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Hate-fueled violence is growing even as Proud Boys are convicted for extremism

Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio at a 2019 rally in Portland, Ore.
Noah Berger
Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio at a 2019 rally in Portland, Ore.

Updated May 5, 2023 at 9:08 AM ET

What impact will the convictions of four Proud Boys members have on homegrown far-right extremism? Former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and three other members of the far-right extremist group could face decades in prison for plotting the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol.

Andy Campbell, senior editor at the Huffington Post, said on Up First that "it's a very rare and serious charge that the government usually saves for terrorists on American soil."

"Though their leaders sit behind bars, the Proud Boys don't need a green light from the national organization to continue on their parade of violence," Campbell told NPR's A Martinez. "Their stated goal is to physically fight for the GOP's grievances out in the street, and they've continued to do so week after week since January 6."

Cynthia Miller-Idris, head of the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab at American University, agrees: "They have helped to normalize the idea of political violence," Miller-Idris said. "And we're seeing support for political violence, of course, rise in the mainstream as well." She spoke with NPR's Leila Fadel on Morning Edition.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Interview highlights

On how the Proud Boys' trial has impacted the larger group

Leila Fadel: So what impact has this trial had on the Proud Boys?

Cynthia Miller-Idris: It really hasn't had as much of an impact as you'd like to think. I mean, they have continued. They've really evolved. Their members are all across the country. And they're just now moving into other types of protests. So they've been protesting at children's reading, drag reading, and libraries, and protesting anti-racist education, and just kind of opportunistically jumping on other types of protests that are happening across the country.

Leila Fadel: And when you say protesting, often this can be violent.

Cynthia Miller-Idris: Exactly. It's either violent or it carries the whiff of violence. And that's part of the impact they've had, is they have helped to normalize the idea of political violence. And we're seeing support for political violence, of course, rise in the mainstream as well.

On preventing a culture of political violence

Leila Fadel: So given what you've just described, these convictions, will they act as a warning, as a deterrent, not just for the Proud Boys, but other violent extremist, white nationalist, so-called patriotic militias across this country?

Cynthia Miller-Idris: The vast majority of violence, including virtually every terrorist attack in the last 25 years, coming from the far right, has not been from anyone affiliated with a group. So most of what we see in the violent actions are individuals who are radicalized online into toxic cultures. And this doesn't really affect that at all. And so I think we should be glad that we got the convictions, but we also shouldn't put too much hope in it. The genie is kind of out of the bottle right now, and we need a much deeper and earlier prevention effort if we're going to intervene in ways that prevent violence.

Leila Fadel: What would a deeper and earlier prevention system look like?

Cynthia Miller-Idris: I mean, most other countries invest, you know, up to 95% of their counter extremism resources in what we would call primary prevention. So digital media literacy, civic education, helping people recognize and reject propaganda and not be persuaded by it. We invest almost no resources in that and instead kind of focus on this security and carceral approach.

On the state of violent extremism

On every measure we have available, domestic violent extremism has been increasing both on the hate fueled violence side. We have record breaking anti Semitism, Islamophobia, anti-Asian, American and Pacific Islander hate, anti LGBTQ hate. We have record growth in the support for political violence as well. So it's a crisis and we need to see serious investment in the prevention model, not just in the security one.

Olivia Hampton contributed editing. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Destinee Adams
Destinee Adams (she/her) is a temporary news assistant for Morning Edition and Up First. In May 2022, a month before joining Morning Edition, she earned a bachelor's degree in Multimedia Journalism at Oklahoma State University. During her undergraduate career, she interned at the Stillwater News Press (Okla.) and participated in NPR's Next Generation Radio. In 2020, she wrote about George Floyd's impact on Black Americans, and in the following years she covered transgender identity and unpopular Black history in the South. Adams was born and raised in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.