Supporters of those charged in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol pass a counter-protester with a 'LOSER' sign in Washington, DC. North Carolina was home to 18 of the insurrectionists. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Supporters of those charged in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol pass a counter-protester with a 'LOSER' sign in Washington, DC. North Carolina was home to 18 of the insurrectionists. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

North Carolinians contributed a substantial number to the mob that attacked the US Capitol Jan. 6, 2021. Here’s how we can help make sure it doesn’t happen again.

A tea shop owner in Sylva. A server at a Kernersville specialty wine, beer and cigar bar. Two Airmen and an Army medic, all from Sanford. These seemingly normal people were among the 18 North Carolinians charged in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol building last year. 

The riot left five people dead, including several Washington, D.C. police officers who died by suicide following the events. Another 140 police officers were injured, and the mob did more than $1.5 million in damages.

“The January 6 attack on the Capitol was instigated in part by President Trump’s claims that Black votes were illegitimate,” North Carolina Congresswoman Alma Adams said Thursday on the one-year anniversary of the attack. “The 2020 election saw historic participation from Black voters in Georgia and other battleground states, and the result was the election of the first Black woman as Vice President. That was a truth the former president could not accept. Black voters made their voices heard, and when the former president and his allies didn’t like the result, they called it voter fraud.”

How do everyday people become so radicalized as to attack the sovereignty of the vote – the foundation of American democracy – and seek to overturn the results of a presidential election? 

Small Steps, a consultant organization dedicated to raising awareness of the far right and fighting radicalisation, says that unpredictable times leave people adrift and looking for answers. 

The global pandemic and devastating recession left many small-town North Carolinians vulnerable. For some, extreme, far-right ideologies offered simple answers to their economic and social fears, reinforced old prejudices, and fostered a sense of group identity. 

Jere Dement Brower, 45, the Army medic from Sanford, had already been exposed to the Aryan Nation, a neo-Nazi group, in his 20s. 

Charles Donohoe, the Kernersville bartender, was president of the local chapter of the Proud Boys, another alt-right organization. 

And Laura Steele, a Thomasville woman, met up with members of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, changed into tactical gear, and forcibly broke into the Capitol building. The 52-year-old worked as a police officer and at one point had been a schools resource officer. 

SIGNS OF EXTREMISM

So how can you tell if someone in your circle is becoming extremist, and what can you do?

Notice if people exhibit signs of radicalization, such as:

  • Hostility toward people from a particular race, country, religion, or sexual orientation
  • Blaming immigrants or minorities for global or local issues
  • Voicing fears of racial extinction, and the need to ‘take action’
  • Posting extremist views on social media
  • Changing their appearance and wearing symbols associated with far-right or neo-Nazi organisations
  • They may get suddenly secretive about their online life.

Many participants in the attempted coup used social media to connect and communicate with far-right organizations, and broadcast their activities that day through texts and social media apps. 

SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING

If someone in your circle contacts you with intent or proof of questionable or outright illegal extremist activity, it’s your duty to report it. Not only can it insulate you from legal repercussions and aid your friend in getting needed help, it may help prevent an act of domestic terror.

James Little, 62, of Claremont texted a friend: “We just took over the Capital!” The friend screenshot the message and sent it to an FBI tip line. Little’s four federal charges were reduced to one, of parading, demonstrating, and picketing in a Capitol building. His sentencing is set for Feb. 11.

Before the insurrection relatives of Cleveland Meredith Jr., concerned with his increasing affiliation with QAnon, alerted police in Hayesville of the 52-year-old’s erratic behavior. 

D.C. police arrested him the day after the riot for allegedly assaulting a man in a traffic incident and, in the course of conducting the interview, discovered text messages from Meredith about having a “ton” of armor-piercing ammunition. Investigators also found threats to shoot both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser in his texts. A search allegedly uncovered a Glock nine millimeter pistol, a Tavor X95 assault rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in his possession.

Extremism is on the rise, in no small part because it’s been downplayed or minimized. No one wants to believe the events of last year could happen again. But they can, if good citizens don’t do their part to nip this other pandemic in the bud. As Adams wrote:

“We must remember the January 6 attack and the motivations behind it, because we cannot change these attitudes until they are acknowledged by Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike. Racism and white supremacy have always been friends of authoritarianism and enemies of democracy and voting. We need to come together, united, to preserve American democracy, but that unity requires protecting our right to vote and permanently removing racism and white supremacy from our politics.”