A scene from the Capitol rioting, Jan. 6, 2021.
A scene from the Capitol rioting, Jan. 6, 2021. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images via JTA)

Jan. 6 was a watershed moment for the far-right. So where do we go from here?

Most of us have had barely a chance to collect our thoughts about the horrific events that occurred in our Capitol on Jan. 6. The Michigan ADL has been busy fielding many inquiries from our concerned community, and there has been a great deal of commentary from others about the terrible challenge to our nation’s democracy. On Jan. 8, the ADL made history by calling for the removal of the president.

In our 107-year-old record, our organization has never even come close to such an action. What is baffling is the fact that — only now — have many people started to take white supremacists and far-right extremists seriously.

Carolyn Normandin
Carolyn Normandin

For years, we have talked about the rise of extremism and ADL’s concerns over the far-right. I’ve personally given briefings, presentations, delivered research, and conducted media interviews about the dangers of domestic extremism. More than a year ago, I served on a National Governor’s Association Task Force on Preventing Targeted Violence, and a large part of our effort focused on domestic terrorism.

Some people have listened and have added their voices. Some have accused the ADL and others who monitor extremists of exaggerating the dangers. The active disinformation and conspiracy theories promulgated on digital platforms like Facebook and Twitter, including from President Trump’s own feed, have been frightening. And it continues, even after we know people were trampled and hurt, offices were trashed, the Capitol building was damaged and people died.

Astonishingly, some elected officials — those who have been actively pushing misinformation and stoking the flames — have now come out with forceful rhetoric, pretending they can somehow erase the stain of their complicity. But we must hold people accountable for their actions.

For several months — under the moniker “Stop Hate for Profit,” ADL — along with others like Color of Change, Common Sense Media, Free Press, LULAC, Mozilla, NAACP, National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) and Sleeping Giants — have repeatedly called for digital platforms to create policies about hate speech and guidelines for these companies to enact. Last week, we issued a statement demanding digital media organizations remove Donald Trump from their platforms and permanently ban him from participating.

By Friday evening, platforms were rapidly removing Donald Trump’s account or accounts affiliated with pro-Trump violence and conspiracies, such as QAnon and #StoptheSteal. Mainstream platforms like Twitter, Google, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and even Pinterest had removed him; it’s about time.

I want to be very clear about a few things:

No one who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 was radicalized overnight. They were extremists with a common cause who were animated by a conspiracy theory of a stolen election. But make no mistake: People were radicalized. And the fires were fueled by years of dangerous misinformation and hateful rhetoric.

There is zero evidence that “antifa” followers created violence. Our experts in ADL’s Center on Extremism have already begun to identify far-right individuals and extremist groups involved in the events. We immediately began working with law enforcement and identified members of the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, QAnon adherents and other far-right extremist groups.

This is not political. Holding the president accountable for inciting violence and hate is not a partisan issue. Actions have consequences.

Extremist ideology often quickly accelerates toward hatred of the Jewish people. The notion of antisemitism as the “canary in the coal mine” rings true because we see some of the same age-old tropes and commentaries spewed in publications from the early 1900s as we saw on digital platforms last week. In ADL offices all across the U.S. we’ve seen this rhetoric fostered in outrageous proportions. When it comes down to it, fearmongering and blame are key ingredients for antisemitism.

So where do we go from here? We must have a complete and transparent investigation into the activities and violence of Jan. 6. We must look with clarity at the stark inequities between the way Black Lives Matter protesters were treated at anti-racist protests over the summer, compared to the way armed extremists storming the Capitol were handled. We must remember those efforts that occurred to disseminate lies and attempt to disrupt democracy. This is not just looking to place blame; it’s holding the right people accountable. And we must learn from this experience so we do not make the same mistakes.

We must be vigilant that the inauguration remains safe and secure. And we must collectively make a decision to take a real stand against domestic extremism in the U.S. And that includes holding digital platforms responsible and demanding they create guardrails and stand by their own guidelines. ADL and other organizations like ours can help. But like all “house rules,” it’s the duty of the homeowners to ensure policies are followed.

Jan. 6 was a dark day for America. It has marked a certain period in our nation’s history. But it does not have to prescribe our future. We must strive to be better. And I promise ADL is unwavering in its commitment to be on the front lines.

Carolyn Normandin is the Regional Director of ADL Michigan.

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