- ACLED recorded over 953 incidents involving armed groups, unlawful paramilitary groups, or armed individuals at demonstrations from January 1, 2020 to June 4, 2021. Just under half (416) of recorded armed actors were unidentified or unaffiliated with an organized or named paramilitary group.
- Among these unaffiliated armed actors, the overwhelming majority of counter-protest groups or individuals targeted BLM demonstrations — 94% of all recorded armed counter-protests were in opposition to BLM, defund the police, or anti-confederate monument protests.
- Excluding named militia actors, armed demonstrators mobilized for mixed, political causes including around COVID-19, Stop the Steal, and longer term 2nd Amendment related triggers, as well as Black Lives Matter and defund the police.
- 14% (57 of 416) of all unaffiliated armed demonstrations involved shots fired, with just under half (27 of 57) carried out by actors that were not originally involved with the demonstration or an explicit counter-protest.
- Disinformation and misinformation sparked a significant portion of armed mobilization — including rumors of “antifa buses” and false narratives of a stolen election, with these incidents occurring in at least 13 of 50 states.
Following the high profile role of unlawful paramilitary and “organized” armed groups in the events of January 6, much public attention and research has rightly turned to examining specific named, unlawful paramilitary groups. However, the majority of people arrested in connection with the Capitol attack were not affiliated with militia organizations.
These unaffiliated actors, or otherwise unidentified armed groups, continue to be a reality in the US protest environment. Moreover, the attack on January 6 was preceded by a year of multiple notable trends in these types of armed actors at protests. For example, a Georgia man recently charged with participating in the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, also reportedly attended an August 2020 neo-confederate/militia rally in Stone Mountain and has said that he has traveled to several other states throughout summer 2020 to counter-demonstrate against BLM protests. Among at least 4 people arrested on firearms charges following the attack in January, Cleveland Meredith, a heavily armed man who threatened to “[put] a bullet” in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s head, also reportedly “put several BLM protesters on edge” when he showed up with an assault rifle to counterprotest a BLM rally on June 5 in Hiawassee, Georgia. Similarly, Richard Barnett, the man who was infamously photographed sitting at Nancy Pelosi’s desk on January 6, participated in at least 1 armed “Stop the Steal” protest at the Capitol in Little Rock, Arkansas.
This brief looks at 416 instances of armed actors and incidents involving guns at protests, where the armed actors were not reported to be affiliated with a named paramilitary or militia organization.