Proposed Red Flag Laws: Potential Trigger For Far-Right Violence
Updated: Jul 1, 2021
Beatrice Fratini, Hunter Engelhart, Ian Kemp, Indirah Canzater, Lauren Gable, Samantha Garcia, NORTHCOM Team
Week of Monday, June 14, 2021
Second Amendment rally against gun control.
In April, the President of the United States (US), Joe Biden, and his administration proposed federally mandated red flag laws. Such laws are gun control laws that allow courts to issue temporary orders of firearm confiscation for people who are considered mentally unfit to own them, upon request of a family member. If an individual is showing signs of mental illness, displaying violent behavior, or other signs of concern, a petition can be presented to a judge, who can then order law enforcement to temporarily confiscate their firearms. If implemented, these rules are likely to cause far-right groups, such as the Proud Boys and the Boogaloo Boys, to retaliate against the government, causing damage to public officials and government buildings. Red flag laws are likely to cause more social media presence from far-right groups to spread their ideology against the government, including the sharing of memes, the formation of social groups, and using social media to recruit members through these methods. Throughout history, several events –such as the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing, the 2020 Richmond, Virginia gun rights rally, and the 2020 Michigan Capitol storming with the intent to kidnap Michigan Governor Whitmer– likely occurred because of gun bills and legislation proposed by the federal government
Within the US, gun restriction laws have grown to be a major source of strife among both the Republican and Democratic parties. Due to the main issue of security versus liberty, the conversation and possible implications of gun restriction laws create tension among constituents of both the Republican and Democratic parties. As tensions rise among the general public, violence is likely to rise as well. This includes an increase in protests from both Republican and Democratic supporters and possible increases in crime that is carried out with guns such as mass shootings, homicide, and terrorism. Various gun-rights rallies - also known as ‘2A’ rallies referring to the need to secure US citizens’ right to bear arms, the Second Amendment (2A) in the US Constitution - have been occurring throughout the country this year in response to gun restriction laws. The rise is not without red flags that provide some warning of the potential consequences that can come from these tensions overflowing.
Following mass shootings in Boulder, Colorado and Atlanta, Georgia, President Biden began pushing for model red flag laws to be created by the Department of Justice (DOJ) as a way to help lower the amount of gun violence within the US. State and federal governments have the option to take these models as a foundation to write new firearm laws for their respective areas. Governments who choose to write and implement new firearm laws based on proposed red flag models may see a rise in far-right extremism by individuals who perceive the new laws as intruding on their constitutional right to bear arms. Negative reactions to these laws may come from individuals who are supportive of the 2A and who protest peacefully, or may also come from organized right-wing groups who could use violence to show their opposition to the new laws.
Groups that may have a negative or violent reaction if states choose to implement the red flag laws include the Proud Boys and the Boogaloo Boys. These groups might have a more violent reaction to these laws being put into state code compared to protests that have been centered around the proposition of gun laws. The 2A has always been a continuous topic in US politics; over the past few years, there has been an increase in conspiracy theories about how the government will take US citizen’s firearms, even if they are responsible gun owners. With this in mind, the country may see some people overreact to the gun laws with the thought that the government will be taking their firearms.
The federal red flag law was recently proposed under the Biden Administration as an overarching order for states to follow and make it easier for them to implement. President Biden gave the DOJ 60 days (from April 7, 2021) to implement model legislation for all states. As of now, red flag laws are mandated only under the states, and there are inconsistencies between them. This legislation will likely make it easier on the states that want to implement red flag laws by giving them a model to follow and providing support to those that already have laws enacted. With the passing of the model law, states may change their existing legislation to mirror the model, providing some consistency between states.
Far-right extremist groups, such as the Three Percenters and The Base, are avid supporters of 2A rights and due process. To these groups, any legislation that is passed to prohibit anyone from owning a firearm is unconstitutional. These far-right groups' main perception regarding the proposed red flag laws is that they are taking away individual’s rights without having committed a crime and without due process. There is a fear of no due process because individual’s gun rights are being taken away without a court trial. The order, however, is temporary unless proven that the individual’s mental state is posing a danger to themselves or others, causing an extended order. This is unlikely to deter far-right groups from believing that there is no due process in this law and that their rights are being taken away.
