David Neiwert

Police leadership confronts far-right extremism in the ranks

American policymakers face a real conundrum when it comes to tackling the spread of right-wing extremism and its attendant terroristic violence, a problem that became self-evident amid the January 6 Capitol insurrection and its aftermath: How can law enforcement effectively curtail the illegal activities of right-wing extremists when so many officers are themselves participants in these movements?

The answer — which is that it cannot — suggests that effectively confronting far-right extremism must begin with police reform, and particularly the task of weeding extremists out of our police forces. The public cannot expect agencies tasked with enforcing the laws that prohibit extremist violence to do so seriously when those same extremists permeate their ranks.

The issue became self-evident when it emerged that some 31 law-enforcement officers in 12 states have been linked to the January 6 Capitol siege. Police departments around the country are now struggling with the enormity of the job, as the Los Angeles Times recently examined, focusing on the efforts of Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore to confront extremism within the force he oversees.

The most difficult aspect of the problem for police is the extent to which far-right views have been normalized within the mainstream, and particularly within the ranks of police officers. The issue gets to the heart of a police culture that has become increasingly penetrated by right-wing politics and is simultaneously hostile to accountability for its officers' behavior. When cops are also far-right extremists who engage in discriminatory policing, American police officials have a history of closing ranks and defending the status quo.

Moore, in an interview with the Times, voiced some of these cultural tensions when asked whether he would drum out officers who were found to be members of the Proud Boys, a far-right hate group. He at first suggested that the Proud Boys were part of a broad category of groups that included Black Lives Matter with which the public was still grappling.

"America is struggling today with understanding whether the Proud Boys, some aspects of BLM, other groups including Heritage Foundation and others, represent ideology that's counter to this democracy," Moore said. "What I know is that this democracy is made best when there is discussion and there's dialogue and debate."

However, he clarified that he personally considers the Proud Boys an organization that "runs counter to this democracy," and does not believe that "there is any place for a law enforcement officer to be a member of such organization or advocate for their existence."

Moore added that he is unaware of any Proud Boys or members of any other extremist group within the ranks of current LAPD officers, but is prepared to investigate any such claims, indicating he would fire anyone who "crosses the line" of what is acceptable.

LAPD officials were driven by last summer's anti-police-brutality protests, Moore said, to examine how best to comb their ranks for extremists and weed them out, suggesting they were especially motivated by the realization that the presence of such police would seriously undermine efforts to rebuild trust within the city's diverse neighborhoods. Moore rejected any suggestion that extremism was prevalent among his officers, noting that the LAPD is a diverse department, both ethnically and politically.

"What's really critical I believe going forward is for America to ... recognize extremes and have no place for them in this democracy, but also to recognize views that are different from their own and not vilify or call them extremist," Moore said.

Extremism within the ranks of law enforcement, however, is not just a community relations problem. Much more broadly, it also affects what laws are enforced and how. And it has a direct impact on the broader national effort to push back the incoming tide of white nationalist and other far-right extremist violence.

The primary problem with domestic terrorism in America is that our law-enforcement apparatus at every level—federal, state, and local—has failed to enforce the laws already on the books that provide them with more than enough ability to confront it. The ongoing presence of officers sympathetic to their cause—and for whom, in fact, their radical extremism is invisible—is one of the major proximate causes of this failure.

It is already, for example, a federal crime to share bomb-making recipes on the internet. It's also a federal crime to advocate the assassinations of public officials or to otherwise threaten them with violence. Yet what began as a few angry voices on the fringes of the internet—and thus easy for law-enforcement authorities to ignore—has grown into a massive flood in large part because these laws are only selectively and lightly enforced.

As Moustafa Bayoumi observed at The Nation:

[T]here is already plenty of prosecutorial power on the books to deal with far-right violence. The problem is not that we need to expand our laws. Rather, the problem is making sure we use our laws, and that we use them fairly, consistently, and to the full extent possible. The real scandal here is not the lack of a domestic terrorism statute. The real scandal is the free pass white supremacy has had from law enforcement for all these years.

National security expert Michael German of the Brennan Center for Justice, in a paper for Just Security, has explored in detail why new laws are not necessary to confront the problem. As he explains, the problem for federal law enforcement has not been a lack of tools to deal with domestic terrorism, but an utter lack of prioritization of the issue by high-level officials.

"While Justice Department officials have used notorious incidents of white supremacist violence to push for a new domestic terrorism statute, the Department itself continues to de-prioritize far-right violence and focus its most aggressive tactics instead against environmentalists, political protesters, and communities of color," he wrote. "It isn't hard to guess who would likely be targeted with new domestic terrorism laws."

The presence of ideologically sympathetic extremists within law enforcement also poses a security threat to any agency dealing with their criminal activities, particularly officers who keep any fascist affiliations secret and work to implement a far-right agenda from within the force.

"Police officers have access to sensitive information," explains associate Georgetown Law professor Vida Johnson. "For example, they might know if they're looking into the Proud Boys or the Three Percenters or the Oath Keepers, so they can tip them off. That's one reason why careers in law enforcement are so appealing to people who hold far-right belief systems. They get this opportunity to not only police people of color, to control their goings and comings and how they live their lives, but also they get this inside information about whether [far-right groups] are in fact being investigated."

American law enforcement has never systematically addressed the problem of extremism within its ranks, which historically speaking is not a new phenomenon at all, but has worsened dramatically in the past few decades. "It's clear that extremist groups on the right and white supremacists have been agents of chaos, of violence in our community, and the fact that police are just now interested in training on this, I find more than disturbing," Johnson told the Times.

Johnson, in a 2019 academic paper titled "KKK in the PD: White Supremacist Police and What to Do About It," found that police departments across the country exhibited evidence of white supremacist ideology, citing "scandals in over 100 different police departments, in over 40 different states, in which individual police officers have sent overtly racist emails, texts, or made racist comments via social media."

She observed to the Times it should be a cause for concern when officers become followers of such conspiracy theories as QAnon, or the claim that COVID-19 is a hoax, or theories that Trump's reelection was fraudulently stolen from him.

"People who can't separate fact from fiction probably shouldn't be the ones enforcing laws with guns," Johnson said.

Johnson has a roadmap for rooting extremists out of police departments: stricter and more diligent hiring practices, social media checks that could reveal extremist beliefs or organizational membership, periodic background checkups for all police veterans, and a review apparatus that is fully independent.

