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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Far-Right Extremists And QAnon Cultists Are Training Police Officers

The saturation of the ranks of our police forces with far-right extremists is one of the harsh realities of American life that bubbled up during the police brutality protests of 2020 and was laid bare by the January 6 insurrection. The presence of these extremists not only is a serious security and enforcement threat—particularly when it comes to dealing with far-right violence—but has created a toxic breach between our communities and the people they hire to protect and serve them. Too often, as in Portland, the resulting police culture has bred a hostility to their communities that expresses itself in biased enforcement and a stubborn unaccountability.

Much of this originates in police training, which are the foundations of cop culture. And a recent Reuters investigative report has found that police training in America is riddled with extremists: Their survey of police training firms—35 in all—that provide training to American police authorities found five of them employ (and in some cases, are operated by) men whose politics are unmistakably of the far-right extremist variety. And these five people alone are responsible for training hundreds of American cops every year.

The most striking of these five extremist trainers is a former cop from Travis County, Texas, named Richard Whitehead, who moved to Post Falls, Idaho, several years ago and set up shop as a police trainer. He has, over the past four years, given 85 training sessions to at least 560 police officers and other public safety workers in 12 states. He also has advised officers to ignore COVID-19 health restrictions and claimed: “We are on the brink of a civil war.”

Like most of these extremist trainers, Whitehead subscribes to the so-called “constitutional sheriff” model of law enforcement—he in fact ran for Kootenai County sheriff in 2020 as a “constitutional” officer, finishing third out of four candidates in the GOP primary—which claims that county sheriffs are the supreme law of the land, empowered to overrule and ignore state and federal laws, as well as to determine what is and is not “constitutional.” None of its tenets have ever been upheld in a court of law.

Nonetheless, it’s a powerful movement that has been spreading, particularly in rural America, for well over a decade, led by a far-right “constitutionalist” named Richard Mack and his outfit, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA). A number of rural sheriffs have won election claiming to be “constitutional,” and inevitably, their regimes have produced dysfunctional far-right fiefdoms and disrupted communities.

Just as important, these “constitutionalists” form much of the backbone of the far-right “Patriot” movement that formed the core of the attack on the Capitol on January 6, and continues to animate and organize the anti-democratic insurgency the right has undertaken in the ensuing year and a half. Despite wrapping themselves in red, white, and blue bunting and claiming fealty to the Constitution, they are part of a profoundly seditionist movement whose entire reason for being is to dismantle American democratic institutions.


Whitehead has quite a track record on social media as a pro-Trump “warrior,” as the Reuters report details, including calling for the public executions of government officials he sees as disloyal to Trump. Moreover, he repeats the same kind of far-right messaging in his training sessions with police officers: At one of them, according to a complaint lodged against him, he called the COVID-19 pandemic “a joke” and health measures unconstitutional. He also showed students an image of a police car with an LGBTQ flag on the side, and then asked the class: “What’s next? We have to have a Muslim flag to satisfy the goat fuckers?”

In his course materials, he at one time included a slide ridiculing transgender people: “Suspect is a gender-fluid assigned-male-at-birth wearing non-gender-specific clothing born Caucasian but identifies as a mountain panda.” Whitehead told Reuters that he just wanted to push back against pressure for police to adopt left-wing views.

His defense was typical for a “constitutionalist”: In a statement responding to the Reuters piece, Whitehead doesn’t deny any of its reportage, but complains:

What does it say about the state of our nation when believing in it’s [sic] Constitution has you deemed an extremist?

Like the other trainers, Whitehead insists that his reactionary politics are not extremist, a refrain that has become common as the identities of police officers who are members of groups associated with the Jan. 6 insurrection like the Oath Keepers are exposed. Interest in these groups among police officers, in fact, increased after the attack on the Capitol. And their well-established sympathy with extremist groups like the Proud Boys before the insurrection played a major role in the dynamic that created the riot.

Reuters reporters Julia Harte and Alexandra Ulmer detail similar extremist beliefs animating Whitehead and four other trainers as well:

The five trainers have aired views including the belief in a vote-rigging conspiracy to unseat Trump in the 2020 election. One trainer attended Trump’s January 6, 2021, rally at the U.S. Capitol that devolved into a riot, injuring more than 100 police officers. Two of the trainers have falsely asserted that prominent Democrats including President Joe Biden are pedophiles, a core tenet of the QAnon conspiracy theory. Four have endorsed or posted records of their past interactions with far-right extremist figures, including prominent “constitutional sheriff” leader David Clarke Jr. and Proud Boys leader Joe Biggs, who is being prosecuted for his involvement in the Capitol riots.

The other four trainers featured in the report work in locations around the U.S.:

  • Darrell Schenck, who teaches firearms classes to officers, is based in Kansas. He believes Democrats are pedophiles, the 2020 election was illegitimate (“election fraud is the real pandemic”) and has described the Jan. 6 reportage as “fake news.”
  • Tim Kennedy, a Texas-based military veteran, travels widely to provide his “Sheepdog Response” training for officers, specializing in martial arts, sharpshooting, and strength-building. On social media, he has promoted the “Boogaloo” civil-war movement, and has posted screen texts of his conversations with Proud Boys leader Joe Biggs, currently awaiting trial for conspiracy related to his role in leading the mob on Jan. 6, and said he would name Bigg his Interior secretary in an imaginary presidency.
  • Ryan Morris, whose Pennsylvania-based Tripwire Operations Group provides police training around the region, spouts similar rhetoric, calling the 2020 election a socialist plot to seize the government: “You have just witnessed a coup, the overthrow of the US free election system, the end of our constitutional republic, and the merge of capitalism into the slide toward socialism,” read a Facebook post that Morris shared about a month after the 2020 election. Notably, a number of Tripwire employers were “employed” at the Jan. 6 insurrection, though Morris declined to say who hired them or how they were employed.
  • Adam Davis, a contractor for New Jersey-based Street Cop Training, lectures police agencies nationwide and spoke at an industry trade conference hosted by the company—one of the largest private training operations—in October. On social media, he called Joe Biden as a “puppet and a pedophile,” and smeared racial-bias protesters as “pawns” in a “scheme to destroy this nation.”

All of these trainers insisted that their politics were perfectly mainstream, and that moreover they kept their personal views out of their training sessions. Davis described his political views as “middle of the road.” Morris claimed that his social media posts were about attracting clients: “It’s all marketing,” he said. “We put it out there to all different realms, hoping to spark some kind of conversation … and then we generate classes out of that.”

Police training has come under closer examination in no small part because of the deluge of biased-policing incidents of recent years, culminating in the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. In particular, organizations that encourage police to adopt a “warrior mindset” that engenders hostility with their respective communities, in no small part because of their excessive reliance on aggressive tactics and violent street arrests.

Ozzie Knezovich, the sheriff of Spokane County, Washington, has wrestled with such training in the past: His department hosted a “Killology” police training session in recent years that drew broad condemnation, including a rebuke from the Spokane City Council. Nonetheless, the company that offers that training continue to enjoy support from a variety of police departments that hire them, including police in Missoula, Montana.

Knezovich’s department, as Reuters reported, also used Whitehead as a trainer. When Reuters queried him, however, Knezovich told them he was shocked his deputies had been trained by an instructor from “the lunatic fringe.”

He vowed to end the practice: “I’ll be having a conversation with my training unit to take somebody off the list,” the sheriff said.

In a 2019 academic paper titled “KKK in the PD: White Supremacist Police and What to Do About It,” associate Georgetown Law professor Vida Johnson 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 Los Angeles Times that 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.”

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

Alito's Abortion Opinion Encouraging Right-Wing Terror Threats

The right-wing freakout over peaceful protests outside the homes of Supreme Court justices and chalk on the sidewalk in front of Republican senators’ homes, built around the seeming belief that any kind of protest at all is an act of violence, is actually a piece of classic right-wing projection. Conservatives assume that all protests feature intimidation and menace, bellicose threats, and acts of violence, because they themselves know no other way of protesting, as we’ve seen over the past five years and longer—especially on Jan. 6.

So it’s not surprising that the right-wing response to protests over the imminent demise of the Roe v. Wade ruling so far is riddled with white nationalist thugs turning up in the streets, and threats directed at Democratic judges. Ben Makuch at Vice reported this week on how far-right extremists are filling Telegram channels with calls for the assassination of federal judges, accompanied by doxxing information revealing their home addresses.

One Telegram channel features a roster of targets accompanied by an eye-grabbing graphic with an assault-style gun, complete with their photos, bios, and personal contact and address information, including two federal judges appointed with Democratic backgrounds: a Barack Obama appointee of color, and a Midwestern judge of Jewish ethnicity. Joining them on the roster are people like Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, several bankers, and officials who served on a federal vaccine board.

According to Makuch, this particular channel has been repeatedly taken off Telegram, only to promptly reconstitute itself. Now in its fifth iteration, he reports that federal law enforcement is aware of the channel and is investigating the threats.

The anti-abortion right’s entire track record of protest, in fact, is brimming with case after case of violence and the politics of menace. Between 1977 and 2020, there have been 11 murders of health care providers, 26 attempted murders, 956 reported threats of harm and death, 624 stalking incidents, and four kidnappings, accompanied by 42 bombings, 194 arsons, 104 attempted arsons or bombings, and 667 bomb threats.


Meanwhile, right-wing pundits are frantically indulging in groundless claims of imminent left-wing violence: “Pro Abortion Advocates Are Becoming Violent After Supreme Court Leak,” read a Town Hall headline over a piece that documented some minor shoving incidents outside the Supreme Court building among the protesters there.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board speculated: “We hate to say this, but some abortion fanatic could decide to commit an act of violence to stop a 5-4 ruling. It’s an awful thought, but we live in fanatical times.”

A right-wing extremist was charged only three weeks ago in South Carolina with threatening federal judges, along with President Biden and Vice President Harris. The man—a 33-year-old inmate at the Department of Corrections and Proud Boy named Eric Rome—sent letters he claimed contained anthrax to the federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon, and left threatening voicemails: “Our intent is war on the federal government and specifically the assassination of the feds Marxist leaders Joe Biden and Kamala Harris,” Rome said on a voicemail, citing a laundry list of offenses: “the theft of the last presidential election, promoting critical race theory in our schools, the vax mandate, and using Marxist media outlets, notably CNN, to brainwash our citizens,” according to the indictment.

