who they are

Extremists in the U.S. come in many different forms – white nationalists, anti-LGBTQ zealots, racist skinheads, neo-Confederates and more.

Below are descriptions of some ideological sub-categories.

boogaloo movement

The boogaloo is a loosely organized far-right movement of antigovernment extremists, some who profess openly racist views. The movement has ideological variation, but its adherents generally are bound together by a belief that the federal government needs to be overthrown through a second civil war. The coalition’s rhetoric frequently is characterized by an extremely casual attitude toward violence. While supporters of the movement are often openly hostile toward antifascists, leftists, journalists and politicians, the so-called “boogaloo boys” identify members of law enforcement as their primary enemies. More than a dozen men associated with the movement have been arrested for plotting violent attacks, including one alleged boogaloo adherent who was charged with murdering a security officer and member of law enforcement.

qanon movement

QAnon is an evolving antigovernment conspiracy theory that falsely alleges the world is being run by a cabal of pedophiles, including Hollywood celebrities, members of a fictitious government “deep state” and other elites, who operate a global child sex-trafficking ring and worship Satan. QAnon followers believe that Donald Trump has inside information about this nefarious group and was elected president, in part, to take them down.

QAnon started with an anonymous post on 4chan by a user who came to be known as “Q,” a reference to the user’s supposed “Q clearance,” a top-secret clearance level in the Department of Energy. “Q’s” initial post claimed to have knowledge of an alleged pending extradition of Hillary Rodham Clinton. “Q” continues to post messages (known as “breadcrumbs” or “Q drops”) containing supposed secret information, which followers then attempt to interpret. Many of the claims made by “Q” are recycled from other internet conspiracies, most prominently the New World Order.

QAnon is not a group, rather it is a movement and ideological worldview, and it has inspired the formation of online groups and websites that share Q related conspiracies, literature, and merchandise. The initial QAnon conspiracy theory has grown into a number of smaller sub-theories including beliefs that democratic elites and celebrities are taking the drug Adrenochrome, which they harvest from the pituitary glands of children, and a theory that children are being trafficked underneath U.S. cities in underground tunnels.

QAnon theories have animated some followers who claim they are helping Donald Trump, fighting the “deep state” or working to stop child trafficking. QAnon-inspired followers have planned extremist activities and events, such as “Save the Children" rallies and have committed real world crimes and violence, including the murder of a mob boss by a QAnon follower who thought his victim was part of the “deep state.” Common QAnon phrases and hashtags include: Where we go one, we go all (WWG1WGA), trust the plan, save the children, and The Great Awakening.

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 Who are you and why should we listen to you?

The signatories and proponents of these model policies are a coalition of civil rights, human rights, technology policy, and consumer protection organizations. The policies themselves were drafted by the Center for American Progress, Color of Change, Free Press, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

These drafters spent approximately nine months consulting with a wide range of civil and human rights experts and technologists to try to develop a thorough yet flexible set of policies.

antigovernment movements

militia movement

BACKGROUND

  • The militia movement is rooted in the Posse Comitatus of the 1970s, but it formed much more recently, in the early 1990s, as the paramilitary wing of the antigovernment movement.
  • The militia movement is primarily driven by fear of gun confiscation, globalization and antigovernment conspiracy theories; though these are perennial fears, the urgency to organize outside of legitimate channels increases during liberal administrations.
  • Today’s militia movement commonly is fueled by nativist beliefs, but generally it understands itself as distinct and separate from white supremacist groups operating in the U.S.
  • The militia movement draws on mainstream culture of American militarism, which is significantly impacted by U.S. foreign policy and war.

