Americans are still in shell shock from 2020, a year that projected the public onto the frontlines of extremism. Few people exited 2020 without a crash course on the complex reality of what extremist behavior and extremist ideologies look like.
And while most are heaving a collective sigh of relief that a torrential year of chaos and instability is over, it is most likely the case that extremism is our new reality for several years to come.
Here to help map out the year to come, we offer our 2021 forecast on how this pattern will unfold in 2021.
1. The Normalization of Extremist Groups
In 2020, Antifa gained a maelstrom of public support among civilians who believed in the group’s propaganda that it is simply anti-fascist. Despite Antifa’s violent behavior that included singling out individuals or smaller groups amid their mob and demanding uniform or compliant behavior, it has been largely lost on their public supporters that the group has exhibited the very thing it claims to stand: fascism.
In 2020, America witnessed, for example, everyday American mothers building a human wall (aka the “Wall of Moms“) to protect Antifa rioters from law enforcement. On the eve of the new year, Antifa announced a Portland-based Anti-Fascist Soccer League.
HERE ARE OUR TEAMS FOR OUR INAUGURAL MATCH DAY pic.twitter.com/yOd8iaATlR
— Portland Anti-Fascist Soccer League (@PDXAntifa_FC) December 30, 2020
The move to build community-oriented sports clubs not only normalizes Antifa but takes a page out of other extremist groups that seek these venues as soft ground for recruitment and outreach.
In 2021, expect further normalization and specifically integration of this extremist group into the fabric of society.
2. Asymmetrical Terror Attacks
Terror ideologies and terror tactics adapt to the times, as covered in Clarion Project’s inaugural podcast launch last year that looked at how jihadists were exploiting the COVID-19 crisis. Less than two weeks ago, on Christmas Day, an explosion in Nashville offered a new curveball in understanding terrorism.
Terrorism analysts Max Abrahams and Joseph Mroszczyk offered several points of significance that set the Nashville Christmas Day explosion apart from other terror attacks. The attack tried to minimize civilian casualties and was not accompanied by the dissemination of any ideological manifesto. Even though the Nashville attack was not a jihadist attack, the perpetrator copied the jihadi tactic of using a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device.
3. The Death of Nuance
A meme circulating around 2016 was “Everyone who doesn’t agree with me is a Nazi.” It was a tongue-in-cheek phrase marking the rise of polarization. Today, the more appropriate meme would be “Everyone who doesn’t agree with me must be an extremist.”
In 2020, the American landscape erupted in the war of extremes with opposing ideological groups engaging in open violence. The hyper-polarization driving more simplistic (and more dangerous) forms of tribalism will only escalate in 2021, with a combination of open violence along with antagonization and intimidation.
In 2021, vague identity markers — sloppily used by the media and political celebrities (where anyone can be marked as a white supremacist, an Islamist, etc.) — will be used by a broader percentage of the civilian population over issues that are not extremist in nature.
Case in point: Last month, a teacher out of Charlotte, North Carolina, called parents who want schools to re-open “white supremacists.”
While more terror attacks and splintering extremist factions are most likely in our future, the most dangerous of all is the rising radicalization of the American public via the death of nuance.
The most necessary course of action in 2021 will be disengagement and de-escalation. While the average American is not directly responsible for nor has control over major events, we all have a part to play in the perimeter that encircles our lives, whether on- or offline.