Terry H. Schwadron
Oct. 28, 2020
Gun and ammunition sales are soaring, including for first-time gun-owners. The divisive political talk and attacks are ugly — and too often personal. And law enforcement has stopped actual plots to kidnap elected officials.
Despite attempts by Donald Trump and Atty. Gen. William P. Barr to target the largely unorganized left-leaning Antifa movement as dangerous, both Homeland Security and the FBI have identified extreme far right-wing, racist movements as a potential “flashpoint” for reactionary violence.
Over the last week, a report by a group called The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) and a group called Militia Watch, which track, document and analyze about 80 contemporary US militia movements, pinpointed militia organizing in five states for major trouble during voting and post-election.
The groups warned of particular problems if Trump loses.
Basically, ACLED finds that unlike more “latent” groups, there are several associated with an ideology of violence towards foes that are moving to take action if the election goes against their liking — or to defend perceived aggressions by an incoming Joe Biden administration. Until now, their talk and their trainings have gone on unchallenged, even by local law enforcement or politicians as expressions of free speech.
The open question is whether that is about to change as this movement edges towards actions, as in the foiled plot to kidnap Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Witmer.
The key finding is that over the last few years, these rightist militias have firmed up actual election support for a Trump reelection, and see any other result as an attack on their way of life and their view of a whiter, conservative, libertarian America.
ACLED warns of militia activity in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Oregon — most of which are battleground states. Oregon, of course, is home for Portland, which has emerged as a particularly symbolic site for clashes between right and left. Militias in North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, California, and New Mexico are seen as offering moderate risk
Militia Watch, another group reporting on trainings and recruitments by the most active right-wing militias, including those that claim they align with law enforcement (the Three Percenters, the Oath Keepers, the Light Foot Militia, the Civilian Defense Force, and the American Contingency); street movements that are highly active in brawls (the Proud Boys, and Patriot Prayer); and libertarian groups opposed to law enforcement (the Boogaloo Bois, and People’s Rights [Bundy Ranch]).
Medium-population cities and suburban areas with central zones seem to be the biggest target areas.
They train for urban combat, and variously engage in armed intimidation of legislators and government groups. Some show up wherever they see left-leaning protests forming, inviting conflict, too often involving weapons. Some have moved to coalesce with conspiracy theorist like QAnon, Militia Watch.
Apart from all else, as Facebook and Twitter have cracked down on militia postings, the recruitment talk has become more difficult to track online. Conversations are moving to darker, more private areas of the web.
Where Groups Agree
The mosaic of groups on the far right with different goals agree on one thing, says National
Public Radio — that President Trump can lose the election only if it’s rigged.
For openers, these groups are looking favorably on calls from Trump to watch polls, leading to counter-charges of voter intimidation. There is a generalized fear that voters may be afraid to go to the polls if there is too much hype around militia rhetoric. In Michigan, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced a ban on open carry of firearmswithin 100 feet of polling places on Nov. 3, a recognition of the fact that visibly toting a gun around is an easy way to intimidate others. Nevertheless, several sheriffs in the state and an association of police chiefs in Michigan said they wouldn’t enforce the ban.
But now, that concern is starting to focus on more outward violence post-election. Private militias “have become more assertive,” said ACLED and Militia Watch.
The report identifies the Three Percenters, Patriot Prayer, Proud Boys and Boogaloo Bois as groups that pose a “high” or “very high” potential for violence.
So far this year, right-wing extremists have accounted for two-thirds of domestic terrorist attacks and plots, a counterterrorism expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies found in a report also issued this week.
At the recent Red Pill Expo in Georgia, armed militia groups were forging alliances in with conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers who claim the coronavirus pandemic is a hoax, intensifying concerns that trouble looms around the election. Stewart Rhodes, president of the Oath Keepers, told the group, “You are your own self-defense. You must organize yourselves in the next 30 days in your towns and counties. We have members in every state in the union and we are standing them up right now.”
Add it up and you can see trouble on the near-horizon.