Skip to content

Illustration by Security Management 

Conspiracy Theories Exacerbated Extremism Threats in 2021

Violence triggered by domestic extremists and conspiracy theorists is on the rise, according to recent data from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish civil rights group.

Killings by domestic extremists in the United States increased from 23 in 2020 to at least 29 in 2021, with right-wing extremists—fueled by conspiracy theories, misogyny, and anti-vaccine sentiments—killing 26 of those people, the Associated Press reported. Roughly half of the killings did not have a clear ideological motive. Of those killings that could be attributed, 13 were linked to white supremacists, three to anti-government extremists, two to Black nationalists, and one to an Islamic extremist.

While the 2021 count marks a modest increase from 2020, it is still far below the number of extremism-linked murders between 2015 and 2019 (45 to 78).

“Domestic extremists—extremists who are U.S. citizens or longtime permanent residents—regularly commit murders in the service of their ideology, using deadly force against perceived enemies,” according to the report from the ADL Center On Extremism, Murder and Extremism in the United States in 2021. “In addition, extremists also often commit murders in the service of a group or gang they may belong to—targeting a rival group member, for example, or even a suspected informant in their own ranks. Extremists can also commit murders while engaging in non-ideological criminal activities ranging from home invasions to domestic violence.”

The ADL cited a number of recent cases in the report, including a December 2021 shooting rampage by Lyndon James McLeod that left five dead in Denver. McLeod was involved in a toxic masculinity subculture called the “manosphere” and harbored revenge fantasies against his victims.

One QAnon conspiracy theorist killed his two young children in August 2021, claiming that his wife had passed “serpent DNA” on to his children. In September, a Maryland man was charged with killing his brother, sister-in-law, and a family friend because he believed his brother—a pharmacist—was poisoning people with COVID-19 vaccines, the AP reported.

Conspiracies linked to COVID-19 origins or treatments have also left Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders at risk for attack

Extremism-related incidents are also on the rise in the United Kingdom. According to the Community Security Trust, a charity that provides security for Britain’s Jewish community, there were 2,255 recorded reports of anti-Jewish hate incidents in 2021—up 34 percent from 2020. The rise was driven by reactions to violence in Israel and Gaza and exacerbated by frustrations from COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions. The number of anti-Semitic violent attacks rose by 76 percent.

Domestic extremism is also threatening specific professions. According to the head of the U.S. Marshals Service, Ronald Davis, U.S. federal judges were the target of more than 4,500 threats and inappropriate communications in 2021. Davis told journalists in a conference call this week that the threat is “growing exponentially.”

The threats to judges came in some cases from disgruntled defendants and others from white supremacists and anti-government activists, Reuters reported.