Demonstration events in the United States increased by over 50% last week relative to the week before. Notably, former President Donald Trump made his first public appearance since leaving office at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on 28 February (Guardian, 28 February 2021). In the lead-up to his speech, Trump supporters and far-right militia groups held several demonstrations, albeit at a much lower level relative to the 2020 election period. Meanwhile, unrest related to the COVID-19 pandemic accounted for approximately a third of all demonstrations reported last week. Demonstrations associated with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement returned to levels consistent with the rest of February, Black History Month, at around one-eighth of all demonstrations. Additionally, several anti-racist demonstrations were held by Asian Americans and their supporters in New York and California amid a surge in anti-Asian hate crimes exacerbated by racialized and xenophobic fears triggered by the coronavirus pandemic (Time, 18 February 2021).
Since Trump’s acquittal in his second impeachment trial (Guardian, 13 February 2021), demonstrations held by his supporters and far-right groups have steadily increased. Pro-Trump demonstrations, organized by the far-right Patriot Prayer group, were reported on consecutive days last week in Vancouver, Washington. In Phoenix, Arizona, a demonstration mobilized approximately 1,200 Trump supporters, government officials, policemen, and far-right militia groups, including the Three Percenters (Arizona Republic, 20 February 2021). The demonstrators in Phoenix also repeated unsubstantiated ‘Stop the Steal’ claims of electoral fraud during the rally. It was the first large event in which such allegations were made since 23 January, when over 500 people gathered for a ‘Free the Speech’ rally in Priceville, Alabama and made similar allegations (Alabama Media Group, 23 January 2021). Trump later repeated the unfounded allegations in his speech at CPAC (BBC, 1 March 2021).
New COVID-19 cases continue to decrease — down by about 19% compared to earlier in February (New York Times, 2 March 2021) — though the decline may be plateauing (NBC, 26 February 2021). Nevertheless, demonstrations related to the COVID-19 pandemic accounted for approximately one-third of demonstrations last week. Demonstrations against coronavirus-related restrictions increased nearly threefold last week from the week prior, accounting for slightly under half of all demonstrations related to the pandemic. Events demanding that schools reopen for in-person learning continued to account for the majority of all anti-restriction demonstrations, at over three-quarters of such events last week. Likewise, demonstrations against reopening schools for in-person learning also showed a slight uptick last week relative to the week prior. The increase in the number of demonstrations against reopening schools, however, remains consistent with the ratio of pro- to anti-school reopening demonstrations from the week prior. Meanwhile, President Joe Biden urged state governments to prioritize the administration of COVID-19 vaccinations for teachers and school staff, while promising that all adults would receive the vaccine by the end of May (CNBC, 2 March 2021; Los Angeles Times, 2 March 2021).
Demonstrations associated with the BLM movement significantly increased by about 72% last week compared to the week prior. After a dip in demonstrations two weeks ago, last week saw a return to levels consistent with the rest of February. Demonstrations associated with the BLM movement have consistently accounted for between 10-20% of demonstrations thus far this year. Last week they accounted for 12% of all demonstrations, and 11% the week prior to that. These numbers remain well below those seen in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s killing in May 2020, when demonstrations associated with the BLM movement accounted for up to 93% of weekly events at their height.
As hate crimes against Asians have surged in the US amid the COVID-19 pandemic (NPR, 27 February 2021), several demonstrations against anti-Asian racism were reported last week in Los Angeles, California and New York City, New York. These demonstrations follow similar anti-racism demonstrations in the Bay Area in Northern California that took place following the killing of an 84-year-old Thai man in late January, which was deemed a hate-based attack (CNN, 16 February 2021). According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, hate crimes targeting Asians increased by 150% in major cities in the US in 2020, and by 900% in New York City alone (Voice of America, 2 March 2021). This increase comes as hate crimes saw a general decline amid COVID-19 lockdowns. In New York, for instance, hate crimes decreased by about 37% in 2020 (NYPD Hate Crimes Dashboard, 19 January 2021). Meanwhile, vandalism is reported on 25 February in Los Angeles, California, where an unknown man set a fire and broke windows at a Japanese Buddhist temple in the Little Tokyo neighborhood (CNBC, 1 March 2021). The perpetrator threw a rock through a window, burned lanterns causing melting and fraying, and ripped metallic lanterns from their bases.
In other developments, multiple militia activity events were reported last week. The American Contingency reportedly held several firearm training events in San Diego, California between 20 and 21 February. An unidentified communal militia held a map training event at an undisclosed location in Washington state. Additionally, three incidents of patrolling were reported last week along the US-Mexico border in Arizona: the Arizona Border Recon group conducted a patrol in the desert on the western flank of Flat Top Mountain, and two unidentified communal militias conducted patrols along the border region to the southwest of Tucson, near Picture Rocks and Three Points. The increased militia activity comes as FBI Director Christopher Wray warned the Senate Judiciary Committee that domestic terrorism was “metastasizing” and the FBI raised its threat assessment of anti-government militias (New York Times, 2 March 2021).
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