The Worst of Us

When the Department of Homeland Security released its Homeland Threat Assessment report in October the top threat it identified wasn’t foreign terrorism or Antifa or Black Lives Matter.

It was white supremacy.

Then-acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf said in the 25-page report that “racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists — specifically white supremacist extremists — will remain the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland.”

2019 was the deadliest year for domestic terrorism since 1995, the year of the Oklahoma City bombing. According to DHS data for 2018 and 2019, white supremacist extremists were responsible for half of all terror attacks in the U.S. and a vast majority of the resulting deaths (39 of 48 deaths; 81%).

“[White Supremacist Extremists] have demonstrated longstanding intent to target racial and religious minorities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, politicians, and those they believe promote multi-culturalism and globalization at the expense of the [White Supremacist Extremists] identity,” Wolf said. “Since 2018, they have conducted more lethal attacks in the United States than any other [Domestic Violent Extremists] movement.”

The warning has been a familiar refrain among law enforcement agencies and think tanks alike for years.

FBI Director Christopher Wray told the House Homeland Security Committee in September “the top threat we face from domestic violent extremists stems from those we identify as racially/ethnically motivated violent extremists.”

“[Racially/ethnically motivated violent extremists] were the primary source of ideologically motivated lethal incidents and violence in 2018 and 2019 and have been considered the most lethal of all domestic extremists since 2001,” Wray told the committee.

The Center for Strategic & International Studies found white supremacists “and other like-minded extremists” were responsible for 67 percent of terrorist plots and attacks in 2020.

“They used vehicles, explosives, and firearms as their predominant weapons and targeted demonstrators and other individuals because of their racial, ethnic, religious, or political makeup — such as African Americans, immigrants, Muslims, and Jews,” the CSIS report states.

Jan. 6 was just the latest in a long line of dark days over the last several years (the Charleston AME church shooting, Charlottesville, Tree of Life synagogue shooting, El Paso mass shooting) where we’ve seen white supremacy and violent, right-wing extremism rear their ugly heads.

But it shouldn’t have been a surprise to us. We have seen the warning signs. 

We continue to learn more every day about the Americans who stormed our Capitol. What may be most terrifying is most were more than likely not tied directly to one of these groups, but as Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, told WBUR’s Here & Now last week, “a lot of average Joes and Janes” came to our nation’s capital and were incited to riot.

“They became extremists that day,” he said.

Still, we know a great deal about the driving forces behind the Capitol riot.

Among the thousands who violently stormed and overtook the U.S. Capitol were a motley crew of violent, extremist, militant and white supremacy groups and organizations who have all found a champion and advocate in President Donald Trump. The same ones the FBI, DHS and other organizations have told us about for years.

The Anti-Defamation League, ProPublica, PBS FRONTLINE, The Associated Press and other media outlets have identified members, flags, insignia and regalia associated with several extremist and white supremacy groups, including the Three Percenters, Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Groyper Army, New Jersey European Heritage Association and the Neo Nazi National Socialist Club.

These were not patriots. These were not protestors with legitimate issues.

These were rioters. These were insurgents. These were racists. These were terrorists.

These were the worst of us.

Three Percenters

A Three Percenters flag (left) photographed outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Stephanie Keith/Reuters

The Three Percenters “have a track record of criminal activity ranging from weapons violations to terrorist plots and attacks,” according to the Anti-Defamation League, which identifies the group as an anti-government, extremist organization.

Three Percenters was founded in 2008 and until the election of Donald Trump focused much of its efforts on the federal government. Since then, its ire has shifted to Muslim and immigrant communities and it has carried out violent attacks upon those groups, as well as others.

Six separate incidents since 2015 have resulted in several arrests, charges and guilty pleas. The most recent in May 2020 when Christian Stanley Ferguson was arrested “for an attempted plot to ambush and kidnap law enforcement officers responding to a false distress call,” according to a Department of Justice press release.

In online postings, the DOJ said “[Ferguson] reaffirmed his plan to ambush law enforcement, kill them, rob them of their weapons, and start an uprising.”

