Mia Bloom

Domestic Terror Alert

Air Date: August 2, 2021

Terrorism expert and Georgia State University professor Mia Bloom discusses QAnon and contemporary U.S. domestic fundamentalism.


HEFFNER: I’m Alexander Heffner, your host on The Open Mind. I’m delighted to welcome today’s guest, Mia Bloom. She is professor of communication at Georgia State University and author of the new Stanford University volume “Pastels and Pedophiles: Inside the Mind of QAnon.” Mia, a pleasure to welcome you today.


BLOOM: Thank you so much for having me, Alexander.


HEFFNER: It’s our pleasure. It’s my understanding that you and your co-author recently briefed the National Security Council on the domestic terrorism threat of QAnon. Can you give us the highlights of what you shared with them?


BLOOM: Well, we actually lowered the temperature. You know, if we have 30 million people that are potential terrorists, we’re in deep trouble. So basically what we did was we made the distinction between people who engage in terrorism and people who participate in radicalized posting or discussions. And so we actually said that if it’s a military individual with military training, there’s a danger. Or if it’s an overlap between QAnon and Oath Keeper or KKK or Patriot Front, then maybe. But the idea that all those moms in Anaheim carrying a sign, Save the Children, are future ISIS terrorists. No. And, and what we, the reason we made the argument is people have been going on the news because they’re trying to sell books or whatever reason, and they’re amplifying the threat. And my argument, and I actually did a thread in which I said, we need to bring the temperature down. We need to have learned from the mistakes we made after 9/11 and not, you know, ramp it up when we need to be tamping it down. And I finished the thread, posted it to Twitter, and I’d say about 10 minutes later, I got an email from the National Security Council: Would you be willing to brief us? So I do think that they do want to learn from the mistakes that we made after 9/11, 20 years ago, and not repeat these mistakes, even if there is an incentive on, let’s say for us to sell books, it’s more important that we’re accurate.


HEFFNER: This is the question that I asked Travis View, who follows QAnon closely, when he was on The Open Mind right before the first lockdown during this pandemic. And that is, what percent of QAnon, that is people who are loyal to that faith, whether it’s the former disgraced retired general, Michael Flynn, or the mom in Anaheim that you mentioned, what percent of that community is legitimately fundamentalist?


BLOOM: Well, and this is how we interpret fundamentalists, right? Because we know that QAnon is especially popular among evangelicals. It’s about one in three evangelicals believe that there is a global cabal of child trafficking, blood drinking Satanists. So the problem is that if you are conceiving of the enemy, so they think it’s mostly Democrats although they’ve added in the house of Windsor in the UK, the Bush family, the McCain family, Hollywood. But if you genuinely believe that the Democrats are all blood drinking, child trafficking killers, you’re not going to want to meet them halfway. You’re not going to want to compromise. And so there’s a method to their madness of trying to make it existential. Well, you can’t negotiate. You can’t come to terms with someone who’s a Satanist. When we’re looking at people who believe in QAnon, there’s also probably levels of Q. And part of the problem is always going to be that you just need a tiny kernel of truth to anchor those beliefs. So when they say that there are elites who are trafficking in children and getting away with it, and then Bill Cosby is out of jail or Woody Allen isn’t arrested or Jeffrey Epstein or Ghislaine Maxwell. The problem is that there is a little tiny kernel of truth that child trafficking is a problem; that there are powerful people who do not pay the price when they violate the law, but that’s where it ends. And so that’s where we have to figure out if someone is going to be a violent individual to start with, and then they start down that rabbit hole, can they be activated by the movement? And someone like Ashley Babbitt? The answer is yes. You know, she was a veteran of four tours. She was trained by the U.S. military, and we train our soldiers to kill. So she was a deadly weapon.


HEFFNER: You can argue based on your answer, that a hundred percent of the Q community is fundamentalist. It’s a question of what percent of that community is prepared to carry out their will. And one of the eye-opening things when Travis was our guest, was his saying unequivocally that this was a political mission, that this had a political agenda. When you think of the Oklahoma City bombing, or when you think of Waco, when you think of domestic terrorism and episodes of that, you don’t think of it as the cumulative mission or impetus of overthrowing the government like January 6th and the insurrection, or attempted insurrection on January 6th. And so how do you further analyze the community of Q followers who will actively exert their will to overturn an election result or to murder a Capitol police officer? Because that, it strikes me that that percent of Q followers given the millions that you’re identifying, that needs to be identified.

