Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) talks about the county's vaccine rollout and making the tax code more progressive. And D.C. Councilmember Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) talks about disparities in the District's vaccinations and how the pandemic has affected plans to bring a hospital east of the Anacostia River.
It’s an inauguration unlike any other.
Washington D.C. has become a fortress of fences, checkpoints and barriers — with the National Guard deployed to prevent another insurrection.
So, what have we learned from the storming of the Capitol? Where did right-wing extremism begin — and where will it end? Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Marc Fisher joins us to discuss this extraordinary moment in our country’s history. Plus, computer scientist Jen Golbeck weighs in on the extremist chatter happening in the darkest corners of the internet.
We also want to hear from you: What are your thoughts, concerns and hopes at this moment? It’s your turn to join the conversation. Leave a comment or call 800-433-8850.
Produced by Julie Depenbrock
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. The U.S. Capitol in D.C. has been the sight of our nation's presidential inauguration since 1801. And they've been public, ceremonial and tradition filled events until now. Washington D.C. has become a fortress of fences, check points and barriers with the National Guard deployed to prevent another insurrection. It's left many of us asking who we are as a nation and wondering what's ahead. Joining us now is Marc Fisher, Senior Editor and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist with The Washington Post. Marc is the Author of several non-fiction books including, "Trump Revealed." Marc Fisher, thank you for joining us.
MARC FISHERIt's great to be with you, Kojo.
NNAMDIMarc, you've seen a lot in your decades reporting and writing. How are you putting this moment in our nation's history in perspective?
FISHERWell, obviously, this is a deeply traumatic time for the country. And I took a long walk all through the downtown area along the mall and along Pennsylvania Avenue yesterday and it's just terribly sad to see our city boarded up, empty streets, empty sidewalks. And it is so against the grain, against the character of Washington and of the country. And I think that we're a traumatized nation.
FISHERWhether it's the coronavirus or the Trump presidency or the overall loss of trust in institutions, this is a country that because of the tech revolution, because of the whole revolution in our economy is deeply unsettled and we see it in every aspect of life. I think most of what's happened in the last year is driven very much by the virus and the mass deaths that we've suffered. But, obviously, the Trump presidency was both the symptom and a cause of this deep division and deep uncertainty and frankly pessimism about our future that we see so pervasively in the country and now so powerfully in this boxed up, bottled up city that we're living in this week.
NNAMDIMarc Fisher, we also live here, which many in the rest of the country tend to forget. How would you describe right now the tension between Washington the city and Washington the Capitol?
FISHERYou know, I've been hearing, Kojo, from a lot of readers about stories that I've written whether it's about the virus or about the Trump presidency. And more than ever before in my career those responses from readers, especially those, who are Trump supporters go on about how Washington is an ugly place or a heinous place or an evil place. And, you know, there's always been an anti-Washington sentiment that's kind of -- it's almost a healthy part of our politics, the idea that we're mistrustful of central authority, mistrustful of big government, but it has now taken on a very different character. And, you know, we saw the obviously worst possible expression of it on the attack on the Capitol.
FISHERSo there is this deep mistrust of Washington. For those of us who live here, who are here because this is where the action is, to see the city closed essentially is deeply unsettling. And I think there is a misunderstanding between Washington and the rest of the country that goes to politicians on both sides who have failed to get their message across and have failed to address the needs of many millions of people who have really been through a terrible dislocation economically, socially and in every possible way over the last 10-20 years.
NNAMDIMarc, you've written extensively about President Trump including in your book "Trump Revealed." Did you ever imagine we'd be where we are right now and that Trump's presidency would end this way?
FISHERWell, I can't claim to have been clairvoyant about him inciting an insurrection or urging his followers to literally march to the Capitol and take it on. But I do have to say that there is a remarkable consistency to Donald Trump's behavior. And the more you learn about his life as a business man, as a young person growing up in New York, the more you're able to look at everything he's says and does and say, yep, that's exactly what he's always done. And so the need he has, the craving to provoke, to be at the center of attention, to be the showman that was a consistent thread through the administration. We saw that coming. And anyone who learned or read anything about him prior to the 2016 would have seen that coming.
FISHERAnd his inability to bring people together, to even want to unite people. That's something we've always seen as well. He's always felt that controversy and division are more impactful and more emotionally important than anything like empathy or unity. And so we've seen that as a consistent thread throughout his presidency. And he's going out just the way he came in, sowing mistrust. It was there in his inauguration address. And, obviously, it's been there in these final days and hours.