Other incidents included a mosque bombing in Minnesota in 2017 — meant to scare Muslims into leaving the country — as well as plots to bomb a bank in downtown Oklahoma City in 2017 and an apartment complex for Muslim immigrants in Kansas in 2016.

Proud Boys

The Proud Boys prides itself on being what it calls “western chauvinists” and a “pro-western fraternity,” but its actions “bear many of the hallmarks of a gang, and its members have taken part in multiple acts of brutal violence and intimidation,” the ADL website states.

“While the Proud Boys insist that they only act in self-defense, several incidents ­—including one in which two members of the group were convicted of attempted gang assault, attempted assault and riot— belie their self-professed peaceful nature,” continues the ADL site. “Indeed, many members have criminal records for violent behavior and the organization actively pursues violence against their perceived enemies.”

The group was founded in 2016 by Gavin McInnes, a darling of the far-right and self-described Islamophobic. Now, it is run by Enrique Tarrio, who was arrested and charged recently for his alleged involvement in the burning of a Black Lives Matter banner that hung from a historically Black church in Washington D.C.

“People affiliated with the Proud Boys have made misogynistic comments, including support for rape, and have espoused anti-homosexual, anti-Muslim and anti-immigration views on social media,” a recent Wall Street Journal article on the group stated.

The ADL classifies the Proud Boys as Islamaphobic, transphobic and anti-immigrant.

Tarrio, who is Cuban American, vehemently denies the group supports white supremacy; however, anti-hate organizations have shown its members engage with white supremacy groups and espouse white supremacist phrases and slogans.

“McInnes himself has ties to the racist right and has contributed to hate sites like and American Renaissance, both of which publish the work of white supremacists and so-called ‘race realists,’” according to the Souther Poverty Law Center.

McInnes “reluctantly” left Proud Boys in 2018 after group members were involved in a fight with Antifa supporters outside the Metropolitan Republic Club in Manhattan where McInnes had just spoken. The Proud Boys reportedly fought beside members of the 211 Bootboys, a New York City-based white supremacist gang. Two Proud Boys were convicted for their involvement.

“I do all this reluctantly because I still see this as the greatest fraternal organization in the world but rumors and lies and terrible journalism has made its way to the court system,” McInnes was quoted as saying in a YouTube video that has been removed.

In 2019, Proud Boys members from Denver marched with Patriot Front, a white supremacist group based out of Texas.

Proud Boys were also present at the 2017 United the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Jason Kessler, a white nationalist, was the rally’s organizer and was reportedly a member of the Proud Boys at the time.

According to SPLC, Kessler was a guest on McInnes’s show a couple of months before the 2017 rally and stated during the interview, “What’s really under attack is if you say, ‘I want to stand up for white people. I want to stand up for western civilization. I want to stand up for men. I want to stand up for Christians.’”

Kessler was expelled from the group by McInnes after the Charlottesville rally and his white supremacist views became public.

Last year, The New York Times reported the Proud Boys have levels of memberships and it was at one time directly tied to violent acts carried out by the members.

Violence is built into the group’s very DNA. There are four levels of membership, starting with saying the pro-Western creed aloud, then moving higher to a Proud Boys tattoo. The highest level was once reserved for those who engage in violence on the group’s behalf.

The New York Times

During the first presidential debate, President Donald Trump was asked to denounce Proud Boys for its actions at Black Lives Matters protests in 2020, but instead responded by telling the group to “stand back and stand by.”

Oath Keepers

Stewart Rhodes, founder of Oath Keepers, photographed outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Ford Fischer/PBS FRONTLINE

The Oath Keepers calls itself the “Guardians of the Republic.”

It is reported to have “tens of thousands” of members who are current and former law enforcement and military veterans and is “one of the largest radical anti-government groups in the U.S. today” and is “based on a set of baseless conspiracy theories about the federal government working to destroy the liberties of Americans,” according to the SPLC.

While the group accepts all members, the ADL says what separates it from others is its recruitment of law enforcement and military members.

