For many, Jan. 6, 2021, was a day of shock and horror. The images are unforgettable: thousands of rioters attempted to undermine the election results and overthrow one of our most sacred democratic institutions. It is only natural that we ask ourselves, “How could this have happened?” But at Anti-Defamation League, we have been watching for years as domestic extremism has come out of the shadows, fueled by a steady diet of bigotry, lies and misinformation that culminated in violence and even death on that infamous day.

Extremists are not only emboldened in the other Washington, they also are a growing threat in our beloved state. Over the years, we have tracked a serious, steady growth of domestic extremists spreading propaganda and hate. ADL tracked 345 incidents of white supremacist propaganda in Washington in 2020 — a shocking 245% increase over the previous year and the second highest number of incidents nationwide. Once relegated to the corners of the dark web, extremist groups now spread their propaganda in neighborhoods, near schools, at religious institutions, and on mainstream social media platforms. 

Unfortunately, I know personally the threat that extremists pose to our communities. In January 2021, my family and I, along with other advocates and journalists, were targeted in a nationwide plot led by Attomwaffen, a violent neo-Nazi group, that threatened me with violence at my home. This experience has changed me and my family forever and I have seen firsthand how domestic extremism attracts young people who are troubled and disturbed and connects them with a movement rooted in hatred and violence.

As we look back a year since the Capitol insurrection, can we really say that much has changed? Sadly, I don’t believe we can.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, domestic extremist groups like the Proud Boys and Patriot Front continue to recruit, spread hateful propaganda, and grow their presence in our communities. We can’t just reflect on this momentous anniversary, we as a society must actively push back against hate and extremism so it returns to the fringes. I believe we need a two-pronged approach.

Firstly, we need to look at the root causes of the spread of white supremacy and understand how deep insecurity has led to polarization, othering, and ultimately, beliefs and acts of hate against fellow community members and marginalized groups. While we need an all-society approach to solve our growing problem of domestic extremism, we as individuals must act to heal our cultural divisions by speaking out against hate, racism and xenophobia and building relationships across differences. And organizations like the ADL are here to support individuals and communities taking this charge.

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Secondly, change starts with our elected leaders of all political parties, who must prioritize the issue of domestic extremism, require better governmental collaboration, and direct the necessary resources to this mounting threat. As the legislative session opens up on Monday, our elected officials must take meaningful and sustainable action.

Jan. 6, 2021, was a warning. It’s time to take that warning seriously, take action and begin to heal.

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