January 6th and North Carolina

Editor's Note: This Q&A appeared in The Assembly's newsletter and was conducted by email the week of 1/3.

A Q&A with North Carolina's Jordan Green, a reporter at Raw Story covering extremism.

The Assembly: Seventeen North Carolinians have been charged to date in connection with the attack on the Capitol - just under 2% of the 725 who have been charged nationally. How does North Carolina's involvement in January 6th compare with other states?

Green: North Carolina doesn't figure as prominently in the Jan. 6 attack as you might think. With 17 defendants on the docket, North Carolina ranks 24th when adjusted for population. Kentucky, whose population is half the size of North Carolina, sent more people to the US Capitol on Jan. 6.

The state with the highest per capita participation is Pennsylvania, with 62. These numbers are based on a data set I've assembled from logging 640 individuals facing federal charges; the FBI reports that it has arrested more than 700 individuals.

If you map the insurrection by the pinpointing the places where the defendants come from, it more or less reflects the major population centers of the country. In North Carolina, with one or two exceptions, they come from the central Piedmont — the urbanized area that arcs from Raleigh to Charlotte along the Interstate 85 corridor. That tracks with other southeastern states, with concentrations of defendants in Upcountry South Carolina, the Atlanta metro area and the county surrounding Birmingham, Ala.

Some of the North Carolina defendants played outsized roles.

Charles Donohoe, the president of the Piedmont North Carolina chapter of the Proud Boys and Kernersville resident, is charged with conspiracy and accused along with three other top leaders of coordinating communications and leading about 70 members to the Capitol.

James Tate Grant of Garner was one of the two people who were the first to approach the police line at the perimeter around the Capitol grounds, as a large crowd that included the Proud Boys massed at the entrance to the Pennsylvania Avenue Walkway. After Grant and Samsel accosted the US Capitol police, the rioters, including the Proud Boys group, quickly overran the barricades and swarmed around the west side of the Capitol building.

Laura Steele, a former High Point police officer, is also charged with conspiracy as a member of the Oath Keepers.

Another notable defendant is Aiden Henry Bilyard of Cary, who managed to enlist in the Air Force after his participation in the attempted insurrection, in which he is charged with assault on law enforcement.

The Assembly: A lot of your reporting has focused on Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, two national groups with chapters in North Carolina. How much is the story of January 6 about radicalized individuals versus well-organized groups?

Green: This attempted insurrection wasn't organized by the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers, although their conspicuous presence added muscle and may have emboldened other unaffiliated rioters. By my calculations, less than 20 percent of the rioters are affiliated with identified extremist groups.

That's not to say that they didn't organize themselves to go to DC and participate in the assault on the Capitol, but they didn't lead the overall effort.

The picture that emerges from reading the court documents is that many of the insurrectionists, including the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, were radicalized by the government response to the pandemic in the spring of 2020 and became increasingly steeped in conspiracy theories like QAnon that made them susceptible to the election disinformation campaign.

Many of them are combat veterans, again including Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, who felt a sense of betrayal after completing their service and applied the lessons they learned from seeing the Taliban carry out a successful insurgency to their own country.

The Assembly: You've been reporting on extremism for a long time, which is not an easy topic. How has the reporting process itself changed this year?

Green: Deplatforming on social media apps, which took place after the Jan. 6 insurrection, made it more challenging for extremists to organize, but also made it more difficult for journalists and researchers to track them.

The sheer scale of the siege on the US Capitol, with an estimated 2,000 people taking part, also makes tracking each participant an almost overwhelming task. At the same time, extremism has been mainstreamed over the past year, with Tucker Carlson embracing Great Replacement Theory, Rep. Cawthorn endorsing the view that citizens should utilize the Second Amendment to overthrow the government, and others promoting false claims that the insurrection was the work of "antifa" or the FBI.

So, reporting on extremism is no longer just a matter of tracking fringe groups and actors, but instead requires a comprehensive assessment of the American political system. The skill set required to report on extremism needs to constantly evolve to keep pace with rapidly unfolding developments.

The Assembly: Today is the anniversary of the attack. What do you expect to see over the next year as charges and trials continue?

Green: Following the plea deal struck by Matthew Greene last month, I'll be interested to see whether other Proud Boys defendants flip and begin cooperating with the government. I'll closely watch the trials of the Oath Keeper and Proud Boys groups who are charged with conspiracy, along with the upcoming trial of Christian Secor, a white nationalist affiliated with the so-called "Groypers" movement.

But I'm much more interested in seeing whether the FBI charges higher level figures. Owen Schroyer, a correspondent for InfoWars, has been charged with a misdemeanor for being on restricted Capitol grounds. Many, many other figures, including InfoWars host Alex Jones, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, Groypers leader Nicholas Fuentes, Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano and Nevada gubernatorial candidate Joey Gilbert have done exactly the same thing, but to date have not been charged.

Is that because the FBI is developing cases based on more serious charges, or will these individuals escape prosecution because the Justice Department is afraid of politicizing the investigation? Whether President Trump or any of his operatives will be held accountable for organizing the insurrection, and whether anyone will be charged with sedition — these are crucial questions for 2022.

Closely related to the question of accountability is whether the insurrectionists will be emboldened by impunity and attempt another insurrection in 2024, when the GOP is likely to hold control of both houses of Congress and to hold a tighter leash on elections infrastructure in key battleground states.