Rising Political Violence in the U.S.: A Warning from Extremism Experts as the 2024 Election Approaches

by Ryan Lee
Political Extremism

The alarming incident where Paul Pelosi, husband of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was brutally attacked with a hammer by a man fueled by right-wing conspiracy theories, occurred just before the midterm elections. This event highlights a growing concern among extremism experts: the escalation of politically motivated violence as the 2024 presidential campaign intensifies.

Conspiracy theories targeting opponents of Donald Trump, such as “Pizzagate,” QAnon, and “Stop the Steal,” have evolved and spread, coinciding with Trump’s attempt to regain the presidency in 2024. Jacob Ware, a Council on Foreign Relations research fellow specializing in domestic terrorism, observes that these divisive ideologies are no longer confined to fringe groups but are infiltrating mainstream American society.

David DePape, convicted for the attack on Paul Pelosi, testified his intention to abduct Nancy Pelosi and coerce her into confessing perceived government corruption. He echoed QAnon beliefs, a theory asserting that Trump is battling a demonic, child trafficking cabal led by Democrats and Hollywood elites. Trump’s endorsement of QAnon-related social media accounts demonstrates the theory’s transition from extremist internet corners to the mainstream Republican arena.

Many participants in the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021, were motivated by QAnon beliefs. Prior to the riot, a message board, previously known as TheDonald.win, was active with plans for violence. The “Pizzagate” conspiracy, predating QAnon, falsely alleged a child trafficking ring operated by Democrats, leading to a shooting incident at a Washington pizzeria in 2017.

Trump’s 2024 campaign has seen an escalation in aggressive rhetoric. He has made light of the attack on Paul Pelosi and insinuated that Gen. Mark Milley, a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, should be charged with treason. Threats against politicians and election officials are widespread, spanning the political spectrum. For instance, a Californian is charged with plotting to assassinate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

QAnon, despite its leaderless and evolving nature, continues to absorb and adapt other conspiracy theories. Sheehan Kane of the University of Maryland’s START program highlights the adaptability of QAnon in aligning with current events. START research found QAnon-linked extremist offenders outnumber those from other groups in the U.S.

DePape’s radicalization began with GamerGate, a misogynistic online campaign against women in the video game industry. This path of radicalization, linking GamerGate to far-right conspiracies like Pizzagate and QAnon, is a recurring pattern in political extremism. DePape’s planned interrogation of Nancy Pelosi and other alleged targets underscores the dangerous reach of these conspiracy theories.

Experts warn that mainstream platforms’ inadequate moderation of harmful content fuels radicalization. Brian Hughes from American University points out the dangers of conspiracy theories’ appeal and their potential to lead to violence. To counter this threat, experts suggest reducing heated political rhetoric and being vigilant for signs of radicalization in individuals.

As the U.S. approaches another election year, historically marked by violence, experts anticipate a rise in extremist incidents, particularly given Trump’s ongoing legal issues and potential candidacy. The challenge lies in addressing the public health crisis posed by the consumption and spread of conspiracy theories.

Report contribution by Olga R. Rodriguez, Big Big News, San Francisco.

Big Big News is supported by private foundations to enhance its explanatory coverage of elections and democracy. The AP maintains full editorial responsibility for its content.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Political Extremism

What is the concern of experts regarding the 2024 presidential campaign?

Experts on extremism are increasingly worried about the escalation of politically motivated violence as the 2024 presidential campaign intensifies. This is attributed to the spread and evolution of conspiracy theories targeting political figures, particularly those opposing Donald Trump.

How have conspiracy theories like QAnon affected mainstream politics?

Conspiracy theories like QAnon, which began in far-right internet fringes, have now become a significant part of mainstream Republican politics. They have been linked to several crimes and incidents of violence, reflecting their growing influence and reach within American society.

What was the motive behind the attack on Paul Pelosi?

David DePape, convicted for the attack on Paul Pelosi, was motivated by right-wing conspiracy theories. He intended to abduct Nancy Pelosi, seeking to force a confession about perceived government corruption, influenced by QAnon beliefs.

How has Donald Trump’s rhetoric influenced political extremism?

Donald Trump’s combative rhetoric and endorsement of conspiracy theory-laden social media accounts have contributed to the mainstreaming of extremist ideologies. His comments and suggestions about retribution against perceived enemies have further intensified the political climate.

What steps are suggested to combat rising political extremism?

Experts suggest reducing the intensity of political rhetoric and being vigilant for signs of radicalization among individuals. Recognizing the public health implications of widespread conspiracy theory consumption is also emphasized as a key step in addressing the issue.

More about Political Extremism

  • Council on Foreign Relations
  • University of Maryland’s START Program
  • American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research Lab
  • Overview of QAnon Conspiracy Theory
  • Analysis of the Capitol Riot and Extremism
  • GamerGate and Its Impact on Extremism

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Linda Smith November 18, 2023 - 8:50 pm

so true about the need for better moderation on social media, it’s like a wildfire how these theories spread…

Mike Johnson November 19, 2023 - 7:26 am

wow this is quite an eye-opener, never really thoght about how these conspiracies are actually influencing politics on such a big scale, scary stuff

Sarah Connor November 19, 2023 - 9:24 am

interesting piece, but feels a bit one-sided, like are we just ignoring the extremism on the left or what? seems a bit biased to me

Gary Lee November 19, 2023 - 12:25 pm

I think the article could’ve focused more on solutions, not just the problems? we know it’s bad, but what can we actually do about it


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