“These Guys Are in Totally Over Their Heads”: Experts Worry Trump’s DHS Crackdowns Are Ignoring the Real Threat

Even as the president obfuscates in public, his own intelligence officials are cognizant of the fact that right-wing extremists represent a more credible threat. An intelligence assessment dated June 15 and obtained by Politico warned law enforcement and public safety officials that the boogaloo movement—which experts say seeks to ignite a civil war—may be zeroing in on the nation’s capital, but noted, “while it identifies Washington D.C. as an attractive target, the boogaloo ideology is not restricted to a specific region and those who wish to cause division are routinely using peaceful protests as means of cover.” Arrest and bloodshed have already been tied to the movement, the most notable recent example being the arrest of Steven Carrillo for the killing of a Santa Cruz sheriff’s deputy in June. Carrillo also faces separate charges for a fatal shooting of a federal security officer in May. Also this summer, three Nevada men who self-identified with the movement were arrested in Las Vegas for trying to incite violence under the guise of peaceful protest. (Carrillo has pleaded not guilty. The three men arrested in the Las Vegas incident also pleaded not guilty.)

A cursory glance at public channels associated with the boogaloo movement on the encrypted messaging app Telegram reveals how followers seek to exploit civil unrest. “Keep challenging yourself until combat ready condition is your ‘new normal,’” reads one message, posted alongside a recommendation for ammunition. Another calls for a “purge of every leftist ideal, and judgement in our cities,” and says, “There will be a time for action. But [it’s] not yet. You will know for sure when that time hits. Make sure you’re ready when it does.” Public channels associated with the right-wing Proud Boys movement express similar sentiments. Posted alongside a YouTube video titled, “Facing the New Anti-White Reality,” one Telegram user wrote, “Excellent video on the current state of the West. Stare into the abyss and confront it without fear Western man. It’s the only way to save our people.” In another, “When are the Proud Boys going back to Portland?”

“Their point of view on this is, ‘We’re all for everything that will spark and ignite tensions that will lead to the next war,’” Nate Snyder, a former senior DHS counterterrorism official, explained. As public sentiment has shifted in favor of the Black Lives Matter movement and against Trump, Snyder said of the president, “He felt that he was under full-out assault, and that’s why he went to go hide in the bunker,” but added, “It’s not just him with that attitude and perspective or perception. These right-wing nationalist and white supremacist groups felt absolutely the same.”

In light of this mindset, coupled with active attempts by countries like Russia to subvert U.S. democracy and the rampant spread of conspiracy theories on social media, experts expressed deep concern about the coming election. “The president has already…promoted a number of debunked conspiracy theories regarding efforts by the Democrats to work with foreign countries to oust him. He’s already promoted debunked conspiracy theories about methods used to vote,” Cohen told me. “But what concerns law enforcement officials is that those same narratives, that same rhetoric is being noted by those who actually believe in these conspiracy theories and who belong to these domestic extremist communities. If the election ends up with [Trump] losing, there’s a very real concern that we may see violence occurring in cities across the country.”

Meanwhile, recent extremist activity may be just a taste of what’s to come. “This is kind of a practice run to what we could see later this summer,” Johnson said, “as well as into the fall going into the election.”

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