In his most recent threat in March, Rome threatened two unnamed South Carolina federal judges with death by stabbing: “Vacate the benches and we may let you live,” he wrote. Rome’s February letter to the Portland courthouse claimed he was sending “weapons grade anthrax” as a protest for failing “to arrest and prosecute Black Lives Matter activists despite the riots, looting, assaults and many other crimes by BLM in your city against White Citizens. .... WHITE POWER!”

Federal judges faced more than 4,500 threats last year, according to U.S. Marshals Service, which noted that it is concerned about the rise of domestic extremism in America.

A guide prepared for law enforcement in anticipation of social turmoil over abortion notes that while anti-abortion extremists have engaged in an extended litany of violence, that has not been the case among abortion-rights defenders: “Pro-choice extremists have primarily used threats, harassment, and vandalism, but has not resulted in lethal violence.”

SITE Intelligence Group, which shares threat information with a host of law enforcement agencies, released a May 4 report detailing calls for violence targeted at people protesting the expected ruling.

“Users on far-right, pro-Trump forum ‘The Donald’ encouraged members to violently oppose pro-abortion protesters demonstrating against the leaked Supreme Court draft signaling an overturn of Roe v. Wade,” reads the bulletin. “Reacting to the headline ‘Violence Breaks out at Pro-Abortion Protest After Democrat Politicians Call to ‘Fight,’' users made threats and called for police to harm protesters.”

A May 5 bulletin detailed the response by white supremacists: “A neo-Nazi channel responding to the leaked Supreme Court draft signaling an overturn of Roe v. Wade posted a previously circulated pro-life graphic calling to ‘bomb’ reproductive healthcare clinics and to ‘kill’ pro-choice individuals,” the bulletin said.

SITE Intelligence Group chief Rita Katz told Politico that misogyny is common in these quarters: “For far-right extremists, the focus on Roe v. Wade isn’t simply about religion or conventional debates about ‘when life starts,’” she said. “It’s about the toxic resentment of feminism that unites the entire spectrum of these movements, from Neo-Nazis to QAnon.”

Shortly after the January 6 insurrection, the violent factions involved in it like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers began forming alliances with Christian nationalists focused on abortion and attacking Planned Parenthood clinics. Over the past year, it’s also become clear that white nationalists such as Nick Fuentes’ “Groyper army” and other violence-prone bigots have adopted extreme forms of Christian nationalism.

They clearly see the protests over the imminent Supreme Court ruling as prime opportunities for more violence targeting their most hated enemies: women.

A federal counterterrorism official involved in tracking potential threats related to the Supreme Court decision told Yahoo News that authorities fear the ruling will revive the attacks on both judges and providers.

“They had targets on their backs before, now it’s that much more,” said the official.


Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

How Tucker Carlson’s Favorite January 6 Conspiracy Crumbled

Ray Epps was always something of an odd choice for a right-wing scapegoat in the January 6 Capitol insurrection, considering that you’d have trouble finding a more dedicated Donald Trump supporter and Oath Keepers member prior to that event. But then, the conspiracy theory concocted by far-right apologists for the riot claiming that Epps was secretly in cahoots with the FBI to make the Capitol siege happen as a way to entrap “Patriots” shows how readily these fanatics will eat their own.

And now the theory—promoted by Tucker Carlson and Glenn Greenwald and the whole “1/6 Truther” crowd, and largely discredited already because of its counter-factual premises—has crumbled completely. Freshly revealed information from the FBI’s investigation shows that Epps—contrary to the theory—had nothing to do with inspiring the initial breach of police barricades, and that moreover he had no connection with the FBI’s informants program.

The conspiracy theorists had pointed to Epps’ appearance at a key moment in the riot, at around 12:45 p.m. that afternoon at the northwestern corner of the Capitol lawn, where police had set up a barricade around which a crowd started to gather. Only five Capitol Police officers were stationed there, supported by a couple dozen more closer to the Capitol. The crowd chanted: “We love Trump!”

A group of Proud Boys that had already marched around the Capitol was there, including Ryan Samsel, a Proud Boys organizer from Pennsylvania wearing a red MAGA cap and a jean jacket. Epps was seen on video conferring briefly with Samsel. A little while later, Samsel was the first man to approach the barricades and begin pushing on them and fighting police. Others joined in, toppling the metal barricades and knocking a police officer backwards onto her head, causing a concussion. Meanwhile, the mob began pouring onto the lawn as the outnumbered police retreated back to where their fellow officers had formed an interim line of resistance that eventually was overwhelmed.

According to the New York Times’ Alan Feuer, Epps called an FBI tipline two days after the riot, when he saw his name on a list of suspects, and cooperated with authorities immediately. He told investigators he had actually tried to calm Samsel down, telling him the police outside the building were merely doing their jobs.

When investigators spoke to Samsel, he told them the same thing: A man he did not know had come up to him at the barricades and urged him to chill out. “He came up to me and he said, ‘Dude’—his entire words were, ‘Relax, the cops are doing their job,’” Samsel said.

The person who finally triggered him to attack the police lines, in fact, was national Proud Boys leader Joe Biggs, who had led the phalanx of men around the Capitol to that barricade. Samsel later told the FBI that Biggs encouraged him to go push on the barricades and challenge the police, and when he hesitated, Biggs flashed a gun and questioned his manhood, urging him again to attack the barricades—all of which Biggs’ attorneys adamantly deny.

Biggs remains imprisoned in the D.C. jail along with other key January 6 insurrectionists, including his fellow Proud Boys. He and others still face charges of seditious conspiracy and multiple other felonies. They also face a civil lawsuit filed by the D.C. district attorney.

The conspiracy theory blaming the FBI for the insurrection by fingering Epps as a key player in the riot was concocted by the far-right propaganda organ Revolver News and its white-nationalist editor/writer Darren Beattie. This reportage, as we’ve explored in depth, was misbegotten pseudo-journalistic babble built around a simple miscomprehension of both how the federal informants’ program works and how federal prosecutors’ use of cooperating witnesses functions. Beattie fumbles basic facts and then multiplies it with baseless speculation about Epps—who in fact was a well-known Trump supporter and Oath Keepers figure in Arizona in before the insurrection.


This didn’t matter to the gaslighting brigade led by Tucker Carlson and his cohorts, who paraded Beattie’s reportage to the nation as though it had legitimacy, and built a propaganda campaign for Fox News’ audience of millions to gobble up readily. At one point, Carlson even had Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas eagerly pushing the Epps conspiracy theory.

Cruz not only bought into Carlson’s conspiracist nonsense while on his Fox News program—abjectly apologizing for having called the January 6 insurrection “a despicable act of terrorism,” which Carlson considered unacceptable, he promptly turned up in a Senate hearing on domestic terrorism and demanded to know about Epps from a senior FBI official, Jill Sanborn.

“Ms. Sanborn, a lot of Americans are concerned that the federal government deliberately encouraged illegal violent conduct on January 6,” Cruz said, demanding to know if that was true. Sanborn said it was not.

Amid the furor, the House Select Committee’s Twitter account posted a response to the theories about Epps:

The Committee has interviewed Epps. Epps informed us that he was not employed by, working with, or acting at the direction of any law enforcement agency on Jan 5th or 6th or at any other time, & that he has never been an informant for the FBI or any other law enforcement agency.

Nonetheless, Carlson went on his Fox show Wednesday night and claimed that Sanborn’s stony answers to Cruz’s questions were evidence that, in fact, “DOJ had some role in the events of January 6,” and then speculated baselessly about the committee’s tweet:

When exactly and under what circumstances did the committee talk to Ray Epps? Supposedly this interview was conducted in secret last November. If that is true—we don’t know that it is, but let’s say it is—then why did the committee wait months to tell us today in a tweet? When the committee got its hands on Mark Meadows’ text messages, we seem to remember they leaked those to the media within hours. And by the way, was this Ray Epps interview conducted under oath? Did Democrats subpoena his electronic communications as they did with Meadows and so many others? Will the information Epps revealed to the committee be available to the many January 6 defendants who are now awaiting trial? Can their lawyers see a transcript of the interview? Can we see a transcript of this interview? If not, why not?



Carlson went on to claim that even though “Epps is a longtime right-wing activist” who “urged protesters to riot,” Democrats on the committee have become “protective” of him. “So what’s going on here? Something is, that’s for sure,” he concluded.

As Politifact explains, Beattie never even confirmed that Epps is an FBI informant, but rather speculated broadly that he is. His actions on January 6, videos show, are wholly consistent with those of the outspoken Trump supporter he has been for years (notably as a spokesman for the Arizona Oath Keepers). And as with all of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers who had informant relationships with the FBI, if Epps was also himself an informant, the information he was providing was intelligence on their “leftist” opponents, not on their own organization.

This, of course, completely misapprehends and mischaracterizes the nature of the relationship of the FBI to the right-wing groups involved in the insurrection—because we have known for awhile that figures like Biggs and his Proud Boys cohort, national chairman Enrique Tarrio (arrested on January 3 in D.C.), as well as a number of Oath Keepers, acted as informants for the FBI—all directed not at those right-wing groups, but at “antifa,” Black Lives Matter, and various leftist groups.

The cozy relationship that far-right groups enjoyed with law enforcement generally, in fact, has played a key role in their continual emboldenment over the past five years, constantly ratcheting up their violence and threatening rhetoric, culminating in the events of January 6. On that day, many of them directed their fury at police officers, believing they were being betrayed by forces they had assumed were on their side.

As the Brennan Center for Justice’s Michael German explored in a study, law enforcement has increasingly been polluted by the rising numbers of far-right extremists within their ranks—some of them recruited from within police forces, while others have surreptitiously infiltrated them. “While it is widely acknowledged that racist officers subsist within police departments around the country, federal, state, and local governments are doing far too little to proactively identify them, report their behavior to prosecutors who might unwittingly rely on their testimony in criminal cases, or protect the diverse communities they are sworn to serve,” he writes.

German, himself a former FBI agent, has a more realistic view of the agency than Greenwald’s caricatured vision of a relentlessly oppressive monster that journalists should routinely repudiate and attack. Like any such operation endowed with phenomenal powers that are easily abused, the FBI indeed has a long history both of horrifying atrocities and impressive work safeguarding the American public.