BLOOM: And that would be the hundred-thousand-dollar question, right? Because we don’t have the ability to predict with accuracy who’s going to engage and who isn’t. You know, what we’ve seen is, we’ve seen from the people who were arrested. So there’s around 600 people. Who’ve been arrested for a failed insurrection with the capital from January 6th, about 70 of those were QAnon. And we have a lot of people who are QAnon who were either arrested at the Capitol or arrested for the 12 crimes that we detailed in the book between 2018 and 2020, 68 percent of them have had some sort of mental illness. And so when we’re looking at this, we also know from, you know, Sophia has been studying terrorism for 25 years. I’ve been doing it for 33. Terrorist groups do not like people who are mentally ill. They’re not reliable. They’re not good for operational secrecy. They leak. So generally terrorist groups don’t employ people who are mentally ill, but when you look at mass casualties’ shooters, when you look at what they call lone actors, I don’t like the term lone wolf, but the media does, we also see very high levels of mental illness. So the possibility of there being alone attack is much higher than some sort of coordinated attack along the lines of Oklahoma City in 1993. And keep in mind, these anti-government militia have been running rampant while we have been 20 years focused on a Jihadi threat. Because of 9/11, we have allowed domestic terrorism to grow very deep roots. And we don’t have a really good statute to identify what domestic terrorism is. So a lot of times when it’s domestic terrorism, we’re going to call it bias crime. It’s going to be charged at the local level instead of the federal level, the barriers for, the requirements for evidence are different, they’re lower. And so we’re going to see a lot of these people arrested, but we also have to understand that the ability to predict who is going to act on their grievances, we’re not there yet. We don’t have like the personality profile yet. We don’t have all the things that we would need. And you know, those of us who’ve been studying terrorism for decades and decades, we would love to produce a personality profile, but it hasn’t been done yet. What we do see is, we do see some of the facilitating factors and, and certainly if you are an Oath Keeper or someone who is in anti-government militia, and you’re also QAnon, we’ve got a very dangerous combination and those were the people we need to look at. We also need to look at people in law enforcement and because last July 4th disgraced Michael, General Michael Flynn pledged his allegiance to Q. We have to be concerned that there are people in the military who subscribe to QAnon and are going to try to overturn anything to protect the children.


HEFFNER: Well, that worst case scenario of exploiting those who are disillusioned as well as mentally ill, was what played out on January 6th. It was a combination like you’re saying of folks who were curious and folks who were established as avid threats to domestic security. And the question in predicting the profile, which you said is that $100,000 dollar test or task ahead for the National Security Council, the NSC, are they interested in the answer to this question about how many folks online are play-acting versus how many folks would actually be mobilized to engage in a January 6th style event? I mean, and we have to ask further, we know that it’s quite possible if those critical figures had not been evacuated from the Capitol, that there could have been much graver harm. So then there’s the further question of not just who would mobilize to be summoned to DC for the 6th to invade the Capitol, but who would actually assassinate Vice President Pence or Speaker Pelosi. So when we try to diagnose who is play-acting online versus who would do it in the flesh, what insight can you share with us about that?


BLOOM: One of the projects that I did, you know, because I’ve been working on terrorism for a long time, we approached QAnon as if we were approaching the beginnings of a movement like ISIS. Like Al-Qaeda like Boko Haram, because we’ve got the experience of looking at that for a very long time. And so what do we know from those experiences? Well, there are going to be a lot of people who are posting. There’s a lot of, you know, braggadocio, I think the term is that they’re bragging online. The thing about lone actors from the studies that have been done in London by Paul Gill and Noemie Bouhana is that 74 percent of the time, lone-actors have revealed some very specific elements of the plot to friends and family and co-worker. So we have always had a bystander problem with lone actors. The lone actors are hard to detect ahead of time, but because they’re not part of a group they’re very easy to arrest and you have to find them, arrest them, try them.

So that’s how we have that information. So part of it would be, is anyone revealing elements of these plots, to friends and family, to give friends and family the opportunity to come forward with the information, you know, the way Ted Kaczynski’s brother called the authorities and do so in a way that’s safe and isn’t going to put a stigma on you for having reported. But we also noticed that people don’t just stay on one platform when they’re online, they move from the open platforms like Facebook or Twitter, and then they’ll go to semi-encrypted platforms like Telegram, Tam Tam Messenger, Rocket Chat, and then they move to the dark web. So one of the projects that the Department of Defense has given Georgia State University, and I’m working with the, there’s a special program here, Evidence-Based Cybersecurity Program at Georgia State, that we can watch them move from different parts of the internet. When they get to the dark web to buy the weapons, now we know that these are the ones we need to watch carefully. So we can monitor someone moving from the open platforms to the encrypted platforms, to the deep dark web. And once they get to the dark web, they’re violating a lot of crimes, let’s say, purchasing weapons or explosives. And that’s where you can get the FBI in, and prevent something really, really bad from happening. As far as organizing, we’ve also seen that they’re very bad about keeping secrets and even Donald Trump, he’s like the he’s like the villain in the Bond film that always tells you his plan before he walks out of the room. And you know, oh, I guess James Bond is fine on his own. I could leave now. So Donald Trump says, if the straw poll is good. I believe it. If it’s not good, it’s fake news. He will tell us if they’re planning something.


