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Extremism Experts Warn Of Dangers In Baseless Claims Of 'Stolen' Election

Supporters of President Trump demonstrate at a "Stop the Steal" rally in front of the Maricopa County Elections Department office in Phoenix on Saturday. Domestic terrorism analysts warn that a prolonged fight and Trump's statements about the vote only fuel polarization.
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Supporters of President Trump demonstrate at a "Stop the Steal" rally in front of the Maricopa County Elections Department office in Phoenix on Saturday. Domestic terrorism analysts warn that a prolonged fight and Trump's statements about the vote only fuel polarization.

Right-wing activists pushing baseless claims that the presidential election was "stolen" mobilized in several cities over the weekend, drawing people to the streets through networks forged during summertime protests against lockdowns.

The protests in Arizona, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and other states typically involved no more than a few hundred people — some of them armed, chanting and praying for President Trump.

The crowds represented the blend of fringe movements and ideologies that have flourished in the Trump era: self-styled militias, white nationalists, armed "boogaloo boys" and QAnon conspiracy theorists. Right-wing organizers are setting up Facebook groups that use disinformation and fearmongering as recruiting tools. Social media platforms, in turn, have shut down some pages or have added warning labels to posts.

There were scuffles and clashes with police but no major violence at the gatherings, according to local reporters and video footage that was shared via social media. Some clips showed particular vitriol aimed at journalists, part of a conspiratorial backlash at news outlets for naming Joe Biden the winner of the election.

The pro-Trump street presence was minuscule compared with the thousands of Biden supporters who spilled into the streets in celebration. Still, domestic terrorism analysts warn, a prolonged fight and Trump's reckless statements about the vote only fuel the "us vs. them" polarization that has now reached dangerous levels. They say the far-right threat will linger — and perhaps even grow — under a Biden presidency.

"Extremism is a carnival-mirror reflection of conflicts and divisions in the mainstream," said Brian Levin, a hate-crime researcher at California State University, San Bernardino.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Hannah Allam is a Washington-based national security correspondent for NPR, focusing on homegrown extremism. Before joining NPR, she was a national correspondent at BuzzFeed News, covering U.S. Muslims and other issues of race, religion and culture. Allam previously reported for McClatchy, spending a decade overseas as bureau chief in Baghdad during the Iraq war and in Cairo during the Arab Spring rebellions. She moved to Washington in 2012 to cover foreign policy, then in 2015 began a yearlong series documenting rising hostility toward Islam in America. Her coverage of Islam in the United States won three national religion reporting awards in 2018 and 2019. Allam was part of McClatchy teams that won an Overseas Press Club award for exposing death squads in Iraq and a Polk Award for reporting on the Syrian conflict. She was a 2009 Nieman fellow at Harvard and currently serves on the board of the International Women's Media Foundation.

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