‘It’s Going to Be Scary’: Extremism Expert Predicts Violence for 2022 Midterms

We talked with author Andy Campbell about Roger Stone, right-wing goons, and what messages they’re getting from Donald Trump. 
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Roger Stone gestures while leaving federal court in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Feb. 1, 2019. (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

“Let’s get right to the violence,” Trump confidant and GOP ratfucker Roger Stone says in documentary footage from Danish filmmakers, which is now in the January 6 committee’s possession. 

Opening statements in the seditious conspiracy trial of Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and four other co-conspirators from the group are due to start Monday morning. The group is accused of amassing weapons and planning to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6. Oath Keepers were also seen guarding Stone in Washington on Jan. 5 and 6. 

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More than anyone, Stone is at a nexus between Trump, the Oath Keepers, and the Proud Boys. Members of that group, including longtime leader Enrique Tarrio, are set to have their own sedition trial in November. 

I called up Andy Campbell, a senior editor at HuffPost and author of the new book “We Are Proud Boys: How a Right-Wing Street Gang Ushered in a New Era of American Extremism.” We talked about the trials, the group’s plans, and what messages they’re getting from Donald Trump. 

Our conversation has been edited for length.

The Oath Keepers’ sedition trial is starting this week. What do people need to know about the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and similar groups?

The DOJ believes that not only did these two groups have a role in the execution of the insurrection but that they may have had a hand in plotting it. Hopefully these sedition trials bring clarity to what the planned plot was, and also illuminate the relationships between these guys and Trump’s inner circle. Roger Stone, Trump’s old confidant, had both Stewart Rhodes and Enrique Tarrio in a group text called “Friends of Stone,” and apparently was in contact with Tarrio by phone before and after the insurrection. Stone also told me in an interview last year that he’d been advising the Proud Boys for years on their political ambitions. And so I’m hoping that these sedition trials illuminate that relationship. I think we might learn some bombshells about their connection to Trump’s inner circle. And the fact that several top-level Proud Boys have already agreed to testify against their own means we may learn a lot.

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How connected are Proud Boys to Donald Trump’s inner circle, even if Roger Stone is the buffer?

Stone has been the Proud Boys’ through-line to the GOP since 2017. He was the reason why they were able to so quickly position themselves as Trump soldiers and the reason why the GOP has been unable to rebuff or refute these extremist groups. And so I think all of Trump’s dealings with Enrique Tarrio are just going to be evidence against him; I really think that in the end, Trump’s going to have a hard time putting distance between himself and these trials. 

Where do the Proud Boys fit into the Trump movement? How important are they to actualizing his threats of violence and his authoritarian movement overall?

Founder Gavin McInnes built the Proud Boys to do the things that the crusty old Republicans wouldn’t do. To go out into the streets and fight the GOP’s grievances. Tarrio used his relationships in Florida with Stone and others to try and make the organization more of a political monster. But their end goal was still political violence in the name of Trump. The playbook that the Proud Boys created for the extremist movement is to show how you can legitimize yourself and sanitize yourself through the right relationships. If the Proud Boys dissolve tomorrow, nothing changes. We have so much overlap now between all of the extremist groups: QAnon, all types of militias. The normalization that they’ve helped create means that this machine is going to keep on running with or without them. 

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Kyle Young, a Jan. 6 rioter, was sentenced this week to more than seven years. Trump several times has called for people like this to be pardoned. What do the Proud Boys hear when they hear Trump say that? 

It’s just like when Trump told them to “stand back and stand by” in September of 2020. They truly believe that Trump is behind them all the way, and that the things that he says are marching orders. They also believe that for Fox News. So I think they have real hope that they can find some pardons. Certainly they’re excited about Trump saying he’s going to pardon January 6 people because they believe that they have Trump’s ear. 

But none of these people are loyal. So I can’t imagine Trump going out of his way to help them get out of jail. I don’t see how that really helps him. The majority of the Proud Boys are still out there doing their thing in the name of Fox News and Trump. Just this last weekend, you have something like four drag queen story hours shut down because Proud Boys across the country were showing up and intimidating and harassing them, after weeks of Fox News whining about drag queens and trans issues. So the machine with or without Tarrio is working as planned. So I don’t see Trump going out of his way for him and the others  charged with sedition.

How do you interpret Trump’s warnings that bad things will happen if he’s indicted?

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Is it a direct communication? 

Totally. In 2017 the Proud Boys were a lead group responding to the rhetoric. But now the political violence is so normalized that everybody’s involved, including everyday Americans. So I think Trump knows that everybody is going to react violently to this. The pipeline between the rhetoric and the violence in the street is so short now. How many hours was it between the time he was complaining about the FBI going through Mar-a-Lago and somebody showing up with a gun to an FBI field office? He knows he has people waiting to mobilize.

Do you see Proud Boys as a direct threat? What role are they planning on playing in 2024 around the election?

There will absolutely be Proud Boys violence in 2024 and I think in the 2022 election, too. 

Arizona Republicans are calling for vigilante justice around ballot boxes. So you’re going to see the people out there. Tarrio told the Proud Boys following January 6, “We’re going to lay low, we want less violence and more political events because we’re in trouble now.” But the guys who joined the organization to fight still want to fight. Yes, I think they are absolutely going to show up in force for Trump’s election regardless of what happens.

I think we have to realize that the violence has trickled out to everyday Americans. It’s not just extremist groups anymore. Trump pointing to the back and calling the press the enemy, Trump glorifying Jan. 6 rioters,... that has come full circle. I think the spirit of January 6 is still here. All of the groups involved are still here, and everyday Americans have joined them. A swath of people believe that Jan. 6 defendants are wrongly accused. It’s going to be scary.

