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Issues

Armed Extremism

Armed Extremism

What is the problem?

The U.S. faces a confluence of dangerous challenges from white supremacists, anti-government militias, and other armed groups and individuals of the extreme right that seek to perpetrate violence, spread conspiracies, traffic in hate speech, and engage in armed intimidation. Guns and gun rights are central to many extreme-right groups and individuals.

There has been an increase in counterprotesters and militia members carrying guns openly at protests. In addition, the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in January 2021 and several other arrests of extremists in the past year underscore the violent threat posed by armed extremism. These individuals and groups are often motivated by conspiracy theories, violent rhetoric, and hate. Failure to address this threat will lead to the continued growth of extremist groups and violent incidents.

For decades, the gun lobby has not only enabled access to guns by anti-government and white supremacist extremists through its advocacy against common-sense gun laws, but has also worked to harness their fixation on guns to shore up its own political power; in doing so, the gun lobby has amplified extreme right politics to new and broader audiences.

What do armed protests look like?

Armed protestors around the Michigan State Capitol in April 2020

A group of armed protestors in front of the state Capitol

Why is it an issue?

The deadly insurrection attempt at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 was fueled, in part, by gun rights extremists. They brought their guns to Washington to stop the certification of the electoral college votes. At least nine people who were at or around the Capitol have been arrested on weapons charges. Thousands of rounds of ammunition were recovered by authorities.

The attack on the Capitol is not the only example of an armed assault on democracy. In 2020, anti-government extremists and white supremacists used guns as tools of intimidation and violence in increasingly open ways. They did this by taking advantage of weak state gun laws to brandish weapons at anti-government protests, to intimidate peaceful protests for racial justice, and in plans and actions to kill. Examples of the rise of violent extremism across the country in 2020 include heavily armed protesters in Virginiaa self-described militia member killing two people and wounding another in Wisconsin, and a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. This type of violence chills legitimate democratic speech and undermines our democratic institutions.

To prevent armed extremism, strong gun policy is critical. Lawmakers must address violent extremists’ access to firearms and establish clear and strong legal standards on what conduct is not acceptable in our democracy.

What are the solutions?