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STUDY: Arizonans seeking extremist, conspiracy, violent content online

Arizonans seeking extremist, conspiracy, violent content online
Posted at 10:53 PM, Feb 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-17 00:53:32-05

PHOENIX — A recent study found Arizonans sought out violent extremism and conspiracy theories online more than almost any other state.

The report was done by Moonshot CVE, a London-based tech company specializing in researching and countering extremism, and the Anti-Defamation League.

The groups found that in the months before and after the election, new posts on a popular Militia website increased 44% among Arizonans, which was the most in the country.

"Arizona was consistently in the top five states in terms of interest and at-risk content across the U.S, especially for armed groups like the Oath Keepers, 3 Percenters, and other groups like that," said Micah Clark, Director of Product for Moonshot CVE.

Arizona also led the United States when it came to conspiracy theory searches.

"There’s very strong interest in conspiracy theories in Arizona - certainly QAnon but also old chestnuts of conspiracy," said Clark.

Researchers believe that Arizona's increased interest is likely tied to the arrest of the self-proclaimed "QAnon Shaman," Jacob Chansley.

The costume wearing, Arizona native was a fixture at Valley events and one of the most recognizable people who stormed the Capitol on January 6. He is currently in federal custody in DC awaiting trial.

While some may be quick to dismiss online searches with potential violence, Clark says the radicalization and justification process online has real-world consequences.

"It’s the same Internet and a lot of times the same sort of online population," said Clark. "Because no one just wakes up one morning and decides they want to figure out how to make C-4 so they can overthrow the government."

Unfortunately, Arizona is also top two in searches related to "targeted violence."

"Searches like, 'How to make C-4? How to find a copy of the anarchist cookbook?' that indicate a sort of high-risk behavior and information seeking in Arizona."

A question many have -- will extremism continue gaining momentum?

"The less attention these groups are given, the less likely it is that they will be all that active and able to recruit new members and proselytize," said Clark.

Clark also noted that many extremist groups, including militias, are being de-platformed by major social media companies which hinder their ability to recruit, organize, and thrive.

He also said that the QAnon theory has lost some steam.

"There’s a tremendous amount of disillusionment among the QAnon community, in particular. In so far as the Q prophecies just did not come to pass...I think that may reduce threat overtime."

Others though, think extremism will continue to attract interested people across the country and especially in Arizona.

"This is an extremist movement that we will be seeing for years to come, unfortunately," said Jessica Reaves, Editorial Director at the ADL's Center on Extremism.