NNAMDIGeorge in Arlington emails, "Trump is famous for wanting attention. Well, he'll get plenty of it during this inauguration. Every TV shot of an empty mall or soldiers or checkpoints or military helicopters hovering overhead will remind American who's responsible for the mess in which we find ourselves." Well, Marc Fisher that might be true, but President Trump having been locked out of social media essentially is going to be moving out of the White House tomorrow morning. And knowing what you know about him, can we expect some last maybe dramatic or melodramatic show tomorrow morning?
FISHERWell, he's going to try to put on a big show. He wants a big military presence and a salute -- 21 gun salutes and so on at his farewell ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base tomorrow morning. So he may get some of that. But from what we've been hearing, the crowd that he's invited of aides and former aides and their families and friends is not going to be a large one. There are many people, who don't want to be connected with him in these final days especially after the attack on the Capitol.
FISHERAnd so he is going to release later today a video address, a farewell address to the nation, but, again, it will be kind of distanced. He's put it on video yesterday and is not appearing before reporters sort of uncharacteristically. He's been really kind of down and not wanting to expose himself to questions. So this is a, obviously, chastened and prideful man who is deeply hurt by anything that smacks of losing. His father taught him from an early age that there's nothing worse in life than losing. And so he cannot bring himself to admit what has happened.
FISHERSo he will attempt to stay in the spotlight. And obviously as you said the very fact that this is such a lockdown inauguration is about Trump more than it is about Biden. And so he will continue to have his -- a small hardcore following. But it's a diminishing one. And all of the polling we're seeing is that people are exhausted and they want to move on. Obviously, he'll have a group that stays with him and urges him to continue to have his rallies and perhaps run for president again. But he's still facing an impeachment trial and perhaps a ban from any further political service.
FISHERSo, you know, he's going to try to find a way to stay center stage. Whether he'll be able to do that is unclear. History tells us that populists who lose their popularity, populists who are no longer in power often fade from the scene faster than one might imagine.
NNAMDIHere now is April in Washington D.C. April, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
APRILHi. Thank you for taking the call. I'm one of the people that got stuck in the 3rd Street tunnel in 2008 for the Obama inauguration. I think there were about 5,000 of us.
NNAMDIAnd President Obama did not claim that it was the largest crowd he had ever seen at an inauguration, did he, April?
APRILOh, no. That's true. Well, it was just a case of over planning. I got to the Hyatt at 4:30 in the morning and then walked over to Judiciary Square. But even early in the morning there were already thousands of people trying to get through. And so by the time I got to Pennsylvania Avenue, it was one o'clock or later than that. And the parade was going by and just as the motorcade was going by someone shoved me and I fell over. So I missed that.
NNAMDIThat was a very difficult inauguration in 2008. There was a great deal of enthusiasm, people coming from all over the country. But, Marc, Trump will leave the White House and Washington or so his staff has said, but 70 million people voted for this man. And we know in particular that pro-Trump extremists don't plan to go away. Where does that leave us as a country?
FISHERIt leaves us where we've been really in recent years, which is deeply divided. And yet there is a kind of a yearning for turning the page, a yearning for if not unity at least some sort of functionality. And so, you know, for Joe Biden this is really an extraordinary opportunity. On the one hand he's coming in with perhaps a third of the nation thinking that he's holding office illegitimately and so he's going to have to address that crisis of trust that we have in our country.
FISHEROn the other hand, the country is clearly exhausted from the experience with the coronavirus, from the shifts in the economy and from the Trump presidency. And so it's an opportunity for Biden to do what his whole career has been about, which is moving people towards some sort of acceptable center. And there is even despite the extremism in the country a palpable desire for that.
FISHERAmericans, I think, more than anything else crave the freedom to not have to care so much about politics and government as they have in recent years that it was always a marker of our politics at our society. And people would often lament the fact that our voting participation was so low. Well, now our voting participation is extraordinarily high and there aren't too many people who are happy about it. So I'm not saying that one shouldn't vote, but I am saying that the freedom to trust in your government and trust in the institutions is a deeply valuable thing. And that's the central challenge that Biden faces in the coming years.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from one Tom Sherwood who says, "Where do Trump's three Supreme Court picks fit in his legacy?"