And a major portion of the former involves the way that federal law enforcement has historically targeted left-wing activists while routinely ignoring far-right extremist violence and giving its perpetrators the kid-glove treatment—the latter of which, apparently, is just fine with Carlson, Greenwald, and company.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

Trucker ‘Convoy’ Arrives In Northwest Amid Random Gunfire And Political Confusion

One month after trundling out of Washington, D.C., with nothing but a few Ted Cruz photo ops under their belt, the “People’s Convoy” protest—a sort of rolling roadshow of far right-wing “Patriot” grievance, modeled after the truckers’ protest that shut down Ottawa in February—is still going, sort of, and can’t figure out when to call things quits.

The whole affair took on ominous undertones this weekend when, upon reaching the Pacific Northwest, shots were fired after protesters attempted harassing them from a freeway overpass. A badly organized rally in Olympia the next day was just a circus of far-right conspiracism and extremism. And at its end, the convoy organizers announced they intend to return to D.C., and this time they “mean business.”

The convoy, as it announced when it left Washington, headed to California so it could travel to Sacramento and protest the state Legislature over health mandates and “critical race theory”—which it did, to relatively little effect. It kept going after that, attempting to harass individual legislators by traveling to the home of a California Democratic leader in Oakland.

However, that protest turned into a fiasco for the convoy when they found themselves stuck on narrow streets in the middle of neighborhoods, leaving them sitting ducks for teenagers who began pelting them with eggs. One video showed a trucker getting out of his cab to confront his tormentors and being forced to flee back inside.


The protest then turned north and passed through the Portland area on Friday, which is where it encountered protesters along Interstate 205 northbound, as Vishal P. Singh reported for Kos. Videos recorded on livestreams show that about four or five people—one of whom draped a banner over the railing—threw objects at the trucks, in response to which someone from within the convoy fired gunshots directed at them; the same livestreams showed shots being fired at an overpass several miles farther north as well.

The first encounter occurred in Portland near the intersection of Interstates 205 and 84 at the overpass on Glisan Street, which cannot be accessed from the freeway. Video shows three or four people tossing objects—which appear mostly to be eggs and paint-filled balloons—in the direction of the trucks, which have stopped in a line across the three lanes of the freeway.

At one point, a fire truck participating in the convoy got out a water cannon and sprayed it in the direction of the protesters—but to no effect, since its range was too short. Eventually, as the protesters appeared to be leaving, one of the convoy participants could be seen pulling out a pistol, and several gunshots could be heard.

Then, 18 miles farther north on I-205, across the Columbia River near its junction with Interstate 5 in Vancouver, Washington, members of the convoy again apparently opened fire on people standing on the 134th Street overpass. One livestreamer claimed they were throwing objects, but their video showed the person standing on the overpass above them was waving a flag and appeared to be a supporter; nonetheless, in another video of drivers approaching that scene, multiple gunshots can be heard coming from the convoy.

Finally, in a video collected by antifascist activist @Johnthelefty, a police officer catches up with the caravan in Vancouver and, rather than inquire about the gunfire, chats with the activists agreeably and shakes their hands.

The convoys’ supporters thought the gunfire was justified. On Twitter, one of them posted:

What SHOULD people do if gangs of transvestite communist ninjas organize to try to cause accidents by throwing paint-bombs at Semi-truck windshields?

Well... These guys decided "Shoot the Bastards" is the appropriate response.

Pretty sure society is all reaching this conclusion.

The next morning, the convoy headed north to Olympia, where the plan was to hold a rally at the state Capitol. The “People’s Convoy” group arriving from the south were met by smaller convoys arriving from northern parts of Puget Sound (including Whidbey Island) and the Seattle Eastside. The majority of these vehicles were four-wheelers festooned with banners.

But after pulling up their big rigs and parking along the avenues to the east of the Capitol, the convoy participants got out to discover that the 1 p.m. rally they were supposed to be attending was barely in motion. The livestreamer who operates 1st Responders Media, Josue “Big Joe” Felix, could be seen wandering the grounds in search of the rally venue, muttering: “I do not know where the rally’s gonna be at!”

It turned out to be a very small affair involving a few dozen people, taking place under and around some red portable shelters near the Tivoli Fountain, about 1/8 mile from the Capitol itself. And as it got underway under a drenching downpour, it became clear that its chief organizers—a group called We The People Against Communism (WTPAC)—were extremist conspiracy theorists of the first rank.

The first speaker was a woman from WTPAC who launched into a rant claiming that “democracy is socialism”:

We’re all sitting around waiting for voting to change what’s going on, and I need to tell you guys it’s not gonna change it. You guys have voted and voted and voted and voted and voted and where has it got us? Communism! Communism!

The next thing you guys need to figure out is you need to ask all your political candidates why do they support democracy? Democracy is socialism, socialism is communism, and that is how we got here! Democracy is not for the Republic!

America was founded upon God, and it is a Republic, not a democracy! And we need to remember that, and it is time that we stand up and defend! Our! Country!

We own it! The government does not own it! It is ours! We! Pay! Them!

Reverting to a bullhorn, she continued to rant that “we are going to take on the hospitals and the pharmacies,” and urged the rain-drenched audience: “And if you still have kids in school, get! Them! Out! These schools are just Communist government-ran camps! Get your children out of public school! Collapse the system! That’s how we win!”

The crowd applauded.

One speaker defended Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, the Proud Boy currently in prison awaiting trial on charges involving his participation in protest violence in Portland in August 2020; another was a trucker who urged the Olympia gathering to get out larger crowds.

But the most striking speaker was a woman, apparently a member of WTPAC, who told the crowd she was born and raised in China and served in its military before coming to the United States after the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989, and had brought to the rally a sign proclaiming: “Stop CCP [Chinese Communist Party] Infiltration”.

“The CCP is the root of all evil,” she claimed. “They helped Joe Biden steal President Trump’s presidency.”

She went on to claim that COVID-19 was a Chinese bioweapon: “This time, so-called COVID-19, the Wuhan virus, we call it the CCP virus,” she said. “It unleashed a virus to attack the United States. Lock you down, into your house, wherever, so that you are not allowed to get together like this, we are today.”

She also claimed that Zoom and TikTok were part of a Chinese plot to collect facial-recognition data on everyone, “what you do, what is your social circle. This is a planned attack, planted by the CCP.” She also claimed that the Biden administration is releasing Chinese spies, and now Chinese intelligence is attacking “me and my colleagues here,” and that she and her family have been threatened. She then launched into a rant claiming that Biden is a puppet of Chinese Communists:

Biden is the biggest traitor I have ever seen in the United States! Biden, his brother James Biden, and his son, Hunter Biden, under this so-called fake president! He is not what we voted! He stole the position! But under the help of the Chinese Communist Party, CCP. We must not give up. And Biden is treason, and Biden is a traitor. That’s why, when we welcomed him, the slogan I had on the red curtain, banner, it said: ‘Impeach Traitor Joe Biden.’

The crowd lustily applauded her as well.

One of the final speakers was a convoy leader named David Riddell, from Lebanon, Ohio, known among the truckers and their online fans as “Santa,” thanks to his beard and portly appearance. Riddell appeared to be taking on the role of convoy spokesperson, announcing that they were next taking their roadshow to Post Falls, Idaho, where the owners of a speedway had offered to host them, and they planned to spend at least week figuring out their next step.

But Riddell also made clear that their convoy protest would not end. Rather, they planned to return to Washington, D.C., in part because it was clear they felt humiliated:

You made fun of us, you placated us with cute little words, and you came out and had your little photo op meetings with us, that’s going to happen no more.

When we go back to D.C., we are not the same convoy that went there the first time. We are not the same convoy that left there. We are coming back with teeth and a backbone! That’s all there is to it! We are going there and we will be heard!

I don’t think they understand the sincerity and the hearts of American Patriots today! We are totally fed up with tyranny!

However, there never was a point in the event when it was clear exactly what they were protesting in Olympia—since most mandates in Washington state have been or are being rescinded—or what their demands might be. Instead, it was just Patriot movement angst:

So we’re going back to D.C. We want you to join with us. Come from wherever you are. Start forming your convoys. We’re doing the same thing we did before, but this time we’re serious about it. We’ve learned some stuff since last time. We’re going back there, and we’re going to be heard. How many’s gonna go with us?

We’re going in to do business. We don’t need 100 trucks. We don’t need 200 trucks. We don’t need 500 four-wheelers. We need tens of thousands of all you to get in your vehicles, join with us, and come to Washington, D.C.

You’ve taken our money and put it back into special interest groups that does not represent the people, and we’re coming to make sure that you understand that we’re not happy with that! We’re tired of that. The American people are fed up—we’re fed up with that nonsense. You’re struggling from week to week and trying to pay your bills, so some fat cat in Washington sells off his special-interest group and they buy him a house and give him a plane ticket to a great vacation somewhere, where you’re hoping just to go to an amusement park somewhere with your family! They tax you to death and do not represent you.

Just as their demands and their entire purpose is unclear, the “People’s Convoy” is also unclear about how it is able to keep operating, especially for people who claim to be barely able to live paycheck to paycheck. That fundraising income must be a powerful incentive to just keep going and going anyway.

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos.

Why Republican Talk Of 'Invasion' From Mexico Is A Dangerous Lie

Republicans eager to concoct reasons to attack the Biden administration have spent the past month beating their well-worn drum about a nonexistent “invasion” at the U.S.-Mexico border by Latino immigrants. But this time around, the effect has been jarring.

That’s because, since late February, the world has been seeing in real time what an actual invasion looks like, thanks to the attack on Ukraine by Vladimir Putin and the Russian Army. We’ve witnessed cities bombed into rubble, tanks rumbling through the countryside, suburbs turned into death camps, women and children murdered while waiting at railway stations.

When ordinary people think of invasions, they usually are referring to what we are seeing in Ukraine: One nation’s government sending its armed forces across borders and attempting to defeat the other nation's military and ultimately depose its government. You know, what we did in Iraq. Planes, tanks, bombs, the works. Shock and awe.

They don't think of poor people trekking across the desert, looking to land hard labor in our farm fields and on construction sites, or at least escape persecution and seek political asylum, quite the same way. Unless, of course, they are Republicans.

As James Downie in The Washington Post observed:

Notice that McCaul didn’t limit this comparison to traffickers or criminals trying to cross the border. No, every single person trying to cross—including the tens of thousands seeking asylum and the hundreds of thousands of families and unaccompanied children who are just seeking a better life—is in McCaul’s framing no different from soldiers invading a sovereign nation.

