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The Florida Roundup

Extremists groups, Florida and the Jan. 6 attack on The Capitol

Capitol Riot Investigation
House Select Committee
This exhibit from video released by the House Select Committee, shows a social media post from Floridian Kelly Meggs, who was the Florida leader of the Oath Keepers, displayed at a hearing by the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Tuesday, July 12, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (House Select Committee via AP)

More people from Florida face charges from the attack than from any other state. Why has Florida become a hotspot for these extremist groups and others who took part in the insurrection?

What may be the final hearing of the Congressional committee investigating the January 6 attack on The Capitol is scheduled for Thursday, July 21. It will focus on what President Donald Trump was doing as his supporters were breaking through police barriers and storming the Capitol as Congress was meeting to certify the Electoral College results.

This week’s hearing was concentrated on the planning of January 6th, extremist groups and what the committee said were tied between the groups and former President Trump.

And Florida played a central role.

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Orlando-area Democratic Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy helped lead the hearing.

"Early in the morning of December 19th, the president sent out a tweet urging his followers to travel to Washington DC for January 6th. 'Be there, will be wild,' the president wrote," Murphy said.

And Florida is home to extremist groups that the committee said were involved in planning after President Trump tweeted. The committee presented evidence of this involvement.

"On December 19th at 10:22 a.m., just hours after President Trump's tweet, Kelly Meggs, the head of the Florida Oath Keepers, declared an alliance among the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys and the Florida Three Percenters, another militia group. He wrote, 'we have decided to work together and shut this shit down,'" said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland).

Rep. Murphy was invited to appear on The Florida Roundup. She declined.

So, too, did the following members of the Florida Congressional delegation who voted to overturn the 2020 results: Matt Gaetz, Carlos Gimenez, Brian Mast, Bill Posey, and John Rutherford. They did not return calls or emails.

Stephanie Murphy
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., speaks as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, July 12, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

"Florida really does seem to be ground zero for these extremist hate groups, particularly those that were involved in the Capitol riot and things of that nature," said Daily Dot reporter Claire Goforth. "It really becomes a question in my mind: 'Is it that Florida attracts extremists or does it grow them?' And I honestly think the answer is both."

There are more than four dozen hate groups operating in Florida, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. More people from Florida face charges stemming from the January 6 attack on the Capitol than from any other state.

"What has changed now is that these extremist groups have a seat at the table," said Antonio Fins, Politics Editor for USA Today Florida Network. "They are very much part of the political arena. They are part of the lexicon. They're part of the entire the way that their policy is decided."

Fins said extremist elements have appeared at Florida school board and municipal government meetings, especially during debates over masking policies earlier during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"They have a right to do so. But what crosses the line is that rather than having just simply a voice," he said, "the fear is that it's not just about, 'Hey, I want to be heard.' It is about, 'Hear me out and do what I want or else.' And I think that's what is alarming. That is what's disconcerting."

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In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.