The preventive approach that red flag laws employ represents a controversial point that far-right extremists fear and could exploit to further their ideologies. Critics of the new proposal argue that this could translate into firearm seizures upon false crisis claims by a third party, for instance in personal disputes. Without due process, these “extreme risk protection orders" (ERPOs) could solidify a general conservative fear of gun rights being infringed. Far-right extremist groups often predicate the criticality of guns as a tool for defense against an inevitable civil and race war. While white supremacists fear a systematic replacement of white people through non-white migration and integration of minorities, groups such as the Proud Boys emphasize the need for firearms when standing up against constitutional non-adherence and the alleged leftward transition of the US to socialism. Right-wing extremists may exploit a general conservative disagreement about the new proposed ERPOs and instill it with extremist arguments, such as Proud Boys’ views mentioned above. Fear of gun seizures by the federal government could thus be turned into right-wing extremist propaganda. This would very likely result in a powerful recruitment tool, especially through the use of new communication modes that apply humor, wit, and satire to extremist content, causing an increase in far-right group membership. As seen with previous red flag laws, such as those effective in Connecticut, Maryland, and New York, far-right groups and individuals may circulate witty memes online confirming gun rights supporters’ fear that new ERPOs could be weaponized against them.
Anxieties regarding alleged 2A violations have previously led to strong anti-government sentiment and still have the potential to amplify far-right radicalization, possibly resulting in extremist violence. Prime examples of these fears include the sieges of Ruby Ridge in 1992, and Waco, Texas in 1993 because both entailed a government raid based on violations in federal gun regulation reports that ended dramatically. While not all gun rights supporters participate in far-right movements and/or become radicalized, humorous far-right online propaganda could assist in increasing membership rates within far-right extremist movements. By leveraging on general points of conservative discontent with new ERPOs, far-right groups such as the Proud Boys or the Boogaloo Boys might be able to lure an increasing number of vulnerable individuals into supporting their views. Other than an increment in right-wing extremist recruitment, proposed red flag laws-derived anti-government sentiment can have various consequences. Based on related past events, these would likely include violent rallies, plots to cause harm to government officials deemed responsible for infringement on US citizens’ gun rights, and outright terror attacks on government infrastructures.
Example of witty memes found on Reddit confirming fear of unscrutinized gun seizure.
If red flag laws are put into effect, pro-gun rallies with large attendance rates are likely to take place. As seen in the 2020 Richmond, Virginia rally, participants range from regular conservatives to the extremists, such as fully-armed Proud Boys and Boogaloo Boys. These protests, while initially peaceful, could easily turn violent based on increased potential for armed confrontation and the presence of highly radicalized individuals in the name of a race war. Further, lessons learned from the April 2020 Michigan Capitol storming and the October 2020 Wolverine Watchmen plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Whitmer suggest anti-government extremists that feel their constitutional rights are infringed are likely to show insurrectionist behaviors. These groups are also likely to plan to purposely cause harm to public officials that, in this case, are responsible for proposing, passing, and implementing red flag laws. Finally, heightened security concerns should be directed at the possibility of a 1995 Oklahoma City bombing replication. In that event, Timothy McVeigh, a radicalized US Army veteran, attacked a federal building killing 168 people, motivated by his fears of an authoritarian federal government seizing US citizens’ firearms. In parallel to the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which contributed to Timothy McVeigh’s hatred against the federal government, the implementation of the new proposed red flag laws could have a radicalizing effect on vulnerable individuals, spurring violent reactions.Possible terrorist attacks could be carried out on federal buildings symbolizing alleged violations to the 2A, both by lone wolves who have self-radicalized or current extremist groups such as the Proud Boys or the Boogaloo Boys.
Federal agencies and organizations, namely the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the DOJ, have pledged a whole of society approach to counter the rise of far-right extremism via the establishment of new protocols such as DHS’ new Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships (CP3). This initiative could help monitor and combat the rise of far-right extremism, should red flag laws be passed, by establishing a dedicated domestic terrorism department within the agency. By being proactive, DHS could lay the groundwork for quick responses to violence and is likely to prevent it in the first place. The implications of this also include increased training of analysts, such as new Social Media intelligence (SOCMINT) methods to spot and action intelligence regarding far-right extremists. This could likely result in closing intelligence gaps previously seen in Charlottesville, Richmond, and the Capitol insurrection, such as the lack of mobilization of officers/agents when a known threat is looming to quell violence. This initiative also includes partnering with the private industry such as the private intelligence community and social media platforms. This could be beneficial in countering extremism because it is very likely that extremist groups collaborate and plan online. The cooperation of these platforms, especially those that encrypt conversational data, would be necessary for the detection and prosecution of extremist offenders.
