Violent militias and ‘white power’ groups were ‘effectively called to arms’ by Trump’s comments: expert
A total of 13 white nationalists and militia members are facing criminal charges in connection with an alleged plot to kidnap and possibly murder Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — six of them at the federal level, seven of them at the state level. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the plan was to kidnap Whitmer, take her to Wisconsin for a "trial" and execute her for treason if found guilty. NBC News' Lawrence O'Donnell, on his program "The Last Word," discussed the alleged terrorist plot with Kathleen Belew — a University of Chicago history professor and expert on white nationalist terrorism. And according to Belew, domestic terrorists are feeling emboldened by President Donald Trump's rhetoric.
"Terrorism" is a word that right-wing media figures at Fox News and AM talk radio are quick to use in connection with far-right radical Islamist extremists such as ISIS (Islamic State, Iraq and Syria), al-Qaeda and Boko Haram, but they haven't been nearly as quick to use that word in connection with violent white nationalist, white supremacist and militia groups. However, Belew has long been sounding the alarm about the threat white nationalist and militia groups pose from a nationalist security standpoint in the United States.
"These groups are never neutral," Belew told O'Donnell. "They are always part of intimidation and violent threat, and some of them, as we see this week, stray further along that path to domestic extremism and domestic terror. Now, the plot to kidnap the Michigan governor is not new. These sorts of ideas about kidnapping judges and state troopers, federal agents, elected officials and holding them for trial (are not new)."
In Michigan, militia groups like the Wolverine Watchmen — who have been implicated in the alleged plot against Whitmer —are furious with the governor because of the social distancing measures she ordered in response to the coronavirus pandemic. And Belew stressed to O'Donnell that the alleged plot against Whitmer is not an anomaly and that militia groups have a long history of violent extremism in the United States.
"There's a very real chance that what they meant was not just trial, but execution," Belew told O'Donnell. "These kind of things have appeared to us many times in the past. The militia of Montana sought this kind of strategy, and so did other white power groups like The Order earlier in the 1980s. We've been with this movement for decades, if not generations — and the question is: why is it still here? Why have we, as a society, not confronted this threat?"
O'Donnell asked Belew what she thought of Whitmer saying that Trump has been encouraging white nationalist terrorism with his rhetoric, and the University of Chicago history professor responded, "I think that's right. I think that even in the most generous interpretation of what the president has said in the last, you know, weeks, months and years — just take the example last week with the debate and the Proud Boys comment. It's possible, in the most generous interpretation, that he meant to tell that group to stand down. But he didn't say stand down. He said, 'Stand by.' And a whole bunch of activists — not just the Proud Boys, but people in militias, people in white power groups and elsewhere — have been effectively called to arms by the president's comments. And it's not just me who says this, not just historians. His own Department of Homeland Security and FBI have outlined that domestic terror from white supremacist extremists and affiliated groups is now the largest source of terrorist violence in the American homeland."