HEFFNER: That being said, Mia, you warn our viewers that you saw the foundation of Q, analogous to the foundation of a Boko Haram. I mean, that, that would scare the bejesus out of most folks. I think that they are more on that page now than they were pre-January 6th. But I think a lot of people assume because Vice President Biden, now President Biden assumed the oath of office, and that there was not a further manifestation of January 6th in the run-up to the inauguration that, you know, we’re scot-free, and, and that’s not the case. You can testify to that. It’s so interesting that project you mentioned, because I often think about the extent to which Trump legitimized the kind of domestic terrorist language and those grievances that had been in the web 1.0,, if you will, in those private chat rooms, since the McVay era and, and Twitter and Facebook and company, you know, just basically said, come on down, I’ve said this on the air before. It’s like Bob Barker on The Price Is Right. “Come on down,” to not just the disinformation, but to the threat of violence and the actual violence itself or organization of the violence. So I just wonder though, the thread of domestic terrorism that began, you know, in sort of its modern incarnation, I don’t know if you want to attribute it to Oklahoma City or prior to that, but the sort of modern domestic terrorism that we see Trump tacitly or not so tacitly endorsing in the events of January 6th, do you see it as a single thread or, you know, what are the threads that you see as kind of the foundation that you can say, assertively, that this is like an Al-Qaeda or this is like a book overall?


BLOOM: Well, as someone who had studied terrorism for a long time, because I was studying it nine years before 9/11 even happened, more than nine years, but as a scholar, not just as a student, the thing that always I found curious was how the KKK was so clearly a terrorist organization and was very rarely included when we talked about terrorist groups. And that’s because the legislation that occurred after 9/11, and even since 1968, when you look at terrorism, it was always foreign terrorist groups. It was never domestic. And of course, we know that, you know, the CIA is allowed to do certain things. The FBI is allowed to do other things. And so this was an instance where racism and lynching and all of the stuff that the KKK had been doing for a hundred years clearly was for political purposes. It was to terrify an audience. And it caused a lot of, a lot more deaths were caused by them than by terrorist groups, but they had not been considered part of our 18:22 understanding of terrorism. So when you look at what happened at Oklahoma City, and when, even when you look at QAnon now, I had to go back and I had to reread “The Clansman” by Thomas Dixon, because QAnon is using the tropes in, in book Two of “The Clansman” in the trilogy when he’s talking about Gus coming for your white women, and he’s going to rape the women, that is exactly the message you see on QAnon. It’s not just that you need to save the children. All of their children are white, they’re white, they’re blonde, because they understand that they’re looking at suburban white voters. They only care about those white women. And so they’re not going to actually show kids who are trafficked, who tend to be black and brown children, the vast majority. What they’re doing is they’re using the tropes from 1905. And so this is one of the things that I thought it was very important. We’re seeing QAnon now trying to control school boards, trying to change what your children learn. They’re also reaching out to voters of color, and they are stretching their tentacles to Latin South America. So one of the reasons I wanted to, I talked about it in the book, but even we needed more data. I published a piece last week and I went on to Joy Reid’s show to tell Joy about it. We need to explain that this kind of domestic terrorism is so intricately connected to racism and to white supremacy. And so, it’s not about saving children. It’s about saving white children, and it’s not about the blood-drinking cabal. It’s about the Jews and the people of color who are really behind the scenes, manipulating the situation and those kinds of domestic terrorists’ comments, you know, go back to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in 1903 or to the Clansmen in 1905.


HEFFNER: What you’re saying in the language is that the explicit goal is the same as the Klan. But in reality, it has been reframed in a way that can appeal to a wider cross-section of people, which actually includes black and brown people. I mean, the, the most recent rallies that the disgraced former president have had, you know, and interestingly, over the course of four plus years of rallies he would have an audience behind him that was not all white. I mean, often that was intentional. And it had been reported in, by at least one outlet that there were Craigslist ads for Trump supporters early on to be paid to be in the balcony or to be behind Trump.