The Associated Press reviewed video of the riot and discovered “the group marching up the steps to help breach the Capitol shows they wore military-style patches that read ‘MILITIA’ and ‘OATHKEEPER.’ Others were wearing patches and insignias representing far-right militant groups, including the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters and various self-styled state militias.”

As President Donald Trump’s supporters massed outside the Capitol last week and sang the national anthem, a line of men wearing olive-drab helmets and body armor trudged purposefully up the marble stairs in a single-file line, each man holding the jacket collar of the one ahead.

The formation, known as “Ranger File,” is standard operating procedure for a combat team that is “stacking up” to breach a building — instantly recognizable to any U.S. soldier or Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a chilling sign that many at the vanguard of the mob that stormed the seat of American democracy either had military training or were trained by those who did.

The Associated Press

“The Oath Keepers have been particularly active in 2020, participating in various anti-lockdown protests, providing vigilante-style ‘security’ for local communities and businesses during the Black Lives Matter protests that spread in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, and warning about a potential takeover by the ‘Marxist left’ during the 2020 election,” the ADL website states.

Oath Keepers members have been arrested and charged for violations such as “firearms violations, conspiracy to impede federal workers, possession of explosives, and threatening public officials.”

Other Groups and Individuals

In addition ones mentioned above, several other groups and individuals have been identified through social media and photographs as being present at the riot.

This includes followers of the Groyper Army, “a loose network of alt right figures who are vocal supporters of white supremacist and America First podcaster Nick Fuentes,” according to the ADL.

Fuentes was spotted at the riot, but stated he did not go inside the Capitol. In the days before the riot, Fuentes jokingly encouraged his followers to kill state legislators. ProPublica and PBS FRONTLINE had this to say about Fuentes’ belief system:

Fuentes, who marched in Charlottesville during the 2017 white power rally there, speaks frequently in anti-Semitic terms and pontificates on the need to protect America’s white heritage from the ongoing shift in the nation’s demographics. He has publicly denied believing in white nationalism but has said that he considers himself a “white majoritarian.”


The ADL describes the Groyper Army as a “white supremacist group that presents its ideology as more nuanced than other groups in the white supremacist sphere. While the group and leadership’s views align with those held by the white supremacist alt-right, groypers attempt to normalize their ideology by aligning themselves with ‘Christianity’ and ‘traditional’ values ostensibly championed by the church, including marriage and family.”

Another extremist spotted was Vincent James Foxx, a Holocaust denier who runs the site The Red Elephants which is known for its white supremacist and anti-Semitic views.

My Own Racial Reckoning

“He just gives me a calming feeling.” As Barack Obama strode to the pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta to eulogize the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, my wife said the exact thought racing through my mind. 

There is just something about him. He is decent. He is wise. He is reassuring. Whatever it is, he has it. But 12 years ago, all I could see was the color of his skin.

I was 18 and eager to vote for the first time in my life. All the common refrains had been uttered to me. It was my duty. I couldn’t complain if I didn’t vote. So, here I went. 

I don’t remember much about that ticket, maybe an amendment that was poorly worded and hard to decipher, but not much else. 

What I do remember is the presidential ticket: Sen. Barack Obama, Democrat, and Sen. John McCain, Republican. I remember getting to the all-important vote and being ready to cast my ballot for Obama. 

It felt like the right choice for me. I had not paid much attention to the campaign, but I was struck by him. Maybe it was his youth, his vigor, his message of hope, and “Yes we can!” but whatever it was, I was ready to vote for him. 

As I reached my hand out to touch Obama’s name on the screen, the thought rushed into my head, “Can a black man be president?” 

I stopped. 

Whatever feelings I had in support of Obama were gone. I voted for John McCain that day and for no other reason than his opponent was black. 

I was a college freshman on inauguration day, sitting in a music appreciation class. Our teacher stopped the lesson to ensure we could watch the first Black president take the oath of office. There were no overwhelming feelings of shame or guilt. I was genuinely intrigued to see Obama sworn into office.

