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How has extremism in Ohio changed since Jan. 6?

Violent insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump scale the west wall of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021.
Jose Luis Magana
Violent insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump scale the west wall of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021.

Images of people storming the U.S. Capitol to protest President Donald Trump's loss in the 2020 election shocked the nation.

Almost 50 of those later convicted in the insurrection hailed from the Buckeye State — and some were part of anti-government militias or other groups with extremist beliefs. But experts say the makeup of extremist groups in Ohio has changed in the years since Jan. 6.

Army veteran and Woodstock, Ohio, resident Jessica Watkins was in the Capitol that day. Recordings used at her trial captured her railing against Vice President Mike Pence for allowing Congress to certify the election results.

a mug shot of a woman
Montgomery County Jail
via AP
This undated photo provided by the Montgomery County Jail shows Jessica Watkins. Watkins and Donovan Crowl, both from Ohio, were held at a county jail in Dayton after being arrested Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. Watkins and Crowl, two self-described militia members, are faced federal charges that they participated in the assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Transmissions from walkie-talkie app Zello to fellow members of the militia group the Oath Keepers place her inside the Capitol as violence ensued.

"We are in the mezzanine, we are in the main dome now," she says in the recordings. "They are throwing grenades, shooting people with paintballs, but we are in here."

Watkins has recanted some of her anti-government beliefs, saying she fell for misinformation. She's serving eight years in federal prison for obstructing Congress and interfering with police.

RELATED: Trump has embraced Jan. 6. The extremist message may alienate — or resonate

She's one of hundreds who were arrested and later convicted for their actions that day. Others include Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, who helped plan the insurrection from afar.

What's changed

Katie McCarthy is a researcher with the Anti-Defamation League. She says the high-profile convictions put a damper on those groups.

a closeup of a camouflaged backpack holding guns and sunglasses on a person in a long-sleeve black shirt
Jason Whitman
Armed protestors prepare to march at the Ohio Statehouse ahead of the inauguration of then-President-elect Joe Biden, Sunday, January 17, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio.

"Post-January 6, the Oath Keepers, the militia groups, the anti-government groups sort of collapsed," she says. "They’re still around, but we don't really see a whole lot of activity from them now. I think a lot of that is just due to the fear post-January 6. There's a lot of paranoia about the feds coming after these guys."

Southern Poverty Law Center Research Analyst Jeff Tischauser agrees. But he says that doesn't mean extremism is leaving Ohio. Watkins had started her own small militia as an offshoot of the Oath Keepers prior to Jan. 6. Tischauser says groups like that are on the rise, even as the bigger groups wane.

"The folks who might have joined a national organization like the Three Percenters or the Oath Keepers are now more likely to be joining regional militias. There are a number of regional militias that have popped up in Ohio."

Analysts like Tischauser and McCarthy are keeping tabs on other kinds of extremist groups with explicit white supremacist beliefs.

LISTEN: What are 'active clubs,' the right-wing extremist gangs growing across the U.S.?

"When it came to white supremacist events nationwide in 2023, Ohio ranked second in the country," McCarthy said. "They had 21 incidents in 2023, which was up from, I think, 15 in 2022."

A Neo-Nazi group Blood Tribe held at least three demonstrations in Ohio last year, including protests at a drag event in Columbus in which a few dozen members brandished swastika flags and a banner reading "there will be blood."

And in March, drag group Cincinnati Sisters canceled a book-reading event in Milford after they say they got threats from a white nationalist group called the Ohio Active Club.

Tischauser says that's part of a larger trend.

"If you want to see where the pulse is for hate and extremism groups, it's looking at Pride events," he says. "For the last several years since J-6, we've seen just an overwhelming amount of attention on Pride events by the far right."

What's next?

Still other groups are wrapping extremist anti-government or white supremacist beliefs in subtler language to try to recruit more people and gain a foothold in local political systems in Ohio.

Researchers are seeing people with extreme beliefs trying to become poll workers or poll watchers, for example, or running for office in municipalities across the state.

"When you have a whole bunch of individuals who believe that the 2020 election results were stolen, that the election was rigged, and now they're trying to get in and become poll workers and be folks that are involved in that vote-counting process in 2024, it's a little concerning," McCarthy says.

In a statement after the presidential primary election, Ohio's Secretary of State Frank LaRose assured the public the state's elections are and will be secure.

LISTEN: Extremism is on the rise. How to prevent people from turning to hateful ideologies

McCarthy with the Anti-Defamation League says she's worried about these kinds of extremism, even though she says she doesn't see a big threat of another Jan. 6 incident happening after the 2024 election.

"The 2024 election is definitely a concern," she says. "But I don't think we'll see January 6 2.0."

Nick has reported from a nuclear waste facility in the deserts of New Mexico, the White House press pool, a canoe on the Mill Creek, and even his desk one time.