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The story of January 6 goes beyond a single day

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

This past week marked a year since a mob supporting former President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol. For those who studied the attack and its aftermath, there's concern that speaking of that day in isolation may distract from the fact that the story is still in many ways unfolding. Odette Yousef covers domestic extremism for NPR and joins us now. Welcome.

ODETTE YOUSEF, BYLINE: Thank you.

RASCOE: We saw several events marking the anniversary of the attack last week, but what is the story of January 6 that we need to understand?

YOUSEF: Well, Ayesha, I think in many ways, January 6 was a wakeup call to the forces that are at play in this country. The amazing thing about the last year is that we now live in an America with two fundamentally different ideas about what happened that day. You know, for many on the right, this was a day to celebrate and honor people that they call patriots. For others, it was a day that marked the beginning of serious alarm over whether American democracy could even fail come future elections. But most important, that day really marked the beginning of a mass movement that is based on a lie and on a belief that violence might be necessary to restore Trump to the White House.

RASCOE: It really feels like what you're saying is that the U.S. has entered a new era of domestic extremism and one with, you know, seemingly very different rules. Like, is that right?

YOUSEF: I think that's right, Ayesha. You know, if you look at who these people are, you know, the Capitol defendants and the millions who sympathize with what they did - they're mainstream Americans. You know, they're more educated, more stable when it comes to employment and family situation and older than right-wing violent offenders who've been arrested by federal authorities in recent years. And so we're not talking anymore about specific violent fringe groups. We're talking about a large number of Americans who've adopted certain political beliefs that include the use of violence.

RASCOE: And what about what's being done to counter some of these forces?

YOUSEF: Well, even though it's been a year since the attack, Ayesha, it's still early days when you talk to people about the response. You know, we're still fairly early in wrapping our heads around the fact that this movement and these insurrectionists are the people that they are. And look. Even calling them insurrectionists will turn off a large part of the populace who see that as a politically loaded term.

But still, the Biden administration, as you know, has prioritized countering violent domestic extremism and has talked specifically about tackling white supremacy. The tricky thing is that we are free in this country to think what we think. And when you pair that with a growing anti-government movement that is skeptical of state involvement and that has proven susceptible to disinformation, the solutions are going to have to come from other quarters. Cynthia Miller-Idriss of American University argues that we need a kind of whole-of-society approach to keep people from even starting down this path.

CYNTHIA MILLER-IDRISS: There are important precursors to violence that are threats to democracy and to national security, like the spread of disinformation, the spread of propaganda, online manipulation and things that we can work on from a preventative capacity through digital literacy, media literacy, civic education, you know, kind of democracy-strengthening initiatives at the community level.

YOUSEF: The way that the U.S. has thought about preventing or countering extremist violence just isn't set up for this iteration of the threat.

RASCOE: And what of all these groups we've heard so much about these past years - the far-right gangs and militias?

YOUSEF: Well, some of them are still around and have resurfaced quite publicly at local school board meetings and anti-vax gatherings, you know, looking for opportunities to find others who may be open to more radical ideas. In some cases, they are running for local offices. But I think, Ayesha, we would be making a mistake to continue focusing exclusively on organized groups at this point. They have been at the vanguard of this movement for many years, but the movement now is something that's moved even beyond them.

RASCOE: That's very sobering. We'll have to leave it there. That's NPR's Odette Yousef. Thanks so much for joining us.

YOUSEF: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Odette Yousef
Odette Yousef is a National Security correspondent focusing on extremism.
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