"They're supposed to be protecting and serving us," Johnson told Mother Jones. "But unfortunately it seems like a lot of departments see themselves at odds with or even at war with the rest of the community. That's a culture within policing that needs to change."

An antidemocratic insurgency takes shape as ideological lines vanish and QAnon, militias meld

The question about the QAnon cult that lingers in many people's minds is, "Where will they turn as the multiple failures of Q predictions begin to mount and their authoritarian belief in Donald Trump falls apart?" We're starting to get an answer: The vigilante militia movement and white nationalism.

Militia groups in Georgia, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, are forming alliances with an array of other Trump-supporting far-right organizations, including the QAnon groups aligned with Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. It reflects a much broader trend in the post-Trump world of the radical right in which what used to be distinct movements with widely differing sets of beliefs are commingling and coalescing into a singular far-right insurgency against liberal democracy.

The goal of the Georgia groups, according to Justin Thayer of the Georgia III% Martyrs, is to advocate for the state's secession from the United States. He says the final straw was the arrests of people who were involved in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

"The way patriots are now being hunted down and arrested by fellow men and women who have taken the same oath has disheartened any faith I had in the redemption or reformation of the USA as one entity," Thayer told the Journal-Constitution.

Thayer's group have now allied themselves with other "Three Percenter" militias, mainly the American Brotherhood of Patriots and American Patriots USA (APUSA), headed by Chester Doles, a Dahlonega man with a background in neo-Nazi hate groups. Thayer foresees a need for Georgians to leave the union because of what he calls "the collapse of the American experiment."

Doles also told the paper he had given up on democracy: "Things are different now. Everything has changed. We've seen our last Republican president in American history. The ballot box—we tried as hard as we could try. It's not working."

Amy Iandiorio, an Anti-Defamation League researcher who has been monitoring these groups' online activities, told the Journal-Constitution that a "shared victimhood narrative" around Trump's defeat at the hands of Joe Biden had fostered an environment that encouraged "tactical" alliances among normally disparate groups.

"We saw members of traditional militias, white supremacists, QAnon and other people in the same spaces and claiming very similar enemies," she said.

These are "extensions of trends that extend back well before the Capitol insurrection," Devin Burghart of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights (IREHR) told Daily Kos. "The silos that used to segment the far-right have been eroding since the days of the Tea Party. The Trump years obliterated that segmentation almost entirely."

The two militia groups had earlier had a kind of falling out revolving around Greene and Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler when the Martyrs showed up at a joint campaign rally in Ringgold working as the private security detail for Greene. Doles had championed Greene's candidacy during both the primary and general campaigns with members of his group posing for photos with her, but had become an embarrassment when photos of him posing with Greene and Loeffler were publicized on social media. Loeffler subsequently disavowed Doles.

So when Doles showed up in Ringgold, Greene asked the Martyrs group to escort Doles out of the event, setting off a round of internecine bickering. Thayer said he and Doles have repaired the relationship.

"We both have the same objective and work with other organizations," he told the Journal-Constitution. "So it was in the best interest of the movement to become ally's (sic) and work together."

Journal-Constitution reporter Chris Joyner was interviewed by Georgia Public Broadcasting. He observed that there was already a considerable overlap between people who joined vigilante militias and QAnon conspiracy theory subscribers:

QAnon is an entirely separate segment of sort of this universe of people who might have been at the Capitol. … Because it is so wide-ranging, parts of it have become ingrained in the militia movement to a degree that I found sort of surprising. 2020 was a really big year for QAnon. Part of that had to do with the pandemic, which was, you know, the conspiracy theories about the pandemic were absorbed into the sort of QAnon network of conspiracy theories. People were more inclined to stay at home. So they were online more often and they got sort of drawn into these at the time, Facebook groups that were incubators for QAnon and that did find its way into some channels of the militias as well. So there was there was crossover there between the QAnon conspiracy theory and … the Three Percenters, for instance.

Trump's ongoing refusal to concede the election—and his promotion of groundless conspiracy theories about "election fraud" at the core of that refusal—created a pressure cooker-like environment in which all those disparate parts came together. And Jan. 6 became the bursting point for all that pressure.

"Their backs were against the wall," Joyner observed. "This was a final opportunity. They felt like they were getting strong signals from the president himself as to there being some way they could change the outcome on this date if enough pressure was applied to, say, Vice President Pence or to Republicans in the Senate. I think one of the things that's sort of striking about this moment, compared to others, is these are not groups that normally talk to each other."

This was reflected in the way that the demographics of the people who entered the Capitol suggested a remarkable shift in the participants in the same far-right extremist groups that led the assault on the police barricades—the Proud Boys particularly, who have tended toward recruiting men between ages 18 and 35. The insurrectionists' average age was 40, according to a University of Chicago study, and only a handful of the people arrested so far belonged to organized far-right groups; a high percentage were employed, many were business owners, most were middle-aged, and nearly all of them were middle class.

The Capitol insurrection, as the study's authors concluded, "revealed a new force in American politics—not merely a mix of right-wing organizations, but a broader mass political movement that has violence at its core and draws strength even from places where Trump supporters are in the minority."

These trends have been coalescing all during the Trump era. "Going back as far as Charlottesville, heavily-armed Three Percenters and Oath Keepers marched alongside Proud Boy streetfighters and unabashed white nationalists," observed Burghart. "The President refused to denounce these 'fine people.'"

However, 2020 produced two extraordinary events that had the effect of driving this "multidimensional approach" straight from the margins to mainstream American politics: the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 election. Burghart says:

The pandemic mobilized a significant mass base of individuals who were radicalized in record time. Ammon Bundy and his group People's Rights demonstrated the power of armed confrontation and created a model for armed opposition to government intervention to stop the spread of COVID-19. Before the insurrection in DC, there are attacks on state capitol buildings in numerous states built on Bundy's model. Those efforts have been designed to be easily repurposed to fight against anything they dislike. Efforts like Bundy's also brought new constituencies into insurrectionism, particularly women.

The 2020 election, and the so-called "Stop the Steal" efforts to overturn the election results started to congeal the various segments of the far-right into an oppositional force against the Biden administration. The election cycle supercharged Qanon conspiracists as they reached a surprisingly large audience, while the Oath Keepers provided security at MAGA rallies and the Proud Boys got a shout-out from the President. In November, when election results showed Biden as the winner, we witnessed the coalescing of a wider range of far-right forces into mass opposition fueled by a sense of white dispossession and anti-democratic rage. That inchoate coalition included MAGA supporters, Tea Partiers, Qanon conspiracists, COVID insurrectionists, far-right paramilitaries, racist reactionaries, and unabashed white nationalists. Each of those segments provided multiple onramps onto the radicalization conveyor belt. The multiplier effect of those groups all working together turned the radicalization conveyor belt up to eleven, swiftly moving people from political opposition to insurrection.