The invasion rhetoric has become thick on the ground as Republicans prepare for the 2020 midterm elections in their usual fashion: ginning up as much fear about nonwhite immigration as humanly possible.

Donald Trump, as usual, has been leading the way. “We are being invaded by millions and millions of people, many of them criminals,” he told the crowd at a rally in Washington Township, Michigan, on April 2, claiming that between 10 and 12 million undocumented people were waiting to cross the border. “We will be inundated by illegal immigration."

Congresswoman Elise Stefanik of New York, the House’s third-ranking Republican, also called it an invasion. “Ending Title 42 will worsen the already catastrophic invasion at our Southern Border,” she tweeted. “Joe Biden and his Far Left policies are destroying our country.”

Steven Miller, Trump’s white nationalist-friendly former senior adviser and the architect of Title 42, was even more dire: “This will mean armageddon on the border. This is how nations end.”

Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar, who has become Republicans’ go-to white nationalist in the House, joined in the hysteria on Twitter: “This is full scale invasion. This is 540,000 in one month. Putin sent 150,000 troops into Ukraine and we are ready to set fire to the world. Eliminating Title 42 will only add fuel to the fire. Madness.”

Texas lawmakers have been especially frantic in pushing the “invasion” rhetoric. Some of them are even encouraging Gov. Greg Abbott to declare an “invasion” under the U.S. Constitution, and then use state personnel to deport immigrants.

Under the plan, Texas would invoke Article IV, Section 4, and Article I, Section 10, of the Constitution to exercise wartime powers and use state Department of Public Safety officers and state National Guard troops to immediately turn back migrants at the border. The plan is being pushed by a group of former Trump administration officials and the National Border Patrol Council (NBPC), the union that represents agents and support staff of the U.S. Border Patrol. Brandon Judd, the head of NBPC, recently said Abbott should “absolutely” declare an invasion.

Judd also echoed white nationalist “replacement theory” rhetoric: “I believe that they’re trying to change the demographics of the electorate; that’s what I believe they’re doing,” he said.

The “invasion” declaration idea is being heavily promoted by the Center for Renewing America, a conservative think tank led by Ken Cuccinelli, a former Homeland Security official under Trump. Abbott has not committed to the plan, however. Most legal observers note that the term invasion is reserved to mean an “armed hostility from another political entity.”

The most pernicious aspect of the invasion rhetoric, however, is that it is fundamentally eliminationist in nature: It dehumanizes the people it targets. In this case, it serves two specific functions: It justifies state coercion and violence, and it creates permission for nonstate violence.

It’s rhetoric that has been consistently cited as inspiration and motivation by domestic terrorists of recent vintage, ranging from Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik in 2011 to the man who shot up the Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in 2019, killing 26 people. That man’s manifesto described the attack as a response to the "Hispanic invasion of Texas,” and expressed fears that changing demographics would "make us a Democrat stronghold.”

Similarly, the man who walked into a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018 believing Jews (and specifically the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) were responsible for the immigrant caravan then arriving at the Mexico border, around which Trump and Fox News had indulged in nonstop fearmongering, used the same rhetoric. He posted on Gab just before he murdered 11 people and wounded six:

HIAS likes to bring invaders that kill our people.

I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.

Screw your optics, I’m going in.

It’s fascinating how the same cast of characters promoting “invasion” rhetoric has played a role in helping spread the very same far-right violence that such eliminationist speech is intended to fuel. It’s worth remembering that when Cuccinelli was the deputy director of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under Trump, he and Acting Director Chad Wolf blocked the release of a threat assessment of future dangers to the nation that highlighted white supremacist violence and Russian election interference, saying it was blocked because of the way it might “reflect upon President Trump.”

“Mr. Cuccinelli stated that Mr. Murphy needed to specifically modify the section on white supremacy in a manner that made the threat appear less severe, as well as include information on the prominence of violent ‘left-wing’ groups,” a whistleblower later averred. Cuccinelli was also heavily involved in DHS’ project in the summer of 2020 to use an army of federal contractors to collect information on Portland’s antifascist activists, which a subsequent review found had engaged in a long litany of constitutional violations.

Invasion rhetoric has a long and violent history in American politics, dating back to the origins of nativism in the 1830s, when anti-Irish agitators like Samuel Morse (inventor of the telegraph) called the arrival of immigrants a “Papist invasion” and an attack on “the American way of life.” Likewise, a panic about a “Chinese invasion” arriving on the West Coast “900,000 strong” in the 1860s led to the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1872.

Japanese immigrants began arriving in the 1890s, and with them, fresh resentment:

During the early 1900s, paranoia about an “invasion” from Asia (mostly Japanese immigrants) gave birth to another wave of nativism. In San Francisco, local agitators founded the Asiatic Exclusion League, dedicated to repelling all elements of Japanese society from the city's midst. Its statement of principles noted that "no large community of foreigners, so cocky, with such racial, social and religious prejudices, can abide long in this country without serious friction." And the racial animus was plain: "As long as California is white man's country, it will remain one of the grandest and best states in the union, but the moment the Golden State is subjected to an unlimited Asiatic coolie invasion there will be no more California," declared a League newsletter. As one speaker at a League meeting put it: "An eternal law of nature has decreed that the white cannot assimilate the blood of another without corrupting the very springs of civilization."

It became popular among right-wing border extremists in the 1990s, particularly white nationalist ideologues like Glenn Spencer, who concocted the “Reconquista” conspiracy theory claiming that Latino ideologues were secretly conspiring to return the American Southwest to Mexican rule, creating a new Hispanic nation called “Aztlan.”

This conspiracy theory was revived by Patrick Buchanan in his 2001 book The Death of the West, which played a foundational role in spreading the white nationalist conspiracy theory of “cultural Marxism” into the mainstream. Similarly, his 2006 book State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America had as its core thesis a revival of the “Reconquista” theory, claiming that Mexico was "slowly but steadily taking back the American Southwest."

“You’ve got a wholesale invasion, the greatest invasion in human history, coming across your southern border, changing the composition and character of your country,” Buchanan said on Fox News’ Hannity & Colmes in November 2007.

In the context of the Ukraine war—where Americans can see on a daily basis what an actual invasion looks like—some conservatives at least recognize how wildly out of proportion that kind of rhetoric seems now. And in light of the very real and very lethal consequences for Texans this kind of rhetoric has had in the recent past, its pervasiveness is a real cause for concern. It’s not just “hot talk.”

David J. Bier of the libertarian Cato Institute called invoking an invasion an “overheated political analogy … An ‘invasion’ isn’t just an overstatement,” Bier wrote. “It’s a completely unserious attempt to demand extraordinary, military-style measures to stop completely mundane actions like walking around a closed port of entry to file asylum paperwork or violating international labor market regulations in order to fill one of the 10 million job openings in this country.”

As the Post’s Downie observes:

Abbott, McCaul and McCarthy, whether they admit it or not, recognize that the easiest way to protect their standing in the Republican Party is to embrace the hate and stoke the same bigoted fury that led a man to open fire in a store. Perhaps one day, the GOP’s fever will break. Until it does, this country’s future remains very dark.

Printed with permission from DailyKos.

QAnon’s Takeover Of GOP Surging With 72 Candidates Pushing 'Pedophilia' Lies

The long-running gradual consumption of the Republican Party by the authoritarian QAnon conspiracy cult is nearing the terminal takeover phase: A recent survey by Grid found 72 Republican candidates with varying levels of QAnon affiliation. The most salient fact, however, is not only is the cult presence growing, but not a single Republican in any capacity can be found who either denounces the trend or works in any other way than in concert with it.

That reality is terrifying not just because QAnon has a long record of inspiring unhinged, violent behavior with its fantastically vile beliefs and rhetoric. Most of all, QAnon at its core is deeply eliminationist, with an agenda calling for the mass imprisonment and execution of mainstream Democrats for ostensibly running a global child-trafficking/pedophilia cult—which seamlessly fits the people being targeted by Fox News and mainstream Republicans as “groomers” for opposing the right-wing attacks on the LGTBQ community.

Grid’s survey was based on a review of “public records and reporting, social media posts, and campaign materials and events,” which its team of reporters used to identify and confirm QAnon-aligned candidates for public office in 2022. They found at least 78 of them in 26 states, all but six of them Republicans, mostly running against other Republicans in their state primaries.

“They’re running for governorships, secretaries of state, seats in the Senate and House, and in state legislatures,” the study says. “They have raised over $20 million this cycle — and over $30 million since 2018.” Its simple summary: “QAnon appears to be a growing political movement with increasing clout and significant mainstream appeal.”

The highest concentration of these candidates is in Arizona, which has 13 of them; Florida is a close second with 12, while California has 10 and Texas has six. Over a dozen of them are incumbents, including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado. Another 14 serve at the state level, mostly in legislatures.

One of the incumbents, Arizona House member Mark Finchem, participated in the 2021 Capitol insurrection—as did several other QAnon candidates—and has been subpoenaed by the House January 6 committee.

Most of these candidates, indeed, have never held public office and have dubious (at best) records of achievement:

  • Shiva Ayyadurai, who has four degrees from MIT and is running for the Massachusetts governorship, runs a website claiming that he is the inventor of email.
  • Ryan Dark White, who’s running for a U.S. Senate seat in Maryland and goes by the name Dr. Jonathan Ambrose McGreevey, has also pleaded guilty to illegal weapons charges and to fraudulently obtaining more than 80,000 doses of opioids.
  • Carla Spaulding, a candidate seeking to be the GOP nominee to run against Democratic House whip Debra Wasserman Schultz for her Florida seat, pays herself a hefty $60,000 salary out of her campaign contributions while running up a six-figure campaign debt. Nonetheless, she has far outraised her Republican competitors for the nomination; she’s number three on Grip’s QAnon fundraising list.

As Grid notes, “Q himself may be on the ballot this year.” In Arizona, Ron Watkins—the longtime 8kun site administrator who is believed to have authored at least some of the “Q drops” that fueled the cult between 2017 and 2020—is running in for the U.S. House in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District, though his candidacy is considered a long shot at best. Watkins vowed to raise $1 million for his bid, but so far appears only to have raised about $50,000.

