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World

Capitol revolt anniversary ‘reminder of danger of extremism’

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On the anniversary of the storming of the Unites States Capitol, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an international Jewish non-governmental organisation combatting hate, has called on the world to “take extremists at their word” and hold them to account.

“It’s frightening how these extremists have grown more organised,” ADL Chief Executive Jonathan Greenblatt said in a special ADL webinar on the anniversary of the 6 January insurrection.

“They’ve shifted from large public rallies to small local school board meetings, to attacking the integrity of medical professionals, and intimidating town council members and what not,” he said during the webinar that formed part of ADL’s “Fighting Hate from Home” webinar series.

Based in the United States, ADL fights all forms of hate, is the first point of call in America when acts of antisemitism occur, and is now at the forefront of the battle against the insurrectionists and violent vigilantes who stormed the Capitol.

“What we saw a year ago is what I would describe as the most predictable terror attack in American history because they told us they were going to do it,” said Greenblatt.

“It could have been far, far worse were it not for the remarkable law enforcement officers who did such an extraordinary job of preventing these individuals from capturing, kidnapping, and potentially killing our elected representatives during an event that has no precedent.”

The ADL has been tracking extremists for many decades, and has helped identify many of the perpetrators involved in the insurrection.

According to Greenblatt, although hundreds of the perpetrators of the attack on the Capitol have been arrested and others are being prosecuted, it isn’t enough.

“To see men barging through the building wearing ‘Camp Auschwitz’ sweatshirts, spouting insane antisemitic QAnon conspiracies, and brandishing weapons reminds us as Jews not only about our vulnerability, but our society’s vulnerability,” said Greenblatt. “This is because we know better than most what can happen when extremism really runs.”

The ADL recently filed a federal lawsuit to hold two violent groups accountable for the role they played in planning and carrying out the uprising. Greenblatt said this lawsuit was aimed at taking down the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and more than 30 individuals, and holding them to account for their role in planning and executing the terror attack.

“What we’re doing in this case is particularly important,” said Eileen Hershenov, the ADL’s senior vice-president of policy. “We’re never going to get rid of extremism and hate completely. We have to push it back to its fringes.”

“Last year, the ADL launched its Protect Plan, a comprehensive framework to address the threat of domestic terrorism while safeguarding civil liberties. We were really pleased to work with the White House to advise it on our perspective and to see it release its national strategy on countering domestic terrorism,” said Greenblatt.

The ADL also launched a comprehensive Repair Plan to fight hate online. “We have asked for a whole-of-government approach for the administration and Congress to take steps,” said Hershenov. “We have also recently worked with the secretary for homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas, on many of the initiatives that he, we, other civil society organisations, and government are putting together to fight the ongoing threat of extremist violence.”

Mayorkas was sworn in to his current position by Vice-President Kamala Harris in February last year.

“I think back to the time when I first moved to Washington DC to join the Obama-Biden administration in 2009,” said Mayorkas. “If someone then had told me that 11 or 12 years later, we would have an insurrection at the Capitol, that people would storm the Capitol, break into it, threaten the life of our vice-president and our leader of the house, and that, in the aftermath, this country wouldn’t come together in unanimity to condemn it, I don’t think I would have believed it.”

Mayorkas said his department of homeland security was focused on equipping and empowering local communities to “identify ideologies of hate and false narratives, their connectivity to violence, and to prevent that threat from ever materialising, and should it unfortunately materialise, to respond and prove resilient in the face of it”.

He said his department needed to lead by example, ferret out domestic violent extremism within its own ranks, and educate people entering government about the special responsibilities they hold as public servants and representative not only of the American people, but also of the values and ideals that define the country.

His department is spreading information about what it knows to alert the landscape of law enforcement and, more generally, create public awareness.

“We’re also equipping local communities with the capability to prevent threats from occurring and respond, should they occur,” said Mayorkas. “We’re doing that through our grant programmes to faith-based organisations, non-profit organisations, and state and local municipalities, so they have the tools to address the threat that’s real and hasn’t diminished this past year, but has certainly held steady, if not grown in severity.”

“Anyone who has been paying attention to extremist activity across the country or to the chorus of disinformation and hatred rampant across media and social media will tell you that what happened at the US Capitol in January was in some ways the most predictable act of political violence in American history,” Hershenov said.

Washington DC Attorney General Karl Racine remembered watching television with his team and talking to Metropolitan Police Department officers who rushed to the Capitol to help save America’s freedom. “We committed that we would do everything we could every single day until I’m no longer attorney general to continue to fight against hate,” he recalled.

Racine said the ADL had done an unbelievable job of identifying the defendants. “Our investigation continues. There may be more defendants. We’re going to go where the evidence takes us, and we’re going to hold them financially accountable. Bankrupting these organisations and individuals is my objective.”

He and Greenblatt urged everyone to turn the television off and be part of the civil process by volunteering in their community or going to their local schools and parks to elevate humanity over hate.

“This isn’t being a Republican or a Democrat,” said Greenblatt. “It’s not about being a conservative or a liberal. It’s about being an American, and agreeing to things that hold our democracy together like decency, humanism, and respect.”

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