Demonstrations in the United States declined by over 20% last week relative to the week prior. ‘Stop the Steal’ rallies by Trump supporters continued to drop during the first week of the Biden administration. Demonstrations associated with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement decreased by more than half after a slight increase during the week of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Demonstrations over abortion rights continued on and after 22 January, the 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade – the landmark Supreme Court decision to allow abortions without excessive government interference.
Demonstrations by supporters of former President Donald Trump have ebbed significantly across the country in recent weeks. Only two ‘Stop the Steal’ demonstrations were reported last week: one in Alabama and one in Minnesota. The demonstrators rallied around Trump’s unfounded allegations of mass election fraud. This comes as more than 30,000 voters registered as members of the Republican Party changed their party identification in the weeks after the Capitol riot (The Hill, 27 January 2021).
While demonstrations by Trump supporters declined, several disruptive activities related to the ‘Stop the Steal’ movement were reported. In Washington, DC, a man from West Virginia was arrested on 27 January at the Rayburn House Office Building for having a gun and 20 rounds of ammunition. He was also in possession of ‘Stop the Steal’ paraphernalia and a list of members of Congress (DCist, 28 January 2021). Additionally, in Napa, California, authorities from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) seized more than 50 weapons — including five fully operational pipe bombs, sniper rifles, explosives, and ammunition — at a suspect’s home on 26 January. The suspect is known to be a member of the III%ers and believes former President Trump won re-election. He allegedly intended to attack Democrats and expressed willingness to “go to war” for President Trump to remain in office (Associated Press, 27 January 2021).
In the meantime, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a new National Terrorism Bulletin that will focus on violent domestic extremists motivated by anti-government sentiment after President Joe Biden’s election (The Wall Street Journal, 27 January 2021). The DHS warned that violent extremists opposed to the government and the presidential transition “could continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence” (Associated Press, 27 January 2021).
As the number of new COVID-19 cases continued on a downward trend — down by about 30% during the last two weeks, compared to early January (New York Times, 3 February 2021) — demonstrations urging schools to reopen tripled last week compared to the week prior. In California, student athletes, coaches, and parents held ‘Let Them Play’ rallies across the state on 29 January, pushing for the return of youth sports (ABC10, 29 January 2021). On 28 January, California students and a state representative filed a lawsuit against California Governor Gavin Newsom, arguing that “millions of student athletes across California remain barred from participating in athletic activities without adequate medical evidence to support the restrictions” (Patch, 29 January 2021). Simultaneously, demonstrations against resuming in-person classes also continued at a slightly higher rate last week compared to the week prior. Still, these events accounted for under two-fifths of all demonstrations related to reopening schools and school-based sports. As vaccinations for teachers and students are moving at a slow pace (New York Times, 25 January 2021), teachers in Georgia and Colorado have called for delaying the reopening of schools until after vaccinations are administered.
Last week, demonstrations associated with the BLM movement decreased by more than half relative to the week prior, hitting their lowest weekly numbers so far in 2021. However, demonstrations associated with the BLM movement remained above weekly rates recorded in December 2020, when they were at their lowest point since the killing of George Floyd in May 2020. Several demonstrations focused on local instances of police violence against the Black community, including an incident in Tacoma, Washington in which multiple people associated with the BLM movement were injured by a police cruiser (Guardian, 25 January 2021).
As President Biden revoked restrictions on abortion access imposed by the Trump administration (CNN, 28 January 2021), dueling demonstrations for and against abortion rights increased across the country last week. Demonstrations related to abortion rights doubled compared to the week prior, continuing past the 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade on 22 January and into the annual March for Life on 29 January. Christian and activist groups, including Right to Life, held demonstrations against abortion across the country (Washington Post, 29 January 2021), while women’s rights activists held counter-protests in support of reproductive rights (Progressive, 2 February 2021). Such demonstrations were recorded in 18 states and the District of Columbia.
In other developments, members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) reportedly distributed more than 50 flyers to residents in Marietta, Oklahoma in an attempt to recruit people to the organization. The letters were disguised as an invitation to a church. In addition to the KKK’s recruitment, several militia activity events were reported last week. In Atlanta, Georgia, an alliance between the American Patriots USA and the Georgia III% Martyrs was reported on 27 January. In Clark county, Washington, the Washington chapter of Ammon Bundy’s People’s Rights organization held a weekly recruitment event. Meanwhile, the American Contingency group held firearm training events in Jonesboro, Arkansas on 23 and 24 January. Similar to previous weeks, militia activity is likely underreported as groups may fear that publicizing their activity would invite investigation by federal and local law enforcement amid the crackdown on far-right organizations following the Capitol riot and the newly released National Terrorism Bulletin.
Data on political violence and demonstrations in America are made available through the US Crisis Monitor, a special project launched by ACLED and the Bridging Divides Initiative at Princeton University. For more information about the project, click here.
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