FISHERWell, it's obviously perhaps the singular achievement or the single achievement of the Trump presidency. He didn't care much about judges, didn't really understand the role of the courts when he came into office. It's not clear that he learned terribly much about it while he was in office, but he did understand that that's what the establishment leaders of the Republican Party wanted most and especially Mitch McConnell, who as Senate Majority Leader saw the ratification of judicial appointments as his central achievement.
NNAMDIAllow me to interrupt. Got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue with Marc Fisher and we'll also be joined by Jen Golbeck, Professor in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about tomorrow's inauguration and what's likely to happen and not happen there with Marc Fisher, Senior Editor and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist with The Washington Post. Marc, I don't know if you had finished answering Tom Sherwood's questions about the Supreme Court legacy of President Donald Trump.
FISHERWell, the only other point I would make is that this is obviously the most enduring achievement that Trump will have in that his appointees on the Supreme Court have shifted or solidified the conservative majority perhaps for decades to come. And although the people of the United States repudiated Trump in this last election, his impact on the court will long out last his one term presidency.
NNAMDIHere now is Steve in Rockville, Maryland. Steve, your turn.
STEVEYes. Happy New Year, Kojo.
NNAMDIThank you, Steve.
STEVEI'm calling to express the thought that Republicans will not nominate Trump for president in 2024. They will particularly remember that his big mouth cost them the Georgia Senate seats. And I wonder if Marc Fisher agrees.
NNAMDIWell, Marc Fisher, there has been a lot of talk about Trump's control of quote/unquote, "the Republican base." Might that be changing?
FISHERWell, I think we're seeing a change. And the caller is correct that there is a considerable revulsion within Republican leadership at both the state and federal levels at his inciting of the insurrection and his -- the impact that that had on the Georgia Senate race and control of the Senate. But there is -- I think what we're seeing now as a result also of the ban of Trump from Twitter and other social media is a real quick diminution of Trump's impact and his hold on the popular imagination, and so I think that will continue.
FISHERThat's a natural thing to happen for any president who's leaving office. It will be especially evident for someone who so craves publicity as Trump does. But that said, the hardcore of Trump support, they're going to stick with him. And so he'll continue to be a factor. He'll probably continue to hold rallies across the country. I think the party is in for a several year period of almost civil war within the party about what Republicans stand for. Many of the principles that they stood for pre-Trump have vanished from their platform or they don't even have a platform really. And so a real battle is on for the soul of the Republican Party.
NNAMDIHere now is Diane in Fort Meade, Maryland. Diane, your turn.
DIANEHi, Kojo. I just wanted to give you a comment to your question in the beginning of the program about what we feel should happen with this. It's time for Congress to act. This is a historical president here. This man needs to be prosecuted for what he did. People have died. There's blood been spilled here. Someone has to account for that, not just the insurrectionists that were at the Capitol. We have to show the world that we are still a world leader and you don't do that by giving somebody a pass on doing what he did. That was inexcusable.
NNAMDIWell, Marc Fisher, impeachment proceedings have already taken place in the House and will be taking place in the Senate. What's the likelihood of President Trump actually being convicted so to speak?
FISHERIt's a tough one. It's really up to not only Mitch McConnell, but the other Republican senators. And, you know, whether 17 of them can come together and decide that they want to put a final nail in Donald Trump's coffin and perhaps steer the Republican Party in a different direction. That is still very much unclear. There is no real appetite among Republicans for belaboring Trump's misdeeds, and yet they want to find some way to move on.
FISHERAnd from Biden's perspective, he doesn't want the initial weeks of his presidency to be defined by Donald Trump and to have the country's attention steered away from Biden's own agenda. So there's real misgivings on both sides. And obviously Democrats will have the votes to convict in the Senate. But there's not a lot of enthusiasm coming from the Biden administration, because they have a whole agenda beginning tomorrow that they want the country to be focused on.
NNAMDIYou know that Joe Biden has always been a centrist, a moderate, but his rhetoric changed somewhat during this campaign. What do you think his priorities need to be as he tries to heal a broken nation suffering from divisions and a pandemic? And what qualities do he and Vice President Kamala Harris bring to the job?
