How the battlegrounds of the culture wars have shifted.
Two years ago more than 2,000 supporters of President Donald Trump invaded the United States Capitol building. They broke windows, attacked police and even smeared feces on the walls. The backlash to the insurrection in the months after January 6th 2021 quieted America’s far right. But a new report from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), which tracks political violence, suggests that right-wing groups are mobilising again in different ways.
ACLED began to collect data on America in 2020. Its recent report tallied events between the start of that year and December 2022 organised by scores of far-right groups, among them the Proud Boys, a white-supremacist outfit that took part in the attack on the Capitol. Their activities include protests, recruitment and acts of violence. The report shows that the issues motivating far-right groups are shifting (see chart). Protests against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans and their rights are on the rise. Their number more than tripled in 2022—and they accounted for about two-thirds of all far-right protests in December. The geographical boundaries of anti-LGBT sentiment are also expanding. Anti-LGBT activity among far-right groups was documented in 18 states last year—up from six in 2021.
The most common motivation for far-right groups in 2022 was a belief in white supremacy. About 21% of right-wing demonstrations last year were inspired by white nationalism, up from 15% in 2021. After George Floyd was murdered in May of 2020—and many Americans took to the streets to protest against racial injustice and police brutality—demonstrations staged by far-right groups against the Black Lives Matter movement surged. Pro-Trump and “stop-the-steal” rallies proliferated in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election and continued after Mr. Trump’s defeat, culminating in the attack on the Capitol. Far-right groups then banded together to protest against covid-19 vaccines and public-health measures to curb the pandemic. After a leaked opinion suggested that the Supreme Court was poised to overturn Roe v Wade, rescinding the constitutional right to an abortion, anti-abortion events briefly dominated far-right activity, but later subsided.
Overall, the data show a modest increase in far-right activity over the past year, from roughly 780 events in 2021 to 800 in 2022. The number of groups organising these events is shrinking, however. Activists are gravitating towards a small number of organisations such as the Proud Boys, the Patriot Front, another white-supremacist group, and the anti-Semitic Goyim Defence League. The only state where more outfits were active in 2022 than in 2021 is Arizona, where about 92% of all recruitment to far-right groups last year took place. That is perhaps not surprising, as Arizona’s midterm elections were saturated with Republican candidates for statewide office peddling right-wing conspiracy theories—all of whom lost their races.
(c) 2023, The Economist