Ahead of a D.C. rally this weekend in support of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists, a psychiatrist who specializes in addressing extremism is weighing in on the psychology behind the event.
“The leadership and the impetus behind this is a form of extremist thinking because it’s based on conspiracy theories,” said Dr. Ziv Cohen, an expert on extremism, violent behavior and conspiracy theory thinking at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.
WTOP recently spoke with the organizer of the Justice for J6 rally. Matt Braynard, who’s a former Trump campaign aide, claims “there’s not going to be any violence” and exclaimed “we will not be deterred” after he was asked if he would call off the rally over threats of violence.
WTOP played the portion of that interview for Dr. Cohen for analysis.
“When you hear such a rigid response, it certainly does raise concerns about extremist thought,” Cohen said.
“I’ve never met him or comment specifically on him,” he said. “But one of the things that we see [with extremists] is that they’re not willing to change their beliefs based on facts presented to them.”
Everyone is susceptible to having extremist thoughts, Cohen said, and those who espouse extremism “are a lot like you and me.”
“We all have a desire to have certainty,” Cohen said. “We like things to be black and white, and we also like stories that are powerful and that have an emotional message.”
But Cohen explained where the line is crossed.
“What happens for people who get wrapped up in conspiracy theories or extremist thinking is that they take that to an extreme,” he said. “The concern is that when you do that, you’re susceptible to acting on these ideas.”
While saying that he believes extremism is here to stay, Cohen does offer some solutions on how to manage the issue.
“As a society, we need to educate people about the dangers of this,” Cohen said.
“We need mental health professionals to be up to date on these issues. And lastly, we need political leaders to talk with one loud voice about the dangers of conspiracy theories, so we’ve got a lot of work to do.”