FISHERWell, you know, Biden is a fascinating figure politically, because he is known both for his empathy and humility on the one hand and also his sort of boldness and ambition on the other hand. And ambition and empathy may seem to be somewhat contradictory aspects of a personality. I wrote a profile of Biden centered on those two key parts of his personality, and talked to people who have been with him back into the 1980s. And they say that they've seen in recent years that those two aspects of his personality have kind of come together in a really interesting way.
FISHERAnd so he has the capacity -- the emotional capacity to bring people together to heal. And I think that's kind of his natural instinct. But on the other hand he's got these enormous problems to face. And that requires a kind of bold action that we would associate with a Franklin Roosevelt or Lindon Johnson who sort of defined the society that we now live in.
FISHERI think the Biden folks have the opportunity for a history presidency like those. And there are deals to be made whether it's on healthcare or immigration, race relations and so on that are really there for the picking. But it's going to be a tall order to get passed some of these divisions and the emphasis on extremism that we've seen in recent months.
NNAMDIHere is Chris in Northwest D.C. Chris, it's your turn.
CHRISKojo, thank you. Can you hear me all right?
NNAMDIYes, we can.
CHRISYeah, you may remember four years ago I was a guest on your program. I'm a photographer, musician and part-time tour guide. And I'm a native Washingtonian. I love our history. And it's so heartbreaking to see us under, you know, arms, because of this recent cataclysm at the Capitol. And I voted. I thought my vote was delivered fairly. And I have conservative friends. Fortunately, I don't know any that thought their vote was stolen. And I'm just looking forward to President Biden and Vice President Harris to lead our country forward. I just think positivity is the answer here.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. Before you go, Marc Fisher, Julia emails, "I'm Russian born with memories of the August 1991 coup. January 6th has quickly reminded me of those events. My husband and I made a point to drive through Washington D.C. with our two daughters, 13 and 17, on Sunday to show them what a peaceful transfer should not be like and noting that this should be the first and the last time they ever see military forces in the Capitol." Care to comment, Marc Fisher?
FISHERYeah, I had the same feeling walking around yesterday. Washington right now looks like an armed camp and it's an unsettling feeling. It doesn't speak well of where we are and who we are, but on the other hand, never underestimate the power of collective amnesia. There will come a point very soon were many people who voted for Donald Trump will not want to think much about that period of their lives and that decision that they made. And so the question will be, do we try to force them to issue a mayaculpa or do we simply move on. And that's a question for Democrats and Republicans alike.
NNAMDIFaith tweets to use, "We did have an inaugural threat in 2001. My disaster team was deployed to the inauguration of President Bush due to the threat of chemical weapon attacks. We spent our day in a motor home stalked with neurotoxin antidotes, fortunate that the only real problem was cold snow." We would hope that tomorrow the only real problem that -- is that it might be a cold day. Marc Fisher, thank you so much for joining us.
FISHERAnytime. Thanks very much, Kojo.
NNAMDIMarc Fisher is Senior Editor and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for The Washington Post. He's the Author of several non-fiction books including "Trump Revealed." But this is your turn and we're getting ready to talk about security and what we know about what happened last -- two weeks ago and what could possibly being contemplated tomorrow. For that, we'll talk with Jen Golbeck. Jen Golbeck is a Professor in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland. She's a computer scientist who follows extremist groups online and an occasional guest for this show. If you have questions or comments for her, give us a call at 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back as we discuss what is likely to happen tomorrow, what people are expecting, how do they feel about the issue of security and the fact that this inauguration will not probably be very widely attended. Before we go to Jen Golbeck, let me hear from Doris in Vienna, Virginia. Doris, your turn.
DORISThank you, Kojo. This is one of my most favorite memories. I'm 88 years old and in 1948 my high school history teacher brought our class to Harry Truman's inauguration. It was on the east front of the Capitol. We drove to get here all night from Virginia's Eastern Shore. And we were able -- there were no restrictions that I can recall, and the inauguration was on the east front of the Capitol. It was the first time I had ever been there. And I was so small I could not see over the heads of other people. So my high school principle and teacher lifted me up on the branch of a cherry tree and that's where I sat to watch Harry Truman be inaugurated. I have loved to tell that story. And I've enjoyed the memories of that so much. It was a great trip and a wonderful experience.
NNAMDIIn these days of cell phone cameras, there would have probably been video of you being hoisted up onto that cherry tree and sitting there, but it's still a wonderful experience, nevertheless. Thank you for sharing it. Joining us now is Jen Golbeck, professor in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland. She's a computer scientist who follows extremist groups online, and an occasional guest host for this show. Jen, thank you for joining us.
