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Malcolm Nance awoke at 2:30 a.m. Wednesday to begin monitoring the situation in DC, where he knew supporters of President Donald Trump were already congregating.
One of the nation’s more prominent counterterrorism experts, the Philly native and West Catholic High grad had organized four teams to watch how the day unfolded. Using livestreams, social media feeds and forums, they carefully tracked the insurrection that for several hours delayed Congress’ certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s win.
What they saw, Nance told Billy Penn, amounted to a disgraceful lack of effort from Capitol police — and the underpinnings of something bigger.
“For the next four years,” Nance surmised, “[Trump] is going to lead a political insurgency that will have a paramilitary insurgent element.”
Nance is a veteran of the U.S. Navy, where he spent several of his 20 years as an intelligence collections operator and field interrogator. He founded and is the director of counterterrorism thinktank the Terror Asymmetrics Project on Strategy, Tactics and Radical Ideologies and frequently appears as a commentator on MSNBC.
He manned antiterrorism operations in the Middle East, Africa, the Balkans and South Asia, but these days he’s monitoring American governmental stability.
Comparing Donald Trump to Sadam Hussein and so-called Trumpism to the cultist ISIS and Al-Qaeda regimes, Nance pointed to the culture of misinformation that’s led Americans to an “ISIS level of self radicalization.”
What happened in Washington this week followed months of Trump and other Republican allies spreading false information about the legality and fairness of the November election, he said.
His next book, publishing this spring, will outline his predictions about the future of the “Trump insurgency.”
The most staunch supporters of the incumbent president refer to themselves as the best kind of Americans — patriots — Nance said, similar to the way members of ISIS viewed their brand of Islam as the best and only one.
And on radical conservative social media sites and forums like Parler, these extremists call their opposition communists, Nance said.
It’s a tactic of dehumanization he’s seen in countries like Rwanda, where groups label others before enacting a campaign of violence.
They’re ‘insurrectionists,’ not ‘terrorists’ — but still present a danger
On Thursday, Biden called the attackers who broke into the Capitol “domestic terrorists,” as did D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and former Acting and Deputy Director CIA Michael Morrell. Morrell said the attackers used “violence for a political end,” which he called the definition of terrorism. It’s a phrasing Nance, as a counterterrorism expert, does not endorse.
Nance is disturbed by use of the word terrorism to describe what happened because the group began as legal protesters.
Instead, Nance said, insurrectionists is a more appropriate term, “because they were stoked for political purposes, in order to rebel against the government and to knock down a government institution.”
The legal protesters turned to insurrections and insurgents when they, in some cases, breezed by Capitol police, busted the windows of the Capitol and stormed the building. Elected officials sheltered in place before being shuttled to an undisclosed safe house. One woman was shot and killed and three others died.
Congressman Dwight Evans, who represents Philadelphia, is among those calling for a 25th Amendment removal of Trump as president. The lawmaker said he’ll be co-sponsoring a resolution to remove every Republican legislator who objected to states’ electoral votes, which incited the attack, Evans suggested on Twitter.
Nance’s experience at home and abroad leads him to believe Wednesday’s events only represent the beginning.
“You’ll see a lot more of those Donald Trump car convoys when he’s out of office, then you’ll have seen during the campaign,” Nance predicted. “He is their tribal leader.”
His beliefs about the future of the U.S. offered little reassurance. The installation of the Biden administration will help quell another insurrection, he said. But that’s only one step.
“The one thing you have to do,” Nance advised, “is you have to break their belief system.”