How America’s “Armed Citizens” Operate Against Racial Protests

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Armed far-right groups have become a recurring presence in the Black Lives Matter protests. Sometimes it is the local authorities that encourage them to go.

It happened in June in Boise, Idaho, but all summer since George Floyd’s death sparked the largest protests against police brutality and racism in half a century in the United States, similar situations have occurred, with slight variations, in dozens of towns in the country.

It all started with a message on a Facebook group. The Real Three Percenters Armed Militia Idaho claimed to have “credible information from intelligence sources” that anti-fascist activists planned to go to the city to raze it and asked for volunteers to protect it. They were to arrive by buses. Another post, shared nearly two thousand times, said they were traveling by plane from Seattle.

The messages ran like wildfire, especially among far-right groups. The police tried to calm the spirits and clarify that they were nothing more than false rumors. There was no indication that anything like this was being planned. The Antifa never showed up. Just a few peaceful protesters. And the members of the militias; some armed to the teeth.

Even in Honolulu, similar rumors have been detected about an imminent invasion by violent black-clad activist groups from other states. An event narrated this week, by hearsay, by President Donald Trump looks suspiciously like these hoaxes, driven by the magnification that the conservative media have made of the riots (almost ignored, on the other hand, in the progressive ones).

Some researchers call them “Antifa fantasies”, False rumors spread by extremist groups to keep their supporters alert. “When the anti-fascists don’t show up, the militias take credit, even if the supposed caravan never existed,” writes Travis McAdam, a researcher for a center that monitors hate group activity in Montana. “Those guys have an easy trigger and are very excited to ‘protect and serve’ their people.”

Far-right groups, often armed, have become a recurring presence in the Black Lives Matter protests. Sometimes it is the local authorities that encourage them to go. “Whether there are going to be 20 protesters or a thousand or something manufactured on Facebook, the result is large-scale counter-demonstrations” with “intimidating purposes,” explains Alexander Reid Ross, an expert on white supremacism and an adjunct professor at the university, from Oregon. state of Portland.

In a political context as polarized as the current one, the rise of these groups and white supremacism in general worries political analysts and experts in extremism. His violent rhetoric, added to the pandemic, misinformation, the elections and the doubts that the president himself has sown that he is going to accept a defeat raise fears of an outbreak of violence. The events of last week in Kenosha (Wisconsin) and Portland seem to prove them right.

“This activity of the militias that we are seeing in the country, with well-armed groups of people coming together and coordinate to establish themselves as authority or acting as law enforcement officers is prohibited in every state in the US, “says Mary McCord, former Deputy Secretary of Justice and professor at Georgetown University. She does not want to “fall into alarmist scenarios” about the future but admits that she fears that on November 3 they will appear at the polling stations to “protect” them, actually intimidating the voters.

In EE.UU. armed militias are as old as the country itself and many justify their existence in the second amendment to the Constitution, which protects the right to bear arms. The Supreme Court has concluded in several sentences that it is not absolute.

“The only legal militias would be those called by the president or a governor to defend the state, to whom they would answer. But These individuals operate without being asked and they only answer to themselves, ”warns McCord, who has sent letters to various state and local authorities to remind them not to tolerate them and to help them fight them with the law in hand.

The number of anti-government groups tends to be older when there is a Democrat in the White House and reduced when a Republican arrives but the coincidence of the economic crisis of 2008 with the arrival of the first black president, Barack Obama, triggered the figures to levels never seen before. With Trump they remain at unprecedented thresholds with a conservative in power.

The explanation, according to McCord, is their ideological alignment. “They tend to agree with Trump’s policies and they are no longer anti-government. Now they are presented as patriots who want to protect the police and public property in the face of what they consider violent anarchists ”. The president himself has identified protesters against racism as terrorists despite the vast majority being peaceful, and has encouraged the population to oppose measures against Covid in states with Democratic governors. “Trump raises the issues that most excite them to take out their weapons and is someone they listen to,” he concludes.

The tension is palpable in the street. “Black lives matter!” Some shout. “All lives matter!” The others reply. Encounters are often far from peaceful. Reid Ross has recorded 523 incidents since Floyd’s death: some 400 cases of intimidation, dozens of physical assaults, at least 38 car accidents, shootings … The huge number of weapons on the street creates a volatile and dangerous environment. A week ago in Portland a supporter of Trump and the Patriot Prayers militia was shot dead, allegedly by Michael Reinhoel, an anti-fascist activist. Like many far-rightists, he saw a civil war imminent.

Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old boy, is charged with shooting and killing two Black Lives Matter protesters in Kenosha, where he traveled from Illinois. He was part of the vigilante militias that go to protests to help the police. As research has shown, they sometimes act with your approval. “We really appreciate you guys,” says an agent handing a bottle of water to Rittenhouse and other gunmen before the deadly shooting.

This fall, the cold civil war that some have been talking about for years in America may heat up. “If President Trump loses these elections, some extremists could use violence because they believe, even if it is wrong, that there has been fraud or because the election of Joe Biden goes against their objectives,” warns a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies of Washington, both the ultra-rightists who “identify” with the Republican and the ultra-left, in case he is re-elected.

“If Trump loses and the result is very tight, everything will depend on what the Supreme Court does but we are likely to see militias take to the streets. It is what they are preparing for ”, warns researcher Reid Ross, who sees it likely that there are also left-wing people with guns on the street. It rules out a fratricidal war in the classic sense but not “a civil war in the style of Lebanon, with conflicts entrenched at different scales by regions and groups” or that the tension evolves to “something like Belfast, with some cities with a permanent insurgency and bombs. homemade, for example. I’m not exactly optimistic, ”he admits.

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