The death of military veteran Ashli Babbitt at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 is shining a light on far-right extremism in San Diego County. Family and friends say the Ocean Beach resident was fervent in her beliefs on social media, amplifying QAnon conspiracy theories and anti-immigrant sentiment.
“Our region's history of reactionary fascism goes back several decades,” says Joel Day, a research fellow at the USC Center for Public Diplomacy who specializes in combating violent extremism and homeland security. “It started with the KKK movement. There was a Grand Wizard in Santee, which is still nicknamed ‘Klantee.’ We saw, during the early 2000s, the rise of the militia movement with the Minutemen at our border. Now it's spiraled into what I would say is three different silos of right-wing extremism.”
Those three different silos, according to Day, include political seditionists, right-wing paramilitary groups, and hate and supremacy groups.
He says extremist groups try to latch on to events playing out in the right-wing mainstream world, like reopen protests, anti-masking protests, or Trump rallies. They pinpoint localized grievances like “reverse discrimination,” “stolen election,” or pandemic responses. Then they try to tie that to historical victim narratives that the white power movement has used.
“That's when it becomes problematic, because if you link someone's individual experience to this historical victimization narrative, they start saying that violence is the only solution.”
He says elected officials should treat the threat of domestic extremism with the same level of vigilance as foreign terrorism.
“If somebody raises a Nazi flag or a confederate flag, we need to treat it the same way that it is treated within law enforcement for raising the ISIS flag or pledging allegiance to Osama bin Laden.”
He continues, “That requires a culture change. It requires all of us to be vigilant and lead with knowledge, but also compassion, because we don't want more of our neighbors spiraling into conspiracy theories.”