”
To track that change, FRONTLINE analyzed data from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. CSIS defines terrorism as the “deliberate use — or threat — of violence by non-state actors in order to achieve political goals and create a broad psychological impact,” a similar definition to the one used by the FBI.
According to a CSIS database, there were 405 such terror attacks or plots in the U.S. from 2015 through 2020 — more than double the total number in the previous decade. And in the last five years, those attacks or plots were predominantly carried out by white supremacists, militias and other far-right extremists: 63% and increasing. Far-left incidents are also on the rise but made up a smaller portion of the whole, 13% from 2015 to 2020, according to FRONTLINE’s analysis. Religious extremists accounted for 19%, with the remaining 5% linked to “ethnonationalist” or “other” ideologies, per CSIS categorizations.
In American Insurrection, Elizabeth Neumann, a top counterterrorism official in the Trump administration who resigned in April 2020 over frustration that domestic extremism wasn’t being taken seriously, confirmed the most significant threat was coming from the far right.
“Does antifa exist? It’s not an organization; it’s a movement,” Neumann said in the film. “You have groups of people that associate with them. Do they show up at protests? Sure. Is it a massive conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government and kill a lot of people? No. You know where that is? It’s on the right. It’s in the white supremacist movement. It’s in the antigovernment militia movement. It’s in the Boogaloo Boi movement. It’s not in the anti-fascist movement.”
In the documentary, FRONTLINE, ProPublica and Berkeley Journalism’s Investigative Reporting Program examine how domestic extremism culminated in the siege on the U.S. Capitol that left five people dead. To help contextualize that reporting, FRONTLINE has assembled a timeline chronicling significant incidents of American political violence from Charlottesville to January 6.
8/12/2017 // Charlottesville, Va.: Hundreds of members of far-right and white supremacist organizations convene for the Unite the Right rally, some wearing Nazi insignia and chanting racist slogans. Clashes between far-right demonstrators and counter-protesters go on for hours, culminating in Heyer’s death. Her killer is convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Watch 2018’s Documenting Hate: Charlottesville
8/18/2017 // Kissimmee, Fla.: A 45-year-old Black Marine veteran fatally shoots two police officers, Matthew Baxter and Sam Howard, after posting Black nationalist and anti-police messages on social media. The defendant is convicted of murder, and a jury recommends the death penalty.
9/12–9/14/2017 // Baton Rouge, La.: Police find a copy of a speech by Adolf Hitler in the home of a 23-year-old white man after he allegedly shoots and kills two Black people, Bruce Cofield and Donald Smart. He has pleaded not guilty.
Watch 2018’s Documenting Hate: New American Nazis
10/27/2018 // Pittsburgh: A 46-year-old anti-refugee and anti-Semitic extremist who posted hate speech on the social media platform Gab is shot and arrested by police after allegedly killing 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue. Investigators say the alleged killer acted alone, without ties to a formal extremist group. The shooting is the deadliest attack targeting Jewish people in U.S. history, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The alleged shooter has pleaded not guilty, and no trial date has been set.
4/27/2019 // Poway, Calif.: In an echo of the Tree of Life shooting, a 19-year-old white man who expressed anti-Semitic views on the internet forum 8chan allegedly kills congregant Lori Gilbert-Kaye and injures three others at the Chabad of Poway synagogue during Passover. A manifesto prosecutors attribute to the alleged killer quotes The Turner Diaries, a white supremacist novel popular with neo-Nazis, and takes credit for setting fire to a California mosque in March 2019. The alleged perpetrator, facing charges of committing hate crimes, murder and attempted murder for the Poway attack and arson for the mosque fire, has pleaded not guilty, although his trial has been delayed due to the pandemic.
Listen: Chaos at the Capitol
7/13/2019 // Tacoma, Wash.: A 69-year-old self-identified supporter of antifa attempts to firebomb an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility and is shot dead by police.
8/3/2019 // El Paso, Tex.: A 21-year-old white man allegedly kills 23 people in an attack targeting Latinos at a Walmart. A manifesto posted on 8chan that El Paso police attribute to the alleged shooter references fears of “cultural and ethnic replacement” by Latinos — a common white supremacist trope — and cites as inspiration the March 2019 mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that killed 51 people. The alleged shooter is awaiting trial on charges of capital murder and hate crimes and has pleaded not guilty.
Watch 2021’s American Insurrection
5/28/2020 // Minneapolis: A 26-year-old supporter of the anti-government group Boogaloo Bois allegedly fires rounds from an AK-47-style semiautomatic rifle at a police station in the city’s 3rd Precinct amid protests over the killing of George Floyd. The incident typifies the movement’s use of Black Lives Matter protests to advance its own agenda. The alleged shooter communicates with the accused perpetrator of the following day’s killing in Oakland (see next entry), urging him to target police buildings, according to court documents filed by federal prosecutors. The alleged shooter has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.
5/29 and 6/6/2020 // Oakland and Ben Lomond, Calif.: A 32-year-old active-duty Air Force staff sergeant and self-identified member of the Boogaloo Bois movement allegedly kills a federal protective security officer and wounds another in a drive-by shooting. He then allegedly shoots and kills a Santa Cruz County sheriff deputy and seriously wounds another officer as police approach his home a week later. The defendant, who has pleaded not guilty, is awaiting trial.
8/25/2020 // Kenosha, Wisc.: A white 17-year-old from Illinois allegedly shoots and kills two Black Lives Matter protesters, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, following a confrontation. The alleged shooter claims he was there to protect property during the demonstration. Charges include first degree intentional homicide; he has pleaded not guilty.
8/29/2020 // Portland, Ore.: A self-described antifa activist allegedly shoots and kills Aaron Danielson, a member of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer, during clashes between pro- and anti-Trump demonstrators. The alleged shooter is killed by a task force of federal marshals after a manhunt.
10/8/2020 // Lansing, Mich.: The FBI announces the arrest of 13 men for allegedly planning to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for what they viewed as her illegal restrictions to combat COVID-19. Prosecutors linked the men to the Michigan-based and Boogaloo-affiliated Wolverine Watchmen militia, and some of the alleged plotters rushed the Michigan capitol building earlier that year. One suspect has pleaded guilty in federal court. The others have entered not guilty pleas and are awaiting trial.
12/21/2020 // Salem, Ore.: Dozens of right-wing demonstrators, some of them armed, clash with police and force their way into the Oregon State Capitol while the legislature is in session, denouncing COVID-19 restrictions and calling for the arrest of Gov. Kate Brown. Members of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer are among those who enter the capitol building. Five people are eventually arrested. As at the U.S. Capitol two weeks later, members of the crowd allegedly spray chemical irritants at police officers. At least three participants in the Oregon incident enter the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Oregon Public Broadcasting reports.
Read more: The Boogaloo Bois Have Guns, Criminal Records and Military Training. Now They Want to Overthrow the Government.
1/6/2021 // Washington, D.C.:A mob of pro-Trump demonstrators charge the grounds of the U.S. Capitol as Congress attempts to certify the Electoral College vote for Joe Biden, sending legislators and aides running for cover. Five people ultimately die, including Brian Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer, and Ashli Babbitt, a woman shot by Capitol Police. The crowd includes members of the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers militia and the Groyper movement.