Jan 17, 2021 - Technology

Fringe right plots new attacks out of sight

Illustration of a hand holding a spear where the tip is made from a cursor arrow.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Domestic extremists are using obscure and private corners of the internet to plot new attacks ahead of Inauguration Day. Their plans are also hidden in plain sight, buried in podcasts and online video platforms.

Why it matters: Because law enforcement was caught flat-footed during last week's Capitol siege, researchers and intelligence agencies are paying more attention to online threats that could turn into real-world violence.

Screenshots of three fliers from fringe-right groups promoting inauguration week events
Screenshots of digital fliers for fringe-right rallies. Source: GroupSense

Driving the news: Extremism researchers worry the threat is more diffuse than the openly plotted Jan. 6 attack in Washington, with far-right groups taking to non-mainstream channels to plan nationwide disruption and broadly whip up anger and calls to arms.

  • The overwhelming response from the D.C. Metro Police, the National Guard and others to increase and change security plans is dissuading some fringe groups from moving on D.C. Instead, they may shift their focus to state capitals and other cities, says Bryce Webster-Jacobsen, Director of Intelligence at cyber intelligence firm GroupSense.

The Booglaloo movement, a fringe-right extremist group dedicated to instigating a second civil war, is one of the groups plotting these attacks.

  • Even if promoted under the pretext of being peaceful pro-Trump marches, the Boogaloo groups have a track record of plotting events that become flashpoints for political violence.
  • "We're seeing fliers on message boards for more localized events by Boogaloo groups in state capitals in Oregon and Washington," Webster-Jacobsen says, while local officials and law enforcement officials in Michigan and Minnesota warn the groups are planning similar events in those states' capitals on Sunday.

The chatter is increasingly taking place on platforms like Telegram, where extremists can congregate in closed, invite-only groups.

  • QAnon and other far-right organizations are also moving to even tougher-to-monitor venues like, as NBC News reports, massive text message chains.

Yes, but: Organizers of far-right violence are also in some cases operating in broad daylight, taking to mediums like podcasts and streaming video.

  • There, they'll often talk in more guarded and coded terms than they'll use in less public channels, with the aim of building a like-minded audience and recruiting new followers.

The pre-inauguration timing of the planned events comes as online extremists — at least in the semi-public channels that researchers have infiltrated — increasingly avoid plotting activity for Inauguration Day itself, convinced that's when law enforcement will expect them to strike.

  • A Proud Boys group with more than 30,000 members widely believes that any talk of militia activity on Jan. 20 is a government-planned false-flag operation designed to spark violence that can be blamed on the far right, according to screenshots from Telegram conversations that researchers shared with Axios.
  • Data from Zignal Labs provided to Axios found, in the last four days, more than 51,000 mentions on social media of the idea that planned armed protests surrounding President-elect Biden’s inauguration are a left-wing plot to enact stricter gun control.

What’s next: Researchers have shared screenshots from manuals being shared among fringe-right groups on Telegram on how to use small arms, build IEDs and use basic combat principles.

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