Three Most Dangerous Extremist Trends in 2022
White nationalism and antisemitism continued to be mainstreamed
In 2022, the mainstreaming of white nationalism and antisemitism intensified. From Trump dining with white nationalist Nick Fuentes to the normalization of the Great Replacement conspiracy theory, prominent media personalities and GOP leaders lent credibility to white nationalists and trafficked in their rhetoric. In particular, candidates and elected leaders promoted anti-immigrant “invasion” messaging associated with the Great Replacement conspiracy theory, while high-profile figures with large audiences like Kanye West and Kyrie Irving used their platforms to espouse antisemitism.
Extremists targeted electoral democracy
White nationalist, paramilitary, and other anti-democracy movements continued to set their sights on electoral democracy, with runs for office, engaging in local politics, and voter intimidation attempts. Many of these efforts failed, but some did not, and we can expect bigoted movements to learn from their failures and adjust. While most anti-democracy candidates lost, those who won will further normalize authoritarian views. Additionally, white nationalist and anti-democracy groups such as the Proud Boys continued to extend their influence over local politics and GOP groups in places like Idaho, Oregon and Florida.
Racist and anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry and violence wrought devastation
In 2022, anti-democracy movements coalesced around anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry, with offenders ranging from white nationalists to legislators in numerous states. Pride and drag queen events came under near constant threat from bigoted and anti-democracy groups, while state legislators passed dozens of pieces of anti-trans legislation. This trend, combined with racist so-called anti-CRT attacks that have persisted since 2021, has fueled hyper-local targeting of librarians, educators, health workers, and elected officials by anti-democracy groups. Dehumanizing and bigoted rhetoric led to stochastic terrorism in Buffalo, Colorado, and elsewhere, while white nationalist, paramilitary, and anti-democracy figures unleashed a wave of violence and threats on a smaller scale that resulted in multiple arrests around the country.
Three Biggest Pro-Democracy Victories in 2022
Legal strategies to counter anti-democracy activity broke new ground
This year saw an enormous increase in successful civil suits to hold dangerous anti-democracy actors accountable, likely a result of the pathbreaking victory in Sines v. Kessler at the end of last year. A New Mexico county commissioner was unseated due to civil legal action forcing novel enforcement of a state provision barring insurrectionists from office. Far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is now facing well over a billion dollars in damages from multiple defamation lawsuits. More recent filings include a drag performer suing for defamation following targeting and harassment from a far-right blogger and a federal civil rights lawsuit against Patriot Front members for vandalism. Criminal prosecutions have also born fruit with the successful prosecution of the Oath Keepers for seditious conspiracy and the ongoing prosecution of January 6 insurrectionists.
Pro-democracy narratives won the day
In response to the continued mainstreaming of white nationalism, many elected, community, and institutional leaders have centered inclusive democracy as a priority to a greater extent than we’ve seen in recent years. This was apparent in the midterm elections, in which many candidates ran on a pro-democracy platform while the anticipated “red wave” and planned voter intimidation campaigns from anti-democracy groups both failed to materialize. The election bought those of us who believe in democracy a little more breathing room, largely thanks to the centering of the stakes for democracy and the actions of organizations and elections administrators who worked to protect voting rights. The Biden Administration’s summit to counter hate-fueled violence in September and the January 6th Committee’s essential public fact-finding and efforts to ensure accountability for the insurrection were also critical parts of this trend.
Communities mobilized for inclusive democracy and civil rights
In 2022, communities took meaningful action in small and large ways to celebrate inclusion, memorialize histories of bigoted violence, and defend rights. LGBTQ+ communities across the country successfully held Pride events, even under threat, including many small towns who hosted the first-ever Pride events in their locations. Examples of communities reflecting on bigoted histories and committing to meaningful change abound, from California’s exploration of reparations to descendants of enslaved people to Richmond, VA’s removal of the last city-owned Confederate statue; from a project in Coos Bay, OR to remember lynching victim Alonzo Tucker to a Los Angeles memorial honoring victims of a 1971 massacre targeting the city’s Chinese community. Finally, voters showed up to support abortion rights and reject anti-democracy candidates in key governor and secretary of state races, blunting threats to future elections for the time being.
Three Greatest Threats from Extremism in 2023
Conspiracy theories baked into US politics
As conspiracy theories, misinformation, and disinformation continue to run unchecked, they will become an increasingly standard part of American politics and an ongoing catalyst for racist, anti-Black, anti-Asian, anti-LGBTQ+, anti-immigrant, anti-indigenous, and antisemitic threats and violence. This is most likely to be reinforced in national narratives and play out on the local level with disruptions of drag events, witch hunts focused on educators, targeting of local elected officials, and more. The direct link between violent and dehumanizing rhetoric and hate violence itself also shows no sign of weakening in the new year.
Backlash to pro-democracy efforts
2023 will bring the verdicts of seditious conspiracy trials against Proud Boys and Oath Keepers leadership. Coupled with the potential impacts of the January 6 Committee’s vote on whether to bring criminal charges against certain individuals, these lawsuits may spur an organized reaction by anti-democracy groups. We may see renewed “political prisoner” narratives from Proud Boys and elected officials sympathetic to their cause. And with greater attention on law enforcement’s intersection with white nationalism and role in defending democratic rule of law, we expect some anti-democracy groups to renew attempts to make inroads with police while others will continue to target law enforcement with doxing and violence.
Opportunistic power-building from white nationalists
White nationalist leaders will aggressively seek opportunities to build power for their bigoted social movement, and they will certainly find them. With Trump’s candidacy for president exploiting grievance and intolerance yet again, Western States Center expects he will continue to platform bigoted actors, normalize dehumanizing rhetoric, and generate high-profile incidents that white nationalists can mine for support. One opportunity we expect bigoted and anti-democracy actors to exploit is an opening to appeal to communities of color using conspiracy theories and authoritarian ideals, particularly following the national attention on Kanye West’s antisemitism. Anti-democracy figures will likely also focus energy on taking over more local GOP groups, building on successes in this arena in 2022, and undermining the educational and equity goals of colleges by using them as recruiting pools.
White nationalist and anti-democracy groups will likely continue to use anti-immigrant rhetoric for political gain. Anti-immigrant groups have already launched a laundry list of proposed legislation for the new Congress to take up, and a GOP effort to impeach DHS head Alejandro Mayorkas will provide a focal point for dangerous “invasion” rhetoric. As the impacts of climate change become ever more apparent, we will likely see greater attempts by white nationalists to co-opt environmental issues and by paramilitaries to engage in cynical recruitment efforts and local infrastructure takeover disguised as disaster relief.