By Will Graves '24; Image from LA Times/Kent Nishimura
General perceptions of terrorist actors tend to follow the historical trend of assuming actors to be predominantly male. Growing involvement of female actors since the beginning of the twenty-first century indicates strategic motivations behind female terrorism held by both organizations, and female actors themselves. Researchers have primarily focused on female terrorist actors in the form of Jihadist suicide bombers, and their exploitation of Muslim gender roles. However, the rise of right-wing terrorism in the United States during the Trump Administration, culminating in the Capitol Insurrection on January 6th, 2021, revealed the importance of female terrorist actors in American domestic terrorism. The United States is behind in its female counter-terrorist measures, as well as its public perception of gender roles in terrorism. The female right-wing terrorists involved in the Capitol Insurrection further established the overlooked presence of female terrorists in America.
The January 6th attacks unveil a history of growing right-wing terrorism incited by former President Donald Trump. Consistent assault on American Democracy, specifically the legitimacy of voting systems, served as a recruiting tool for right-wing terrorists that rallied behind the President. Trump’s terrorist support reached its finale when Pro-Trump mobs led a violent riot inside the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. Male actors such as Jake Angeli, the Q’anon user covered in face-paint and dawning a fur hat with horns, and Josiah Colt, the thirty-five year old Idaho resident who sat in the chair of former Vice President Mike Pence, were heavily featured by many news outlets including CNN. Although identifying these radicalist actors and associating them with the insurrection depicted the event and its participants in a certain light, the media did so at the expense of focusing on the female actors involved.
An April 2021 article published by ABC News highlighted the “overlooked” role of women in the Capitol Riot. Two women in particular were identified through their social media posts, in which federal prosecutors found video evidence of them saying “we broke into the Capitol … we got inside, we did our part,” and “we were looking for Nancy to shoot her in the friggin’ brain, but we didn’t find her.” These divisive words illuminate the underlying sentiment of many female actors involved in right-wing terrorism in the United States. Further, Just Security, an online forum based at the Reiss Center on Law and Security at the New York University School of Law, identified Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert as two main figures involved in the normalization of right-wing extremists ideologies and conspiracies within American political rhetoric. While many are quick to denounce female activity in terrorism due to the perception that they are seen as genetically predisposed to caring, nurturing, and protecting, according to Burcu Pinar Alakoc, this maternal, nurturing stereotype associated with women serves as an advantage in terrorism. Current societal standards and gender roles continue to be exploited by female terrorists. Although Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert should not be considered terrorist actors, they illustrate the capacity female terrorists have to legitimize certain ideals without the same levels of skepticism as male terrorist ideologues.
The role of women in the January 6th Capitol Riot reveals the presence of female terrorist actors in the United States. Actors such as Rachel Powell, who smashed a window of the Capitol building with a pipe, directed other rioters, and possessed numerous weapons including a registered AK-47, and practice targets labeled “guns don’t kill people, I do,” alongside Dawn Bancroft and Diana Santos-Smith of Pennsylvania, indicate some of the women involved who share an intent for violence and killing that were highlighted by Just Security.These women illuminate larger trends of gender biases in terrorism. While researchers understand the biases exploited by many female terrorists in Jihadist organizations such as Boko Haram, and ISIS, there has been less emphasis on female terrorism in the West. The rise in right-wing terrorism under former U.S. President Donald Trump, and the U.S. Capitol Insurection on January 6th, 2021, introduced a rise in American female terrorists as well. The women involved in the Capitol Riot indicate female terrorists’ important yet overlooked role in the threat of U.S. domestic terrorism.