Jan. 6: The role of extremist groups, and what happens now?

Capitol Riots

FILE – Rioters wave flags on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. As public trust in democratic institutions declines, conspiracy theories are filling the void. In some cases, that’s leading believers to doubt even their own allies. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

(NewsNation) — In its seventh public hearing Tuesday, the committee investigating last year’s attack at the U.S. Capitol examined the role of right-wing extremist groups.

Experts told NewsNation the various groups present at the Capitol that day likely played a role in escalating the violence.

“Jan. 6, like Charlottesville, was some kind of national siren call,” said Brian Levin, founding director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

Levin, who has been studying extremist groups for nearly three decades, said Jan. 6 provided a unique opportunity for otherwise fractured, local far-right movements to come together. An aggression that had been building, mostly online, was suddenly directed toward a clear target, he said.

Top leaders and members of far-right groups such as the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys have been charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the siege.

Last month, a federal grand jury indicted five members of the Proud Boys, including the former top leader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, who now faces seditious conspiracy charges for allegedly coordinating the attack at the U.S. Capitol.

More than three dozen people charged in the siege have been identified by federal authorities as members or associates of the Proud Boys.

In January of this year, 11 members or associates of the anti-government Oath Keepers militia group were also indicted on seditious conspiracy charges for their alleged role in the Jan. 6 violence. Founder and leader Stewart Rhodes is among those charged.

Even though the number of suspects tied to the two far-right organizations represents only a fraction of the hundreds of people arrested, Levin said the groups likely had a catalyzing effect on the violence that day.

“They (unaffiliated rioters) might not have been with an organized group with respect to violence, but when the violence became practicable, they were happy to participate in it,” Levin said.

By highlighting the two groups involved in the Jan. 6 attack, Levin said the congressional subcommittee could weaken their influence, effectively making them “radioactive.”

“Once you have criminal charges flying and congressional hearings flying, that puts you in a public-facing mode that many extremists would prefer not to be,” Levin said.

That doesn’t mean far-right groups, or their ideological influence, are going anywhere, Levin said. He expects a new group to fill the void.

“There are other groups, sometimes more in the shadows, that can actually be equally dangerous. And that’s what we worry about,” Levin said.

In June, New Zealand declared the Proud Boys a terrorist organization, although the U.S. group is not known to be active there. Last year, Canada did the same.

The Oath Keepers have denied there was any plan to storm the Capitol. However, three members have already pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy in connection to Jan. 6.

As of last week, more than 850 individuals have been arrested in nearly all 50 states for crimes related to the breach of the U.S. Capitol, including over 260 individuals charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement, according to the FBI.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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