In a rational world, QAnon would have shriveled up and blown away after all of its cherished predictions and beliefs about “the Storm” led by Donald Trump and his allies that would sweep up these evil pedophiles and put them in prison to await execution were completely demolished by the cold reality of Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 election. But instead, it kept spreading and growing, its fanaticism helping fuel the January 6 insurrection, and providing a driving force for the ongoing anti-democratic insurgency that has followed. In states like Oregon, it now fundamentally controls the Republican political apparatus.

QAnon reared its ugly head in the U.S. Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown-Jackson. As Alex Shepard observed at The New Republic, much of the questioning from Republicans revolved around the core QAnon beliefs:

The Q-inspired pedophile smear is consuming Republican politics. “The phrase ‘child porn’ (or ‘pornography’ or ‘pornographer’)” was mentioned 165 times during Brown’s confirmation hearings, The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank tallied. “I’m not suggesting she likes what’s happening in child pornography,” Senator Lindsey Graham said Monday. But “she ha[d] a chance to impose a sentence that would deter [child pornography], and she chose not to.” Senator Josh Hawley, meanwhile, referenced QAnon in his own remarks. “Judge Jackson’s view is that we should treat everyone more leniently because more and more people are committing worse and worse child sex offenses,” he said, while also stating that “we’ve been told things like child pornography is actually all a conspiracy, it’s not real.” The lunatics who follow QAnon may just be onto something, in other words: The truth is out there.

Shepard also notes that there are concrete reasons for Republicans to permit themselves to be subsumed by an authoritarian cult: It polls well. “Nearly half of Republicans (49 percent) and 52 percent of Trump voters believe that Democrats run child sex-trafficking rings, per YouGov polling conducted during Jackson’s confirmation hearings,” he reports. “Even though only 18 percent of Republicans had a positive view of QAnon (compared to 16 percent of all respondents), 30 percent of all respondents believed that ‘top Democrats are involved in elite child sex-trafficking rings,’ suggesting the wide reach of the conspiracy theory.”

What all this tells us is that Democrats this fall will be facing a multipronged attack by Republicans, all based on hysterical fantasy: Democrats are soft on crime, they want to push critical race theory and “transgender ideology” on your kids, and they’re pro-pedophile. All three are designed to appeal to the lizard-brained lowest common denominators: the people inclined to violent eliminationism. Candidates should come prepared.

Neofascists In Russia’s Invading Army Expose Putin’s ‘Denazify’ Propaganda

One of Vladimir Putin’s primary propaganda points when rationalizing his assault on Ukraine as a “denazification” program is to trot out as proof of his claims the Azov Battalion, the Ukrainian fighting unit founded by neo-Nazi nationalists and still reportedly dominated by them. In doing so, he has effectively obfuscated the reality that Russian forces are even more riddled with fascist elements—including forces currently leading their fight in the Donbas region of southeastern Ukraine.

The largest of these is the Russian Imperialist Movement (RIM), a white supremacist paramilitary organization listed by American authorities as a terrorist body, and the Wagner Group, a private military proxy closely linked to Putin with a history of neo-Nazi activity. Russian troops arriving in Donbas have been recorded flying the RIM flag—a combination of historical Russian flags from its imperial era—while Wagner Group’s mercenaries have been sighted in Donetsk and elsewhere; notably, German intelligence has connected them to the atrocities in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha.

Social-media videos out of the Rostov Oblast have shown Russian troop convoys heading toward the Donbas region with soldiers bearing the RIM flag and other imperialist banners. The same flag flies at RIM marches, where the rhetoric is thick with bigotry directed at Jews and Ukrainians. Denis Valliullovich Gariev, the militant leader of RIM who was one of three RIM leaders sanctioned by the United States, was quoted as saying, “We [RIM] see Ukrainian-ness as rabies … either quarantine or liquidation, or he’ll infect everyone.”

The same flag was seen in mid-March flying with Moscow-backed separatist troops in Donetsk on a Telegram post shared by a pro-Putin channel. Much of the far-right content on these Telegram channels—as well as the Russian social-media platform VKontakte (VK)—is related to a neo-Nazi unit called Rusich that is part of Wagner Group, some of it bearing the Wagner name and logo.

Pentagon authorities estimate that about 1,000 Wagner mercenaries have been deployed in eastern Ukraine, where Russia has refocused its current war effort. Rusich militiamen have been spotted on the Russian-Ukrainian border where the offensive is being launched.

Russian officials deny having any connection to the Wagner Group, which does not officially exist. An incredibly secretive organization, its true ownership and funding sources remain unclear. But experts say it has served as a tactical tool for the Kremlin in hot spots where Russia has political and financial interests, and has deep ties to Putin—in fact, it is widely considered his private army.

Putin is reported to have ordered Wagner Group operatives into Kyiv to assassinate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has reportedly survived about a dozen such attempts. About 400 Wagner mercenaries were reported to have entered the Kyiv area from Belarus, and were offered “hefty bonuses” for killing key political and media figures, including the mayor of Kyiv, Zelensky, and his entire Cabinet.

According to German intelligence officials, Wagner Group operatives were primarily responsible for spearheading the butchery that has been reported and substantiated in Bucha. Der Spiegel reported that comments from troops intercepted by German intelligence—including flippant remarks about shooting men on bicycles, and orders to first interrogate soldiers and then shoot them—that demonstrate the atrocities in Bucha "were neither random acts nor the product of individual soldiers who got out of hand."

The Wagner Group mostly comprises retired regular Russian servicemen, typically aged between 35 and 55. The Kremlin has effectively used their mercenaries to wage deniable war and otherwise prop up its interests in places like Syria, Libya, Mozambique, and more recently in the Central African Republic and Mali. They also played a key role in Putin’s long war on Ukraine, with its fighters helping him illegally annex Crimea in 2014.

The group’s founder, Dmitry Utkin, named it after Hitler’s favorite composer, Richard Wagner, and is himself fond of fascist symbols; he has a Nazi eagle, along with swastikas and SS lightning bolts, tattooed on his torso. Reportedly Wagner mercenaries have left behind neo-Nazi propaganda in combat zones, including graffiti with hate symbols.

The Wagner militia unit Rusich has been spotted in southeastern Ukraine as well. It was founded nearly a decade ago in St. Petersburg by a Red Army paratrooper named Aleksei Milchakov and Yan Petrovskiy, a Norwegian neo-Nazi, after the pair met at a white supremacist RIM event.

Milchakov has previously posted horrifying pictures of himself on social media slicing off the ears of dead soldiers, as well as selfies in which he is carving the kolovrat, a Slavic far-right version of the swastika. He also has boasted about being a neo-Nazi and claims he "got high from the smell of burning human flesh."

Rusich is believed to consist of several hundred soldiers, and their signature uniform patch is a white supremacist valknut insignia. Its idea of humor on social media is a cartoon of a Russian soldier returning home with gifts for his family, stolen from Ukrainians and covered in blood. Its caption reads: “If you are a real man and a Russian, join our ranks. You will spill liters of blood from vile Russophobes, and become rich and cool."

One of Wagner’s key functions, according to the Soufan Center, a New York-based nonprofit think tank, is that it provides the Kremlin with “a thin veneer of plausible deniability as it engages in the pursuit of finance, influence, and vigilantism not in keeping with international norms.”

The Daily Beast reported in late January that dozens of Wagner mercenaries were pulled from the Central African Republic to join Russian forces massing at the Ukraine border.

The Ukraine war has a broad mix of mercenaries and extremists from all sides participating in both sides of the conflict, as a report from the Soufan Center explores in detail. As the war drags on, active online recruitment suggests that a drawn-out conflict could attract many more volunteer fighters, according to Stephan J. Kramer, the head of the domestic intelligence agency in the German state of Thuringia. An eagerness to take up arms, he noted, reflects the motivations of right-wing extremists, including within the ranks of the German military.

For neo-Nazis and white supremacists, “Ukraine could become their version of what Afghanistan was for the jihadi movement in the 1980s,” said Steven Stalinsky, the executive director of the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute. “Being on the ground in a real-world fighting situation will allow them to gain valuable experience, as they further hone their skills in weapons, planning attacks, using technology in war including communications and encryption, and using cryptocurrency for clandestine funding of their activity.”

Outfits like Rusich are the spear tip of a much larger neofascist element within Russia, embodied by the Russian Imperial Movement. Its ideology is much more than simply nostalgia for the Russia of two centuries ago; concerned with fighting against globalization, multiculturalism, and liberalism, RIM is part and parcel of a broader international white supremacist project, which also enjoys Putin’s sponsorship and support. Its “membership is rigid and adheres to the dualistic beliefs that members should be part of the Russian Orthodox Church and conform to the group’s view of the necessity of creating a Russian Imperial state,” according to the Soufan Center.

RIM’s activism now includes running a kind of international “summer camp” for young right-wing extremists called Partisan, a paramilitary training course it sponsors near St. Petersburg. It claims to train civilians for upcoming “global chaos.” It draws participants from around Europe.

Two of its graduates from Sweden, both members of the neo-Nazi group Nordic Resistance, returned home to Gothenburg and attempted to blow up a home for asylum seekers, as well as a gathering of leftists at an alternative bookstore. (Another bomb was accidentally ignited by a garbage worker who was permanently maimed in the blast.) They likely learned how to construct the bombs at Partisan.

Jonathan Leman, a researcher for the anti-racist pressure group EXPO, explains that the training reflects a tactical shift of consciousness within European neo-Nazi movements like Nordic Resistance that occurred over the course of the Ukraine crisis.

“As the role of the EU and the United States in the war becomes more apparent,” he told us, “you could see that pro-Kremlin propaganda was having a greater impact on far right websites in Sweden.”

The focus of Partisan, its website says, is to prepare civilians for “the collapse of civilization.” RIM’s leader, Stanislav Vorobyov, turned up in uniform at a summit organized by Nordic Resistance in 2015 and warned about “a full-scale war against the traditional values of Western civilization.” He told them his uniform should be regarded as a symbol of their joint fight against the “Jewish oligarchs in Ukraine.”

While the RIM has a long and well-publicized record of sponsoring far-right activities throughout Europe, its presence in North America has been limited. Matthew Heimbach, former leader of the neo-Nazi Traditional Workers Party (TWP), at one time hosted a RIM leader and visited with him at historic sites in Washington, D.C., and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Heimbach continued to cultivate those ties, traveling to Russia to return the favor by meeting with RIM leaders at their annual gathering, the World National Conservative Movement conference. “I see Russia as kind of the axis for nationalists,” said Heimbach. “And that’s not just nationalists that are white—that’s all nationalists.”

