While demonstration levels in the United States declined towards the end of 2021, they rebounded in the first week of 2022, largely in connection with the first anniversary of the Capitol riot on 6 January. Overall, demonstrations during the past month were relatively subdued compared to the month prior, as the week of 25 December marked the lowest number of demonstration events since the spring of 2020, before the first wave of George Floyd protests.1Demonstration levels in the United States tend to taper off around the week of 25 December, coinciding with the Christmas holiday. Demonstration events related to the COVID-19 pandemic continued, though at lower levels compared to the previous month and as a lower proportion of all demonstrations. Finally, militias and militant social movements also remained active.
A spike in demonstration events coincided with the first anniversary of the Capitol riot on 6 January. Some of these demonstrations showed support for people detained in connection with the riot, the ‘Stop the Steal’ movement, or former President Donald Trump. Many of these demonstrations were organized by Look Ahead America — a voter registration group founded by a campaign aide for former President Trump. However, the vast majority of 6 January demonstrations rallied against the Capitol riot and called for safeguards for voting rights. These demonstrations were held across 35 states and Washington, DC. Nevertheless, the week of 6 January 2022 marks the highest number of pro-Trump demonstration events in over three months, as well as the highest number of ‘Stop the Steal’ demonstration events since the summer. Members of the Proud Boys participated in at least two demonstrations showing support for jailed or imprisoned Capitol rioters. Despite elevated demonstration activity related to the 6 January anniversary, counter-demonstrations at these events were infrequent.
However, several demonstration events related to the Capitol riot last week involved armed individuals. For example, armed demonstrators rallied outside the capitol in Phoenix, Arizona in support of Capitol rioters. They also gathered to mourn the death of Ashli Babbitt, a participant in the riot who was killed by law enforcement while forcefully entering the Capitol building, to express support for former President Trump, and to oppose the 2020 presidential election results. Pro-Trump demonstrations tend to be armed more often than other demonstrations, and armed pro-Trump demonstrations tend to take place on legislative grounds, like state capitol buildings, more often than other demonstrations – with rates of both increasing in 2021 relative to 2020. Armed demonstrations at legislative buildings have taken place most frequently at the Phoenix statehouse, second only to the Michigan state capitol building in Lansing. Overall, armed demonstrations have been more likely to take place at state capitols and legislative buildings in 2021 relative to 2020, and are often driven by right-wing actors (for more on armed demonstration activity, see ACLED and Everytown for Gun Safety’s Updated Armed Demonstration Data factsheet).
On 31 December, prison abolition groups held demonstrations outside detention facilities across 13 states as part of an annual New Year’s Eve solidarity movement in the United States and Canada. Demonstrators staged these rallies to show solidarity with imprisoned people while building momentum for the new year (It’s Going Down, 3 January 2022). These demonstrations mark the highest single-week level of demonstrations calling for improved prison conditions or prison abolition in over a month, when Julius Jones’s execution was commuted (AP News, 18 November 2021).
Meanwhile, police arrested a man on 21 December in Cass County, Iowa who was driving from California to the White House with an AR-15 rifle, ammunition, loaded magazines, body armor, and medical kits (NBC News, 29 December 2021). Police claim the man had a “hit list” of various high-profile individuals, including President Joe Biden, Dr. Anthony Fauci, former President Barack Obama, and Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.
While fewer demonstration events over abortion access occurred over the past month compared to preceding months, tensions over abortion led to at least one destructive incident. On 31 December, the Planned Parenthood in Knoxville, Tennessee was intentionally set on fire overnight, destroying the building (New York Times, 7 January 2022). Investigators have yet to announce a suspect. This is the second violent or destructive incident at the Knoxville, Tennessee Planned Parenthood in 2021, following a shooting in January that shattered the front door.
Militias and militant social movements participated in numerous training, recruitment, patrol, and demonstration events over the past month as well. Militias demonstrated outside two state capitols last month: Three Percenters rallied in Albany, New York, while members of Mamalitia rallied in Sacramento, California. Both events were organized in opposition to coronavirus restrictions, with Mamalitia members rallying against a vaccine mandate for California schools.
The openly white supremacist group Patriot Front continued to hold trainings over the past month, including multiple close-quarters combat trainings in Massachusetts, as well as shield usage trainings in Texas and Oklahoma. The neo-Nazi Nationalist Social Club was also active over the past month. In addition to holding a sparring training event in Boston, Massachusetts, members of the group demonstrated against a drag queen story hour at a theater in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, while making derogatory statements against drag queens.
In Arizona, the Yavapai County Preparedness Team (YCPT), a militant prepper organization originating from the Oath Keepers, held recruitment events on 18 December in Chino Valley, Arizona, and on 14 December in Surprise, Arizona. More YCPT recruitment events were reported in December than the monthly average, following an overall peak in reported YCPT recruitment activity in November 2021.
A spike in anti-Semitic activity also occurred during the past month. Flyers with anti-Semitic messaging were distributed by the Ku Klux Klan in Dunkirk, Maryland, marking the group’s first recorded activity since the summer of 2021. Notably, anti-Semitic Goyim Defense League (GDL) flyers, many of which claimed that Jewish people are responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, were placed outside houses in Missouri, North Carolina, Idaho, Maryland, Texas, and California. Most of these GDL flyer distributions occurred during the weekend of 18 and 19 December, as part of a “propaganda challenge” (Anti-Defamation League, 20 December 2021). GDL members also displayed anti-Semitic banners over interstates in Brevard County, Florida and San Diego, California that weekend.
A ‘White Lives Matter Day of Action’ on 18 December also included GDL participation at a rally in DeLand, Florida, while similar demonstrations were held in Houston, Texas and Helena, Montana. Meanwhile, members of the National Socialist Movement and Proud Boys attended a ‘White Lives Matter’ demonstration in Florida. Proud Boys also demonstrated against “left-wing activists” at a Miami-Dade School Board meeting on 16 December, leading to the arrest of two demonstrators (Twitter @MIAgainstFash, 16 December 2021).
Finally, Veterans on Patrol (VOP) carried out multiple patrols in Arizona along the US-Mexico border. On 24 December, members of VOP carried out several patrols, encountering eight migrants total, whom they turned over to US Border Patrol, despite previous Border Patrol claims of non-cooperation with VOP (SPLC, 2 December 2021). VOP also carried out a patrol on 12 December, but it is unclear if they detained the six migrants (five of whom were children) that they encountered.
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