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Why the crowd storming the Capitol on January 6th last year included Black people and other people of color

The insurrectionists on January 6th were overwhelmingly white. But a growing number of Black people and other people of color have been joining far-right extremist groups. Into America learns why.


Into America

BONUS: The Far-Right Isn’t All White

Joe Lowndes: (MUSIC) 'Cause they're gonna lie on MSN like they always do. As they twist what happened into this crazy, extremist stuff. No.

Trymaine Lee: If you're like me, you may have been surprised to see a few Black faces and other people of color among the rioters on January 6th last year.

Archival Recording: So I was at the Capitol with MAGA Hulk. Shoutout to Kick, Dave, MAGA Pit.

Archival Recording: I was just in that Capitol building. And I told the whole world the truth. You can't stop us from taking back this country.

Archival Recording: This is completely peaceful. This is we the people.

Archival Recording: We pushed all the way through. They couldn't stop us.

Archival Recording: American citizens, we have the right to walk into that Capitol 'cause that's our Capitol. That's not the politicians' Capitol. That's ours. (LAUGH)

Archival Recording: It's our country.

Archival Recording: Yep.

Archival Recording: We make the rules--

Archival Recording: That's our Capitol building.

Archival Recording: You can't stop it.

Archival Recording: That's right.

Archival Recording: You're over there 'cause they voted for you. We can kick you out whenever we feel like it.

Archival Recording: That's right. Thank you, bro.

Lee: For years, far right extremists have been synonymous with white supremacists. And Donald Trump pulls so heavily from that demographic. But more recently, there's been a small but steadily growing number of people of color in far-right groups. Some extremist movements have even turned away from explicit white nationalist rhetoric to try and broaden their base.

Archival Recording: The Republican Party itself and then organizations further right have a lot of involvement in trying to present themselves as anti-racist or multicultural. And also, to make themselves more palatable for, you know, a broad American public. But also to recruit people of color into these movements and organizations. (MUSIC)

Lee: I'm Trymaine Lee. And on this bonus episode of Into America, why a small but growing number of Black Americans and other people of color are choosing to align themselves with the far right. (MUSIC) Joe Lowndes is the co-author of the book Producers, Parasites, Patriots: Race and the New Right-Wing Politics of Precarity.

Lowndes: My name is Joe Lowndes. I'm a professor of political science at the University of Oregon. My research is on right-wing politics, populism, racial politics. Partly historically, partly contemporary stuff.

Lee: So here we are, Joe, a year after the January 6 riot. Insurrection. Whatever we'll call it. Looking back at it, I remember seeing this mass of, you know, angry white faces. Confederate flags. The Trump flags. And it was sheer madness. But in that, I did see some Black folks. That was a surprise. Like, what did (LAUGH) what are y'all doin' here? And a few other, you know, faces of color I'll say. When you were seeing that, were you as surprised as I was? Or did somethin' there kinda make sense?

Lowndes: Yeah. Well, you know, I had-- co-authored a book with Dan HoSang in 2019, which a lot of it looked at support by people of color for Republican, conservative, and further far-right movement and organizations. And so we had kind of stumbled upon this while writing about the Proud Boys originally. And so then kind of explored it a little bit deeper. And, you know, there's actually more to this than you might expect, I think. And so it was not really that surprising to me when I saw it.

Lee: Are we seeing a message from, like, the more aggressive, extreme, more radical right-wing groups to Black people in particular? Like, is there some part of their message that is actually resonating at a time when, you know, there are a number of Black folks who are disillusioned, certainly with the Republicans, right? But then also with Democrats--

Lowndes: Uh-huh (AFFIRM). Uh-huh (AFFIRM). And we should be clear at the outset that there's not a lot of Black people involved in right-wing movements. But I do think a lot of far-right organizations have kind of presented themselves as being open to, or at least wanting to be seen as non-racist. So if you look back, say, at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Which, most people think of the far right, they think of the, you know, these white guys in polo shirts and khakis--

Lee: "The Jews will not replace us."

Lowndes: Yeah, exactly. The tiki torch marches. And you remember what happened after that is they were kind of denounced everywhere. Even by people in Trump's administration. Really, everybody but Trump himself seemed to. You know, Steve Bannon. Everybody else said these people were not their people.

And, you know, these groups fell into disarray almost immediately. They were so, kind of, reviled by the American public more broadly that Richard Spencer, the, you know, kind of famous Neo-Nazi no longer could give public talks. So there was discussion among the far right that white nationalism itself has a limited number of people are going to want to get involved with that. In, kind of, post-civil rights America, really almost no one wants to be seen as a racist. Even if you're on the right or on the far right.

Lee: Lowndes says after Charlottesville, many extremist groups tried to move their official messaging away from overtly white supremacist language.

Lowndes: Groups like the Oath Keepers. If you were to go to their website, there was a YouTube video of a Black Oath Keeper under the caption, "Oath Keepers come in all colors." If you went to the Three Percent militia website to their about page, it says in all caps, "We are not white nationalists. We are not white supremacists."

