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Intelligence analyst Malcolm Nance says Jan. 6 rioters' movement will 'lose steam or explode'

A mob of pro-Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
A mob of pro-Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Ever since former President Donald Trump supporters tried to stop the presidential vote from being certified by Congress last Jan. 6, Republicans have been calling any attempt to investigate the origins of that day’s violence another politically-motivated witch hunt.

Malcolm Nance, a former military intelligence analyst and an expert on extremism, has been closely following the aspirations of those who falsely believe that the 2020 election was illegitimate.

In his forthcoming book titled “They Want to Kill Americans: The Militias, Terrorists, and Deranged Ideology of the Trump Insurgency,” he argues that those who believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen are planning for war — and their movement will either “lose steam or explode.”

Interview Highlights

On the effectiveness of many Republicans, who first denounced the violent Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, quickly changing their narrative

“I think it’s been exceptionally effective. You have, right now, one-third of the American electorate in the latest Ipsos poll refuses to believe that Joe Biden was elected president of the United States and that Donald Trump is the legitimate president of the United States. Things were moving so fast in the political sphere that the strategy I outline which I call DARF — deny, attack, revenge and fear, these are the four cycles of the political process that would lead us into an insurgency and could put us on the path to civil war — the deny phase came so quickly.

“By March of 2021, Republicans who had gone on the floor of the House of Representatives and the Senate and had deeply attacked the concept around trying to deny the election had completely flipped. For them to survive politically, they had to deny the very words they had said on Jan. 7 or the period leading up to the impeachment, and it was political suicide to do anything other than to accept the Big Lie. It was the basis for not just overturning what they thought they could overturn — the results of that election — but for destroying the foundation of American democracy in itself. And we are hurtling headlong into that destruction.

On whether the low-grade political insurgency will “lose steam or explode,” as Nance writes in his book

“I think that we are well past the peter out part. I was really hoping by July of 2021 that the Trump machine would lose steam. What I didn’t realize at the time when I wrote this is what happens on the other hand, when they just decide that the American electorate is not wise enough to choose their own president. I never thought for a minute that the entirety of the Republican Party would just politically align themselves with the end of the American experiment.”

On what could happen if the movement exploded

“I think it, unfortunately, is quite possible that it could quite literally start with an explosion. We monitor the communications, the Twitter feeds, the Telegram channels, some of the internal communications of some of these low-grade insurgents or potential insurgents. And what we generally see is people arguing this question: What is our breaking point? I see it every day, literally, can see people arguing, well, is it Joe Biden doing this or is it Kamala Harris doing that? What if Joe Biden gets sick? They live in this fantasy world, and they are only waiting for a very specific sign. And I don’t know whether that’s going to manifest itself in a group that is working covertly right now, who knows, to plan a massive attack. And there I give a scenario where drones are used ISIS-like to kill several hundred American citizens at a protest as the kicking off point for what I often see these Trump supporters referring to as the second American Revolution. Some of them refer to themselves as the second sons of Liberty.”

“… Well, just dropping explosives or, you know, falling themselves as packaged explosives or, you know, just using the traditional methods that terrorists use. In the United States, firearms are the most prevalent way that people kill each other.”

On how undermining American democracy would benefit insurgents

“See, this is where you actually have to try to understand the perspective they’re coming from. … Many of these people are now detached from reality. They will not believe anything that comes from the news media or as they consider, you know, the fake news. It must only come from within their own corrupt information sphere. When they use charged words or, as we call it in the intelligence community, eliminationist rhetoric, then you start seeing the low-grade people think that they now have the ability to be the Sons of Liberty.”

“Every once in a while, when we read these threads on the QAnon channels or the Donald.win and these things, you find an individual come up and say something along the lines of, ‘well, you know, the Wal-Marts will close if we carry out an insurrection, that police will be on the street. The National Guard will be breaking up our way of lives.’ The problem is it’s the loudest voices within these tiny bubbles of extremism who say, ‘well, that’s just the way it’s going to have to be. You’re going to have to surrender some of your liberties.’

“These are the same type of words that I saw in the intelligence community and working in counter-extremism that Timothy McVeigh [the man responsible for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing] used. Timothy McVeigh thought that his bomb would kick off a race war in which every member of the armed forces would take their rifles and start mass murdering Blacks, liberals and Jews. He really thought that was going to happen the next day. The problem is we have people now in this country who are so corrupted through their own misinformation, foreign disinformation in an information sphere made up of crazy lies like QAnon, which calls for the genocide of all Democrats and liberals, that they think they can make it happen. And many of them thought Jan. 6 was the day that that was all going to kick off.”

