Certainly, something extraordinary happened on January 6 in Washington. But what exactly? Testifying before the Senate on Tuesday to shed some light on these events, the former Capitol Police chief spoke of “the worst attack on law enforcement and democracy” he has seen in his life. life. Steven A. Sund added that “the assaulted criminals were prepared for war”.
The American Martha Crenshaw, who practically invented scholarly studies on terrorism, has in turn added more. A professor at Stanford University, she has written thousands of pages on specific cases, the threat of nuclear terror, the trajectories of terrorists, the causes of radicalisation violent and even a three-volume encyclopedia on the history and world state of political violence.
“I have studied terrorism for more than 40 years”, summed up the great specialist in the black subject in an opinion piece published in the New York Times before the start of the Senate hearings. “So let’s talk about what’s next. We’ve spent decades monitoring threats from overseas when we need to keep an eye out for what’s going on closer to home. We can learn from experiences around the world to think about both what might happen if the far-right groups that rocked Washington turn to terrorism, and how we will respond if they do. “
The problem authorities faced on January 6 was not an inability to react, but an inability to anticipate the threat, added Professor Crenshaw. However, surveillance and prevention on the part of the authorities are now showing signs of organization.
A few days ago in Milwaukee, President Biden said that “domestic terrorism” poses “the greatest threat” to his country and that white supremacists are “the most dangerous people” in this context. The White House has also commissioned the director of national intelligence, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to assess the risks of terrorism from inside the republic.
“The United States has always known a level of violence and a level of political violence in particular higher than other democracies,” says Christian Leuprecht, professor at the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University, specializing in questions of security and terrorist movements. We are always struck by this reality when we observe this company from the outside. The contrast is also stark with the almost unlimited freedom of speech in the United States, at least at a level that would not be tolerated elsewhere. “
A “dangerous” period
A report published in October by the Center for International and Strategic Studies (CSIS) found that supremacist groups were responsible for two-thirds of some 61 threats (planned or realized) in the first eight months of last year in the United States. In fifteen years, these attacks have killed as many people as terrorist acts linked to violent Islamism (106 victims compared to 119), except that only one attack by the latter group, that of the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando in 2016, accumulates 41% of total victims.
There is therefore no shortage of tragic precedents. We commemorated, a few months ago, the centenary of the Wall Street car bomb attack which left 30 dead and ten times more injured. The 1995 Oklahoma bombing by another vehicle bomb left 168 dead and 680 injured. The person responsible for the deadliest terrorist act in the history of the United States until the attacks of September 11, 2001 was a sympathizer of the movement of right-wing anarchist militiamen who still abound in the country.
“We are facing a more dangerous time than the one we experienced in Oklahoma City at the time,” US Attorney General Merrick Garland told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, explaining the ongoing investigation. on the assault of January 6. The new Minister of Justice appointed by Joe Biden had overseen the investigation into the 1995 attack.
Professor Leuprecht notes that in the American socio-political tradition, perceived threats always come from outside. In this perspective (say) paranoid, the republic would be threatened by theimmigration (or certain groups of immigrants), imported drugs or communism for example.
“But with the event of January 6, it is very difficult to blame an outside enemy for the violent drift which seems more risky in the United States than in other democracies,” he said. What we saw that day testifies to a weak state in the end, in any case a state incapable of acting to counter violence. It is very astonishing. “
Samuel Tanner, professor of criminology at the University of Montreal, specialist in the extreme right and radical activism online, points out that these events also showed on the contrary the organizational capacity of violent groups. “Terrorism presupposes organizations and resources. With what happened on January 6, everything suggests that this threat is approaching. But it would be wrong to think that all extremist movements operate in the same way with a goal that unites them. “
He cites two concrete examples, that of the Proud Boys, defined as a terrorist group by Ottawa, which recently added it to the list which already includes al-Qaeda or al-Shabab, and that of the Oath Keepers, who openly advocate resistance against the government. federal.
“The Proud Boys have the virtue of bringing together people who find a sense of community there. It’s a boys’ club misogynist. Identifying him as a terrorist has the merit of saying that sympathizers may face serious problems. They are a worrying group, to be sure, but less so than the Oath Keepers. There, we are dealing with former soldiers, former intelligence specialists. Its members were getting ready and on standby by November while they waited for Trump to give them free rein. “
He and his colleague Christian Leuprecht point in this regard to an article from the beginning of the month of the magazine The Atlantic two University of Chicago professors who combed through the profiles of 193 people arrested on January 6.
“The article paints a very disturbing picture,” explains Professor Tanner. We see fathers of families, business leaders. We do not see people left behind, marginalized people like those I met with colleagues in our investigations into extremism in Canada. So there is a very deep anger in American society that seems worrying to me. “
Something has been swelling since before January 6 but what? “I wouldn’t want to say that we are beyond terrorism and close to a civil war, I’m not a diviner. But it is very worrying, ”concludes Professor Tanner.
“It’s a complex situation,” adds Professor Leuprecht. “We are not just facing an external threat that is easy enough to identify. We are not facing a terrorist threat planned by small extremist groups either. We end up with political violence carried by ordinary people, a threat of high violence supported by a mass of sympathizers. It is extremely disturbing. “
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