The DHS is also exploring how to economically motivate local and state law enforcement to solve the growing problem of far-right extremism. This would be done by elevating far-right extremism to a ‘national priority’ that will require the beneficiaries of DHS grants (state and local law enforcement) to spend a minimum of 7.5 percent of the funds on countering domestic terrorism. By sharing the burden it could allow local law enforcement members who know their own community to take an active part in preventing violence and engage in human intelligence to combat potential escalations of violence; local officers are also the first responders to incidents within the community. It could also allow for a community-based policing model which is focused on relationships and prevention rather than reactionary responses to apply to extremist groups as well. This could be beneficial because it is likely that extremists hold more respect for their local police force as compared to federal officers. Since the DOJ’s domestic extremism caseload has doubled compared to 2017, the organization is asking for increased funding; 45 million dollars is sought for investigations and 40 million is requested for US attorneys to prosecute extremists. A likely potential problem with the DOJ’s initiative is that it would require Congressional approval; if it does not receive approval the DOJ could lack the financial resources to properly fight growing far-right extremism. It is recommended that the law enforcement community, both local and federal, make aware threats extremists could pose, should red flag laws pass to Congress, in an effort to secure necessary funding to prevent violence and take the necessary countermeasures.
Knowledge and understanding of these red flags by the appropriate people can provide a leg up on thwarting possible attacks and violent outbursts before they become an issue of national security. Identifying possible red flags among individuals is the first step in understanding this dilemma and working towards mitigating the threats. This will aid in prevention of possible consequences that can arise from the implementation of gun restriction laws. Further, it is important to have a strong grasp on all possible outcomes and consequences that may arise out of the political decision to enact said laws, this will aid in making a well-informed and comprehensive decision as it will impact the entirety of the US.
Evaluating the pros and cons is an important step in discussing red flag laws in order to understand the different types of situations that could occur if the law was implemented. This could include pro-gun rallies with a large number of armed individuals in response to the law being implemented. Some benefits would be removing firearms from an individual who could be a danger to themselves or others as it allows the US government to take the needed precautionary measures to prevent mass shootings or terrorist events. Some drawbacks would include that the far-right would have more of a motive to dislike the government, leading to armed riots and violence. The US Government should go through all possible benefits and drawbacks to conclude which amendments would need to be made in order to improve the law’s outlook.
The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) recommends that law enforcement and intelligence agencies monitor for increased activity on social media platforms within far-right groups using SOCMINT. Law enforcement should also monitor for increased unrest and physical violence within cities and around government buildings. If the red flag bill is put into effect, it is expected that the far-right groups will see more involvement, an increased number of members, and begin targeting government buildings. Leading up to the red flag bill being enforced, it is encouraged that all main government buildings be prepared by increasing law enforcement presence and warning employees of potential dangers. Individuals will likely react to new red flag laws based on reactions from past legislation. If Congress chooses to pass the law, they must discuss how law enforcement and intelligence agencies should prepare in the case that violent protests from far-right groups were to take place. Law enforcement should also have more intensive training on how to react and approach situations when violence breaks out. This would allow the national government to be ready and prepared to mediate and minimize the violence, which is beneficial in order to sustain peace within the country. CTG’s Northern Command (NORTHCOM) and Extremism teams will continue to monitor which US states choose to implement red flag laws for firearms and look for signs that point to violent actions from right-wing extremist groups. Both teams will continue to use open-source intelligence (OSINT) and SOCMINT to detect the planning of protests and/or rallies by extremist groups. Along with the work of the NORTHCOM and Extremism Teams, CTG will also utilize the information gathered by the Worldwide Analysis of Threats, Crimes, and Hazards (WATCH) officers and Threat Hunters to provide governments, law enforcement agencies, and the general public with 24/7 updates on risks, protests, and possible attacks.
________________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)
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