On whether the arrests of those who descended on the Capitol will act as a deterrent

“It’s interesting because we’re not seeing deterrents at the level that would impact the average person that didn’t come to that protest. When you have [Reps.] Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert going to the jail in Washington, D.C., and referring to people who had attacked the literal core of American democracy and calling them ‘political prisoners,’ calling them the ‘patriot wing of the prison’ and saying that they’re ‘being treated harshly,’ you see people who are creating the basis of the political support for an armed rebellion in this country in the same way that Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish republicanism, supported the terroristic goals of the provisional Irish Republican Army. Could this lead to a coming civil war? Are we in the throes? Many of them are talking like that’s what they want, and they have politicians who are saying it’s OK to talk like that.”

Book excerpt: ‘They Want to Kill Americans’

By Malcolm Nance


When I sat down on the set of the HBO TV show Real Time with Bill Maher just three days after the 2020 election, I knew what I was going to say would be exceedingly unpopular. The counting of the votes to determine who had won the election took almost three days. By the time the show was taped in Los Angeles, all that remained to do was declare then former vice president Joe Biden the president-elect of the United States. A feeling of relief was in the air. For the first time in a year, I felt it too.

On the masked, high-precaution flight from New York to LAX, one could feel the lighter attitude. Gone were the sullen feelings and dark shadow over the country. The Trump voters were still standing by for him to be declared the winner, but it was apparent to everyone else in America that the spell of hatred was breaking. The numbers were against him. Trump was losing badly. The last states to be called, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania were all falling solidly in the Biden camp. The closest vote counts were in Georgia and Arizona, but by Friday evening Biden was ahead with a small but insurmountable lead in both. He already had enough votes to win the presidency, but few in the mainstream media were ready to make that call publicly. Bill Maher relished in calling it and so he did, with his usual boldness and swagger. Twelve hours later, the rest of the national media would join him.

So, there I sat. Ready to spoil the party, trip up the parade, and pop the bubble of Kumbaya that was forming over America. I was doing my usual job of marring an otherwise happy occasion by warning that a grave threat was looming. And journalists, commentators, analysts, and pundits of all stripes started to anticipate the prospect of being able to sleep in without Trump’s tweets waking them in the middle of the night. The joy of the election’s results would form a crust of tears when the risk outgrew the adrenaline rush of happiness.

Not me. “I’m going to give you doom and gloom,” I said to Maher. “We are going to have a political paramilitary insurgency in which Donald Trump will be Saddam Hussein; we already have his sons, Uday and Qusay.” Maher was a bit incredulous but asked the right question and caught on quickly. He said, “Paramilitary—in other words, not the military like in these countries; they don’t want to use the official military, so they have their Boogaloo Bois.”

I agreed that “paramilitary” meant “the Boogaloo Bois, Proud Boys, and all the rest of the Vanilla ISIS crew.” We then discussed what would happen when Trump’s supporters rejected the election results and started active armed resistance.

I went on that show with an agenda. I wanted to associate the events that were to come with the word “insurgency,” and I wanted to do so as soon as possible and from a highly visible platform.

I had been tracking a disturbing trend all throughout 2019 that reached a crescendo by the 2020 election, and so I could not enjoy the momentary silence. A new movement was silently emerging from the embers of the American right-wing extremists known as the alternative right, or alt-right. They were angry. They were armed. And they would reject the Biden victory vocally and violently. They were primed to become insurgents in a low-grade civil resistance.

As predicted, they started with an act of blatant insurrection. Based on Trump’s seditious words, his supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, 2021, with the intent to stop the certification of the election by force. Most came to storm the building and to stop the vote. Others may have come to hunt and possibly kill Vice President Pence and Speaker Pelosi. Only a miracle and the bravery of the Capitol Hill and Washington, D.C., police officers prevented more than the five deaths that happened that day.

In my role as counterterrorism expert on MSNBC news, I have a track record of offering well-grounded warnings based on intelligence analyses that have proved uncanny in their accuracy. There is a reason for that. As an intelligence professional, I don’t guess. My work is years ahead of most media investigations because I collect hard data and analyze events through the lens of my thirty-plus years of intelligence community experience. My career in monitoring, tracking, and destroying foreign threats to America gives me the ability to call out risks and incoming challenges that might not reveal themselves easily to others. That body of knowledge and a natural alacrity at detecting the right pattern means I identify risks faster, more accurately, and with greater depth than the average journalist or amateur web sleuth.