JENNIFER GOLBECKHi, Kojo. It's good to be with you.
NNAMDIJen, you follow extremist groups online. You study the dark corners of the internet. As you've said, you were not surprised by the storming of the Capitol. Why not?
GOLBECKThe storming of the Capitol was a hashtag. Like, they literally had hashtag #stormthecapitol. And it wasn't just going around on these kind of murky places on the internet. It was on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. The talk leading up to January 6th was not at all hidden that there were plans to storm the Capitol, that there were plans to commit violence once they were in there. And it wasn't just from a few really dedicated Trump supporters. It was from people across the Trump voting spectrum.
GOLBECKThere's nothing secret about it. And, you know, while I understand the optics of maybe not having the National Guard deployed to counter a protest, it was still really troubling how unprepared they were for something that everyone advertised was coming.
NNAMDIIndeed, a number of officials claimed after the insurrection that they did not expect the Capitol to be stormed. Others, including you, pointed out that there was plenty to suggest that there was such a plan. Why do you think the signs were ignored?
GOLBECKSo, you know, on one hand, there's a lot of big talk on these forums all the time. And, you know, I think we see this in any of the murky parts of the internet. Guys will get on these platforms and talk about who they want to kill or how they're going to show their power off. So, you know, in that respect, sure, there's a lot of big talk. On the other hand, it's not at all like what we saw in the leadup to the 6th, where it wasn't a few people. It was pervasive conversation.
GOLBECKMy guess as to why, you know, we didn't see a bigger response when people on social media were warning about this, but also the FBI, the New York City police were warning about it -- because they know to monitor these groups -- is that, you know, there's a real problem of optics if you've got the military, you know, or a huge show of force waiting for protesters.
GOLBECKAnd I think, you know, before the 6th, even with these warnings, a lot of us didn't want to believe that we could have Americans doing the things that we saw happen on the 6th. You know, we've shifted into a new place now where we know that show of force is necessary. And so, hopefully, that was the one time we have a real failing like this.
NNAMDIHere now is Chris in Rockville, Maryland. Chris, your turn.
CHRISYeah, hi. Thanks for taking my call. One of the previous callers had mentioned that they are optimistic things will get better in terms of the Republicans kind of going back to normalism, if you will. I just wanted to say my father's a Trump supporter, longtime Republican. And when the Ukrainian investigation happened, you could tell he stuck to his core principles, but he found a way to kind of settle and, you know, keep supporting Trump.
CHRISWhen the election dispute came up, that shook him. He found a way to kind of settle with that which is, you know, conspiracy with the voter fraud. And then last week, when storming the Capitol, he was greatly affected that day, but the last time I spoke to him he brought up the idea of false flags. I think that rather than get better, I think Trump's space is going to grow and become more emboldened. And I frankly think Trump has a lot more power than the Republican Party has on their own.
CHRISI mean, the phobia, the fear, the racism, I think all of that is a lot more powerful than turning financial responsibility or fiscal responsibility. So, I just wanted to voice my concern, and thanks again for taking my call.
NNAMDIThank you very much. Jen Golbeck, President Trump himself has been, for the most part, silenced on social media. But has his deplatforming quelled the spread of misinformation? In what ways have social media contributed and are continuing to contribute to the rise of this extremist kind of behavior?
GOLBECKWe are going to have a lot of things to sort out after Inauguration in terms of dealing with the role of social media, here. On one hand, his deplatforming after the insurrection was critical. If he had been allowed to keep his Twitter profile, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that he would've gone off on a Twitter storm that would've called for violence. And what we see from his Twitter -- from his followers on all of the social media platforms that we've retreated to is that they are awaiting his instructions. They are ready to do more violence. They're ready to do whatever he says. They're just waiting to hear from him, and he hasn't been able to give that instruction.
GOLBECKSo, it was a critical and important step that they took. At the same time, way too late. They should have taken away Trump's Twitter at least after the election, when he was spreading all of this misinformation that, itself, has done such damage to our democracy, and probably before that for his violation of terms.
