A plot by fanatical extremists to kidnap a politician and bring them to a safe house to “stand trial” reads like something out of a history book or international news. But, it wasn’t Confederate spies in a long ago war or armed rebels in a far away country; instead, it was a group of right-wing terrorists in Michigan who made news recently after being charged with plotting to kidnap the state’s governor.
Unlike other, more singular acts of terror in recent years — The El Paso Walmart Shooting, the MAGA Bomber — the so-called Wolverine Watchmen were organized and had a long-term plan.
They were not planning on stopping at kidnapping Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, but had discussed kidnapping Virginia Governor Ralph Northam as well. They would then go on to attack the Michigan State Capitol building and kidnap other officials in hopes of overthrowing the government and plunging the country into civil war.
Since Ruby Ridge, militias have been little more than an eccentricity of American politics — ultra-libertarian wackos in camo, holed up the woods somewhere. In recent years, however, militias have seen a boom in membership and a greater level of organization. This worrying trend can be seen on the website for the militia network, My Militia.
My Militia boasts 529 militias in its network, with a quick link to apply to the one closest to you. Although My Militia is not an organization — it is a network for independent militias to connect to one another, publish literature and recruit — its size and scope speak to the rise of militias in recent years.
Some welcome the militias, especially in times of unrest. As overwhelmingly peaceful as protests have been, news coverage of shattered store fronts and burned businesses have some wanting order to be maintained, by force if necessary. The idea of armed citizens “keeping the peace” is appealing in turbulent times and has many defending the militias or even calling for their intervention and protection from the perceived threat of radicals.
The militias are far from uniform. Some accept men and women, others just men. Some have a camp or dedicated space, others meet in homes. Some have a religious denomination, others are nominally secular.
There are strong common threads, of course. The 17-year-old who shot and killed protesters in Kenosha, Kyle Rittenhouse, was a militia member and is universally praised and defended by militias across America.
Militias see left-wing groups like Black Lives Matter and Antifa as enemies of militias and of the United States. Antifa, contrary to popular belief, is not a formal organization. It does not have a website, hold meetings, send marching orders, issue memberships or anything like that. It is rather a purposefully decentralized network of activists and allies; friends of friends encouraging one another to go to a protest prepared for a fight. The protesters dressed in black who are prepared to meet militias with force may belong to no organization but are just staunchly antifascist in their politics.
All this comes together to bring us to the near boiling point we are at today. Left of center groups and individuals come together to protest police violence and militias come around to shoot them down or run them over.
Recently, I wrote on the creeping rise of fascism in American politics. Today, the militias are spread out. They are zealous but fragmented. The militia movement today are unassembled pieces of an organized fascist paramilitary force. This looming threat is all the more chilling in light of the President’s recent call to the Proud Boys — a national rightwing organization known for violent clashes at protests — to “stand by.”
This may seem like a far off threat. It may seem that, even if authoritarian, right wing groups are coming together, it must take months, even years for them to meaningfully affect our politics, right? Unfortunately militias and other right wing paramilitary groups may be used to intimidate voters as soon as this coming election.
With a police force that is, at best, inept in fighting militias or, at worst, actively working with them, the rise of fascism in the United States seems to be relatively unchecked. Democratic politicians, if they acknowledge the looming threat of fascism at all, are meeting their street violence with high-minded condemnation.
Militias need to be met with equal left wing organization in the form of labor unions, political organizations and electoral organizations. Marching militias should encounter protests and crowds of antifascists so large that they scatter back into the hole they came from.
Philip is a junior studying Journalism. Do you think militias need to be stopped? How would you suggest this be done? Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org