A neo-Nazi organization that recruited members online, The Base, also has potential ties to Russian intelligence, and its American founder currently resides in Russia. That group also held paramilitary training sessions in the Pacific Northwest. Several members of The Base were arrested in January 2020 just prior to a planned right-wing gun rally in Richmond, Virginia, where they reportedly intended to wreak violent havoc by opening fire on police forces and civilians.

It’s true that American extremists have long been attracted to Ukraine’s Azov Battalion as an opportunity for paramilitary training. Members of the California-based Rise Above Movement participated in such training prior to their participation in the deadly and violent 2017 Unite the Right riot in Charlottesville, Virginia, for which several of them have ended up facing federal charges.

The Azov Battalion formed in 2014 and later joined the country's National Guard after fighting against Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine. Experts estimate nationalists comprise about 2 percent of Ukraine's population, with the vast majority having very little interest in anything to do with them, but the Azov group is considered to be one of the Ukrainian army’s more potent fighting forces.

Nonetheless, according to the Soufan Center, their extremism in the current context is vastly overstated. It cites experts on the European far right like Anton Shekhovtsov, who say the Azov of 2022 is nothing like the group from eight years ago, since those seeking to fight with Azov today are motivated, for the most part, by Ukrainian nationalism and not far-right extremism. However, it notes: “Despite the evolution of the movement since 2014, its brand still remains popular with far-right extremists, and its future trajectory will bear watching.”

A Washington Post report on the battalion interviewed Azov fighters and one of its founders, as well as experts who have tracked the battalion from its beginnings, and found a more complex and nuanced situation than the Kremlin’s crude characterizations. They concede that while some extremists remain in their ranks, the militia has evolved since 2014 and, under pressure from U.S. and Ukrainian authorities, has toned down its extremist elements.

“You have fighters now coming from all over the world that are energized by what Putin has done,” said Colin P. Clarke, director of research at the Soufan Group, an intelligence and security consulting firm. “And so it’s not even that they’re in favor of one ideology or another — they’re just aghast by what they’ve seen the Russians doing.

“That certainly wasn’t the same in 2014,” he added. “So while the far-right element is still a factor, I think it’s a much smaller part of the overall whole. It’s been diluted, in some respects.”

A recent article in RIA Novosti, the Russian state-owned domestic news agency, titled "What Russia Should Do with Ukraine," reveals the shallow rhetorical ruse of Putin’s claims. It author, Russian political consultant Timofey Sergeytsev, openly admits that "denazification” has nothing to do with eradicating any far-right ideology, but is simply a euphemism for "de-Ukrainization"—the annihilation of Ukraine as a nation-state and a cultural entity.

Putin has argued since at least last year that Ukraine’s very existence is “anti-Russia.” Sergeytsev follows the logic: Ukrainian national identity, he says, is "an artificial anti-Russian construct that has no civilizational content of its own"; it is a "subordinate element of a foreign and alien civilization." In a culture long accustomed to considering Nazism anti-Russian, Ukraine is easily translated into “Nazi.”

Adam Hadley, the executive director of Tech Against Terrorism, a London-based counterterrorism initiative, said their analysis indicated that Russian-backed forces in Ukraine, including the Wagner Group, are “almost certainly connected with extreme far-right organizations.”

Hadley added: “Given Putin’s absurd demands for the ‘denazification’ of Ukraine, we suggest he should first root out neo-Nazis in his own ranks before pointing the finger at others.”

Published with permission from DailyKos

Mapping Extremist Networks Shows Capitol Rioters Weren’t ‘Ordinary People'

One of the broad narratives about the January 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection that emerged from demographic assessments of the people subsequently arrested for placing the building and the police guarding it under siege was the general sense that, while organizations like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys played central roles in the attack, the vast majority of the insurrectionists were just “ordinary citizens” who had no real extremist affiliations but were just swept up in the Trumpian hysteria. It turns out that may not be quite right.

Radicalization expert Michael Jensen compiled a network map of all the people arrested for January 6 crimes—which he originally thought would confirm the “J6 defendants are just ‘ordinary’ people with few links to extremists” conventional wisdom—and found as it kept piling up that he “no longer finds this narrative convincing.” As Marcy Wheeler adroitly observes: “I think people have lost sight of how important organized far right networks were to the riot.”

Extremist Group Movements images.dailykos.com

Jensen, the principal investigator for the Profiles of Individual Radicalization in the United States (PIRUS) project at the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), compiled the network map from “several thousand pages of court documents and countless social media posts.” He found a total of 244 defendants with extremist connections, and created a visualization of those ties—as well as those between rioters—with the map.

“That’s approximately 30 percent of all defendants. While that’s not a majority, a 30 percent rate of affiliation with extremism/extremist beliefs among a collective of apparently “ordinary” individuals is an astounding number,” Jensen writes on Twitter.

Indeed, while 30 percent still is not a majority, it is not a small minority either. He continues:

Of these 244 defendants, 108 were members of at least one extremist organization. 136 self-identified as members of extremist movements or publicly praised extremist groups and their beliefs. These defendants form nearly 700 dyadic relationships to extremist groups/movements and other defendants with extremist affiliations. These aren’t ordinary relationships—or, at least, they shouldn’t be.

Moreover, the “ordinary people” argument misses what the visualization shows—that J6 involved a number of influential defendants who acted as bridges in a larger network, facilitating the flow harmful ideas from one movement to another. Sure, the J6 defendants are “ordinary” in the sense that most of them have families, neighbors, and jobs, but who really believes that those are the things that distinguish extremists from everyone else?Jensen points to the work of another expert at American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research & Innovation Lab, Cynthia Miller-Idriss, in coming to terms with the reality that far-right extremism has been mainstreamed, and how that has happened, primarily through online radicalization—how “people radicalize in a vast and ever-expanding online ecosystem, a process that often involves no contact with particular organizations”:

Jensen points to the work of another expert at American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research & Innovation Lab, Cynthia Miller-Idriss, in coming to terms with the reality that far-right extremism has been mainstreamed, and how that has happened, primarily through online radicalization—how “people radicalize in a vast and ever-expanding online ecosystem, a process that often involves no contact with particular organizations”:

As ordinary individuals encounter these ideas, whether through custom-tailored propaganda or through more grassroots efforts amplified by social media, they assemble them into their own personalized belief systems. This is a far cry from more traditional models of radicalization in which people gradually adopt an identifiable group’s ideological framework—such as fascism or neo-Nazism—that calls for violent solutions against a common enemy. These more coherent processes involve initiation rites, manifestos, leaders, and a chain of command that guide beliefs and actions. Those elements are largely absent from today’s patchwork, choose-your-own-adventure mode of radicalization.

Miller-Idriss’s point is that “Extremism has gone mainstream; so must the interventions needed to address it.” And as Jensen observes, it’s likely that the “ordinary people” narrative surrounding J6 only makes this problem worse.

“It depicts aligning with extremist groups, even if indirectly, and/or adopting their beliefs and attempting to violently end democracy as something “ordinary” people do,” he writes. “It’s not.”

Heidi Beirich, the longtime intelligence director at the Southern Poverty Law Center now with the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, explains that this radicalization has been openly encouraged by Republican officeholders and a broad array of right-wing pundits, who have promoted white-nationalist and other far-right conspiracy theories into the mainstream of public discourse, ranging from the racist “Great Replacement” theory claiming that liberals are deliberately seeking to displace white voters with a tide of nonwhite immigration and civil rights, to the contradictory claims that “leftists” and “antifa” were actually responsible for the January 6 violence and that the rioters simultaneously righteous “patriots” seeking to defend the nation from a communist takeover.

Beirich cites a recent University of Chicago Project on Security and Threats report identifying an active American insurrectionist movement comprising some 21 million people. These radicalized Trump followers believe that “Use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency” and that “The 2020 election was stolen, and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.” About 63 percent of them believe in the Great Replacement theory, while 54 percent subscribe to far-right QAnon conspiracism.

It also notes that this insurrectionist movement is made up of “mainly highly competent, middle-aged American professionals,” leading the researchers to warn that their continuing radicalization “does not bode well for the 2022 midterm elections, or for that matter, the 2024 Presidential election.”

Marcy Wheeler notes that Jensen’s map reveals how massive an influence QAnon networks were in fueling the insurrection. She observes “how much more effective QAnon was at getting bodies where they needed them than the militias (the Proud Boys were busy moving other bodies around). Note how many QAnoners there are here.”

Moreover, as she explains, the map gives weight to the reportage this week by The New York Times’ Alan Feuer, revealing the key role that a Roger Stone minion and QAnon influencer named Jason Sullivan had in fomenting the January 6 violence:

More recently, Mr. Sullivan has taken an active role in promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory, which holds that prominent liberals belong to a cult of Satan-worshipping pedophiles. At a public appearance last year with Ms. Powell and Mr. Flynn, Mr. Sullivan called Hillary Clinton a “godawful woman” and then made a gesture suggesting she should be hanged.

On the conference call ahead of Jan. 6, Mr. Sullivan told his listeners that he was an expert at making things go viral online, but that it was not enough to simply spread the message that the election had been stolen.

“There has to be a multiple-front strategy, and that multiple-front strategy, I do think, is descend on the Capitol, without question,” he said. “Make those people feel it inside.”

As Wheeler says: “If someone can be shown to have triggered the QAnoners, it is an important detail. FBI was investigating this within weeks after the riot.”

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Verdict In Michigan Militia Prosecution Exposed Ugly Realities

A jury’s refusal late last week to convict four Michigan militiamen for plotting to kidnap and assassinate Gov. Gretchen Whitmer—with two men acquitted outright, while the jury was hung on the other two—may have come and gone from the national media radar already. But it’s a decision that will have long-term ramifications for public safety and national security, particularly law enforcement’s ability to effectively deter and prevent domestic terrorism.

The verdict was disturbing in no small part because nearly the entirety of the evidence in the case was presented by prosecutors. The defense rested after only a relative handful of witnesses, arguing throughout that the whole affair was a case of entrapment—and it was disturbing and damning, showing a group of men who not only freely indulged in violent fantasies but set about making them realities.