GOLBECKOn top of that, so many people in the Trump space -- you know, like we just heard from the last caller -- have gone from kind of reasonable Republicans who, you know, have their conservative views, into a space of believing some pretty outlandish conspiracy theories. And that has largely happened because social media and the algorithms that recommend what we look at have pushed people into these more extreme places. So, those conspiracies that live in murky corners of the internet have made it into Facebook groups and onto Twitter. And algorithms have recommended people then go engage with that. And so, it's spread in a way that we haven't seen with this kind of content before.
GOLBECKSo, I think there is going to be a real reckoning for social media companies in terms of how they enforce their terms, in terms of the responsibility that they have in society. Now, how we do that, you know, there's good ideas floating around out there, but, of course, we don't want to run afoul of the First Amendment. But there's still plenty that can be done, and I think we're going to have to look very hard at the role that they played in radicalizing a lot of Americans.
NNAMDIWell, the president may be gone from Twitter, but some are concerned that dangerous actors have now switched to less visible platforms and things like chat apps that are harder to trace. Are you finding that to be the case, and does it make it harder to do your work?
GOLBECKSo, absolutely, it's the case that the Trump supporters have retreated to sort of their own spaces on the internet. That includes things, like you mentioned, like Telegraph, which a sort of like signal, an encrypted messaging app. There are some kind of alternative social medias, like Gab, that have taken them. And they've set up some of their own message boards. There's one called The Donald, which had been a Reddit group. Reddit kicked them out, so they started their own place. And, of course, there's private groups, as well.
GOLBECKOn one hand, sure, it definitely makes it harder to monitor what they're talking about when they're spread all over the place and you kind of have to track down these different groups that aren't well-advertised. On the other hand, the impact of what they're able to do and, frankly, the damage that they're able to cause is substantially reduced when they're on these platforms. Because the average guy who's, you know, watching TV news, hanging out at his house, not looking for conspiracy theories, they're not going to run into this crazy Trump stuff that's in these corners of the internet. They may see it on Facebook, but they're not going to go looking for it.
GOLBECKAnd I think, frankly, on balance, it's better to have them in these less-visited spaces -- even though it's harder to track them -- than to have them operating out in the open and recruiting people on popular social media.
NNAMDIHere is Susan in Alexandria, Virginia. Susan, your turn.
SUSANHi. Thanks, Kojo. D.C. has gotten a lot of attention recently, needless to say, but now we're an armed camp, with green zones and everything else. People are just seeing us as either, you know, what's happened at the Capitol or when protests are going on or when something horrible goes on, but they don't think about the residents here. The majority of folks that are elected don't -- they're not really residents. Their homes are back in their home states. They stay here for a while, but they're not affected by the day-to-day things that folks who live in the District have to go through.
SUSANYou know, the amount of -- number of people that are homeless, the number of women who die in childbirth, which is higher than, you know, the rest of the country, AIDS, none of that is paid attention to. Even the fact we don't have representation, you know, which hopefully, this is the time we're going to get statehood. But, to me, it's tragic that these are the only things -- or if you're a tourist and really want to come here because it's cute -- you know, that they remember D.C. by, and don't think about those that live here.
NNAMDIWell, thank you very much for your call. When you say don't think about those that live here, the Proud Boys had no problem with attacking people who live here in the streets of D.C. when they were here. But you are right, that's because they believe that everybody in this town, those of us who live here, are somehow involved with the politics of the nation.
NNAMDIBut back to you, Jen Golbeck. When you are looking at threats from many of these people on social media or the dark web, how do you differentiate between what's just boastful arrogance and what's real?
GOLBECKSo, it definitely can be hard to tell, but the fact is that for a lot of these groups, online is where they do all of their communication with each other. You know, it's not like we would've seen 20 or 30 years ago, where you may have had people like on an AOL chat room talking, but they were calling each other or communicating offline about their plans. It's all taking place online.
GOLBECKAnd so, while it's hard for someone like me to find the lone wolf who's going to go out and commit violence on his own or maybe with one or two people, in terms of bigger groups, all their coordination happens online. So, if we look, for example, at this last weekend in Virginia, there was a big armed event at the Capitol in Richmond organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League. This is a second group. They're Trump supporters. And their plans for all of their caravans, including maps and where you were going to meet up and what times, they were all online.
GOLBECKSame thing for the storm the Capitol. If we look on a bigger scale, there were ridesharing apps, there were maps being shared of D.C. People were talking about, you know, where to meet, where to find a bathroom, where to get lunch. Like, all of the coordination was online. And so, because a lot of this is done entirely on these forums, one way, at least for larger-scale events, is that we can actually look for organization of movement and how is this going to happen. What are the logistics? And that gives us a clue when we're looking at something that's going to be big, as opposed to just big talk.