They make that very clear, up front, really right at the top. The Proud Boys always insisted on their multicultural character. You know, they were anti-immigrant. They're far-right, patriarchal, authoritarian, anti-democratic. By every other measure of far-right are really proto-fascist politics, they're there. But they always were insistent that they're not a racist organization.

And they were mocked early on by more openly white nationalist groups. So part of what happened, I think, is that you end up with a possibility of a broader far right. As long as people are not openly using racial rhetoric.

Lee: When you think about this kind of broad fracturing, right, of these groups, if a group says, "I am not a white nationalist," that's a specific thing. Or, "I'm not a white supremacist," that's a pretty specific thing. You can still be a racist. Right?

Lowndes: Uh-huh (AFFIRM)--

Lee: Or are some of these groups actually not racist, they just have very problematic policy agenda? I mean, they all seem to be racist to me, from my definition of racism. (LAUGH) All of them. But are we just not educated enough to understand the difference between these groups?

Lowndes: I agree with you that racism and, kind of, the logic of white supremacy always undergirds all these groups. Racism is key to all this stuff. Most white Americans, you know, walk around with racist assumptions that they don't imagine to be racist at all. And they are animated by politics that are often deeply racist and don't see themselves that way.

You can think of other things that might be bridge building for some people of color. You think of, you know, masculinity. Or patriarchy. Evangelical Christianity or anti-communism. And a you've said, you know, these are partly traditional conservative positions, but there really is now this distinction that you laid out between traditional conservatism and the far right is kind of disappearing before our eyes. This is no longer a clear boundary.

Lee: And let's talk about this idea of appeal. Right? I think when you think about the numbers of Black men who voted for Trump, that number jumped. And I always thought some of it was this kind of machismo, aggressive, faux-masculine. This kinda tough-guy thing. Then I think about the Proud Boys. Right? And Enrique Tarrio, who presents as Black or some sort of racially ambiguous--

Lowndes: Afro-Cuban, he says. Yeah--

Lee: Afro-Cuban, right? (MUSIC) We're talkin' about Enrique Tarrio, a national leader of the Proud Boys, which the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies as a hate group. Tarrio was arrested for burning a Black Lives Matter flag at a December 2020 protest, and is currently in jail.

He has insisted that he's a conservative, not a white supremacist. But the Proud Boys also seemed like they were ready for a street fight. And that could be appealing to some people. Talk about how the Proud Boys may be different or alike to some of those other groups, like the Oath Keepers, or the Three Percenters, or whatever.

Lowndes: You know, they used to be clearly distinguishable, because the Proud Boys had this kind of, like, urban hipster kind of, you know, feel to them. In their, you know, Fred Perry shirts and their kind of fasc-y haircuts. These groups have all kind of found each other and are in a lot of communication now.

You know, the Proud Boys, there was a, kind of a notorious Proud Boy local here in Portland called Patriot Prayer. Which carried out just absolute brutal street fighting for a few years. They're attacking anti-fascist activists. Attacking immigrant rights activists.

Attacking everybody they conceived of as being on the left out in street protests or just finding people on the streets. And they were able to build an organization through this aggressive street fighting energy. Interviewed the head of Patriot Prayer.

And they were kind of a Proud Boy local as well. A guy named Joey Gibson. And Joey is half Japanese. Identifies as non-white. Number two in the organization is a guy named Tiny Toese, an American Samoan street fighter. You know, huge guy who has been convicted on multiple felonies at this point.

And so, you know, there is something there that was kind of, like, in an urban scenario of places like Portland that had a certain kind of logic. They're partly building on older, kind of, like, urban white supremacist skinhead movements in cities that are kind of whiter cities like Portland.

Although they, as I said, these folks, really, they doubled down on the anti-communism and the kind of, like, open celebration of fascism. But without the white supremacy. Now, these groups are working in rural areas. You know, Proud Boy locals now across the country are in suburban, exurban, rural places.

They're showing up school board meetings around, you know, fights over critical race theory. Or here in rural Oregon, organizing Fourth of July parades with the VFW. Again, all this stuff is kind of, like, shifting quickly in front of our eyes, because it's a very dynamic movement, the far right. You know, the militias had been kind of hunting, gun toting culture. Now, kind of, you see these folks in urban areas and you see Proud Boys in rural areas, and there's a lot of cross-cutting happening there.

Archival Recording: And most people were willin' to fight tooth and nail. Put everything on the line. (MUSIC)

Lee: We'll be right back. Lowndes hasn't talked directly with any Black far-right extremists. But oddly enough, he says that Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson cited Black civil rights activists as his greatest influence.

Lowndes: I'll tell you a weird story. When my co-author, Dan HoSang, and I approached Joey Gibson, what he had on the front page of that website was a picture of Black ministers praying on the Edmond Pettus bridge in 1965. And so we asked him about that.

We asked him who his political heroes were. The first person he says is Martin Luther King. Second people he says are the students of Greensboro leading the lunch counter sit-ins. And we're like, "What the hell is going on here?" It is like an affect of energy and kind of a mythic energy to the civil rights struggle.

We asked Joey why, you know, why these were his heroes. And he said their bravery in the face of police violence. Their bravery in the face of a public who shunned them. And so he was able to take that stuff, iconic imagery, and turn it into fuel for right-wing politics.