But the outcome did not happen in a vacuum. It was only the latest in a string of similar verdicts in which prosecutors have failed to bring right-wing extremists to justice, revealing both how deeply these beliefs and behaviors have become normalized as well as how poorly equipped law enforcement is to deal with the challenges they present.

Evidence in the trial included audio of the men setting off explosives and discussing how they hoped to hogtie Whitmer across a table and make a video. There was also abundant evidence showing the men’s real-world preparations for making their violent fantasies a reality, including creating a mockup of Whitmer’s summer house for practicing extraction, running reconnaissance on that residence, and taking preparatory steps to blow up a local bridge to cover their escape.

Defense attorney Michael Hills insisted after the verdict that this was nothing but “rough talk.” He told reporters that he considered calling a defense witness to assert that he’s “heard worse from pregnant mothers up on the Capitol.”

“If I don’t like the governor and it’s rough talk, I can do that in our country. That’s what’s beautiful about this country. That’s what’s great about it,” Hills said. “So hurrah, freedom in America. It’s still here.”

Unsurprisingly, it was celebrated widely by the right, including Donald Trump himself.

Trump talked about the verdict in his Saturday rally in Selma, North Carolina, inverting reality in his usual fashion: “And in the quite famous Michigan trial, where people were supposedly going to kidnap the very unpopular governor … two were just found not guilty and two others just ended in a hung jury,” he said. “So there is something going on down there. There is something going on. The radical Democrat party will do anything to stop our movement no matter how illegal, immoral or insane.”

Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green saw the verdicts as an opportunity to attack the FBI, tweeting:

Democrats voiced their concern about the consequences of the verdict. JoAnne Huls, Whitmer’s chief of staff, issued a statement decrying the outcome: “Today, Michiganders and Americans—especially our children—are living through the normalization of political violence. The plot to kidnap and kill a governor may seem like an anomaly. But we must be honest about what it really is: the result of violent, divisive rhetoric that is all too common across our country. There must be accountability and consequences for those who commit heinous crimes. Without accountability, extremists will be emboldened.”

A Democratic Michigan legislator, state Sen. Dayna Polehanki of Livonia, voiced her dismay in a tweet: “They also allegedly wanted to storm the Michigan Capitol, take out police officers, and execute my colleagues and me on live TV. Looks like I’ll be keeping my bulletproof vest under my desk on the senate floor,” she wrote.

Residents of the community near where the plotters planned to abduct Whitmer were disturbed. “My biggest concern is that a non-guilty verdict may embolden some far-right activists, and at this point at what is happening in the world, I feel as Americans we all need to come together,” said Jeffery Herman of Elk Rapids.

Herman was particularly disturbed by the plan to blow up a local bridge: “It is a shot right to the heart to me because I’ve been up here my whole life,” said Herman. “To me, that is like a strike against our own country and our state, and the amount of hatred a person must have to attack ourselves is really something as a nation we need to look at.”

However, the location of the trial in the Trumpist stronghold of Grand Rapids, with a jury comprising rural Michiganders with a record of antipathy to Whitmer—as well as a Bush-appointed judge who insisted that politics-related evidence, including any discussion of the ideology the “Boogaloo” movement to which the men subscribed, be excluded—played a powerful if not decisive role in the outcome.

Bill Swor, a veteran criminal defense attorney, observed to the Detroit Free Press: “The jurors may have known people like this, who are a lot of talk. And the jury may have decided that these guys were just running around being busy, and didn’t have any focus.”

The defendants had a lot of material to work with in constructing an entrapment defense. The FBI deployed 12 undercover informants in its investigations, and at least one of them—a man nicknamed “Big Dan”—played a key role in providing the group with paramilitary training as well as acting as a second-tier leader for the “Watchmen.” Three of the FBI agents involved in the case are no longer part of the prosecution’s witness lineup in large part because they have run afoul of the agency for behavior mostly unrelated to the militia case.

It’s just the latest in a series of failures, mostly by federal prosecutors, to deliver convictions of far-right extremists planning or perpetrating political violence, dating back at least to the 2016 acquittals of Ammon Bundy and his cohort for leading the armed standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon by a jury of Oregonians who found credible the defendants’ insistence that they didn’t believe they were doing anything illegal.

Similarly, prosecutors in Seattle in 2019 were unable to overcome the presence of pro-Trump jurors who declined to convict a husband and wife, both alt-right Milo Yiannopoulos fans, who were charged with the January 2017 shooting of an antifascist. More recently, jurors acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse, accused of murder in the shooting deaths of two people at a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 2020.

The latter case was widely celebrated on the right as a vindication of their politics of menace. The Whitmer kidnapping verdict was also seen as evidence supporting the right-wing conspiracy theory that the FBI orchestrated the Jan. 6 insurrection: “Whitmer Kidnapping plot concocted by the FBI,” tweeted one Patriot. “Now let’s do Jan. 6th events.”

Prominent Trump supporters tried to claim the whole thing was an election-year smear of Trump. “The Whitmer ‘kidnapping’ caper was the 2020 version of Russiagate, the FBI interfering in a presidential election to sabotage Trump and help a Democratic nominee for president,” tweeted right-wing pundit Julie Kelly.

More responsible voices expressed concern that as with the Rittenhouse verdict, violent extremists will interpret it as a green light. Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Dingell of Michigan called for an end to “the hatred and division in this country,” adding that she is “deeply concerned that today’s decision in the Whitmer kidnapping trial will give people further license to choose violence and threats.”

Certainly the trend of juries seeming to bend over backwards to acquit white men in terrorism cases reflects an unfortunate reality about Americans’ susceptibility to stereotyped perceptions that struggle to conceive of such crimes being committed by someone who looks like the guy next door. Heidi Beirich, executive director of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, says that reality is in many ways a hangover of the “War on Terror” years of the early 2000s, when Americans were conditioned to think of terrorists as Arab radicals.

“Prosecutors should pay more attention to this, but of course the mainstreaming of antigovernment sentiments and hate ideologies could be playing a role here,” she told Daily Kos. “Large parts of the conservative, or Trump base, share the ideas now of these groups, such as the Great Replacement or Stop the Steal, etc. The frame around this type of extremism is so radically different than the beliefs of ISIS or Al Qaeda, which were never going to find a home among even a tiny fraction of Americans. But white supremacy and antigovernment ideas are deeply rooted in our history and culture, and now among many conservatives, and that can potentially affect juries. We saw it during the civil rights movement obviously.”

The War on Terror approach also infected the law enforcement handling of domestic terrorism cases, says Michael German, a national security analyst with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. German, a former FBI agent, had himself played a central role in a well-known case in the 1990s involving a militia group in western Washington state that also claimed entrapment after he had provided the men with a meeting space that doubled as a bomb-building classroom—and was filled with cameras that recorded everything.

Although German had scrupulously followed FBI rules, the entrapment defense had some effect in that case—several defendants walked on the conspiracy charge after a mistrial in the first round—but the central players eventually were all convicted on various charges.

He’s followed the trial of the Wolverine Watchmen closely, and told Daily Kos via email that “the Michigan case was undermined by misconduct committed by the agents assigned to the investigation, and the misuse/overuse of informants.”

More broadly, though, German is concerned that the strategies the FBI developed after 9/11 and found effective against Islamist radicals—which problematically reflected distorted priorities by federal law enforcement on domestic terrorism as they ignored and deprioritized political violence by white right-wing extremists for over two decades—no longer work.

“The tactics of an FBI undercover operation have changed significantly in that the agents and informants manufacture plots and provide the weaponry necessary to achieve them,” German explained. “In the 1990s that wasn't allowed. But the FBI had increasing success with these tactics in targeting Muslims after 9/11 and have broadened their use.”

He notes that “the Michigan case wasn't nearly as egregious as the Liberty City 7 case or the Newburgh sting, which were successful I believe because the defendants belonged to groups the public was taught to fear after 9/11. With white supremacist or far-right militant groups, the FBI has been less successful with this technique, but agents continue to use them, I think because they forgot how to do proper undercover operations.”

German says the Michigan case—particularly the heavy use of informants—reflects these misbegotten strategies. “So what the FBI seemed to have learned from the difficulty they had winning convictions in the Liberty City 7 case was that they should spice up these sting operations with more elaborate plots that could only be achieved by the government introducing and providing more dangerous weapons,” he said.

“In the Washington case the investigation focused on the criminal activity the group was already engaged in, namely possessing, manufacturing, and trafficking in illegal weapons and explosives for use in a prospective conflict with federal law enforcement,” he explained. “There wasn't a government effort to generate a more elaborate plot, and the defendants made, possessed, and transferred the illegal weapons and explosives themselves, the government didn't provide them.

“I think if the FBI agents stayed focused on investigating the crimes that were occurring, rather than trying to manufacture an elaborate plot, they would have been more successful. I think the overuse of the extreme tactics now typical of terrorism sting operations has generated some public backlash that undermined the government's credibility. The general loss of credibility for the FBI has been a growing problem as well, both because of true errors and abuse and because of the Trump administration's less factual campaign against its leadership.”

Beirich warns, however, that there is also an undeniable component involving ethnic prejudice that affects how juries behave. “Speaking generally, there is obviously a huge difference in how juries viewed the treatment of people accused of Islamic-inspired terrorism and how they view white supremacists,” she told Kos. “There were dozens of cases in the early ‘00s where entrapment by federal agents seemed more obvious of such suspects than what has happened with juries dealing with cases of antigovernment and/or white supremacist extremists. The domestic extremists seem to get more of a break from juries than folks associated with other forms of extremism, a situation that likely has a racial element or at least an ‘othered’ element to it.”

Beirich foresees a continuation of the right-wing gaslighting campaign around these issues, “as is happening right now in Congress over the domestic terrorism bill.”

“It seems that only when there is serious violence, usually with mass casualties, is this issue taken seriously on the right, which is really unfortunate,” she said. “Look how Jan. 6 is being minimized among elected officials and others on the right. It’s a tragedy that there is little consensus over what our government calls the No. 1 domestic terrorism threat: white supremacists and militia types.”

Michigan state House member Laurie Pohutsky, a Democrat, noted on Twitter that the threatening environment has long-term consequences for democracy as well.

“The next time you ask why we can’t get good people to run for office, consider today’s verdict. The man that threatened to kill me in 2020 was acquitted,” she said, adding, “This won’t be taken seriously until someone dies.”

Printed with permission from Dailykos.

