The plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan should surprise none. We are living in the depths of white grievance politics. While President Donald Trump has made this worse with his tweets, he is a direct consequence of it. He also is practicing the same grievance politics. Partly it’s economics, but mostly it’s racism. We live in a rapidly changing society where Whites will no longer be the majority. The power dynamics are changing. For whites, in particular, those left behind bt globalization, this is a scary moment. They feel their lives, and their futures are threatened. This is where a lot of the militias and their grievances come from.
These may have started with the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the collapse of industry in the Midwest. It is not a coincidence that the rage across the plains became significant under the Bill Clinton administration. This fire culminated with the attack on the Federal Murrah building by Bill Nichols and Timothy McVay. Both men were once members of the Michigan Militia. The foundation date is 1994. Meaning, they were founded as the second Clinton term started. The attack in Oklahoma City was in 1995. Nichols and McVey did not think the militia was going in the right way. It was a lot of bark and a little bite. Decades later the Wolverines, the group that planned this attack, broke away from Michigan as well.
It is time for Americans to wake up to the internal threat armed paramilitaries pose to civil society. These groups potentially are terrorist organizations. We can even argue if parading around with long guns is terrorism. It may come in the positive. In fact, at the very least this is raising the temperature during demonstrations and counter-protests.
We are as divided as we have been since 1859. At this point, you can almost taste it, the cordite in the air. These terrorists had two goals. One was to kidnap the governor Ad try her for treason. the second what to start the civil war. This is a goal of some far-right groups including the boogaloo bois and the Proud Boys. These are the actions of people who are feeling emboldened by the grievance politics coming from the White House. In fact, what we are seeing is textbook stochastic terrorism. In this case, encouraged by the chief executive. Let’s be clear about this, the president is taking advantage of the grievance politics that infected the nation, and he likely is a happy participant, not just cynically just using his base. Though let’s be clear, there is a bit of this.
Grievance politics is critical in this age. So is the idea that a group of people is losing power. Nobody gives up power willingly, and this is not just the thirteen men who were part of this cell. They are anti-government and perhaps racist as well These men are in the most radical corner of right-wing grievance and fear. Let’s remember that the president Tweeted “liberate Michigan,” a few months ago, as the lockdown restrictions were put in place. Many of these groups took over the legislature. Yes, they call themselves militias to try to cover what they are under a figment of legality. But at this point, they pose a clear and present danger to the Republic and its government.
Incidentally, the FBI agrees on this point. They warned months ago of a resurgence in an intelligence bulletin:
Militia extremists likely pose an increased threat to state and local law enforcement, government personnel and associated facilities due to a perceived resurgence in recent months of activity surrounding state-level gun control legislation, as well as concerns specific to state and local government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the FBI said in an intelligence bulletin dated June 18 and produced jointly with the National Counterterrorism Center.
Let me be clear. What happened in Michigan was hardly a surprise to those of us who have followed this movement for decades. Some of these groups hold white supremacy views, other anti-government views. Some are both. The names range from the American Nazi Party to many militias across the country, to yes the Klan and so-called Defense groups named for particular localities. Some are deep in the QAnon ideology, which is quite antisemitic and racist. They constitute a clear and present danger, and over the summer they have flexed their muscles, including carrying long guns where they legally can. Where legally they can’t, they wore long knives, shields, and other tools. Most of those are illegal during demonstrations or in the case of long blades all the time. Yes, people carried machetes and hunting knives in La Mesa, California, for example. They knew that likely they would face no consequences from law enforcement. Like those who assaulted the legislature in both Kentucky and Michigan, they were correct. The police were not going to enforce the laws on them.
The FBI also has warned over the years that police forces have been infiltrated by these far-right movements. According to the Brennan Center:
The harms that armed law enforcement officers affiliated with violent white supremacist and anti-government militia groups can inflict on American society could hardly be overstated. Yet despite the FBI’s acknowledgement of the links between law enforcement and these suspected terrorist groups, the Justice Department has no national strategy designed to identify white supremacist police officers or to protect the safety and civil rights of the communities they patrol.
More importantly, the FBI’s 2015 counterterrorism policy, which McGarrity was responsible for implementing, indicates not just that members of law enforcement might hold white supremacist views, but that FBI domestic terrorism investigations have often identified “active links” between the subjects of these investigations and law enforcement officials. Its proposed remedy is stunningly inadequate, however. The guide simply instructs agents to use the “silent hit” feature of the Terrorist Screening Center watchlist so that police officers searching for themselves or their white supremacist associates could not ascertain whether they were under FBI scrutiny.
All these matters, because there have been cases in the summer where this cooperation, perhaps leanings from police, are obvious They range from Portland Oregon, where the police tend to clash with left-wing demonstrators but mostly leave alone the right. In fact, there is some coordination between the police and the far right. Then there is Kenosha, WI, where police were video tapped giving water to militia groups patrolling the streets before an 18-year-old killed two people and injured a third.
This not only affects the equal application of the law. But it takes away legitimacy from officers when policing certain communities. There is little trust, and no love lost. Why? If they are part of the far-right movement, and some belong to the Three Percent Militia and the Oathkeepers, people in these communities believe that it can lead to more state violence. Officers understand that there is little chance of consequences from both prosecutors and their brothers behind the shield.
The President is encouraging these behaviors and attitudes. Trump encourages these attacks on social norms from both within the government and the fringes of society. He is a fellow traveler of the far-right and is trying to activate these terrorists the same way Adolph Hitler used the SA and Benito Mussolini used the Black Shirts. These far right-wing groups can serve as shock troops. When combined with law enforcement that looks the other way, you have a perfect storm.
This will lead to violence as we near Election Day. It is clear the president wants chaos because it is a tool to delegitimize the election. What we will see is not clear yet. But violence is not just possible until the election, but well beyond. Remember, many of these groups want a civil war. Chiefly among them are the Boogalo Bois, who want the greater Boogaloo, code for civil war. Others want the race war that will allow them to create a white ethnostate, with plenty of ethnic cleaning. They are armed. While many of the rank and file are bumbling fools in Tacticool, some are military veterans as well as officers. They have training and capabilities that they can use to keep the feds at bay. We may be heading towards something that looks like the Troubles. We are no longer dealing with lone wolves, in fact, we have not for some time.
Is this the fort Sumter moment? Time will tell. But we are in a very dangerous moment. If this election ends with a blood bath for Republicans at the voting booth, which some both within the party and out already expect, then it will likely not explode. If this is in any way contested, these groups will see an opening. They will take it.