BLOOM: So, I mean, it certainly explains Candace Owens. I mean, you’ve got, you’ve got people who, you know, for them, it’s all about the grift. It’s all about the money, so that there are going to be people who can be bought. And the problem is most suburban voters are uncomfortable with racism, but they are comfortable repeating some of these slogans, not realizing that well, that’s actually part of the problem. You know? The joke that I saw on Twitter was if we actually did teach critical race theory, we wouldn’t need critical race theory, in other words that people understood it. This is now the new rallying cry CRT or Ashley Babbitt. Who killed Ashley Babbitt? Well, there were more than one person that died that day, but this idea of like, it’s a white woman and she was a veteran and a wonderful, lovely woman who was committing a crime to try to get into the speaker’s lobby when she was shot. Like there’s so much distortion going on that it is very much the way, when I look at the terrorist groups, this is how they distort information. They spread conspiracy theories because the conspiracy theory allows them to fail. But there’s a reason for the failure. So it’s not that Trump lost the election. It was stolen. It’s not that Trump did all these things. It’s that there are these forces, this cabal of, you know, blood-drinking, Hollywood pedophiles and Democrats. It allows them, it allows the base to continue to believe in something that keeps failing, premonition after premonition. After the election, there was supposed to be a storm March 4th, that didn’t happen. There was supposed to be something else, January 6th. I don’t know if that was a storm. Cindy Powell kept saying she was going to bring out the kraken. The fact remains is that none of the predictions that QAnon has made over the four years have come true except one. And that’s all they needed. Like they only needed one to be right to turn around and say, you see, we told you. And that was when they said, when Bill Gates announced that he was getting divorced, no Bill and Melinda Gates. They said it was because of Jeffrey Epstein. And it turned out that even a broken clock is correct twice a day. You know, they got that one, right. It had to do with Epstein, but now they’re able to say, well, we were right on this one thing. We’re right on everything else, even though they’d been wrong on everything.


HEFFNER: I think when you invoke the question about critical race theory and its emergence as this hotly contested political question, I think that goes back to my question about what percent of the Q community believes X, Y, or Z, you know, and specifically what brings human beings to the point of having resentment of other human beings, and to what extent that is based on their skin color and their life circumstances. And so, you know, you have this situation where you know, Fox News is not even necessarily trying to legitimize January 6th anymore, but they are trying to legitimize this kind of soft racism. And I wouldn’t call it soft racism, but there are people who would say that in 2021, we ought to be judged by the content of our character and not our skin color, still and not be part of the Q community and not be distorting Dr. King’s words. I mean, because there is a legitimate question about wanting to be judged on your, on your merit. And there’s also the significant question that the original sin remains the original sin. And that is our country was grounded and founded on that basis of that sin. And we have never, we have, we have never corrected that wrong. I mean, we have never in any kind of fact-based way, said we are repatriating land. We are calculating the extent to which people worked here, were enslaved, and were not paid or compensated, And as a result have lived in conditions that are far from desirable for decades and decades and decades, so…


BLOOM: Even worse. We paid restitution to the slave owners for having lost the slaves. So not only have we not paid the slaves, but we paid their owners money for having fun.


HEFFNER: So Georgia flipped a switch in electing two Democrats and you know, progressive-leaning Democrats to the United States Senate and voting for President Biden for president. The question really though, is this idea of, you know, you’re saying who is going to be scared in the suburbs of this message of, you know, critical race theory and in the backdrop of the supposedly increase in crime, which is possibly true in some municipalities, often exaggerated relative to the crime that occurred in the eighties or seventies. And,to some extent early nineties. But my question is this about the critical race theory as a, as a compelling factor in further fueling the extremism and fundamentalism of the Q community because you say that that Q are being elected to school boards, and it’s probably on the basis of this issue. We only have a couple of minutes left but, but how do you address this in sort of the context of understanding the history of this country, also understanding that people should be judged on their character as well as, you know, the circumstances in which, you know, they, they participate in our, in our country.


BLOOM: I think the most important thing for your, for your viewers and your listeners to know is that they are conflating accurate history with critical race theory. Critical race theory is taught in law school. And what it says is that there are institutional biases that are placed in the system in which people of color are not treated at the same level. And we know that to be true. I mean, that’s, that’s actually an accurate statement, but it’s a buzzword. And so now they’re thinking that if you teach people that the founding fathers had slaves, that that’s critical race theory, no, that’s just accurate history. And so when you had Kayleigh McEnany come out and say that the founding fathers were against, against slavery, the vast majority of the founding fathers own slaves. So I think it’s important that we make the distinction and an accurate history is not a bad thing. And so sometimes for example, I’m reading something and I’ll see about, let’s say my, like my ethnicity’s involvement in something. And instead of being, oh, I don’t want to see it. I can’t, I can’t handle it. No, I want to actually know what happens, like what happened, because the more you learn, the more educated you are. And the more you have critical thinking skills, and the more you can assess your situation better because, you know, we’re not going to be a country that refuses to look at our own history. That’s just ignorance.


HEFFNER: Right. It’s not patriotic history, even it’s this sort of revisionist history as if you committed no wrong. I mean, in any believer in a religious text, if Q purports to be religious knows that homosapiens have committed some wrongs, we are imperfect. Mia Bloom. We have to leave it there, but I really thank you for your insight today and appreciate, you know, the insight you bring and, and also the fact that you shared it with the NSC to prepare them for what is around the corner. Thank you, Mia.


BLOOM: Thank you so much for having me, Alex.


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