Brief summary

The modern militia movement began in the early 1990s following Ruby Ridge and Waco. These deadly standoffs, and opposition to Clinton-era firearms laws, led to the formation of paramilitary groups that often unite around an absolutist view of the Second Amendment. Their ranks declined following the Oklahoma City bombing and throughout the Bush administration, but Obama’s election ushered in a second wave, exemplified by groups like the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters. The movement employs both legitimate (political activism, protests, community service) and illegitimate (paramilitary training and organization, armed standoffs, criminal and/or terroristic violence) tactics. Though its antecedent is the Christian Identity-inspired Posse Comitatus, many members of the modern militia movement are not explicitly racist, with some groups enrolling minorities into their ranks. However, against the backdrop of the “War on Terror,” the movement has embraced anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant narratives under a thin veil of national security. The militia movement frequently depicts immigrants and people of the Muslim faith as a threat to the national identity. Organizations in the movement often are differentiated from traditional nativist groups by the organizational structure they use, which is inspired by the hierarchical ranking system currently used by the U.S. military. Many groups within the militia movement engage in military style training and demonstrations under the pretenses of defending the U.S. Constitution.

prominent beliefs

  • The federal government is complicit with globalist actors in a plot to destroy the United States.
  • The militia movement is the heir to the 18th century colonists who fought against the British.
  • The Second Amendment is for militia service and guns Americans own must be suitable for war.
  • Generally, all able-bodied male civilians ages 17-45 make up the “unorganized militia” — a fourth arm of the government tasked, in part, with keeping tyrants in check.

conspiracy propagandists

BACKGROUND

  • Antigovernment conspiracy theories are a prominent feature of the antigovernment movement and the main generators of the beliefs that mobilize the movement.
  • Antigovernment conspiracy theories primarily vilify the government, specifically the federal government, but are flexible enough to incorporate other scapegoats — such as Muslims, immigrants, antifascists, international governing bodies, the media, academia, etc.
  • In some cases, conspiracy theories are believed to have given rise to ideologically motivated criminal or terrorist acts.

Brief summary

All extremist ideologies do the following: identify grievances/threats, form in- and out-groups around those grievances/threats and offer a solution to those grievances/threats. Antigovernment movement conspiracy propagandists inform ideologies by identifying a range of grievances/threats that vilify the government as a primary out-group, while remaining flexible enough to incorporate other out-groups — such as Muslims or antifascists — who are often depicted as complicit with the primary out-group. Conspiracy propagandists frequently stop short of offering specific, actionable solutions to these perceived threats, instead leaving action up to others in the antigovernment movement. These conspiracy theories generate a sense of urgency in the antigovernment movement that can lead to criminal activity, including terrorism. The anti-Communist conspiracy propagandist John Birch Society is sometimes credited as the organization that birthed the antigovernment movement back in the 1950s, and it is still active today. Although the dissemination of propaganda was more limited in the 1950s, the advent of the internet and social media have provided untold numbers of platforms for extremists to inject these conspiracy theories into the public domain, essentially democratizing the propaganda process.

prominent beliefs

  • Three basic principles characterize virtually every conspiracy theory: a) nothing happens by accident, b) nothing is as it seems, and c) everything is connected (Barkun, 2013. A Culture of Conspiracy, p. 3-4).
  • Key theories include QAnon, “the deep state,” New World Order, Agenda 21, #Pizzagate, Jade Helm and Tet Take Two among others. Many conspiracies contain the belief that dark forces have infiltrated major segments of our society — like Hollywood, academia, government — to replace American beliefs and values from the inside.
  • Because they view their ideological opponents as the embodiment of apocalyptic destruction, negotiation and compromise are out of the question.

constitutional sheriffs

BACKGROUND

  • The constitutional sheriffs' movement is rooted in the county supremacy of the Posse Comitatus, and its arguments originally were designed to refute civil rights legislation and environmental laws.
  • The movement believes that county sheriffs have more authority than any other law enforcement officer in the U.S.
  • Constitutional sheriffs, given their unique position of authority as democratically elected law enforcement officers, embolden the broader antigovernment movement.

