TOOLED-UP militias have taken to platforms such as TikTok in recent years where they’ve shared extremist content and spread wacky conspiracy theories.
Isabel Sawkins, of the Henry Jackson Society, told The Sun that far-right movements were “emboldened” under former President Trump as she fears the US could edge further towards a civil war in the wake of Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial.
A wave of protests swept the nation in cities following the killing of George Floyd by a police officer on May 25, 2020.
In Kenosha, Wisconsin, riots were sparked when Jacob Blake was shot by cops and left partially paralyzed on August 23.
Rittenhouse, then 17, vowed to "protect businesses" in Kenosha amid the chaos, and traveled to the area armed with an AR-15-style rifle.
On August 25, Rittenhouse shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz.
On Friday, he was cleared of murder and attempted murder over the shootings, after convincing a jury he had acted in self defense.
Sawkins says the case may divide the country even further, and embolden militias.
The Waco standoff of 1993 and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing were significant moments as the American militia movement mobilized, Sawkins said.
Officers at the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms tried to execute a search and arrest warrant as they suspected the religious cult Branch Davidians were stockpiling illegal weapons.
Gunfire erupted and FBI agents sparked a siege that lasted 51 days. Cops used tear gas in a bid to force the Branch Davidians out of the ranch before their compound The Mount Carmel Center burst into flames.
Domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh sought revenge for the Waco siege and thought bombing was a “legitimate tactic” against a tyrannical government, according to a letter published in the Buffalo News and cited by CNN.
The Oklahoma City bombing saw at least 168 people killed and injured more than 680. It remains the deadliest act of domestic terrorism ever seen on American soil.
In recent years, militias believed they "were not represented" under President Obama, while their ideas were "emboldened" during the Trump presidency, according to Sawkins.
Sawkins believes the rise of social media has played a significant role when it comes to explaining the rise of militias.
She said: “Social media has unequivocally been a major player. It is both a blessing and a curse on society. It gives people a platform for echo chambers.
“On social media sites, there are algorithms meaning that if you pick one thing, for example, it shows you more.”
Sawkins claims there's not enough policing on social media sites as extremists moved away from the likes of Facebook and Twitter to platforms such as TikTok.
She said: “Part of the reason for the growth of the militia movements has been the growth of social media. The ability to connect with people in all corners of the world to share ideas.”
TikTok bosses have taken considerable steps to limit the spread of harmful content as phrases such as "Proud Boys", "Boogaloo" and "III%ers" are in breach of community guidelines.
The acronym NFAC, which refers to the militia group The Not F**king Around Coalition, is also in breach of the site's guidelines.
Members of the so-called "Boogaloo Bois" are heavily armed and are increasingly skeptical of government.
Meanwhile, the Three Percenters are an anti-government group that took its name from the idea that only three percent of American colonists armed against the Brits in the American Revolution.
The Sun found that videos relating to the frivolous conspiracy theory QAnon can still be accessed when searching for "QNAnon".
Violent clashes of an anti-vax rally in Los Angeles from August, and footage of Proud Boys supporters at December's pro-Trump “Jericho March” were among videos that contained the hashtag "ProundBoy2020".
A TikTok spokesperson told The Sun: "TikTok does not tolerate hate speech. We work aggressively to combat hate by making this content harder to find across search and hashtags and proactively removing accounts and content that violate our policies.
“We continually update our safeguards with misspellings and new phrases as we work to keep TikTok a safe, creative and authentic place for our community.”
Sawkins said: "People will think of different ways to work around this so that their posts don't get banned. Or they'll use slightly different terminology to refer to what they're trying to say."
A 2019 Department of Homeland Security unclassified paper revealed that domestic violent extremists appeared to "exploit" TikTok.
Findings revealed that users shared videos promoting violence prior to the Capitol insurrection, and law enforcement reporting revealed that some TikTokers apparently shared videos where they discussed how to “sabotage” rail tracks.
The shooting of Blake sparked a wave of protests against systemic racism and police brutality.
Rittenhouse was among armed militias patrolling the streets of Wisconsin as Kenosha descended into chaos.
He argued that he fired in self-defense, as he pleaded not guilty to criminal charges including first-degree reckless homicide and first-degree intentional homicide.
Sawkins said: "Militias see themselves as the true American patriot who are fighting for this constitution in a world that they think has been co-opted by anyone who doesn't stand with them."
The expert fears that tensions could escalate irrespective of the Rittenhouse verdict, potentially edging towards a civil war.
Sawkins said: “It’s going to be very telling – whether it’s guilty or not guilty. There is going to be some kickback and I think we have to monitor that situation closely.”
She called for the FBI and Homeland Security agencies to “adapt their tactics” as they try to tackle the threat.
Militias have “misinterpreted” the Second Amendment – the right to bear arms, the expert claimed.
She said: “It was written at a time when we were talking about completely different weaponry back then.
“The right to bear arms today is so much worse than it was when that amendment was being written.”
Racially-motivated extremists posed the more lethal domestic terrorism threat, according to a National Intelligence report published earlier this year.
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