Former President Donald Trump
's lies about a rigged 2020 election
united right-wing supporters, conspiracy theorists, and militants on Jan. 6, but the fallout from the insurgency is roiling two of the most prominent far-right extremist groups present at the U.S. Capitol that day.
More than a dozen members and associates of both the Proud Boys
and the Oath Keepers
have been charged with crimes, and some local chapters severed ties with national leadership in the weeks following the deadly siege. The Proud Boys’ chairman called for a halt in rallies, which frequently resulted in clashes with anti-fascist activists. And one Oath Keeper has agreed to cooperate against others charged.
experts see parallels between the Capitol riot
and the schisms that split far-right figures and groups following their violent clashes with counter-protesters at the “Unite the Right” white nationalist rally in Charlottesville
, in August 2017. The white supremacist “alt-right
” movement fractured and eventually faded from public view after the violence erupted.
“I think something similar is happening right now in the broader far-right movement, where the cohesive tissue that brought them all together — the 2020 election — has sort of dissolved,” said Jared Holt, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research
“Like ‘Unite the Right,’ there is a huge disaster, a public relations disaster, and now they have the attention of the feds, and it’s even more intense now that they have the national security
apparatus breathing down their necks,” he continued.
Others, however, believe that President Joe Biden
's victory and the Jan. 6 investigation
, the largest federal prosecution in history, will re-energize the militia movement, which will be fueled by anti-government sentiment.
“We’re already seeing a lot of this rhetoric being spewed in an attempt to draw people
in,” said Freddy Cruz, a Southern Poverty Law Center
research analyst who studies anti-government groups. “It’s very possible that people will become energized and try to coordinate more activity given that we have a Democratic
president in office.”
The insurgents who descended on the nation's capital briefly halted the certification of Biden's presidential victory, sending terrified lawmakers fleeing for their lives.
The rioters marched to the Capitol, breaking through police barricades and overwhelming officers, violently shoving their way into the building to chants of "Hang Mike Pence
" and "Stop the Steal." Some rioters arrived armed with pepper spray, baseball
bats, and other weapons.
Prosecutors have narrowed in on the two extremist groups as they try to determine how much planning went into the attack
, but authorities have stated that they will arrest
anyone involved in the riot.
More than two dozen Proud Boys leaders, members, or associates were arrested. The group of self-described “Western chauvinists” rose from far-right fringes to mainstream GOP
circles during the Trump administration
, with allies like longtime Trump supporter Roger Stone. The group claims to have more than 30,000 members nationwide.
During last summer's sustained protests against police brutality
, their counter-protests frequently devolved into violence. Law enforcement intervened during a protest in Michigan
, and members were accused of vandalizing property in Washington
The group gained greater notoriety during a presidential debate with Biden, after Trump refused to condemn white supremacist groups and told the Proud Billionaire
Chairman Henry “Enrique” Tarrio has not been charged in the riot and was not present on Jan. 6. He was arrested in an unrelated vandalism case two days before the insurgency and was ordered out of the area by a judge. Law enforcement later stated that Tarrio was picked up in part to help quell potential violence.
Tarrio insists that the criminal charges have not weakened or divided the organization, claiming that he has met with leaders of chapters that have declared independence and reconciled their differences.
“We’ve been through the ringer,” Tarrio said in an interview
, adding that “any other group after January 6th would fall apart.”
However, leaders of several local Proud Boys chapters, including those in Seattle, Las Vegas, Indiana, and Alabama
, announced after Jan. 6 that their members were cutting ties with the organization's national leadership. Four leaders, including national Elders Council member Ethan Nordean
, have been charged by federal officials with planning and leading an attack on the Capitol.
In February, the Las Vegas chapter issued a statement on the instant messaging platform Telegram in which it claimed the “overall direction of the organization” was endangering its members.
The Alabama group expressed concern about reports that Tarrio had previously been a federal informant; court records recently revealed that Tarrio had worked undercover and cooperated with investigators after being accused of fraud in 2012.
“We reject and disavow the proven federal informant, Enrique Tarrio, and any and all chapters that choose to associate with him,” the Alabama group said in a statement released in February.
Tarrio said he suspended national Proud Boy rallies shortly after Jan. 6 in order to focus on assisting members facing criminal charges. Tarrio described Jan. 6 as "horrible," but claimed authorities overcharged his jailed lieutenants and are politically persecuting them.
Meanwhile, 16 members and associates of the Oath Keepers — a militia group founded in 2009 that recruits current and former military
, police, and first responders — have been charged with conspiring to obstruct the vote's certification. The group's founder and leader, Stewart Rhodes, has said there were as many as 40,000 Oath Keepers at its peak, but one extremism expert estimates the group's membership at around 20,000.
Rhodes has not been charged, and it is unclear whether he will be, but he has been referred to in court documents as “Person One,” implying that he is a primary focus of investigators.
Days after the election, Rhodes instructed his followers during a GoToMeeting call to go to Washington to tell Trump “that the people are behind him,” and he expressed hope that Trump would call up the militia to help the president stay in power, according to authorities. Rhodes warned that they could be heading for a “bloody, bloody civil war, and a bloody — you can call it an insurrection
or you can call it a revolution.”
On Jan. 6, several Oath Keepers, wearing helmets and reinforced vests, were seen on camera shouldering their way up the Capitol steps in a military-style stack formation. Prosecutors say Rhodes was communicating with some of the Oath Keepers who entered the Capitol that day and was seen standing outside the building with several of the defendants after the riot.
Rhodes has attempted to distance himself from those arrested, claiming that the members went rogue and that there was never a plan to enter the Capitol. However, he has continued to push the lie that the election was stolen in interviews with right-wing hosts since Jan. 6, while the Oath Keepers website remains active, with posts portraying the group as the victim of political persecution.
Messages left at the Rhodes phone numbers were not returned promptly.
Court documents show discord among the group as early as the night of the attack, when someone identified only as “Person Eleven” blasted the Oath Keepers as “a huge f—n joke” in a Signal chat with Rhodes and others, calling Rhodes “the dumbass I heard you were,” according to court documents.
Two months later, Rhodes lamented in a message to another Oath Keeper that the national team had become "too lax" and "too complacent," promising to "tighten up the command and control" in the group — "even if it means losing some people," according to court documents.
Following the riot, the North Carolina
Oath Keepers branch announced its separation from Rhodes' group, with its president telling The News
Reporter newspaper that the group would not be "a part of anything that terrorizes anybody or goes against law enforcement."
A leader of an Arizona
chapter also slammed Rhodes and those charged, telling CBS' "60 Minutes" that the attack "goes against everything we've ever taught, everything we believe in."
In an interview posted on the Oath Keepers' website, Rhodes stated that the group has found it difficult to raise funds because it has been banned from certain websites.
The group also lost the ability to accept credit card payments online after the company demanded that Rhodes disavow the arrested members, which he refused, according to Rhodes in a March interview for the far-right website Gateway Pundit. The Oath Keepers website now states
that it cannot accept new memberships online due to “malicious leftist attacks” and directs people to mail in applications and dues.
The first defendant to plead guilty in the riot was a member of the Oath Keepers. Jon Ryan Schaffer has also agreed to cooperate with the government's investigation, and the Justice Department
has promised to consider putting him in the witness
security program, implying that it sees him as a valuable cooperator in the Jan. 6 investigation.