NNAMDIWell, in the aftermath of the January 6th insurrection, what are you now most worried about?
GOLBECKSo, I have a few different worries. You know, my main worry is that Trump gets back on social media, even after the election, and starts whipping up his supporters again. I still see, you know, a ton of unfailing response from his supporters, many of whom who are eager to commit more violence, to go to rallies, to engage with the president. Whether they do that within the GOP, whether they start their own party, like, they're ready to mess stuff up.
GOLBECKAnd while I don't see necessarily another storming of the U.S. Capitol, I absolutely can see them targeting, say, the people who are planning to prosecute Trump for his various crimes once he's out of office. I could see him calling on his supporters to go after them. I also really worry about the media. One thing that we saw on the 6th on these maps that were circulating on pro-Trump social media is that not only was the White House and the Capitol marked, but also a lot of news organizations in D.C. had their locations marked on these maps. They were clearly targets for these protesters that just ended up not getting a lot of attention.
GOLBECKThere is huge anger at the mainstream media from Trump's followers, and, again, I think if Trump stays silent, we don't have to worry all that much. But if he starts talking and inciting violence against the media, that those are going to be kind of soft targets, because they don't have the security and defenses like government institutions do. So, you know, the risk of violence is there. It's really heightened if Trump is given a platform again where he can talk to large groups of people. And, you know, while the threat may move outside of D.C. in some spaces, I think the media and government still is at risk.
NNAMDIHere now is Eman in Chantilly, Virginia. Eman, it's your turn.
EMANThanks for taking my call, Kojo. I just want to say, this thing did not start four years ago with Donald Trump. This is a start 2008. You have to go back where the wound is. You remember Pence and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, when Barack Obama became a president, these people, they came with false arguments, saying that the deficit, we need to stop it. When it comes to the deficit, they -- when the Republicans' running the deficit, they don't care, but I want to say this.
EMANThere is nothing's going to happen. This people, they seen that they can do whatever they want, and the Democrats need to stand up. If we don't fix the wound, we will not fix the problem. The reality is we keep saying we need to be together. People who cause the problem need to be prosecuted. And I'm very disappointed when I'm listening to news and I'm hearing that the National Guard, some of them, they might help these guys, if they come back. It's heartbreaking what's going on right now. This is not who we are. But the bottom line is, these people need to be prosecuted.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. He reminds us, Jen Golbeck, that this, quote-unquote, "started with Obama." Donald Trump essentially launched his political career by attacking President Obama as not having been born in the United States. And a lot of people are concerned about the racial aspect to what we have been seeing here among these far-right extremists who support President Trump. Are you seeing a lot of that in the communications online, a lot of racism?
GOLBECKOh, it is the dominant theme of what I see online. You know, no language, I think, I can repeat on your show, but it's so common. You know, pro-Hitler memes, swastikas, all sorts of things about people of color that I wouldn't say even if I weren't on the air. Yeah, I mean, violent racist rhetoric is super-common here.
GOLBECKJust before I came on the show, I was, you know, browsing some of these threads. And someone had posted some picture of Obama. And the entire thread was about how people would like to see him hang, even though he's been out of office for quite a while and has been largely silent on a lot of this. So, you know, I think that's exactly right. You know, racism and white supremacy, writ large, is a huge part of what's going on in these communities and, you know, motivates a lot of what they're doing.
NNAMDIIndeed, a listener tweets: The Inauguration this Wednesday at noon feels a lot like Watch Night, following the presidential signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. The majority of American and her children should celebrate with dancing in the street. Well, that's not going to be happening in the middle of the pandemic, nor in Washington, in the middle of this security lockdown that we're experiencing, here. But, Jen Golbeck, I'm curious about terminology and whether it's something you debate in the academia. What do we call these people? Domestic terrorists?
GOLBECKThat's a good question. So, it certainly is a debate that we have. I am a computer scientist and not a political scientist, but for what it's worth, I certainly call them domestic terrorists. You know, a lot of my work, while I read extremist content now and we're kind of talking about Donald Trump, I've been spending my entire career reading what extremists -- you know, including groups like ISIS -- have done on social media.
