Political violence threatens to escalate as the 2024 campaign heats up

The man who beat up former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband with a… Hammer Last year I consumed a steady diet Right-wing conspiracy theories Before the attack, which occurred less than two weeks before the midterm elections.

As the 2024 presidential campaign heats up, extremism experts fear the threat of politically motivated violence will worsen. com. desde “Pizzagate” to QAnon Yes “Stop the steal” Conspiracy theories demonizing Donald Trump’s enemies have begun to morph and spread as a front-runner for the Republican Party’s 2024 nomination targets to return to the White House.

“These divisive and sinister conspiracy theories and ideologies are no longer isolated on the sidelines,” said Jacob Weir, a research fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who focuses on domestic terrorism. “They are now infiltrating American society on a massive scale.”

A federal jury on Thursday convicted David DePape of attacking Paul Pelosi at his San Francisco home on October 28, 2022. Before the verdict, DePape testified that he intended to hold Nancy Pelosi hostage and “break her knees” if the Democratic lawmaker lied. him while he was interrogating her about what he considered government corruption. She was in Washington at the time of the attack.

In his online rants before the attack, Debab echoed the tenets of QAnon, a pro-Trump conspiracy theory that has been linked to killings and other crimes. The core belief of QAnon followers is that Trump attempted to expose the Satan-worshipping and child sex-trafficking cabal of prominent Democrats and Hollywood elites.

Trump did Amplified social media accounts promoting QAnonwhich has grown from the far-right fringes of the Internet to become a staple of mainstream Republican politics.

Many of the rioters who stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, embraced QAnon’s apocalyptic beliefs online before traveling to the nation’s capital for Trump’s concert. “Stop the Steal” march. that day. The message board formerly known as TheDonald.win was filled with plans for violence days before the siege.

Before QAnon, many Trump supporters embraced the debunked “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that prominent Democrats were running a child sex trafficking ring from the (non-existent) basement of a Washington pizzeria. In 2017, it was a man from North Carolina He was sentenced to prison To fire a gun inside the restaurant.

In his 2024 campaign, Trump It intensified his combative rhetoric With talk of taking revenge on his enemies. He recently joked about and suggested a hammer attack on Paul Pelosi Retired General Mark Milleyshould be a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff He was executed for treason.

Threats against lawmakers and election officials are rampant, with targets spanning the nation’s political divide: A California man is awaiting trial on charges that… He plotted to kill Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughTrump candidate at his home in Maryland.

Trump’s loss to Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 election did not put an end to the spread of conspiracy theories influenced by QAnon or its unfulfilled prophecies. The movement’s ever-changing ideology often adopts beliefs from other conspiracy theories.

“It’s been really good at evolving with the times and current events,” said Sheehan Kane, data collection director at the Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, or START, based at the University of Maryland.

In a 2021 article, Kane and START senior researcher Michael Jensen examined QAnon-inspired crimes committed by 125 QAnon followers since the conspiracy theory surfaced on the 4chan imageboard in 2017. They found that more “extremist criminals” were linked to QAnon than Any other extremist group or movement in the United States.

“In 2020, millions of people were radicalized by this conspiracy theory. “It’s really hard to know who will rally in favor of a conspiracy theory,” Kane said.

DePape, Paul Pelosi’s attacker, testified that his interest in right-wing conspiracy theories began with GamerGate, an online harassment campaign against feminists in the video game industry. Starting in 2014, misogynistic gamers terrorized game developers and other women in the industry with threats of rape and murder.

Brianna Wu, one of the original targets of GamerGate, said she wasn’t surprised to hear it was linked to a politically motivated attack nearly a decade later. GamerGate emerged from the same online recesses that spawned far-right conspiracy theories like Pizzagate and QAnon, Wu said.

“This is a pattern of extremism that we see over and over again in every part of politics,” Wu said. “This is not an issue of right versus left. This is an issue of extremism happening online. “We need a political response.”

DePape testified that he went to Nancy Pelosi’s house with plans to question her about Russian interference in the 2016 election. He said he intended to wear an inflatable unicorn costume while recording and then upload the video to the Internet.

Depepe allegedly told authorities that his other targets included a women’s and LGBT studies professor at the University of Michigan. He told the expletives that he heard about the professor while listening to a conservative commentator.

Debab’s spiral into conspiracy theories is a typical story of extremism, according to extremism experts who say the mainstreaming of false, outspoken and harmful ideas on radio shows, news, social media sites and other public online forums has made them more accessible. .

Brian Hughes, a professor at American University and associate director of the Center for Research on Polarization and Extremism in the United States, said the problem is exacerbated by lax content moderation on social media and the growth of a “homegrown conspiracy industry” that seeks to use extremist rhetoric to gain or expand its audience. Innovation Lab.

“Some of the people in that broad audience would be people like DePape, who would intentionally commit an act of violence based on this false and harmful information that was presented to them,” Hughes said.

Conspiracy theories are seductive by design, prompting some people exposed to them to immerse themselves completely, said Amarnath Amarasingam, a radicalization researcher and professor at Queen’s University in Canada. DePape testified that before the attack, he would often play video games for hours on end while listening to political podcasts.

Repeatedly hearing that political opponents or government leaders are responsible for evil acts gives believers a scapegoat for their problems and a “moral mission” to do something about it, Amarasingam said.

Ware, of the Council on Foreign Relations, said American election years are often marked by violence, whether it be hate crimes in response to the identity of a particular candidate or violent reactions to unfavorable results. “So we should definitely expect such incidents in 2024,” he said.

Experts say Trump’s return to the polls next year, combined with his current legal battles, is sure to amplify politicized rhetoric and could lead to more extremist violence.

“Donald Trump has a knack for implicitly endorsing violence without saying anything that is necessarily a clear endorsement of it,” Hughes said.

Experts said that in order to combat potential violence, Americans should try to lower the temperature of political discourse and look out for loved ones who may be turning toward extremism.

“Spending hours and hours consuming conspiracy theory material is intoxicating,” Hughes said. “It numbs you from the worries of your daily life in the same way that some medications do. And I think we need to redirect our thinking a little bit in that direction, so we can start to see this problem as actually a public health problem.”


Associated Press writer Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco.


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