The election of Donald Trump and the eventual J6th attempted insurrection left many people wondering how we got to this point. The answer to that question is multidimensional, complex, and nuanced, and this talk focuses on several pieces that helped generate the current moment. A broad constellation of far-right extremism highly adept at marketing ideas and emotions and far more sophisticated than often understood played a key role in rebranding white supremacy to ensure wider circulation and resonance. But part of the answer to how we got here today requires stepping back to the 1980s and tracing the evolution of how the far right utilized technology to generate and distribute propaganda; cultivate and strengthen social network ties; and eventually produce links to a wide ranging cultural lifestyle complete with merchandise, housing options, and dating forums. The result today is a diverse and dynamic cultural landscape of far right extremism where sitting members of Congress now proudly declare themselves “Christian Nationalists” and openly speak at explicitly white supremacists conferences funded by far right social media platforms.
Pete Simi is a Professor of Sociology at Chapman University and member of the Executive Committee for the National Counterterrorism, Innovation, Technology, and Education (NCITE) Center at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. For the past 25 years, he has been studying political violence, hate, and extremism. His fieldwork has taken him inside white supremacist groups across the United States, where he has been embedded with racist skinheads, Klan members, neo-Nazis, and anti-government militias.