GOLBECKThe stuff I see here is very much in line with what I have seen, you know, in the past, you know, now 20 years looking at other terrorists online. Some of it is perfectly normal, if slightly extreme American political debates. But the talk about, you know, being controlled by the government, about violent overthrow, about, you know, the ideology that needs trimming in power, it really echoes what we see from other international terrorist groups. So, I have no problem taking that step.
GOLBECKAnd, frankly, I think we're going to see a large shift in the focus of U.S. intelligence communities -- once Biden comes into power -- to monitor these as domestic terrorist groups, to take that power that we've developed to look for lone-wolf terrorists in small groups and identify those in an international context and really focus on white supremacist terrorist organizations operating inside the U.S. Because we now have seen the really profound damage that they can do.
NNAMDIHere now is Steve in Rockville, Maryland. Steve, your turn.
STEVEHi, Kojo. I want to raise a concern about how quickly we'll be able to augment security in the wake of finding out that there are gaps. For example, on Saturday evening, I flew from Denver to BWI, and there were TSA agents at the Southwest gate spot checking for passengers flying to D.C. But when I noticed people without masks in the gate area and asked them about it, they said they had no authority to address it.
STEVEWhen I landed at BWI, I expected to see a lot more law enforcement. I didn't see any. In baggage claim, there were none. I ended up calling the BWI police on my cell phone. They told me that they were understaffed, they'd been understaffed, and now they had to share police to guard the Capitol and Annapolis. So, there's a ramp-up. I'm wondering how your guest expert can address the need, because we're going to have to ramp up, actually. We just can't say, you know, automatically, that we've got the police force to handle all this stuff.
NNAMDIWell, Jen, you've been sharing what you're seeing with those in the law enforcement and intelligence communities. How confident are you that we and they have a handle on this?
GOLBECKSo, you know, from the people that I've been talking to in the FBI, in local law enforcement organizations, I mean, they're taking it seriously. They're monitoring these threats. All the places that I look at, they're also looking at. So, you know, in that sense, I think they know where to look and they have a handle on it. As I said, they also have, you know, good techniques for trying to identify terrorist actions that are being planned online, because it's something that's been happening for a long time.
GOLBECKOn the other hand, you know, I think it's right that we saw a really massive security failure on the 6th. You know, what would have been the right response is something to debate. You know, there's a lot of other ways that could've gone wrong. But certainly, harder physical security, you know, better handling of that threat would've been good.
GOLBECKSo -- and I think, generally, people are taking it seriously now. They're looking in the right places but, you know, what's the right response to that so we don't just have performative security, that we really understand, like, what are the specific threats are coming and how to counter them. I think that's a place where we're going to have to spend, you know, a lot of attention over the next month so we're prepared, you know, if Trump were to inspire his groups to take more action.
NNAMDIJessica emails us: I'd really like to ask if QAnon can be unmasked, and if your guest has any idea who Q might be.
GOLBECKSo, for those who are not familiar with the QAnon conspiracy theory, it's very complicated. But the long and short of it is that someone, who's referred to as Q, is allegedly a government insider with high security clearance who's dropping clues about the deep state, Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic, pedophilic sex ring being operated out of Congress and the media, and that Donald Trump was sent here to save us from them. And sometime before he leaves office -- which leaves us about 24 hours -- he's going to do mass arrests of most of Congress and people in the government and then become our forever president. (laugh) I think it's so exhausting.
NNAMDIWell, we're almost out of time, but you've also gotten threats and a great deal of hate mail -- love notes, as you refer to them -- over your work. What keeps you doing what you do?
GOLBECKI hate Nazis and white supremacists. And, you know, if I can help take some of them down, it is a good use of my technical skills.
NNAMDIJen Golbeck is a professor in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland. She's a computer scientist who follows extremist groups online, and an occasional guest and guest host for this show. Jen, always a pleasure talking to you.
GOLBECKSame, Kojo. Thanks.
NNAMDIToday's Your Turn segment was produced by Julie Depenbrock. Tomorrow, starting at 11:00 a.m., we'll be airing NPR's special coverage of the inauguration, but we're back on Thursday. We'll be talking about how our region is doing, economically. The D.C. region is often described as recession-proof, but that doesn't mean all groups are immune.
NNAMDIThen we look at solutions to this economic crisis and see what our local and state governments are doing to help those hardest-hit. That all starts Thursday, at noon. Until then stay tuned and stay safe, and thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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