Brief summary

The constitutional movement is rooted in the county supremacy of the Posse Comitatus (Latin for “power of the county”), which was founded by Christian Identity adherent William Potter Gale. Gale used the Sheriffs Act of 1887, which allowed the sheriff to form a posse to assist in arrests, and applied this power to offsetting the “unlawful” acts of the government. The idiosyncratic view of European and American history and quasi-legalisms the Posse Comitatus developed to legitimize this agenda are foundational to the constitutional sheriffs’ movement today.

Constitutional sheriffs believe they are the highest law enforcement authority in the country, which lends them the power to defy federal laws they deem unconstitutional. They contend that it is their duty to curtail the tyrannical power of the federal government – “the biggest threat we face, as a nation,” according to Richard Mack, the founder of Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, the largest organized constitutional sheriffs group today.

There are dozens of sheriffs around the country who sympathize with the movement. When Robert “LaVoy” Finicum was shot and killed by Oregon State Police during the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, it was during an attempt by the armed occupants to meet a sympathizing sheriff in a neighboring county. Today, the largest issues of concern for constitutional sheriffs are ensuring citizens’ unfettered access to guns, removing land from the control of the federal government, and advancing President Trump’s hardline anti-immigrant agenda at the state and county levels.

prominent beliefs

  • County sheriffs are the highest law enforcement officers in the country.
  • County sheriffs have the obligation to nullify federal laws they believe to be unconstitutional.
  • County sheriffs can impede, force out and/or arrest federal agents who are enforcing “unconstitutional” laws in their county jurisdiction.

sovereign citizens

BACKGROUND

  • Sovereign citizens do not believe in the legal authority of international and/or domestic law.
  • Sovereign citizens cherry-pick which laws to follow, or not follow, at their discretion.
  • Some sovereign citizens have engaged in ideologically motivated violence, often against law enforcement.
  • Some sovereign citizens also conduct non-violent criminal activity to harass their intended victims.

Brief summary

Like most sub-categories in the antigovernment movement, the sovereign citizens movement is rooted in the Posse Comitatus of the 1970s, which believed, among other things, that a sheriff was the highest governmental authority in the country. The Posse Comitatus used the Sheriffs Act of 1887, which allowed the sheriff to form a posse to assist in arrests, and applied this posse power to offsetting the “unlawful” acts of the federal government. The faulty logic and quasi-legalisms developed by the Posse Comitatus provided the foundations for the sovereign citizens movement. The sovereign citizens movement is estimated to have 300,000 adherents worldwide, and since its growth out of the Posse Comitatus, the movement has developed several strains, such as: constitutional sovereigns, galactic sovereigns, Moorish sovereigns, sovereign Nuwaubians and common law court members. The sovereign citizens movement is very active today and is responsible for many instances of ideologically inspired violence and other criminal activity, such as filing fraudulent liens, which the FBI calls “paper terrorism.” The FBI classifies sovereign citizens as domestic terrorists.

prominent beliefs

  • The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868 and which granted citizenship to former slaves, was actually a device to make all citizens into slaves of the federal government.
  • The United States took out foreign debt when it got off the gold standard in 1933, using Americans as collateral, and made birth certificates that created a “straw man.” These certificates are held in the Treasury Department, have monetary value, and can be redeemed.
  • The United States is a corporate entity, and the court system is illegitimate.

BACKGROUND

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If a company adopts these policies as its Terms of Service, what would the rules be?

Under these policies, a company commits to not allowing their services to be used for hateful activities.

  • Enforcement – The company will use the best available tools—with appropriately trained and resourced staff, technological monitoring, and civil rights expertise—to enforce the rules in a comprehensive and non-arbitrary manner.
  • Right of Appeal – The company will provide notice and a fair right of appeal to someone if their content is taken down. This is particularly important for creators of color.
  • Transparency – The company will regularly provide robust transparency reports and data so that outside groups and researchers can effectively monitor the company’s progress, study trends, and recommend improvements.
  • Evaluation and Training – The company will invest in its staff and training practices to ensure that it is providing sufficient resources to address the problem, and regularly audit its practices.
  • Governance and Authority – The company will make a clear commitment to the importance of this issue by designating a senior executive, appoint a board of directors committee, and engage a committee of external advisors all dedicated to addressing hate and discrimination on the platform.
  • State Actors, Bots, and Trolls – Recognizing that social media in particular is a new front for information warfare, the company will take affirmative steps to identify, prohibit, and disrupt those who try to conduct coordinated hateful campaigns on the service.
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Why not just get the government to ban hate speech and regulate these companies?

