Expert on extremists: the plot against Whitmer won’t be the last white nationalist terror threat

Expert on extremists: the plot against Whitmer won’t be the last white nationalist terror threat
Julia Pickett/Wikimedia Commons
Feds charge 6 men in plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and overthrow Michigan's government

Once again, the ludicrous claim that radical Islamists have the market cornered on terrorism — and that far-right white nationalists and extremist militia groups don't pose a major threat in the United States — has been exploded by the cold, hard facts. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, this week, announced that six members of a far-right militia group, the Wolverine Watchmen, had been arrested in connection with an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and possibly murder her. Kathleen Belew, a University of Chicago history professor and an expert on far-right white nationalists, has a dire warning in an op-ed for the Washington Post: the U.S. can expect similar plots in the months ahead.

Belew, author of the book "Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America," explains, "This isn't just a one-off event or the work of a few mad actors — it's part of a rising tide of white power activity, one that poses an imminent danger to American democracy. The Department of Homeland Security's threat assessment report, released earlier this week after a long wait, made that clear: white power movement violence and affiliated extremism is, by far, the greatest terrorist threat to our nation."

That isn't to say that the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security shouldn't keep a close eye on far-right Islamists like ISIS (Islamic State, Iraq and Syria). The deadliest terror attack in U.S. history, the 9/11 attacks of September 2001, was carried out by members of al-Qaeda. But the second deadliest, the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, came from the white nationalist/white supremacist side of terrorism. And Belew points out that in 2020, white nationalist terrorism has posed a greater threat than radical Islam in the U.S.

"Not only does this kind of extremist violence outstrip any violence carried out by what President Trump has referred to as 'Antifa and the left,' but white power violence now also exceeds the threat of radical Islamist terror," Belew emphasizes. "The DHS assessment makes clear that '2019 was the most lethal year for extremism in the United States since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.'"

Islamophobes like Pamela Gellar and Jihad Watch's Robert B. Spencer have repeatedly made the false claim that there is something uniquely violent about Islam, which is nonsense — most Muslims don't embrace far-right jihadist ideology. And Islamophobes typically downplay the terrorist threat posed by white supremacists and white nationalists, trying to paint Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh as a "lone wolf." But as Belew stresses, the Oklahoma City attack was by no means an anomaly.

"That bombing, the largest deliberate mass casualty on mainland American soil between Pearl Harbor and 9/11, is still not well understood by Americans," Belew explains. "People still think of it as the work of lone wolves or a few bad apples. But the Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people — including 19 young children — was the work of the white power movement, a coordinated social network that brought together Klansmen, neo-Nazis, skinheads, militiamen, radical tax resisters, separatists and others in outright war on the federal government. The evidence of the bombing as part of this movement is extensive and irrefutable."

Belew goes on to warn that having "studied the earlier white power movement for more than a decade," she is "very concerned that more violence is imminent."

"The evidence is there, but it's easy to overlook if you don't connect the various alarming details," Belew explains. "The attempted kidnapping of Whitmer is linked to the call to arms of the Proud Boys, the underground training of other white power groups, the militias and Boogaloo Boys on the march and the string of mass shooters motivated by this ideology."

Belew adds, "In the new Michigan case, the FBI's transcripts reveal a highly volatile set of plots that included bombings of multiple targets and a coded reference to attempted murder. In white power discourse, kidnapping people for 'trial' is often followed by references to lynching. Whitmer might easily have been assassinated by this group."

According to Belew, the COVID-19 pandemic is making white nationalists, white supremacists and white militia groups even more unhinged.

"We now encounter a new urgency among white power activists, who have capitalized upon the Trump Administration's many green lights, the anti-mask movement and the social anxieties of pandemic and racial justice protest to launch new campaigns of violence," Belew warns. "This is a movement expressly dedicated to the violent overthrow of the United States and the destruction of democracy and its institutions. We have to stand against it."

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