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Note: Gavin McInnes was a co-founder of VICE. He left the company in 2008 and has had no involvement since then. He later founded the Proud Boys in 2016.

There’s a LOT of investigations, elections, and democracy to cover. Don’t let your friends be in the dark. Sign ’em up for Breaking the Vote! 

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That’s a Bolduc Statement 

Trump-endorsed New Hampshire Senate candidate Don Bolduc, during his GOP primary in August: “I signed a letter with 120 other generals and admirals saying Trump won the election, and dammit I stand by my word.”

Don Bolduc, when attacked in the general by Dem incumbent Sen. Maggie Hassan for servicing Trump’s lies: “So… you know … we, uhh … we, uhh … you know, live and learn, right?...Umm, I’ve done a lot of research on this, and I’ve spent the past couple of weeks talking to Granite Staters all over the state, from, you know, every party, and I’ve come to the conclusion—and I want to be definitive of this—the election was not stolen.”

T.W.I.S.™ Notes

Now that we’re fully ensconced in DOJ’s pre-election 60-day “no overt investigative moves” window, it’s OK to let your guard down for warrants and searches of possibly criminal coup plotters, would-be election stealers, and classified document takers. But This Week in Subpoenas is still here with the latest from the Trump Comic Universe!

- Cannon fodder

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Donald Trump is free to keep lying about the feds planting evidence in his Mar-a-Lago property. That’s one bottom line of Judge Aileen Cannon’s ruling yesterday, saving Trump from the special master she appointed at his request. 

Retired judge Raymond Dearie had given Trump’s lawyers until today to detail what parts of DOJ’s inventory of seized documents aren’t accurate. But Cannon stepped in at the eleventh hour to back Trump up, and said he didn’t have to comply. A lot of these developments are incremental, but it’s pretty disturbing how Cannon appears to be pulling for Trump as he seeks to delay DOJ at every turn of its document review.

Dearie appeared to be trying to make Trump’s lawyers back up their client’s (almost certainly bullshit) claims that DOJ was inventing evidence. Of course if Trump’s lawyers make false statements in court, they do it under oath. But Cannon saved Trump from that self-brined pickle. 

None of this affects DOJ’s criminal investigation involving about 100 classified documents, however. A federal appeals court already stayed Cannon when she said DOJ couldn’t keep using them in its probe. 

- Askin’ Robin

It’s now clear the January 6 committee’s investigation is reaching beyond the riot, insurrection, and associated post-election coup attempt. That’s mostly because nearly two years later, Trump is still trying to get his loss overturned. Normal politics! The panel this week subpoenaed Wisconsin GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, inquiring about a July phone call when Trump asked him (not for the first time) to rescind the results of the 2020 election. Vos is suing to try to get out of testifying. 

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Vos tried for well over a year to placate Trump’s demands for stolen-election froth in Wisconsin, mostly by giving retired judge Michael Gableman well over $1 million in taxpayer money to investigate 2020. Now Vos and Gableman hate each other, and Trump hates Vos. Midwestern nice!

- Slow Gin

It’s taken a while, but Ginni Thomas finally came in for a chat with the January 6 committee on Thursday. Once seated, she promptly disavowed cockamamie conspiracy theories and apologized for spreading them. Just fooling! In fact, Thomas, who actively lobbied White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to overturn the election, corresponded with one of the key legal architects of the coup plot, and is also the spouse of the only Supreme Court Justice to vote for letting Trump hide documents from the committee, told the panel that she still thinks the election was stolen. 

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Thomas reportedly also told the committee that she and her husband never discuss pending SCOTUS cases and never discussed her “post-election activities.” 

- But His Emails

DOJ asked a court to make Trump adviser and TV beggar Peter Navarro turn over government emails he sent and received on a private account. Yes, yes, I know. 

If the “lock him up” jokes just wrote themselves in your head, recall that Navarro is due to face a criminal trial next month on a separate matter: refusing to comply with January 6 committee subpoenas. It’s the same thing Steve Bannon was convicted for in July. He awaits sentencing.

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“If core First Amendment rights have a core, such a debate is certainly at the core of core First Amendment rights.” a court filing from Arizona GOP Chair Kelli Ward, trying to quash a January 6 committee subpoena of her phone records.

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 The study of agent texts  - The U.S. Secret Service confiscated the phones of two dozen agents and handed them over to investigators looking at the agency’s role in Jan. 6. The phones went to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, who himself seemed… suss… to Jan. 6 investigators, when they found out agents’ messages from Jan. 5 and 6 had been deleted. Turns out Joseph Cuffari knew about it for months and said nothing.  

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So they DO have a point — QAnon sub-subcultures are all over the place, each with its own unique take on reality. Now that Trump is single-handedly keeping QAnon alive, let’s all agree that everyone saw, with their own eyes, that creepy one-finger salute that’s been cropping up at Trump rallies. But WHERE did it come from

Legit political discourse — Surprise! One of Herschel Walker’s Georgia GOP Senate campaign “captains” is a Jan. 6 defendant!

Election crimes chief dies — The man Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed to head up his new Election Crimes and Security Office died suddenly this week. Pete Antonacci was the first director of the DeSantis creation, which as its first act announced the arrest of 20 convicted felons for alleged illegal voting. 

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 A threat to democracy hiding in plain sight. THE NEW YORK TIMES

As more states create election integrity units, Arizona is a cautionary tale. WASHINGTON POST 

Was Rudy Giuliani always so awful?  THE NEW YORKER