Review: American Insurrection (2021)


The PBS investigative program Frontline has been investigating hate groups in American for the last few years and I linked to two earlier documentaries that they produced in 2018. One was Documenting Hate: Charlottesville and the other was Documenting Hate: New American Nazis. Hence they were well positioned to explore the roots of the insurrection that occurred on January 6th because its chief correspondent A. C. Thompson already knew many of the key players in those groups.

Frontline along with ProPublica and a journalism project at the University of California, Berkeley has produced a new documentary that draws a line from the violent white supremacist rally at Charlottesville to the most recent riot. The documentary says that the fact that very few people were arrested and charged with creating violence and injuring people in Charlottesville (apart from the person who killed Heather Heyer with his car who is now serving life imprisonment) emboldened these groups, especially with the support they received from Trump.

The documentary says that some in these groups were radicalized during their time in the military and that indeed military people were targeted for recruitment because of the training and skills they brought with them

The documentary focuses on a few groups such as the Boogaloo Bois who favor wearing colorful Hawaiian shits, the Proud Boys who favor black and yellow clothing, and a Michigan-based group called the Wolverine Watchmen, who were behind the plot to kidnap and ‘try’ Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer and even kill her and other members of the legislature for what they see as treason. Thompson said that he recognized members of these groups in the crowd on January 6th even though they did not wear their ‘uniforms’, perhaps to better blend in with the rest of the people there and give the impression that this was a spontaneous outburst by ordinary people and not something that was egged on by key instigators.

The documentary says that the ideologies of these groups are all over the map. What unites them is their vague feeling that the US constitution is under attack somehow and that they have a duty to defend it and that doing so will require an insurrection or civil war. They seem to be positively eager to start it

One thing that emerges is that they all felt strengthened by Trump’s support for them. They clearly feel that he sympathizes with them and was considered by them to be a hero, at least while he was still in office. There is no doubt in my mind that if Trump had won re-election, these groups would have seen it as a vindication by the American public of their cause. Coupled with that that the Trump administration would not have cracked down on hate groups, they would have flourished. Now that Trump has lost, these groups have gone quiet and are lying low for the moment, especially as it is clear that the Biden justice department sees domestic terrorist groups like them as a major threat. There are reports of infighting within groups and between groups as to what to do next.

Here’s the trailer.

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