Over time I have noticed that political developments in the US show a pattern that is similar to that of Sri Lanka in the way that democratic norms get eroded, except that there is a lag of a decade or two. Sri Lanka has been a democracy since it obtained independence in 1948 but it has periodically come under great strain as various leaders and parties tried to undermine the institutions of democracy in order to obtain short-term political gain. Undermining the independence of the judiciary and the media and using the instruments of state power to the advantage of the party in power have all been features that I saw in Sri Lanka back in the day and I see in the US now.
The latest disturbing parallel is to what happened in Sri Lanka in 1971 when an armed militant group emerged seemingly out of nowhere and attempted to overthrow the government. It was clear that although they had been undergoing extensive military training, they had managed to stay under the radar so that we were all taken by surprise. That initial attempt failed but the movement then morphed into an extended guerilla-type insurgency that lasted years and resulted in a huge amount of death and destruction
Given the other parallels, I had been wondering whether that might be a precursor to what could happen in the US when the insurrection of January 6th occurred that seemed to suggest that it might indeed be the case. This report from ProPublica described the participations of groups with guns, criminal records, and military training whose goal is to overthrow the government.
Before Parler went offline — its operations halted at least temporarily when Amazon refused to continue to host the network — the Last Sons posted numerous statements indicating that group members had joined the mob that swarmed the Capitol and had no regrets about the chaos and violence that unfolded on Jan. 6. The Last Sons also did some quick math: The government had suffered only one fatality, U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, 42, who was reportedly bludgeoned in the head with a fire extinguisher. But the rioters had lost four people, including Ashli Babbitt, the 35-year-old Air Force veteran who was shot by an officer as she tried to storm the building.
In a series of posts, the Last Sons said her death should be “avenged” and appeared to call for the murder of three more cops.
The group is part of the Boogaloo movement — a decentralized, very online successor to the militia movement of the ’80s and ’90s — whose adherents are fixated on attacking law enforcement and violently toppling the U.S. government. Researchers say the movement began coalescing online in 2019 as people — mostly young men — angry with what they perceived to be increasing government repression, found each other on Facebook groups and in private chats. In movement vernacular, Boogaloo refers to an inevitable and imminent armed revolt, and members often call themselves Boogaloo Bois, boogs or goons.
In the weeks since Jan. 6, an array of extremist groups have been named as participants in the Capitol invasion. The Proud Boys. QAnon believers. White nationalists. The Oath Keepers. But the Boogaloo Bois are notable for the depth of their commitment to the overthrow of the U.S. government and the jaw-dropping criminal histories of many members.
Mike Dunn, a 20-year-old from a small town on Virginia’s rural southern edge, is the commander of the Last Sons. “I really feel we’re looking at the possibility — stronger than any time since, say, the 1860s — of armed insurrection,” Dunn said in an interview with ProPublica and FRONTLINE a few days after the assault on the Capitol. Although Dunn didn’t directly participate, he said members of his Boogaloo faction helped fire up the crowd and “may” have penetrated the building.
For a long time, it seemed as if law enforcement did not treat these groups as a serious threat but as more like cosplayers imagining themselves as revolutionaries. But the events of January 6th may have changed that perception. They are being increasingly described as ‘domestic terrorists’.
Other ProPublica reporters managed to get into the chat rooms where these extremists gather and were able relay their discussions.
The chats also make clear that at least some of those involved in the Capitol insurrection, despite a sweeping crackdown by U.S. law enforcement that has resulted in more than 160 cases, appear dedicated to planning and participating in further violence.
“This has been one of my concerns shorter-term: That folks who are more fervent are seeking each other out in a way that can lead to some short-term, violent outbursts,” said Amy Cooter, a senior lecturer of sociology at Vanderbilt University who has studied militia activity for more than a decade. Homeland Security officials on Wednesday warned of heightened threats of violence across the country from domestic extremists who felt emboldened by the Jan. 6 attack.
Can these people get even close to their goal of overthrowing the government? The US military is a massive organization equipped with extremely lethal weaponry. If the military remains loyal to the government, it is unclear how the government can be overthrown. But the US is a massive country with a lot of places to hide. Unlike in Sri Lanka, it is extremely easy to buy high-powered weaponry. There are also a huge number of ex-military and police personnel in the US who have extensive fighting knowledge and skills. They also seem to have access to funding from wealthy supporters. An armed group waging a guerilla-type insurgency can probably survive for a considerable time and cause a lot of damage.