However, there should have been. To state the all-too-common white person proverb, “I have Black friends.” I had Black friends throughout elementary, middle and high school. I hung out with them. I played sports with them. I went places with them. 

That wasn’t enough. That isn’t enough. All the good will and actions I could conjure up mean nothing if I am not able to say a Black man can and should be president.

I don’t feel I was alone that day in my thoughts, either. It is quite possible or even probable that most did not consider Obama’s race while voting, relying only on their beliefs and his policy initiatives.

But more than we would like to admit probably entered the voting booth with similar feelings as me and either found it easier to vote against him because of his skin color, or, as in my case, it was the deciding blow.

It helps show the depths of racism and bigotry we have yet to address in our country. We can say and do all — or nearly all — the right things in public, but still hold private thoughts and feelings that hold us back.

I am only 30 years old now and have lived through just five administrations and just a handful of those with any sense of recollection or feeling of impact on my daily life. I assume I will live through many more in the years to come. However, I would be surprised if Barack Obama is not the most influential president of my lifetime.

Throughout his administration, I grew to deeply admire him for his leadership, principles and the devotion he showed his family and to us. If there was ever anyone I identified with the statement “my president,” it was him.

Sure, I will always admire him for all the ways I feel he moved our country forward, but most of all, I appreciate him for helping me see the changes I needed to make as an individual. Changes that have made me a better person and helped me address parts of my life I was ashamed of admitting existed.

Obama has not been my only racial reckoning in my adult life. There was a deeper, more troublesome realization I had to come to regarding my feelings toward the Hispanic community regarding illegal immigration.

I was guilty of deeply prejudiced views toward them, which bled over into how I viewed the entire community. I was guilty of using racial slurs in conversations from time to time to describe them. It came from a place of fear, hate, ignorance and misunderstanding. Thankfully, through self-evaluation and learning, this changed some years ago. 

I don’t share all of this because it is gratifying to do so or to virtue signal, but because I don’t think my story is unique in our country. I am sure many still hold the beliefs to which I used to cling. 

Some are more pronounced than others which stay hidden in the recesses of our minds and lives. Regardless of their placement, they hold us all back.

If we do not address these beliefs, we allow them to fester. We allow them to impact our daily decisions. We allow them to impact how we interact with people who do not look like us. We allow ourselves to be less than we can and should be.

Until we address their existence and confront them, nothing will change.

Change will be painful. Change will be difficult. Change will take acknowledging the parts of our lives we like to hide and disregard. But no matter how agonizing it might be, it is necessary and long overdue.

Why Dixie Reckoning?

I grew up in the South. I’ve lived here my entire life, and more than likely will remain here until the day I die. I knew racism existed, but it seemed in the abstract.

Charlottesville brought that lie to a screeching halt.

Seeing racists and Nazis marching openly, proudly in our streets in support of a superior race was horrifying. They waved Confederate and Nazi flags, chanted “Blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us,” and didn’t care who saw them. They didn’t feel the need to hide behind masks in the dead of night anymore. Their violence resulted in one death and the injury of many more when a car rammed into a large group of protestors.

I live more than 900 miles from Charlottesville, Virginia, but I felt a personal responsibility in the aftermath. Indirectly, I had helped create the atmosphere and culture where this was possible and hadn’t done enough to stamp it out.

It is easy to see your faults and missteps in moments like that, and to separate yourself from overtly racist actions like we saw in Charlottesville. The difficult times are those less obvious moments, whether it’s comments we hear, thoughts we have, actions we take or things we ignore.

It isn’t hard to feel outraged, angry and call for change when Nazis walk openly down the street or when people like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor are killed. Those moments come with sudden, visceral responses that typically fade away just as quickly as they came.

For things to truly change, it has to be felt in those daily, unnoticed, easy-to-be-ignored moments of racism and bias.

To be in a position to respond in those moments, we have to listen to the voices and stories of those unlike us. Only then can we start to understand their daily experiences and begin to change.

Dixie Reckoning will begin to tell those stories. We need to listen. We need to change. We need a reckoning.