After the Jan. 6 insurrection there has been some breakdown in intergroup relations and some internecine quarreling, mostly as a result of fallout from both the law enforcement crackdown on participants and the sudden deplatforming of far-right extremists from social media sites that followed the attack on the Capitol. This is not surprising since historically the American radical right has gone through periods of shakeup following high-profile public events involving them, such as the 1996 Oklahoma City bombing or the 2017 riots in Charlottesville, Virginia.

But as Burghart observes, these periods mostly involve reshaping of the movement to fit new conditions on the ground. "The situation inside the Proud Boys right now captures many different movement dynamics," he told Daily Kos. "There is increased law enforcement scrutiny and multiple arrests on serious charges related to the Capitol insurrection. There are chapters in Indiana and Oklahoma that split from the national organization, largely because of that scrutiny (and the revelation that the group's leader was an informant). Most importantly, however, is that there is a faction trying to pull the group in a more explicitly white nationalist direction. Despite all the internal chaos, the Proud Boys are still looking to recruit disaffected Qanon believers."

As Joyner noted: "Over the last several years, the level of crosstalk between … disparate factions of outright racist groups, white nationalist groups to … militia groups, they may not share those same beliefs, but they there's a thread that runs through it that had allowed them to talk to each other and coordinate primarily on social media in a way that we had not seen before. That sort of led us to this moment, I think."

Burghart sees three major issues likely to bond the various sectors of the radical right during this period of adjustment:

  • Look for nativism to be the glue that binds together mainstreamers and armed insurrectionists during the first years of the Biden administration.
  • Opposition to COVID-19 health restrictions, widespread distribution of the vaccine, and spending to fight the virus can become a flashpoint for the far right, as recent confrontations in Los Angeles, California, and Vancouver, Washington, have demonstrated. Expect more confrontations.
  • Attacking Black Lives Matter/antifascists has been a vital part of the far-right playbook for some time. It provides a common racialized enemy and their rationalization for street violence.

Regardless of how it all takes shape, we can expect that the insurgency the Biden-Harris administration will be facing will be relentlessly conspiracist, with those conspiracy theories providing "justification" for the various kinds of violence they will unleash: Proud Boys-style street violence with armed vigilante militias participating as well, and various acts of domestic terrorism—both so-called "lone wolf" violence by radicalized individuals as well as organized small-cell attacks of trained paramilitary groups, probably on both government and media targets.

It's going to be a very long four years, and probably much longer than that.

'We must act': Far-right conspiracy cultists watch Myanmar’s military coup unfold — and hope for the same in US

The American far right is comprised of an amalgam of widely varying belief systems, from QAnon conspiracy theorists to hardened neo-Nazis; the primary thing they all have in common is a powerful antipathy to democracy and its institutions. So that core exposed itself online in clear terms this week after Myanmar's military pulled off a coup that suspended the country's fragile democracy, and American right-wing extremists began chatting about it loudly—hoping for the same thing to happen to the United States.

QAnon cultists pronounced it a concrete sign foreshadowing the imminent arrest of President Biden, cheering the Myanmar coup as an "awakening." Meanwhile militant white nationalists posted memes showing a crying "Groyper" below the text: "TFW [that feeling when] you learn that Myanmar's military can't come over to arrest your politicians too."

As Media Matters' Alex Kaplan reports, top QAnon influencers wondered "when will this happen here" and when the military will "arrest [American] politicians too." Others believe the Myanmar coup ought to be "a lesson" for Biden.

"The Burmese military has arrested the country's leaders after credible evidence of widespread voter fraud became impossible to ignore. Read this Reuters article and watch them cover for the government, calling it a 'coup against a democratically elected government'," posted one influencer on Telegram with more than 45,000 subscribers. "Sounds like the controlled media and Biden admin are scared this might happen here."

"We will see this headline here soon," another QAnon believer with more than 50,000 subscribers on Telegram wrote, linking to a tweet from a far-right news website about the Myanmar coup.

One of the many theories floating about Telegram (featured in a thread with more than 165,000 subscribers) claims that Myanmar is a major site of human trafficking—which is the ostensible focus of the QAnon theories—and that, moreover, there are "links" between the country (notably deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi) and QAnon's primary suspects, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. This theory's implication is that "we are seeing the first signs of military takeover that is also planned for the U.S.," Amaranth Amarasingam, a professor and researcher at Queen's University in Ontario, told Rolling Stone.

Another theory connected China and two companies that played major roles in Trumpian promoters of false voter-fraud conspiracy theories, Smartmatic and Dominion Voting Systems, with the coup. The theory claimed that the two companies also oversaw fraud in Myanmar's elections, suggesting the military acted in order to blunt the electronic vote fraud.

On the far-right message board 4chan, one commenter posted: "They too had a disputed election in November but unlike the Americans, they seem to have actual balls."

Other comments from around the far-right corners of social media:

"That should be us."

"Maybe Q meant Myanmar this whole time?"

"I'm thinking this is a wake up call that not all military coups are bad."

"When will this happen here?"

"Take note; Let this Myanmar thing be a lesson; when the Military decides to move – it comes out of nowhere and is swift and clean."

"Myanmar's awakening and Peruvian government waking up. When will the rest of the world decide it's time to end the cyclical treasonous fraud and purge their government of the corruption? U.S. will you do the same? Letssss Gooo!"

"More and more having red pill revaluations. If we are to clean out the garbage we must ALL act. Words without action are just words!"

As Rolling Stone's Ed Dickson observes, QAnon cultists seeking vindication after the serial failure of all their conspiracy-theory predictions have become obsessed with the claim that the the results of the election were fraudulent: "Many have been pushing the claim that Trump will return to office, possibly by force of a military coup. And they have been invigorated by watching this exact scenario taking place in the small southeast Asian country."

Republicans who keep a finger on reality are discovering that their voters have gone off the deep end

It's becoming much clearer why Republicans in Congress are so reluctant to acknowledge factual reality—such as that Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential fairly, or that Donald Trump incited a mob that attacked the Congress and ransacked the U.S. Capitol—and have doubled down on their embrace of anti-democratic disinformation that fueled the insurrection: If they dare admit any of it, they risk the insane wrath of the millions of GOP voters out there who have wholly swallowed all that false Trumpian propaganda.

