“I would say one of the biggest differences compared to maybe last year this time, I think Jan. 6 was a watershed event in that the far right now almost universally sees themselves as victims, and that’s become a big part of the narrative—that it’s a witch hunt and ‘we’re being persecuted, and you’re seeking us out and applying treatment that other people wouldn’t get,'” Clarke said.
Clarke called Rittenhouse “a useful idiot” who has become “the face of the movement.” Like most far-right extremists, Rittenhouse is a “free agent” who isn’t affiliated with a specific group.
“I don’t know how much they (right-wing extremists) truly care about Kyle Rittenhouse himself or the results,” Clarke said. “And I think maybe they hope that they lose, that he becomes this martyr. He’s almost worth more in jail than he is freed, because then they could point to this, ‘Look, this is indication of our victim narrative.’ Like Ashli Babbitt, she’s now this martyr, but had she lived, she wouldn’t have been an icon or someone to promote. The far right is going to frame the outcome to their needs. They’re really good at doing that.”
He added that the Rittenhouse’s trial is especially significant given that it’s happening at the same time as the Charlottesville case and the House Select Committee’s investigation of the Capitol insurrection.
“So to the extent that these are all lumped in to create one narrative, I do think it’s powerful, because for far-right extremists, to them, it’s ‘proof’ that they’re being persecuted,” he said. “And that’s the same narrative that Trump is going to pump up on social media. As we get closer to midterms and 2024, this all becomes fuel for the far right to motivate their base and say, ‘Look, we are on the outs, and we need to do something.'”
Asked about preventing more people from being radicalized, Clarke noted that pro-Trump groups have “amalgamated together, and Trump has become a religion in and of himself.”
“So how do you get someone to change their religion? Especially if they’re a really fervent believer. The answer is you don’t,” he said. “And if you look at some of the research by organizations like Moonshot, one of the things that they suggest is that when you’re talking to a QAnon supporter, don’t try to argue with them, because they’re only going to dig in further. And I think that’s much the same with a lot of extreme Trump supporters, especially when it reaches that almost theological level where they look at him as a God.”
However, he added that when far-right extremists are elected to Congress, it becomes a different story.
“So you don’t engage with some of the most extremist narratives. But when you have these folks in Congress, like Marjorie Taylor Greene and others, it’s like, well, what do you do?” he said. “How long can you ignore them before it’s like, ‘Well, maybe we should be doing something’? And I think the Republicans, frankly, are far better at messaging than the Democrats. And they’re willing to play outside the lines and the Democrats are just a bit too cautious. And I think if they remain too cautious, they’re going to end up regretting it.”