In July 2016, I was the first person in U.S. news media to warn that the United States was under attack through a massive political warfare operation using foreign disinformation created by a hostile agency, the Russian Directorate of Military Intelligence, the GRU. This operation corrupted the mindset of more than a third of Americans. It was successful in generating so many false narratives that most journalists looked in the wrong direction not just for the origins of the attack but to determine Russia’s objectives.

In my first Trump-Russia scandal book, The Plot to Hack America: How Putin’s Cyberspies and Wikileaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election, I accurately predicted the strategy, tactics, players, and foreign intelligence operations that worked to put Donald Trump into the presidency. And I did it six weeks before the 2016 election. Two years later, the Mueller report, a House Intelligence Committee report, a joint intelligence community report, and a Senate Intelligence Committee report all validated every assertion I made.

They Want to Kill Americans also has disturbing links to my 2018 book The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the West, in which I present cooperative links between Russian-backed European far right extremists and the new American alt-right. The alt-right is a hodgepodge of American hatred—an unglued assemblage of racist and anti-Semitic neo-Nazis, fascism-loving white supremacists, white evangelical dominionists and dead-ender southern neo-Confederates. The alt-right had its international coming out in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 11 and 12, 2017, at the Unite the Right rally. Their aim: to show the world America had a serious fascist army who would bring this country into the fight to defend the white race.

The right-wing extremists first held a torch-lit night march reminiscent of the Nazis’ Nuremberg rallies. The next day, they tore into the lines of liberal protesters and a melee ensued. One alt-right militant drove his car into a crowd of protesters and killed a young woman named Heather Heyer. The youth wing of the conservative movement had made its mark. By evening, all of America and, by extension, the world knew who the alt-right were.

At the time, they were all unabashed supporters of President Trump, but the love was not publicly or openly reciprocated until the day of Heather Heyer’s death. President Trump knew who they were; they were Trump voters. Instead of condemning their actions, he called them “very fine people.” The savageness of the national rejection stunned Trump, but it also stunned the alt-right. Seemingly overnight, even the limited public support for their activities disappeared.

However, the violence did not. Over the next two years, flashes of their pro-Trump extremism would emerge: a series of attacks on synagogues in Pennsylvania and California that killed Jews; an anti-immigrant mass shooting in Texas that massacred Mexican Americans; the mailing of sixteen pipe bombs to the Democratic party leadership in an attempted assassination by Cesar Sayoc, an unabashed Trump supporter, who built the bombs in a van festooned with Trump’s images and dozens of bumper stickers spewing hatred of liberals and Democrats and who was subsequently arrested by the FBI. All of these terrorist attacks revealed a trend. The perpetrators were almost exclusively supporters of President Trump and his most hateful policies.

These incidents also revealed that the alt-right had not actually dis- banded after being called out in Charlottesville. In the run-up to the 2020 election, they assimilated so deeply into the pro-Trump Make America Great Again masses that they just seemed to disappear from the political stage. In fact, they went underground . . . in the open. They adopted the red MAGA hat as a form of camouflage and became indistinguishable from the average angry Trump voter. In the chrysalis of Trump rallies, few recognized their transformation into a giant multiarmed hate monster. Like the fictional radiation-eating Mothra, they fed and grew more powerful on their enemies’ detestation. During the summer of 2020, they finally revealed themselves as a much larger armed militant force deter- mined to use the Second Amendment as both a shield and a potential cudgel to bully the nation.

Hundreds of armed gunmen showed up at the steps of the Michigan State House to demand that the governor, Gretchen Whitmer, stop shut- ting down businesses and mandating wearing a mask in the middle of a global pandemic. The Proud Boys, a militant all-white street-fighting gang, attacked Black Lives Matter protesters in numerous cities. The Boogaloo Bois, a group of young white “accelerationists,” rallied to hasten the fall of the current government through armed struggle to bring about an all-white ethnostate. Traditional state militiamen were recruiting and were now showing up on the streets of America to visibly confront minorities who opposed Trump’s policies. Their guns were almost everywhere you looked.

A new factor emerged as well. An internet cult. A fringe of a fringe inspired by secret messages from a supposed mysterious military intelligence official who called himself Q. Q preached a gospel that Donald Trump was a global hero secretly dismantling a cabal of Satan-worshipping liberals and Hollywood elites who kidnapped and murdered children. The rantings of the devout Q-Anon believers predicted a Trump-led “storm,” during which tens of thousands of liberals would be arrested or killed.