That's become especially self-evident among Republicans at the state and local levels throughout the country in the weeks since the January 6 riot. As Hunter recently explained, the GOP at the ground level not only has fully embraced the conspiracist rot that Trump promoted after he lost, but it also has become even more openly extreme than it was before the election. Liz Cheney is finding that out.

Whenever Republicans have made any gestures toward acknowledging either Biden's win or Trump's seditionist behavior, as the Guardian recently reported, voters at the state and local level have responded with outrage and threats.

"The evidence is overwhelming that local parties across the country, in blue states and red states, are radicalized and support extremely far outside the mainstream positions like, for example, ending our democratic experiment to install Donald Trump as president over the will of the people," Tim Miller, former political director of Republican Voters Against Trump, told the Guardian.

"They believe in insane COVID denialism and QAnon and all these other conspiracies. It's endemic, not just a couple of state parties. It's the vast majority of state parties throughout the country."

The list is long and worrisome:

  • Arizona: The state Republican party last weekend re-elected Kelli Ward, a conspiracy-theory-promoting "Trump Republican" who unabashedly promoted the "election fraud" disinformation. Party officials also voted to censure Governor Doug Ducey for certifying Trump's loss in Arizona, along with Cindy McCain, the widow of Senator John McCain, and former Senator Jeff Flake, both for having supported Biden in the election.
  • Texas: The state Republican Party encouraged its members to follow them on Gab, the favorite social-media platform of white nationalists, with a pro-QAnon conspiracy trope: "We Are the Storm." Even after Biden's inauguration, the party insisted that he had won fraudulently: "It took a global pandemic, a thoroughly corrupt media, and massive election irregularities for President Trump to be removed from office," the GOP said in a statement on its website.
  • Hawaii: The Hawaii Republican Party's official account published a thread of tweets sympathizing with supporters of QAnon—dismissing cult's conspiracy theories that Democrats and media figures are secretly operating as global pedophilia ring, but arguing that adherents nonetheless were engaged in a form of patriotism. The same account also praised the "generally high quality" work of a Holicaust-denying YouTuber named Tarl Warwick, saying: "It is good to periodically step outside the 'bubble' of corporate commentators for additional perspective." The party deleted and condemned the tweets; the communications official who sent them resigned.
  • Oregon: The state's Republican Party issued a lengthy statement stuffed full of conspiracy theories and disinformation condemning the 10 Republican members of Congress who voted to impeach Trump after the insurrection. It claimed "there is growing evidence that the violence at the Capitol was a 'false flag' operation designed to discredit President Trump and his supporters." Some 23 Republican members of the state House repudiated the statement, noting that "there is no credible evidence to support false flag claims," adding that such rumormongering had become a distraction.
  • Wyoming: State activists opened up a campaign to "recall" Congressman Liz Cheney after she joined the Republicans voting to impeach Trump, and have collected over 55,000 signatures. Ten county-level parties in the state voted to censure Cheney. A state senator named Anthony Bouchard announced a 2022 campaign against the congresswoman. The Wyoming Republican state party said "there has not been a time during our tenure when we have seen this type of an outcry from our fellow Republicans, with the anger and frustration being palpable in the comments we have received."

Pro-Trump Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida even traveled to the state to lead a rally attacking Cheney. "We are in a battle for the soul of the Republican party, and I intend to win it," Gaetz told the rally.

The sentiments in Wyoming were deep and widespread. A Gillette woman named Shelley Horn started the Cheney recall petition, and told CNN: "You just can't go, 'Oh well, I need to vote with my conscience.' No! Vote for what your people put you in there to do. You're a Republican, you're supposed to back your party regardless."

Trump supporter Taylor Haynes told CNN, "In my view, she's done in Wyoming." A poll commissioned by the Trump political operation purportedly showed the impeachment vote had hurt her popularity. "Liz Cheney's favorables there are only slightly worse than her father's shooting skills," quipped Donald Trump Jr.

Other polls, however, supported the claim. A January 27 McLaughlin poll that showed 70% of Wyoming voters believe the impeachment trial was unconstitutional; more than two-third disapprove of Cheney's vote, and 63% say they are unlikely to vote for Cheney again.

Some longtime GOP figures defended her. Gale Geringer, a veteran Republican strategist, told CNN that Cheney showed "courage" in casting the Trump impeachment vote: "I don't underestimate the anger people are feeling right now. It's huge. And Liz Cheney has become the target of that anger, but I don't think she's really the cause of it. I think it's fear of what the Biden administration is going to do to Wyoming. We're petrified. Our entire economy, all of our jobs, our tax base has been threatened. And there's nothing we can do about Joe Biden for four years. But we can take that fear and anger out on Liz Cheney."

But Politico reporter Tara Palmieri tagged along with the CNN crew, and found it nearly impossible to find anyone in the state who wasn't angry with their Congressman. Her impression was that Cheney is in serious political trouble.

Honestly, it was hard to find anyone who would defend Cheney — and I really tried to talk to as many people as I could not at the rally. I stopped at a biker bar, a gun shop, a vape shop, a hardware store, a steakhouse, a diner, a dentist's office and a pawn shop …

— At Harbor Freight Tools, when I uttered the name "Liz Cheney," an employee behind the cash register hurled a threatening epithet. Then a beefy and tattooed supervisor, Torrey Price, 48, came over mad as hell. His mask hung below his nose when he told me, "I don't think she spoke for Wyoming."

Price never votes in primaries but said he will in August 2022 — to oust Cheney. He shared more of his thoughts: the election was stolen, the U.S. Capitol raid was staged, and the number of Covid deaths were grossly inflated. He and his colleague Joe agreed on all of these points, adding that they would not be getting the vaccine.

— At the Outlaw Saloon, I envied the way a recently vaccinated NYT reporter sauntered into the biker bar maskless, when earlier, a middle-aged DJ in a cowboy hat asked me for my credentials. Likely because there were only two masks in the bar — the one on my face and another on a table, with the words "political prisoner" printed in red. The guy who threw down that mask predicted the size of the rally against Cheney, telling me the night before, "I guarantee you there will be 600 people there." I didn't believe him.

— At the steakhouse, our comely waitress said "a lot of people are fired up" about Cheney. As a lifelong native of Wyoming, she said Cheney made a grave mistake by not representing the people of her state.

