Written by Emma Bronsema
The apparel worn by the rioters storming the Capitol on January 6th demonstrate how far-right extremists use their clothing, adorned with specific symbols, to get attention, instill fear, and gain a following. They focus on appearance so the public will pay attention and, in some cases, be more receptive and truly listen to their ideas and ideologies. What people see is more impactful than what they hear. It is what turns people’s heads and sticks with them.
Clothing, or the uniforms worn by extremist group members, was, and still is, effective. It provides a way for individuals to advertise their mind state and shared purpose. It can be used as a way for someone to embody another character – to become a person whom they believe should be idolized. Moreover, it allows for people to rebel against what they disagree with, and stand up for their ideologies and views.
This was seen through the costumes used during the riots; which included Proud Boys logos, sweatshirts with 1776 written across the front, clothing with Q-Anon and Oath Keepers symbols, ranging from discrete to plastered across the front, and many others. There were also some people who wore clothing with anti-Semitic sayings and symbols. This included a black hoodie with “Camp Auschwitz” emblazoned on the front. The symbols adorning these clothing items were meant to break a taboo and resurface painful memories, and the associated fear and emotions.
The popularization and saturation of these symbols are meant to normalize the extremes to which they represent. Members of these far-right groups want to share and spread their ideologies amongst the general population. Through the use of their uniforms and costumes, they are able to gain traction on social media platforms and grab people’s interests and attention. This creates a receptive audience who intentionally engage with the messages they are being fed.
Marketing tactics and quality-made clothing makes these groups accessible, and encourages the normalization of their opinions and ideologies. Through the use of clothing, they are able to foster a sense of belonging and promise relationships and fulfillment. This is especially attractive to those who feel alienated or rejected by the status quo.
The wardrobe choices of the rioters were intentional. Historically, uniforms needed to foster a sense of intimidation and fear. Shaved heads and combat boots was one way to do it. Symbols aided in the provocation of fear, uncertainty, and provided a reminder of a previous time. They are historically grounded and used because of their association with past events and or peoples.
In general, clothing is now more modern and trendy. Hoodies, hats, and shirts fit in with what the general population wears. However, they still have historical roots and allow for loud statements by those who step out of their uniforms with a clear message.
Some clothing is garish, outlandish and stands out, while others blend in with the crowd and popular styles. Both extremes grab attention and make a statement, but to different extents. The latter is more relatable and makes the individuals in the onlooking audience question the generalizations surrounding the group and what they stand for. In other words, it goes against historical stereotypes of the group to which they belong, and are more open to listening to what they have to say. The former pays homage to their “origins” and those who came before them, sharing similar values. For example, one of the rioters, known as the “Q Shaman”, was dressed to make a large and clear statement. The use of the viking symbolism with the horn helmet and knot tattoos are a nod to the idea of the “aryan” race, and the associations of the vikings with strength, honor, violence, and superiority.
During the riots, the images circulated through social media and made their way out of the United States to Europe. They sent messages of hatred, of fear, of anti-semitism, of strength of the group, of pain and suffering, of white supremacy, and of far-right ideologies. The fixation, fascination and horror that came as a result of looking at the clothing adorned by the rioters allowed for their messaging to be widespread and gain traction. Out-there clothing demands attention, and their messaging was captured and spread throughout media outlets. Therefore, far-right groups are able to gain momentum through the use of what they wear and the symbols they choose to adorn themselves with.