Right Wing Watch at 15: Documenting, Exposing, and Disrupting Right-Wing Extremism

Members of the Proud Boys attend the "Stop the Steal" march (also referred to as "March for Trump" and "MIillion MAGA March") on Washington, D.C., on Nov. 14. (Photo: Kristen Doerer)

Right Wing Watch began its 15th year sounding the alarm about growing calls for violence and revolution from far-right leaders and activists that were being fueled by widespread promotion of Donald Trump’s lies about a “rigged” and “stolen” presidential election. The violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 was no surprise to us, and it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone paying attention.

We’re still paying attention. The Jan. 6 insurrection failed to prevent Congress’ certification of President Joe Biden’s victory, but as 2021 comes to a close, the lies and anger that fueled the insurrectionists’ rage continue to be stoked unapologetically by far-right strategists and far too many Republican politicians. In short, the coup failed, but the effort to undermine our democracy is gathering steam.

For years, Right Wing Watch has countered threats to democracy and democratic values by monitoring, analyzing, exposing, and disrupting the overlapping movements of the religious right, alt right, legal right, corporate right, and far right. We’ve recognized the role of conspiracy theories to the broader right-wing movement, from the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen to the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory. Right Wing Watch was among the first to chronicle the QAnon conspiracy theory movement as it emerged and merged into existing extremist networks. And we were among the first to cover the so-called Stop the Steal movement to keep former President Donald Trump in power.

In recent years, Right Wing Watch reporting has led social media companies to deplatform toxic propagandists like Alex Jones, Rick Wiles, and Josh Bernstein, hampering their ability to spread harmful bigotry and dangerous conspiracy theories. When televangelist Jim Bakker used a global pandemic to hawk a fake anti-viral product, Right Wing Watch reporting on the bogus claims led three state attorneys general to take legal action against him.

Now, as we head into a crucial election year, Right Wing Watch is targeting promoters of conspiracy theories, voter suppression, legal discrimination, and religious bigotry. We’re shedding light on right-wing school board takeovers and monitoring extremist candidates running for state and federal office.

Right Wing Watch reporting and analysis serves as an invaluable trusted source for journalists, scholars, and progressive activists seeking to better understand far-right movement activities and strategies. That is why Right Wing Watch and its staff experts are regularly cited in media coverage and books about right-wing movements.

It also explains why journalists and other Right Wing Watch readers leapt to our defense this June, when YouTube permanently suspended the Right Wing Watch account in the latest in a frustratingly large number of incidents in which the platform seemingly made no distinction between the purveyors of extremism and a watchdog exposing and critiquing that extremism.

One reporter called Right Wing Watch a “vital service.” Another publicly chastised YouTube for “threating the investigators the same way they treat the propagandists,” adding, “Calling out hate isn’t hate.” Among the coverage was this description of Right Wing Watch from Gizmodo:

While it is perhaps best known for tracking prominent far-righters like InfoWars conspiracist Alex Jones or The 700 Club host Pat Robertson, much of RWW’s work focuses on an array of more obscure individuals ranging from members of the “constitutional sheriff” movement and radical evangelical preachers to radio hosts, QAnon personalities, and all other manner of volatile weirdos.

RWW’s detailed site and video collections thus exist as a long-term archive of extremists’ past comments and actions, which is both helpful for understanding their actions in the present and a roadblock to them obscuring their pasts in pursuit of greater public exposure. On more than a few occasions, RWW’s coverage has played a role in extremists getting suspended from sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, which goes a long way toward explaining the gloating tone of right-wing Twitter users responding to the tweet in which the site announced it was banned.

Within hours of Right Wing Watch posting news that YouTube had rejected our appeal of the suspension, the company apologized and backtracked.

We reach readers through our website and constantly growing social media presence—with hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, where our videos have clocked more than 52 million views. Right Wing Watch also shapes larger public and cultural understanding of the dangers posed by right-wing figures and movements, our coverage often amplified on late night television and by prominent cultural figures. The Gregory Brothers of Songify created widely shared mashups featuring Right Wing Watch videos of Trump advisors Paula White and Rudy Giuliani when they refused to accept the results of the 2020 election. Earlier this year, the musical phenom Lil Nas X retweeted a Right Wing Watch video clip of far-right pastor Greg Locke, adding, “I’m sampling this.”

Truth is our first line of defense and our best weapon against extremism. Right Wing Watch will continue to disrupt the right and hold public figures and public officials accountable by shedding light, and bringing heat, where they are most urgently needed.