Palmieri concluded: "If there was any doubt this is still Trump's Republican Party, my time in Cheyenne dispelled it."

The push to embrace Trumpism is roiling other state Republican parties. In Wisconsin, where 15 Republican lawmakers signed a letter to Vice President Mike Pence the day before the D.C. riot urging him to postpone the certification, and two Republican congressmen, Scott Fitzgerald and Tom Tiffany, objected to the electoral votes, the party is divided into two camps: in several states that Biden won.

"The Republican Party right now is relatively divided, but it's not the traditional ideological divisions that used to be in place, as much as it's between the sane and insane wings of the party," RightWisconsin editor James Wigderson told the Madison Capital Times. "I think that there's a chance of a real fracture coming."

Establishment Republicans such as former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, however, defended the Trumpists for their paranoia and embrace of partisan disinformation: "That is the perspective they have, that is the view that they have and it's valid; you can't say someone's opinion of a subjective matter is invalid," she said. "I mean, what gives us the right to judge someone's opinion like that?"

In Michigan, where Republicans also embraced the "Stop the Steal" campaign prior to the insurrection, the impulse to maintain their embrace of Trumpism remains largely undiminished. The Allegan County Republican party censured Congressman Fred Upton because he voted to impeach Trump.

"Not a lot appears to be changing. We have former Ambassador Ron Weiser (expected to be the new Michigan GOP chair) and Meshawn Maddock (expected to be Weiser's co-chair)," WKAR politics reporter Abigail Censky observed. "(Maddock) led 'Stop the Steal' efforts in the state and was a key part of the kind of infrastructure to overturn the state's election results, which we know from bipartisan clerks and expert testimony was a fair and safe and secure election. It's interesting to see that that's kind of beyond reproach still, and that, that leadership is still going to go into place."

And in Georgia, Republican Party officials are grimacing at the wounds being inflicted on their voter-appeal operations by the presence of QAnon-loving Congressman Majorie Taylor Greene in the state's delegation, as well as in the media as her multiple conspiracist pronouncements—such as her approval of lynching House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—have come increasingly to light.

"If you have any common sense, you know she's an anchor on the party. She is weighing us down," said Gabriel Sterling, a Georgia Republican election administrator who criticized the baseless election conspiracy theories espoused by Trump and his supporters.

"Some people are saying maybe Nancy Pelosi will throw her out" of Congress, Sterling said. "The Democrats would never throw her out. They want her to be the definition of what a Republican is. They're gonna give her every opportunity to speak and be heard and look crazy — like what came out Wednesday, the Jewish space laser to start fires. I mean, I don't know how far down the rabbit hole you go."

The unhinged behavior and conspiracism is widespread. The Oregon GOP's statement was rife with conspiracy theories, including a passage explaining why they viewed the January 6 insurrection as a "false flag" operation:

Whereas this false flag will support Joe Biden plans to introducing new domestic terrorism legislation likely placing more emphasis on themes from post-9/11 Patriot Act such as allowing those charged with terrorism to be automatically detained before trial, outlawing donations to government-designated terrorist groups, allowing electronic surveillance of suspected terrorists, letting the government use secret sources in those trials, and perhaps new provisions such as codifying putting conservatives on a secret no-fly list without recourse to due process and restricting free speech, similar to the Sedition Act of 1798, which criminalized making "false statements" critical of the Federal government.

The peculiar combination of self-righteousness, persecution complex, and projection endemic to extremist conspiracism were omnipresent. Shelley Horn, the Wyoming petitioner, blamed Cheney's impeachment vote for dividing the nation: "It's just sows more hate and division," Horn told the Cowboy State Daily, "and people are tired of it. Our country can't stand much more."

As Zack Beauchamp observed at Vox:

It's obvious that some of the party's national leaders, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, don't actually believe in these conspiracy theories. But for too long, the party has been comfortable letting their rank-and-file supporters believe them because it's politically advantageous. Now, true believers are rising up and capturing the leadership of state parties and local activist groups — putting pressure on national politicians to conform to extreme ideas or risk a serious primary threat.

This makes the GOP's post-Trump trajectory look even scarier. No one person or organization is in charge of the party, in a position to fix the root causes of its continuing turn toward extremism. Reforming the party requires a fight on multiple levels and in multiple arenas: reforms to the local and national party, transformations of both the party and adjacent institutions like Fox News.

This what Barack Obama adroitly describes as America's "epistemological crisis." It will not stop happening as long as there are news organs that traffic in falsehoods as a profit model, and who devote 24 hours a day, seven days a week of broadcast time using those lies to coach half of the nation how and why to hate the other half—and politicians who gleefully profit from it as well.

Ohio fringe candidate threatens governor with a revived far-right terror tactic: ‘citizen’s arrest’

Renea Turner protested Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine's COVID-19 orders earlier this summer, and this week declared she was making a citizen's arrest, but denies plotting to kidnap him.

Citizen's arrests are all the rage among right-wing extremists these days, it seems. Barely two weeks after 14 Michigan militiamen were arrested as part of a plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer under the rubric of a "constitutionalist" fantasy, a similar plot to make a "citizen's arrest" of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine—accused similarly of "tyranny" by imposing coronavirus-related health measures—bubbled to the surface this week.

The alleged Ohio plot revolves around a fringe-right activist named Renea Turner, who ran a write-in campaign for governor in 2018. A man who worked with her told police that Turner had attempted to join her plan to perform a citizen's arrest of DeWine at his home—which he claims involved then trying him for treason and punishing him accordingly.

On Thursday, Turner conducted a ceremony in Columbus (posted as a since-deleted video on Facebook) in which she announced that she was deposing DeWine as governor, and took the gubernatorial oath to replace him. On Monday, she held a press conference in which she denied she intended to harm DeWine—she merely intended to serve him with citizen's arrest papers, she said.

The idea of using citizen's arrest powers against government officials engaged in the far right's conception of "treason" and "tyranny" has its origins in the "Patriot" militia movement's activism in the 1990s. It was a common strategy for so-called "constitutionalists" and "sovereign citizens" to file reams of documents containing flowery pseudo-legal language to claim that various government officials—including judges, prosecutors, and elected authorities—had betrayed their oaths of office and thus committed treason.

Some, such as the Freemen in eastern Montana, issued bounties of $1 million for the arrest of various public officials on charges of treason. These tactics, in the Freemen's case, grew so egregious—along with the fraud the group committed among local businesses—that eventually the FBI began to arrest its members, culminating in an 81-day armed standoff near Jordan in 1996.

