January 18, 2021

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Lesson of the Day: ‘Decoding the Far-Right Symbols at the Capitol Riot’

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Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

Featured Article: “Decoding the Far-Right Symbols at the Capitol Riot” by Matthew Rosenberg and Ainara Tiefenthäler

The mob that rioted at the Capitol on Jan. 6 displayed militia flags and hand gestures of extremist groups, but there were also comic book logos and shirts with slogans that united far-right and alt-right groups. In this Visual Investigation, two Times reporters decode the symbolism displayed on that day.

In this lesson, students will learn about who participated in the Capitol riots and consider the power of symbolism in movements. Then, they will investigate hate groups across the United States.

In your journal, consider the question: What power do symbols have to create movements as well as divide or unite people? Create a list of powerful symbols in the past and present. Choose two symbols and respond:

  • What does the symbol represent?

  • How do groups use this symbol — and for what purpose?

  • Has the meaning of the symbol changed over time? If yes, how?

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. The image at the top of the article captures some of the many symbols that were on display at the Capitol riot. The first two paragraphs of the article list extremist groups and their key symbols and emblems. Do you recognize any of these symbols? What associations do you have with them?

2. The authors write:

The dizzying array of symbols, slogans and images was, to many Americans, a striking aspect of the unrest, revealing an alternate political universe where violent extremists, outright racists and conspiracy theorists march side by side with evangelical Christians, suburban Trump supporters and young men who revel in making memes to “own the libs.”

What details do you notice in this description? What do you wonder? What united the thousands of people who participated in the riot at the Capitol?

3. The rest of the article is divided into six sections describing various groups and their symbols: the militias; Boogaloos and Proud Boys; Pepe and “Kek”; QAnon; Trump supporters; comic books and science fiction. Choose two of these sections to answer the following questions about:

4. What is one additional detail you learned about the people who participated in the riot by reading this article?

5. What is one question you still have?

The article describes banners, emblems and symbols — such the Crusader cross, the “OK” hand gesture and the green-and-white flags of Kekistan — used by hate groups that participated in the Jan. 6 riot. How many hate groups exist in the United States? Where are they located? Who do they target?

Navigate the Hate Map created by the Southern Poverty Law Center. At first, do not search for a specific state or hate ideology, but just move your mouse around the map illuminating the names of the states and total numbers of hate groups. Then, respond to these questions adapted from our What’s Going On In This Graph? feature:

  • What do you notice?

  • What do you wonder?

  • What impact does this have on you and your community?

  • What’s going on in this map? While the S.P.L.C. has already created a headline, write your own headline that both captures the graph’s main idea and your reaction to it.


About Lesson of the Day

Find all our Lessons of the Day in this column.
Teachers, watch our on-demand webinar to learn how to use this feature in your classroom.

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