The civilian wing of the Republican Party has lost control of its paramilitary wing

Proud Boys

Enrique Tarrio

Wikimedia Commons / Anthony Crider

Recently, an exclusive Reuters report claimed the FBI has little evidence of a single overarching plot to overturn the election on January 6. The headline: "FBI finds scant evidence US Capitol attack was coordinated — sources." The story kicked off a self-serving game of telephone by right-wingers spinning an already threadbare dispatch into ever-more exculpatory narratives. Steve Bannon pronounced it a "massive win" while Republican Senate hopeful JD Vance tweeted, "Another narrative collapses." These strained readings of the report culminated in the bizarre Washington Examiner headline: "FBI confirms there was no insurrection."

In fact, the government has already uncovered far-reaching conspiracies to attack the Capitol and stop the certification of the election. It alleges that three major paramilitary groups — the Oath Keepers, The Proud Boys, and the Three Percenters — conspired within their own ranks to commit violence to keep Donald Trump in power. In addition to plotting within their own ranks, these groups reportedly coordinated with each other. The point that Reuters' anonymous sources were making was that there is as-yet little evidence these paramilitary operations were part of a single overarching plot orchestrated by a "civilian" leader, like Trump confidante and self-proclaimed dirty trickster Roger Stone. Maybe the paramilitaries acted on their own. This is a truly terrifying possibility given it would indicate the civilian wing of the Republican Party has finally lost control of the party's paramilitary wing.

Members and associates of the Oath Keepers militia have already pleaded guilty to conspiring to disrupt the certification of the election, and many others are working their way through the courts on similar charges. The government alleges extensive coordination among the Oath Keepers in the run-up to January 6 and ongoing communication with their leader while they stormed the Capitol. Multiple Proud Boys have also been charged with conspiracy and other serious offenses stemming from the assault on the Capitol. The government alleges, and independent media reports confirm, that teams of Oath Keepers and Proud Boys were in the vanguard of the assault on the Capitol.

Moreover, all three paramilitary groups were an integral part of the Trumpist "Stop the Steal" movement that staged a series of violent protests to intimidate election officials in swing states, cement the myth of voter fraud, legitimize the Trump team's frivolous legal challenges and radicalize supporters. "Stop the Steal" had an established M.O. by January 6: besiege public officials and attempt to bully them into certifying the contest for Trump based on wild allegations of voter fraud and the ever-present threat of violence.

There's no question that the civilian architects of "Stop the Steal" wanted to intimidate the lawmakers certifying the election. Organizer Ali Alexander explained his plan was to put "maximum pressure" on the lawmakers in a bid to coerce the GOP representatives they had not been able to lobby to join their cause. "If they [certify the election], everyone can guess what me and 500,000 others will do to that building," Alexander tweeted on Dec. 30. "1776 is *always* an option""

"I want to hear a huge shout-out for Enrique and the Proud Boys right now," "Stop the Steal" organizer Cindy Chafian commanded the crowd gathered in Washington on January 5 on the eve of the certification of the election. Chafian went on to thank the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters and other paramilitary groups as unsung heroes. "I'm tired of the left telling us we can't talk about them," Chafian said.

Chafian was referring to Enrique Tarrio, the supreme leader of the Proud Boys, who had been scheduled to speak at the gathering, but found himself unable to attend because he'd been arrested two days earlier for burning a Black Lives Matter flag at a previous "Stop the Steal" rally in Washington. Chafian's fellow speaker, Cordie Williams thundered that, "Enrique is in jail right now for burning a flag that bastardizes everything we stand for, it makes me sick."

The "Stop the Steal" slogan was coined by Stone in 2016 and revived by his protegé Ali Alexander to transmute lies about election fraud into incandescent rage that it hoped to harness to keep Donald Trump in power. "'Stop the Steal' is a highly coordinated partisan political operation intent on bringing together conspiracy theorists, militias, hate groups and Trump supporters to attack the integrity of our election," Ben Decker, the CEO and founder of Memetica, a digital investigations consultancy, told CNN in November of 2020.

As the votes were being counted, Alexander organized a series of armed, violent protests in swing states geared at intimidating state election officials. The Oath Keepers provided security for "Stop the Steal" organizers, including Stone. The Proud Boys turned out in force to brutalize counter-protesters and even organized their own protest at the home of United States Senator Marco Rubio to pressure him not to certify. Stone addressed the crowd by speaker phone.

Tarrio and other high-ranking Proud Boys were so close to Stone they were allowed to post to his social media accounts. Stone was even kicked off instagram for his ties to the Proud Boys. Stone was so accustomed to surrounding himself with Proud Boys that The Daily Beast proclaimed the neo-fascist street brawlers "Roger Stone's Personal Army" in 2019.

Stone and Alexander's longstanding relationships with the paramilitaries are tantalizing circumstantial evidence, but hard proof that they or any "civilian" ordered shock troops to attack the Capitol remains elusive.

Stone and Alexander like to cast themselves as skilled operatives very much in control, even as they deny responsibility for the violence swirling around them. But if Reuters' sources are correct, they paint a very different picture: That Stone, Alexander and all their Republican allies and enablers are ineffectual dupes who have lost control of the toxic forces they sought to command.

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