The tactic largely fell into disuse during the first decade of the 21st century. However, its apparent revival among far-right extremists illustrates how deep the connection to old "Patriot" belief systems and strategies among current-day radicals really runs.

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At her Thursday ceremony, Turner read a long-winded declaration (which she also posted on Facebook) to "alter and remove" DeWine, a Republican, as governor. "Mike DeWine has used his position; he has become so corrupt that he has oppressed the people," her statement read. "Governor Mike DeWine has become concentrated, grown and has become a Tyrant and will be held accountable immediately. He will receive a Tyrant's punishment."

Turner's language was different from that preferred by sovereign citizens—she refers to herself throughout it as "one people"—but conceptually her declaration was identical to that made by the 1990s "Patriots." This included the apparent belief that the same "one people" who arrest the governor are automatically slotted to replace him.

Afterward, she took the oath of office as governor of Ohio with the assistance of several supporters, one of whom was a notary public, and it was signed by several of the supporters as witnesses.

"This is a huge step for America," she said afterward. "This is just getting started with Ohio. We have figured out a way to save America and we are starting it today."

One of those witnesses—a man who Turner and her contingent referred to as "Wild Man"—wore a jacket declaring himself a "Patriot" and a member of the "III Percent" militia movement.

The man who reported that Turner was planning to arrest DeWine told police that Turner, a Springfield native, had called him at his home the morning of Oct. 16 and asked if he wanted to participate in arresting the governor at DeWine's home later that weekend and try him for allegations of tyranny before a "citizens court." He also said that Turner had suggested two penalties for conviction: permanent exile or execution.

He said that while he agreed that DeWine should be arrested, he expected the process to occur under established law enforcement authorities. He had hoped the group of DeWine critics could find a prosecutor who would charge him.

"(The caller) said 'no, we the people, we're going to arrest him,'" the source said.

"Do I think (DeWine) needs to be arrested? Absolutely," the man said. "But all that needs to happen within the confines of the law."

Turner told cleveland.com that she had participated in the call, but insisted that she had only discussed placing DeWine under house arrest, and made no specific plans to do so. She dismissed the man's claims: "He's a dingbat," she said.

The Ohio Capital Journal reported that a state representative said he recently met with Turner prior to the alleged call, and that she had inquired about the governor's home. Ohio State Police say they are investigating the matter, but Turner has not been detained.

DeWine commented on Friday about the plot: "At this point in my life, nothing shocks me anymore," he said. "We're going to continue to do what we need to do every day. Our life goes on and I'm going to do what I need to do. I don't know the details of the so-called plan. I can't really comment about that. As I said in regard to what happened with Governor Whitmer, it's despicable anyone would want to in any way go around our legal process that we have. We are a country, a state, a rule of law, we have a long tradition of that and anybody that wants to violate that or go around that, we all have a responsibility to denounce."

Ohio law on citizen's arrests permits them in only limited circumstances. There first has to be a reasonable belief—one based on real and not imaginary or theoretical evidence—that the arrestee committed a felony. You also can only detain a suspect until the police can furnish an arrest warrant; if there isn't a law enforcement officer, you have to transport the person to a court or judge who can make the determination.

An Ohio sheriff explained: "Felonies are capital offenses and a reasonable person would know. J-walking, littering are misdemeanor violations. A citizen would not have the right to engage themselves in something of that nature, but that certainly shouldn't deter them from reporting a crime."

The viability of citizen's arrests for broader uses such as Turner's, or the Michigan militiamen who appear to be planning a legal defense around the claim that they only planned to perform such an arrest of Whitmer, has never been recognized by any court or legal jurisdiction.

Attorney Sarissa Montague of Kalamazoo explained to mlive.com that in order for defendants in the Michigan case to claim they were making a citizen's arrest, they'd have to prove "that a felony actually had been committed and that any reasonable person acting without passion or prejudice would have fairly suspected" the same.

There was another citizen's arrest incident in Michigan recently involving a city councilman in Warren who attempted to make an arrest of his own. Eddie Kabacinski, a Trump supporter who at an April council meeting had donned a gas mask to mock anti-pandemic measures, is currently under investigation for having slapped a pair of handcuffs onto a protester who showed up at a Trump rally Oct. 14 in Eastpointe.

The woman had stuck three small Black Lives Matter stickers on Trump signs placed along the boulevard. Kabacinski chased her and grabbed her, at which point she sprayed him with silly string. The councilman—who carries the handcuffs regularly—pulled them out and put them on the woman with her hands behind her back until officers arrived. Eastpointe officers promptly removed the cuffs and released the woman.

"Putting a decal sticker over a Trump sign, and it says Black Lives Matter, you are promoting a domestic terrorist organization on a Trump sign and that's not good," he told a local weekly newspaper. "That's not the image that the Trump campaign or the Republican Party is trying to convey. We are trying to get back to law and order in this country."

Kabacinski's behavior in other situations is also under fire. After the home of a Black family in his council district was attacked three times—rocks through windows, tires slashed, a Black Lives Matter sign shot up with a gun—he had shown up as a counterprotester at a Sept. 19 event intended to voice support for the family, dressed in military fatigues with a gun on his hip, carrying a large Trump flag.

Most of the time, however, the threats of a citizen's arrest as a far-right tactic have been directed at public officials—and the intent has always been clear, too. In Montana in the 1990s, the judges who were threatened with it identified the issue clearly.

"Terrorism is what it is," said Marty Bethel, a city judge in the town of Hamilton who had faced an "arrest" threat unless she dismissed a traffic charge against a member of a local militia. "I hope someone takes this seriously, before blood is shed. If you let these people walk up one side and down the other, all you've done is empower them."

Ammon Bundy is building a far-right theocratic army under the guise of defending ‘rights'

There's been a buffoonish quality to Ammon Bundy's brand of far-right "constitutionalist" politics over the past six months, primarily organized in a typically paranoid response to COVID-19-related public-health measures: Protesting at the home of a police officer who had arrested an anti-vaccination fanatic for violating the closure of a playground. Trying to bully his way inside a health-board meeting. Getting arrested twice in two days for ignoring his ban from the Idaho Statehouse. Going maskless at a Caldwell High School football game that forced the game to be called off, for which he was not only ejected but banned from future games by the local school district.

