“1776 Returns,” a nine-page document federal prosecutors obtained as part of its case against former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, could give us a window into the group’s plans to storm the streets. government buildings on Jan. 6, 2021. Not specifically mentioning the Capitol building, the document would offer a five-point plan by Jan. 6 for members of the group to appear “unsuspecting” and “not appear tactical” when occupying government buildings, and chant “We the People” and “No Trump, No America” ​​to blend in with the protesters. According to the New York Times, it included a section that was apparently meant to tell the public what to do.

One person very interested in the contents of the document is Colin Clarke, a former Carnegie Mellon professor and expert on counter-extremism. Over the phone, he told me that “1776 Returns” offers one of the clearest records to date of what happened before the Capitol riot – and what really happened on the field that day. We talked about what this document teaches us, how it compares to what it routinely sees when monitoring far-right communications, and what it means for ongoing trials. Our conversation has been edited and condensed.

Aymann Ismail: What is new in this document? What does it show?

Colin Clark: It shows a lot of forethought, that it’s deliberate, that it wasn’t just, as a lot of people have claimed, something spontaneous that just happened. For some of the Capitol Stormers, I think they were swept up in the moment. But for many people, especially leaders of groups like the Proud Boys, it was premeditated. It was a very deliberate decision to go there and cause a real upheaval. That was the point, to dredge up some instability. If all went well, they could overturn the election. Because it failed, I hear a lot of people rejecting it, but the intentions were real. These people legitimately wanted to overthrow the government and overthrow the elections. We can’t forget that was the overriding goal here, by any means necessary, frankly, even if it meant killing lawmakers.

The document would ask members of the Proud Boys to blend in with the crowd and not “look tactical”. Is it common for groups like these to use protests to protect their activities?

They use this actual expression. Clever. It’s surreptitious. As with any ambush or assault, you don’t necessarily want to announce your intentions. Now, some people there were definitely trying to intimidate the Capitol Police and wanted to be a show of force, in some ways. But for others, especially those who aren’t the most vocal on social media, they had a very deliberate plan for what they wanted to do. This includes remaining silent until you are ready to ambush.

Does this sound like other planning documents you’ve seen for the Proud Boys and other far-right groups? Are documents like this common?

It’s different because it’s not propaganda. It wasn’t something people bragged about or tried to flex. These were actual instructions that some people probably took very seriously and planned to act on, and did act on. It is something that should not be rejected. I think it’s different from a lot of stuff that bands like the Proud Boys do. Much of it attracts attention and simultaneously attempts to appeal to their own group of members while “owning the libraries”. Much of it is performance art or virtue signaling, where they do something and call attention to it to use for propaganda purposes.

This is different. It’s strategic. It was something much more insidious, in my opinion.

You used the word “intelligent”. Is it particularly sophisticated or advanced, from what you can tell?

I don’t know if I would say particularly sophisticated. It’s quite simple: go infiltrate these buildings with various supporters and hope that it will cause a change, hope that you catch the opposition off guard in a vulnerable moment and can actually move forward by achieving some of the things you were looking to achieve. here.

How important is it to be brought to light?

This is important for people like us who have been following this fiasco from the start, because it shows deliberate intent. That’s one of the big things, when you talk to the court, what was the planning that went into that? Was it premeditated? And that shows more evidence that, absolutely, it was premeditated, that it was all part and parcel. Now, I don’t mean everyone was on the same page. I think several groups in this larger network had their own plan, but there was a clear intention on the part of the Proud Boys, on the part of their supporters, to do something more than just protest. The plan was action-oriented, and it is set out in this document.

In the end, it’s another log on fire in terms of evidence that this was a really big deal. You still have Republicans who want to deny the toughness or downplay it, but this is obviously a pivotal moment, I think, in the history of our country. It shows, unfortunately, how fragile the state of our democracy still is that you have these very illiberal elements in American society who don’t hesitate to try to overthrow a free and fair election. We can’t just slow this down and make it look like a bunch of freedom-loving patriots who got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is not what it is. It was a planned coup; it was an insurrection. I am not surprised that documents like this have circulated and are now surfacing. I’m sure there are others that we don’t know about. I’m convinced.

The map didn’t appear to show any plans to enter the Capitol. What does this tell us?

The document was titled “1776 Returns”. These people are called patriots. It just feeds into, I think, the general spirit of what these people were trying to do. The document contained a detailed plan to monitor and storm government buildings around the Capitol on January 6. It’s a big problem.

What should law enforcement have done if they had seen this plan in advance? Should every document or plan like this be taken seriously?

I am often very skeptical about this sort of thing. So if it’s found to be genuine, which it seems to be if the Times reports on it, it lines up with a lot of other things we know that day. I think there’s some weight to that; I don’t think random documents would necessarily make their way into a story like this. But it’s consistent with showing that these leaders had a plan, the leaders of many of these groups had movements, and that the plan was pretty, pretty robust. It wasn’t something in its early days. A lot of thought and strategy went into what would happen on January 6th.

Is the indictment of Enrique Tarrio, but also Stewart Rhodes of the Oath Keepers militia, a big deal in security circles?

They are because they are a deterrent if it happens again in the future. I think part of the reason we saw such a huge turnout on January 6 is that we’ve been living with the double standard for so long that a group of white people who know we’re protesting in favor of President Trump would be out of scope of the law. The indictments show that is not the case. I still think there is a double standard, but at least it’s not complete impunity for those involved.

Have you seen discussions of these lawsuits on right-wing chat rooms and on the deep web? Will this have an effect?

It was all of Ukraine. From what I’m looking at, that’s pretty much what we’re watching right now is the right-wing reaction to the conflict in Ukraine. A lot of those things have been put on the back burner for now.

How important do you think the convictions are? Will they change that?

Well, it could very well be used as a kind of attempt to pressure the defendants for more information about what the outlines of the larger conspiracy looked like. I don’t know what form it takes, if it’s about making a deal, cutting years, etc. But I think there’s obvious leverage when you sue someone. One of the complaints I’ve heard before was that the government is only looking for low-hanging fruit, easy points. By prosecuting leaders like Rhodes, like Tarrio, they show that no, it’s not true, that there will be accountability to the leaders, that these people are not blameless.