By the end of the summer, it was clear to intelligence professionals that these groups, the most vociferous of Trump’s adherents, were being honed into a dagger designed to slit the throat of democracy. They were planning for war.

They Want to Kill Americans is an evidence-based assessment of events and activities that uncover the insurgency that started well before the insurrectionists’ attack on the U.S. Capitol. While many regarded Donald Trump’s antics as just narcissistic insanity, a few of us recognized that there was a serious threat—that there was an un-American malevolence rising within the seventy-four million people who voted to keep him in power.

They have already started to transform themselves into a malicious political-opposition machine that intends to destroy the Biden administration and liberalism in America on every level. The Chinese communist leader Mao Tse-tung optimized modern insurgency, giving it three phases. The first phase is the most important, when insurgents try to gain legitimacy by tearing down a solidly elected government though extreme political positions, propaganda, armed resistance, and terrorism.

With the election of President Biden and Vice President Harris, I made the relatively easy prognostication that the Trump movement will evolve into four wings: Trump and his family, the Republican Party and their mainstream voters, armed militias and terrorists, and the Q-Anon conspiracy cult. Over time as they continue to reject the 2020 election, they will merge into an active American insurgency. They will attempt to bring good governance into chaos and set the stage for the collapse of the Democratic Party coalition that defeated Trump. The armed contingents could well join into an alliance of physical-resistance forces to threaten and agitate for the largest armed rebellion since the Civil War. Then they will attempt to return to power.

Just as Sinn Féin was composed of a political party and a terrorist group, so too with the American insurgency the Republicans could become its political wing. Its leaders could cue a completely deniable militant wing to sow chaos, conduct terrorism, and carry out armed actions with and without direct orders.

I call this gathering movement the Trump Insurgency in the United States (TITUS).

The people who support TITUS will look like your neighbors, because right-wing violent-extremist terrorists, insurrectionists, and insurgents are your neighbors. And they want America to take a hard right turn away from democracy toward authoritarianism—by force if that’s what it takes.

They Want to Kill Americans shows how the last five years have, to varying degrees, transformed as many as seventy-four million Americans into advocates for dictatorship and enemies of democracy. The steps of the radicalization that created TITUS—and the symptoms of that radicalization—are visible. You may no longer be able to have Thanksgiving dinner with members of your family who advocate violence; you may be horrified by their open discussion of hatred and mass murder. And the conditions that created susceptibility to radicalization have not been changed by the pandemic, but have, in fact, been made worse.

The urge to return to a place of “normalcy”—to forget about Trump and his followers—though emotionally understandable, is the worst possible response we can have to potential future dangers. Trump’s losing the election did not remove him from our lives or remove him as an animating figure in the Republican Party. He is not going anywhere. Trump will likely continue to stoke the fires of hatred to an unimaginable level; he has never behaved within the norms of previous former presidents. The actions of Trump that led to the January 6, 2021, attack on the capitol and his impeachment trial provide more than enough evidence that he will continue spinning a dangerous mythology of himself as folk hero and conquering knight.

American militiamen, terrorists, and radicalized political activists are already armed in numbers that must be taken seriously. The strategy, tactics, and evolving beliefs that drive the raw street-level acts have been regularly missed in the media, principally because Trump’s most loyal and violent foot soldiers benefit from white privilege.

They Want to Kill Americans is the first highly detailed look into the heart of the potential low-grade insurgency that will either lose steam or explode and set the stage for a social-media-driven internal rebellion. I reveal who the insurgents are and the roots and current manifestations of this threat, providing a way for readers to understand the past, present, and future of radical, domestic, right-wing violent extremism in America. I offer strategies that empower individuals, civic groups, and local, state, and federal government to counteract and prevent the agitation that threatens our democratic system of governance.

They Want to Kill Americans is an early warning to the nation. America may once again come under a wave of terrorist attacks. But unlike our foreign enemies, the chaos agents and subversives who attacked our democracy from overseas in the global war on terrorism, the enemy that threatens our democracy now is within our borders. They are American. And they are radicalizing, arming, and planning to kill Americans to install a dictatorship. They must be stopped, hopefully before blood flows in earnest.

Excerpted from “They Want to Kill Americans: The Militias, Terrorists, and Deranged Ideology of the Trump Insurgency” by Malcolm Nance. Copyright © 2022 by Malcolm Nance. Republished with permission of St. Martin’s Press.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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