What are the risks of extremism in Minnesota?

Graphic courtesy Moonshot CVE. Text reads: “Tracked indicators are coded using a six-level risk matrix ranging from curiosity towards extremism (level one) to desire to causes harm and join groups (level six). For Minnesota the data shows the following distribution of searches by risk level starting with level three (sympathy with groups) to exclude searches without violent intent.

On March 31, Moonshot CVE released new data showing heightened risks of domestic violent extremism in Minnesota, compared to the national average.

Moonshot, a global safety tech firm based in London, launched state-by-state reports following a six-month-long search campaign in the U.S. that focused on domestic violent extremist mobilization, targeted violence, political violence, anti-government, conspiracy theories, and armed groups. The campaigns ran from September 2020 to March 2021, capturing more than 70,000 high-risk searches throughout the U.S.

The search data is broken down by states and their respective counties, showing findings on a localized level and comparing this to the national averages. The report shows the top 10 state-specific search terms, most prominent themes, risk level indicators, and demographics, such as age and gender. The data captured significant events such as the 2020 U.S. presidential election, the January 6 Capitol riot, and the inauguration.

  • 17% of searches fell into the most serious risk category, desire to cause harm (which includes searches for bomb-making instructions).
  • Data showed that more than 60% of users were older than 45, and that, with 8% of the total searches, the smallest group was the youngest group of the campaign: 18-24 year olds.
  • Previous data from Moonshot CVE has shown searches for domestic violent extremism have jumped more than 150% during the COVID period than pre-COVID.
  • Data highlights the extent to which the spread of conspiracy theories has pushed domestic violent extremists into taking action.

Women were in the slight majority with 52% of the searches, compared to 48% of the searches coming from men.

The main themes across the U.S. ranking in order of search numbers were Conspiracy Theory, Armed Groups, Anti-Government, Targeted Violence, and Political Violence. The Conspiracy Theory theme was particularly popular amongst QAnon conspiracy theory seekers, as noted in search terms such as, “qanon plan to save the world” and “great awakening wwg1wga.” Searches connected to the theme of Armed Group appeared to be varied in potential group affiliation, with searches indicating an interest to join the “Three Percenters,” “Proud Boys,” or “Oath Keepers,” as well as merchandise related to the groups and glorification of group members.

Graphic courtesy Moonshot CVE. Text reads: “Moonshot’s analysis that users in Minnesota had a strong interest in political conspiracies and armed groups. Searches related to QAnon, Sharpiegate and FEMA concentration camps indicate that users have an appetite for disinformation when it relates to polarized political attitudes and anti-establishmentarianism. While it is difficult to determine direct pathways from online searches to offline action, Minnesotans’ interest in joining the Three Percenters indicates a propensity for offline mobilization.

The reports serve two key purposes: to provide evidence for the online search appetite for domestic violent extremist activity and to share insights that are useful for future interventions.