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Waukesha and the Rebirth of Anti-BLM Conspiracy Theories

Providing a tidy narrative of white hate, the far-right is using the recent attack as a means to recruit and agitate with news of a race war on the horizon

Almost as soon as George Floyd died on May 25, 2020, the conspiracies about his death began to rise from the discourse, aiming to discredit why it happened. 

Some claimed Floyd wasn’t dead, and that the whole incident was set up by George Soros to fuel Black Lives Matter. People took to Facebook to share stories of why the killing of Floyd was orchestrated to trigger a race war. Even Tucker Carlson looked into the camera for his three million viewers and told them that there was “no physical evidence” that Floyd was killed by police officer Derek Chauvin, instead arguing that it was a Democrat plot to empower BLM and “overturn the old order.” 

Over and over again in 2020, America’s right-wing mouthpieces attempted to build the narrative that the Black Lives Matter movement wasn’t a decentralized, largely grassroots effort built on a network of community activists, scholars and volunteers. Instead, they posited that it was an instrument of the radical left and spread myths that the government had deemed BLM a “terrorist group” and that BLM activists had, among other things, beaten elderly white people. 

When the pandemic spike in Asian hate crimes became national news, those same right-wing voices claimed that “BLM ideology” was responsible, using conspiracies to politicize a complicated issue of poverty and class. The goal was never nuanced analysis — it was to demonize anyone supporting BLM and affirm the mythology of its existence as a threat to white security in America. 

The narrative was recently renewed again — this time through the tragedy of the Waukesha parade attack. Six people were killed and nearly 50 injured when Darrell Brooks Jr. turned his red SUV onto the same street as a holiday celebration and accelerated through the crowd. The Waukesha Police Department has said the attack was “not terrorism,” and the Anti-Defamation League concludes Brooks doesn’t subscribe to “an overarching extremist ideology.” 

But in predictable fashion, the far-right has latched onto Brooks as a BLM “terrorist” — and disinformation actors are doing everything they can to support the myth that Black liberation activism, and everyone who supports it, is a machine designed to destroy whiteness in America. 

On right-wing chat rooms, forums and social media groups, people are spreading the gospel of Brooks as the ultimate harbinger of an upcoming race war. Alt-right propagandist Joseph Jordan, aka “Eric Striker,” detailed on his blog how Brooks’ support of BLM and rapping about Black liberation is proof that he is an agent of a leftist plot. Elsewhere, on Laura Loomer’s Telegram channel, there was talk of Brooks being an Islamic jihadist for a “Black Supremacist Sect.” 

The reality appears to be a lot more murky: Reporting after the attack found that Brooks was diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder as a young man, and had a history of sudden, violent outbursts toward a variety of people, including family members. The evidence points to Brooks being an unstable man with inconsistent motives, and we know that untreated mental health disorders, as in the case of Brooks, is often a trigger for isolated young men who flirt with violence. 

But those are inconvenient details for the far right, which is pointing to Brooks as the newest, most tangible evidence that a fight for Black liberation will mean, as Tucker Carlson put it, the destruction of “an old order” led by white hegemony. Some went even further, pointing to Waukesha Police Chief Daniel Thompson, who is Black, as part of a plot to bury evidence of an anti-white attack. Indeed, an insistent thread through many of these conspiracy claims is the supposed involvement of mainstream Democrats, leaders of institutions like police forces, and corrupt media, which they say are working in conjunction to encourage anti-white hate. 

People on a 4chan thread on the Waukesha attack fixated on the judicial missteps that allowed Brooks, who has a lengthy history of interpersonal violence, to go free on $1,000 bail during a domestic violence case just weeks before the parade attack. One 4chan post accused Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisolm, a Democrat, of purposely inciting violence against white people. “Democrats hate humans and want to murder them at every turn. Dude was prob running from the cops because he is out on cashless bail for rape charges,” wrote another commenter, citing the wrong charges. 

Beyond the insistence of “BLM terrorist” as a legitimate threat, right-wing groups on Facebook and Telegram are continuing to tie individual actions to “leftist elites,” with some claiming that President Joe Biden was responsible for arranging the Waukesha attack. While such claims seem absurd, we’re hearing disguised versions of that rhetoric spread in much more mainstream spaces. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, for one, has been stoking the embers of the Waukesha attack, suggesting Brooks was incited by “media lies” about Kyle Rittenhouse and tying it to “anti-white” rhetoric. 

From a “conservative commentary” page with 1.3 million followers 

For white supremacists, it all adds up to a ripe opportunity to demonize the Black Lives Matter movement as the source of violent racist ideology — which means an opportunity to dismantle the idea of Black liberation itself. It’s no wonder that the “National Justice Party,” a group of violent neo-Nazis, felt emboldened enough to gather in Waukesha on November 27th and proudly raise signs that read “STOP ANTI-WHITE HATE,” “STOP BLM TERROR” and “DOUBLE STANDARD.” And it’s not surprising that passersby listened and honked, likely without realizing they were supporting white supremacists. 

It’s another chapter in how white supremacists and allies in the far-right have used a narrative of victimhood to paint social change as a zero-sum struggle — one in which whites are victims of an increasingly agitated “Other,” whether it’s the nebulous “Left” or something slightly more specific like BLM. But the history of the radical right shows that this victimhood is a powerful myth used as propaganda to unite and grow the movement when dramatic politics and tragedies unfold. 

Screenshot via Facebook video posted by National Justice Party

The tensions recall what Kathleen Belew, an expert on far-right organizing and the growth of white supremacy, observed about the broader implications of QAnon and the January 6th insurrection: That the fight over disinformation, and who controls popular narratives, is key to understanding the rise of white extremism in America. “I think the most important thing to understand is that this is an opportunistic movement,” she told NPR. “I don’t think it’s at all clear that they’re interested in political change or even in political activity, particularly. I think they’re interested in mobilizing political discontent in order to wage war on democratic institutions. … I don’t think this was a move to dictate the future of the Republican Party. I think this is a move to bring about civil war and instigate civil strife.”

Meanwhile, the activists who lead Black Lives Matter across the U.S. are continuing to fight, staving off misinformation through a steady amount of outreach. But it’s another obstacle standing in the way, and far-right actors aren’t done thinking of new myths and half-baked lies.

All it takes is another tragedy, and the right combination of suspect and victim, to grasp the narrative anew.