There are several legal obstacles—which serve important purposes—that prevent government action from unilaterally solving this problem, even if we wanted it to. Moreover, the tech companies who built these highly profitable platforms also created these problems as collateral damage. Those who profit from these systems should bear the burden of solving the problem.

First, the First Amendment protects free speech in the United States, including hate speech. American federal and state governments cannot ban hate speech. But even outside the United States, speech laws vary wildly from one country to another. It is preferable to develop a set of policies that major tech companies can apply globally so that hateful actors cannot launder their activity by routing their traffic through a different jurisdiction.

Second, in the United States, hateful activities and hate crimes are already illegal in most jurisdictions. An injured person in many cases can bring a civil lawsuit against someone who defames, harasses, or threatens them. But such one-off litigation is very slow and expensive, and sometimes you cannot identify your attacker; many marginalized communities do not have sufficient access to legal services to make this an effective strategy in most cases. Online hate is a systemic problem that needs a systemic solution.

Third, the United States gave tech companies some limited legal immunity under the Communications Decency Act. This immunity is vital to Internet innovation and small startups; without it we would not have the Internet as we know it today. But the trade-off is that we expect the tech companies to police their own platforms.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, if any government began regulating online speech directly, there would be huge risks that the majority would silence and oppress the minority. Historically, censorship laws have always disproportionately silenced activists and minorities.

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What companies do you want to adopt these policies?

These policies are intended for Internet companies that provide the following types of services:

  • Social media, video sharing, communications, marketing, event scheduling, or ticketing
  • Online advertising
  • Financial transactions or fundraising
  • Public chat or group communications
  • Domain names
  • Building or hosting websites, blogs, or message boards

This policies are not intended to be used by Internet Service Providers (e.g., Comcast or AT&T).We are committed to an open Internet. Nothing in these policies is intended to allow or support blocking, throttling, or prioritizing any lawful content by anInternet Service Provider.

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Technology changes quickly. Are you worried these policies won’t keep up?

These model policies are meant to be a living document. This is Version 1.0. We fully expect that they will need evaluation and revision going forward. We will learn lessons from their implementation and online behavior will evolve. We hope that the transparency and reporting procedures in these policies will independent researchers and the public the data needed to figure out what works and what does not. And then we will revise.

In addition, we recognize that these are model policies and that every company has a different architecture and business model. We have tried to write these policies in a flexible manner so that companies can adapt their execution to the structure of their services while maintaining some baseline expectations for fairness, transparency, and consumer protection.

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WILL TECH COMPANIES BE ABLE TO USE THESE POLICIES TO FURTHER INVADE MY PRIVACY, ANONYMITY, OR USE OF ENCRYPTION?

No. Tech companies should not be allowed to use these policies as an excuse to invade their users’ privacy, strip them of their anonymity, or undermine the security and privacy of encrypted messaging services. Hateful activities can be reduced while respecting consumers’ rights.

Internet companies must ensure that their efforts are tailored to the mission of addressing hateful activities, and do not inappropriately invade users’ privacy, profile users based solely on their identity or affiliations, or initiate investigations solely based on offensive speech that does not qualify as hateful activities.

We intend these policies to be flexible depending on the nature of the service the tech company is providing. For some companies, requiring an authentic identity is part of the structure of the platform. For others, their users value anonymity.

When tech companies are structuring their practices to implement these policies, they will need to take into account the reasonable expectations of their users. However, a commitment to anonymity cannot be a reason to not address hateful activities. Similarly, a commitment to users disclosing who they are has not in and of itself stopped these kinds of hateful activities on social media platforms.