The endless antics, however, have always obfuscated a darker, much more dangerous agenda. A disturbing new in-depth report by Devin Burghart at the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights reveals that all the time that Bundy has been gathering media time and headlines, he's been building a massive army of volunteers—a network called People's Rights—intent on imposing a far-right authoritarian state, all under the guise of defending individual rights.

Bundy first announced the formation of the People's Rights network in March, when he held a gathering not far from his home in Emmett, Idaho, discussing plans to organize people to form ad-hoc gatherings to "defend" local citizens against COVID-19-related "tyranny." Bundy told the audience that they didn't need to obey the governor's stray-at-home or business-closure orders. And he pledged to bring fellow "Patriots" to the rescue if anyone felt pressure from "authorities" to comply.

"I will be there," Bundy told the Idaho Press. "I will bring as many people as we can. We will form a legal defense for you, a political defense for you, and we will also, if necessary, provide a physical defense for you, so that you can continue in your rights."

As it has played out on the ground, these gatherings have become bellicose, and frequently armed, mobs protesting police officers at their homes, breaking into health-board meetings that were being held online, and breaking down the doors inside the Statehouse and attending committee meetings unmasked in order to intimidate state legislators.

The incident resulting in the cancellation of the football game between Caldwell and Emmett high schools is emblematic of these anti-democratic intimidation tactics at work.

Bundy, whose son plays for Emmett High, showed up in Caldwell for the game without a mask—though one was required for entry—and refused to put one on, first taking a seat in the stands, then moving to a fenced area away from the stands. As he livestreamed the exchange, Bundy refused to leave when game officials asked him to.

Moreover, members of his network watching on Facebook sprang into action and began phoning 911 dispatchers in Caldwell—not merely to complain, but to threaten and intimidate. The flood of threats was so overwhelming and worrisome that at halftime, officials announced the game was being cancelled.

"The threats made to dispatch appear to have stemmed from the dispute between Mr. Bundy and the Caldwell School District personnel that requested he wear a mask while attending the game," a Caldwell police spokesman told the Idaho Statesman. "The calls did specifically reference the football game."

Ten days later, the district voted unanimously to ban Bundy from Caldwell school grounds for the next year.

The IREHR report explores how this is all being organized. The People's Rights network, it explains, has seen rapid growth fueled by "a fusion of Bundy's core of the far-right paramilitary supporters built up over years of armed standoffs with a mass base of new activists radicalized in protest over COVID-19 health directives."

Bundy devised a secure online system built on SMS text messaging to enable the network to organize without public scrutiny or exposure. IREHR managed to obtain access to the network, however, and reports that "Bundy has assembled a team of 153 'assistants' in sixteen states." It goes on to identify all of those people, and found that their backgrounds include significant activism in radical right causes—and that, somewhat unusually, the majority of those local assistants are women (though the national and state leadership remain dominated by men).

This network is not engaged in the usual far-right battle against "government tyranny," which is the usual rhetoric that surrounds "Patriot" groups. Bundy's network instead is pro-government—but one that has no compunction about erasing the rights of people its participants have deemed morally depraved:

Instead of a more traditional "anti-government" narrative, People's Rights leaders have expressed a desire for governmental power to be used to protect the "righteous" against "wicked" liberals, antifa, Black Lives Matter activists, and others. Several People's Rights leaders are running for elected office—to become the government. Absent that sort of intervention, leaders have proposed a type of armed enclave-style "neighborhood" nationalism, where "righteous" neighbors stand against the "wicked." People's Rights leaders have often defined the "wicked" using far-right conspiracism, racism, antisemitism, anti-indigenous, and anti-transgender sentiment.

Moreover, in addition to building an "Uber-like" paramilitary response system that can be mobilized whenever people believe their rights are under attack from godless liberals, IREHR's report explains that discussion within the surreptitious network go well beyond such imagined "self-defense" measures.

Some of the People's Rights network participants are running for elective office, hoping to promote the group's theocratic-state agenda from within the halls of power. Mario Perea, a People's Rights assistant from Idaho, told would-be participants in a rally for a political candidate: "We claim, and we use, and we defend our rights. In order to defend our rights, we have to get people into these government positions. That is a form of defense because we're being attacked politically. So we need to fight back and resist politically."

The politics include a sensibility attuned to modern "Patriot" movement rhetoric, particularly the rising "Boogaloo" talk about broad social breakdowns and violence surrounding the coming election. Mostly, there is a fairly typical eagerness for the battle to begin.

"Are you ready for Civil War November 4?" asked People's Rights leader Tony Pellegrino in a Facebook post.

Michigan Republicans struggle with recognition of their own roles in fueling militia kidnap plot

Discovering that terrorists can look like the guys next door is a jarring thing, especially if that's not how you've been conditioned to think of such matters. In Michigan this week, cognitive dissonance has been thick on the ground—especially as public officials who came too close to the plotters and their incendiary rhetoric have tried to wrestle with the consequences of last week's arrests of 13 Michigan militiamen who schemed to kidnap and assassinate Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

A local sheriff who had appeared onstage at an anti-Whitmer rally this spring suggested to a TV interviewer that maybe the plotters—some of whom he knows personally—were just trying to make a citizens arrest. A Republican state legislative candidate opined that the arrests were "a totally bogus sham." And the state's Republican Speaker of the House, who has helped stoke the incendiary "tyranny" rhetoric that fueled the plotters, chastised Whitmer for pointing out the connection between the plotters' actions and the rhetoric used by Donald Trump and Michigan Republicans.


Michigan sheriff who rallied with militiamen soft-pedals FBI arrests youtu.be

Dar Leaf, the sheriff of Barry County—where two of the accused domestic terrorists, William and Michael Null, reside and were arrested by the FBI Thursday—told a Grand Rapids interviewer that he believed the men might have been within their rights.

"It's just a charge, and they say a 'plot to kidnap' and you got to remember that. Are they trying to kidnap? Because a lot of people are angry with the governor, and they want her arrested. So are they trying to arrest or was it a kidnap attempt? Because you can still in Michigan if it's a felony, make a felony arrest," Leaf told Fox17 reporter Aaron Parshegian.

He added: "The two gentlemen that I know of from my county, were they involved in that? I don't know. They're innocent till proven guilty. And we really, really should be careful, trying to try them in the media."

The evidence unveiled by the FBI included multiple instances of surveillance of Whitmer's summer home, where the militiamen—who called themselves the Wolverine Watchmen—planned to abduct her, as well as multiple instances in which the men discussed killing her. The evidence also showed that not only had the men originally planned a paramilitary assault on the state Capitol, they also made plans to kill law-enforcement officers. The discussion of a "citizens arrest" of Whitmer was largely rhetorical.