Lee: Hmm. The mythic energy of the civil rights movement to empower and embolden those same forces that created (LAUGH) the ecosystem in which that exists in the first place.

Lowndes: Yes. (LAUGH) Kinda crazy.

Lee: It makes sense. (LAUGHTER) You talked about some of the, kinda, social media interfacing. And the having Black folks, or people of color, as the face of these things. How explicitly are these organizations trying to recruit? It's one thing as, like, a PR campaign. Like, "Oh, look at us. We're not super-duper racist. Look at us. We have some Black people." But how explicitly are they actually, like, trying to recruit Black members?

Lowndes: I think it's hard to recruit Black members. These folks are not coming out of--

Lee: It's a tough sell. It's hard. (LAUGH) It's a tough sell--

Lowndes: It's a tough sell. And also they're not coming from the same cultural milieu, right? They're not coming from Black neighborhoods. They're not coming from places where they're going to be in every day contact with, you know, large numbers of Black folks.

And so that's going to be, you know, part of it. So the real recruiting often happens online through media channels. And, you know, like so much social movement organizing, it happens through, you know, cultural networks. And I think you're right, it's a tough sell.

On the other hand, I think Trump, in the last days of his 2020 campaign, really pushed hard for Black folks, right? Particularly young Black male votes. You know, he pardons Lil Wayne, Kodak Black. He recruits people like Ice Cube and others to kind of work on his behalf.

And I think there was a real attempt there of building this kind of movement. Steve Bannon spent the last couple of years going around and speaking at Black Chambers of Commerce and Hispanic Chambers of Commerce and talking about building an economic populist movement in this country, which was going to be made up of Black and Latino working class folks, along with whites.

You know, ultimately the far right in this country is going to be multi-cultural. Even, again, as there's kind of white supremacist basis to this stuff and that people of color are going to be hit hardest by the policies promoted by these groups, you know, in a demographically shifting U.S., you're going to have a different face on what these movements will look like.

Lee: Hmm. What do you think the future is of this idea of this multicultural right-wing growth? What's the reality of that future? I mean, do you really think it's going to be, like, hefty and big and of the Steve Bannon collective, kinda, class thing happenin'?

Lowndes: A great scholar named Katrina Beltran talks about this as kind of multicultural whiteness. You know, in the ways that other folks who are not white in the 19th century became white, like the Irish. Or Jews in the early 20th century, or Italians in the 20th century. And that we may see, you know, a shifting whiteness. Right? 'Cause whiteness is not about phenotype, it's about status.

Lee: It's the ideal.

Lowndes: Yeah. And so it may be that that's what's going on. It may be that you have, like, an anti-democratic authoritarian right that has other pillars that support it. That allow people to join up. The problem is, I think, Democrats, and I think particularly white liberals, always assume that people of color, particularly Black people, are going to be loyal Democratic supporters.

You know, the Democratic Party has so long failed to deliver on a progressive racial agenda that it creates deep alienation. And people are trying to figure out, well, where are they gonna go? Or what kind of needs can they get met politically that clearly, the Democrats aren't offering them?

I mean, I think what needs to happen is that progressives need to be defending actual interests of particularly people of color in a working class position, right? And it's not hard to think about how you would do that. Defend voting rights. Defend, you know, broad structural reforms that actually redistribute wealth.

I mean, the other thing we're not talking about here is we're in a crisis of the greatest wealth gap in American history. It dwarfs the Gilded Age of the 19th century. And so under these conditions, things are much more unstable and much more polarized.

And, you know, unless progressives can actually deliver to people who are suffering and who need it, you're gonna have more support. I think that's true for white folks and people of color, are going to look to the far right to get other needs met. That's the thing about politics, is it's always open and it's always contingent. And it doesn't serve us to kind of, like, put people in clear categories and assume that's where they're gonna stay.

Lee: And in terms of, like, an historical perspective on this, how anomalous is this time we're dealing with in terms of the appeals, the various appeals, that different kinds of groups, especially Black people and people of color? Have we seen any history of this? Like now, in most recent memory, come after Jesse Jackson and all this expansion of the Democratic base and all that stuff, this seems a little different. Have we seen this kind of thing play in the past?

Lowndes: In such a deeply white supremacist country that has been anchored in slavery and post slavery, right wing appeals to Black voters has not been something that's been that common. You know? You could point to Booker T. Washington, or you could point to other kinds of, you know, campaigns.

As a broad phenomenon, I think it's not the case. I think this is new. It's a question now of, like, whether or not we're gonna see a third Reconstruction. Or are we gonna see, you know, something that continues the politics of reaction? (MUSIC)

Lee: That was Joe Lowndes of the University of Oregon, joining us for a bonus episode of Into America. Remember to follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook using the handle @intoamericapod. That's @intoamericapod. And you can tweet me, @trymainelee, or email us at

Into America is produced by Isabel Angell, Allison Bailey, Aaron Dalton, Max Jacobs, and Joshua Sirotiak. Original music is by Hannis Brown. Our executive producer is Aisha Turner. I'm Trymaine Lee. We'll see you next week. (MUSIC)