Leaf's comments created an uproar. Shortly after the interview aired, Michigan's attorney general, Dana Nessel, ripped into him on Twitter:

As Michigan's top law enforcement official, let me make this abundantly clear-Persons who are not sworn, licensed members of a law enforcement agency cannot and should not "arrest" government offficials with whom they have disagreements. These comments are dangerous.

Leaf tried to defend the remarks subsequently by insisting that he only wanted to ensure that men weren't being "tried in the media."

"I don't want anybody to think I'm sympathetic towards these charges, right, these are very, very serious charges," he said. "What I don't want is I don't want us to be trying it in the media and we mess it up in the justice system somewhere, 'cause they can't get a fair trial."

Leaf told MLive: "The governor has the right to govern and also the right to be safe." Yet he went on to criticize officials like Whitmer and Nessel for blaming people like Trump and himself for creating an atmosphere empowering fringe groups. Leaf said the militia movement "has been brewing for quite some time" over what he described as "a gradual and growing loss of rights."

In fact, as Jen Hayden explored earlier, Leaf is a member of a law-enforcement organization closely aligned with the "Patriot" militia movement with which the plotters identified. He also was an outspoken critic of Whitmer's anti-COVID-19 pandemic orders.

At a May 18 "Michigan Patriots Rally" held at Rosa Parks Circle in Grand Rapids, Leaf had appeared onstage with several militiamen, including Michael Null. In his speech, he compared Whitmer's stay-at-home orders to being held unlawfully under house arrest. Leaf had also described Owosso barber Karl Manke—who had defied the governor's order by opening his shop—a "little version of Rosa Parks."

Meanwhile, Republican legislative candidate Paul Smith of Sterling Heights angrily denounced the arrests on Twitter.

"What a totally bogus sham," Smith commented. "These citizens never did anything illegal. Law enforcement is employed to punish people who COMMIT crimes, not people The Governess simply HATES. You can legally hurt Whitmer by voting out her minions."

State Republican leaders were appalled, and announced they had withdrawn financial and other support for Smith's candidacy, calling the remarks "conspiracy theories and hateful remarks."

"If you can't denounce the evil plans and actions of these white nationalists, we don't want you in our caucus," Republican House Speaker Lee Chatfield said. "In fact, if there's any 'Republican' who thinks like this guy, we don't want your vote either. We don't support domestic terrorism."

Chatfield, however, also chastised Whitmer for her remarks laying some of the blame at Trump's feet that week: "Just last week, the president of the United States stood before the American people and refused to condemn white supremacists and hate groups like these two Michigan militia groups," Whitmer said, adding that extremists had "heard the president's words not as a rebuke but as a rallying cry—as a call to action."

In a Twitter thread, Chatfield criticized Whitmer, claiming she had kept the investigation under wraps: "Why weren't we warned of the plot to take hostages at the Capitol? The plot by these terrorists was against us too. Why weren't House sergeants warned? You knew and we weren't even given a warning. We had people working in the building and their lives matter too." However, it was the FBI, and not Whitmer, who had overseen the sharing of information with potential victims.

Chatfield also suggested that she shared in the blame: "Hatred and violence are wrong, and that's why I've continually denounced it," he wrote. "And I agree, it's time to tone the partisan rhetoric and 'the heat down.' Will you do the same for President Trump? Will the [lieutenant governor] do it to the entire GOP? We have to make this decision together."

However, Chatfield and other leading Michigan Republicans, had played their own not-insignificant roles in whipping up anti-Whitmer hysteria, as Michigan journalist Joshua Pugh pointed out on Twitter. When "Patriot" protesters had locked down Lansing with an anti-Whitmer protest on April 15 that featured Confederate flags and incendiary rhetoric, Chatfield had greeted them by waving a flag out his window and tweeting out encouragement.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey had been even more incendiary. On the floor of the Senate during a subsequent Lansing protest—during which armed militia members were watching from the gallery above—Shirkey had called the governor a tyrant: "If she does not recognize the end of the emergency declaration, we have no other choice but to act," he said, not clarifying what kind of action he intended.

After Thursday's arrests, Shirkey was defiant: "This is no time to be weak in our commitment to freedom," Shirkey told a "Let MI People Go" rally at the Capitol. "We need to be strong…and not be afraid of those who are taking our freedoms away from us."

Shirkey also told the crowd at Thursday's rally that they were not the same people involved in the plot to kill the governor. However, the Detroit Free Press identified several of the arrestees as participants at the earlier protests against Whitmer's orders.

In Barry County, Leaf's remarks sparked calls for his resignation. Local residents organized a protest demanding he step down or face a recall movement—but that protest was called off when organizers became concerned about the safety of participants amid the likelihood of armed right-wing counter-protesters.

"Whereas I truly believe in the statement we were trying to make, I cannot in good conscience compromise the safety of my fellow Barry County residents," organizer Olivia Bennett wrote on the event's Facebook page.

"I have come to this conclusion for a couple reasons. First, there were many concerns about confrontational counter protesters. Second, this protest garnered enough attention this weekend that crowd size was a concern given short notice, security, and capacity at the commissioners' meeting."

Bennett tried to clarify that she and other protesters aren't suggesting the sheriff was a participant. "We are not accusing him of having known about the kidnapping plot and we are not accusing him of being a part of it at all," Bennett told MLive. "What I am suggesting is his actions and his words embolden people who would attempt to do such things."

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American democracy almost certainly faces a real crossroads this year: If Donald Trump—who just this week refused to say that he would make a peaceful transition, and threatened to “get rid of the ballots”—loses the popular vote on Nov. 3 to Joe Biden, as polls currently indicate, he appears poised to dismiss millions of mail-in votes. He would likely do this through the courts that he has assiduously packed over the past three years, particularly via the Supreme Court seat he and his fellow Republicans are intent on seizing just prior to the vote. The legitimacy of both our system of elections and the foundational courts that embody the rule of law will have been not just undermined, but potentially destroyed.

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Fresh on the heels of spreading hoax rumors about “antifa buses” coming to rural towns to create mayhem, right-wing conspiracists eager to spread the narrative about the supposed existential threat posed by black-clad antifascist activists have a hot new fraud for their armies of gullible social-media followers: The forest fires raging along the West Coast from California to Washington are an antifa plot!

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