Whitmer Kidnap Jury Acquits Two, Judge Declares Mistrial For Ringleaders

Jurors on Friday freed two of the four defendants in the Michigan militia kidnapping-plot trial, but after a week of deliberations remained hung on the charges against the two men accused of being ringleaders in the conspiracy to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer. A mistrial was declared in the case of the latter two—Adam Fox, 37, of Grand Rapids; Barry Croft, 44, of Bear, Delaware—and they will remain in custody.

However, the jury found both Daniel Harris, 23, of Lake Orion, and Brandon Caserta, 32, of Canton, Michigan, not guilty on all charges, and they were released. The verdicts were announced after jurors told the judge that morning they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict on all counts, and he had sent them back to attempt one last time to reach finality.

"After using the suggestions of the court, we're still unable to reach a unanimous decision on several counts," a note from the jury handed to U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker three hours later said.

"On a case that has a lot of evidence ... It is not unusual for a jury to come back and say, 'Hey, we tried, but we just can't get there at everything,'" Jonker had said earlier. "I know you've been at it a while ... I'm not quite ready to say, 'That's the best we can do.'"

"Go back," the judge said, "and make another effort."

Jonker emphasized: "You have to vote your own conscience at the end of the day. ... See if anything moves you on a locked decision."

Jurors had listened to three weeks of testimony, the majority coming from the prosecution. One of the militiamen wanted to spread Whitmer out on a table, hogtied and displayed while they took pictures of themselves. Another worked on detonating an improvised explosive device in his yard while his 10-year-old daughter offered him a Doritos chip. The paramilitary training, the reconnaissance at Whitmer’s home, the weapons collections—it was all part of a plan to spark a nationwide “Boogaloo” civil war, the men believed. "We wanted to be the first to kick it off," a key witness testified.

The testimonial evidence in the trial of the four men charged with plotting to kidnap and kill Whitmer in its first was both riveting and disturbing. All of the cooperating witnesses attested that none of the FBI’s multiple informants at work on the case induced anyone to commit the crimes, though that appears not to have held water with the jury.

Ty Garbin, a 26-year-old from Hartland Township and onetime member of the group (which called themselves the Wolverine Watchmen) was the prosecution’s primary witness this week. Garbin, who entered a guilty plea last year as part of a cooperation agreement, told the jury that no one else convinced him or anyone else in the group to join the kidnapping plot.

The defendants leaned heavily on claims that the government entrapped them into the plot to abduct Whitmer from her summer home and put her on “trial.”

A profile of the jury by the Detroit Free Press suggests that its composition was already problematic, featuring a number of people likely to sympathize with the “Patriots.”

  • A man who owns an AR-15 rifle, which he described as a former military weapon that sits in his closet most of the time. He works third shift in a factory of some sort, and works out at a gym. He noted his rifle is now a semi-automatic.
  • A man who works as a CT scan technologist who expressed concerns with missing work, but said he could handle the issues of the trial.
  • A man who works at a molding and plastics plant, hunts and owns multiple guns, including an assault rifle because, he said, "I like the style of it."
  • A grandmother of four who said that the Whitmer kidnap case was discussed in their home, but said she could put her husband "on mute" if she had to. She said they don't own any guns, "but I don't have problems with guns at all." She said she has political leanings, without elaborating, but can put them aside.
  • A woman who works as an adult foster care director said she doesn't think the governor "takes into account everything all the time."

On Thursday, the jury asked to see purported bomb evidence involving pennies that had been attached to an explosive as shrapnel. Before entering the deliberation room on Friday, jurors were handed an evidence bag, filled with the pennies they inquired about.

The pennies had come up during the testimony of an FBI witness, who said they were found in a "blast zone" at Garbin's property in Luther. The witness testified the pennies were found in a 2- to 3-foot radius, along with a mortar launcher, staples, rubber bands, and markings, which, he said, indicated a detonation took place.

The trial’s outcome likely will have broad ramifications for how federal authorities tackle the rising tide of right-wing domestic terrorism, as well as ongoing prosecution of the January 6 U.S. Capitol insurrectionists. It likely is also being celebrated by far-right extremists and would-be domestic terrorists.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

D.C. Attorney General Sues To Expose And Bankrupt Insurrection Gangs

Here’s a reality that the insurrectionists who besieged the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, are now learning: When you physically attack a public institution and commit crimes against civil authorities, the criminal charges — such as “seditionist conspiracy” — you inevitably face are just the beginning. Just wait ‘til the civil courts, where the people you have harmed get to sue you for damages, weigh in.

Just ask Stewart Rhodes and his compatriots in the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, who already face those daunting criminal charges. This week they were added to the federal civil lawsuit filed late last year by D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine seeking to hold those groups, as well as others involved in the violent attack on the Capitol, financially culpable for the millions of dollars in damage they caused, including injuries to Capitol Police officers.

“We’re committed to bankrupting the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys who conspired in the attack,” Racine tweeted.

Racine filed his original lawsuit on December 14, naming 31 people—all members of the two far-right organizations that played central roles in the insurrection—culpable for damages incurred during the attack. Among them were Proud Boys leaders Joe Biggs, Ethan Nordean, Zachary Rehl, and Enrique Tarrio, as well as key Oath Keepers such as Kelly Meggs and Joshua James. All of them have been charged criminally by federal authorities as well.

The latest round now includes Rhodes, who was charged with seditionist conspiracy in January after avoiding arrest for more than a year as evidence began piling up implicating him. He was charged along with Edward Vallejo, Joseph Hackett, David Moerschel, and Brian Ulrich, who also were added to Racine’s lawsuit. So was Matthew Greene, a Proud Boy who has been cooperating with investigators after pleading guilty to conspiracy charges.

Racine told The Washington Post that the goal of the lawsuit is to expose how these groups are financed and to secure “full restitution and recompense” for the damages inflicted on Washington. The largest of these, Racine said, has involved the huge costs incurred treating scores of injured Metro Police officers, including Officer Michael Fanone. Rioters assaulted Fanone with a stun gun and dragged down the Capitol steps, during which he lost consciousness, suffered a heart attack, and had traumatic brain injury.

“If it so happens that it bankrupts or puts these individuals and entities in financial peril, so be it,” the attorney general said in an interview when the case was filed.

The lawsuit seeks damages under the modern version of the federal Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, a Reconstruction-era law that, besides outlawing the notorious hate group, also allows individuals to sue when they are injured by their criminal plots. It is modeled in that regard on the recent federal civil lawsuit that found the organizers of the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, financially culpable for millions and rendering them bankrupt.

Such lawsuits have been used for years by organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center to hold violent far-right extremists such as Tom Metzger’s White Aryan Resistance and the Idaho-based Aryan Nations culpable for their members’ violence, similarly bankrupting them. While the strategy has a few critics—Glenn Greenwald once described it as an “abuse of the court system”—it has historically proved to be one of the most powerful tools for enabling communities to hold far-right extremists accountable for the violence they perpetrate.

Assisting Racine’s lawsuit are two nonprofit groups: the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the States United Democracy Center (SUDC).

“There is no substitute for bringing a civil suit that seeks damages against each of the individuals and groups responsible,” said Norman Eisen of the SUDC, a veteran of the Obama White House counsel’s office. “It is a way to assure those bad actors never do it again.”

Reprinted by permission from DailyKos.

How A Trump Tweet Mobilized His January 6 Insurrection Mob

At the time, it just seemed like another in a series of increasingly unhinged tweets emanating from the White House. But in retrospect, it has become increasingly clear—importantly, to the House Select Committee, as the New York Times reports—that Donald Trump’s tweet of December 18, 2020, was a call to arms for his army of uncivil warriors, telling them when and where to come to prevent his removal from office as a result of losing what he falsely claimed was a fraudulent election.

The tweet cited a report by his minion Peter Navarro (thoroughly debunked in short order) in the Washington Examiner claiming there was enough fraud in key battleground states to swing the election. “Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election,” he claimed, and exhorted his readers: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”

Trump tweet Dec. 19 2020

As we reported at the time, a broad bandwidth of Trump supporters—including violent neo-fascists like the Proud Boys and heavily armed “Patriots” such as the Oath Keepers—promptly leapt into action, preparing to come to Washington to prevent their “Glorious Leader” from being swept from office. And they not only heard Trump’s call, they responded just as he had hoped they would—by putting Congress under physical siege and attempting an insurrection.

Subsequently, evidence released by the Justice Department in the 700-plus court cases filed so far in the insurrection substantiates that Trump’s tweet played a central role in attracting a mob numbering in the tens of thousands to Washington—and not just any mob, but one prepared to use violence to prevent the certification of the Electoral College votes that day. And among those were people, notably those same Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, who had very specific plans for achieving that goal.

The Times notes that the evidence clearly shows the electrifying effect the tweet had on Trump’s far-right troops:

Extremist groups almost immediately celebrated Mr. Trump’s Twitter message, which they widely interpreted as an invitation to descend on the city in force. Responding to the president’s words, the groups sprang into action, court filings and interviews by the House committee show: Extremists began to set up encrypted communications channels, acquire protective gear and, in one case, prepare heavily armed “quick reaction forces” to be staged outside Washington.
They also began to whip up their members with a drumbeat of bellicose language, with their private messaging channels increasingly characterized by what one called an “apocalyptic tone.” Directly after Mr. Trump’s tweet was posted, the Capitol Police began to see a spike in right-wing threats against members of Congress.

At least one member of the Oath Keepers—the leaders of the group’s Florida chapter, Kelly Meggs—boasted the next day:

Well we are ready for the rioters, this week I organized an alliance between Oath Keepers, Florida 3%ers, and Proud Boys. We have decided to work together to shut this shit down

Meggs posted another message three days later referencing Trump’s December 19 tweet. Meggs wrote: “He wants us to make it WILD that's what he's saying. He called us all to the Capitol and wants us to make it wild!!! Sir Yes Sir!!! Gentlemen we are heading to DC pack your shit!!"

A few days later, on December 26, Meggs messaged his cohorts that they were targeting January 6 for an “insurrection”: “Trumps staying in, he’s Gonna use the emergency broadcast system on cell phones to broadcast to the American people. Then he will claim the insurrection act.”

“That’s awesome,” someone replied. “Any idea when?”

“Next week,” Meggs answered, adding: “Then wait for the 6th when we are all in DC to insurrection.”

Key leaders of the far-right mob began organizing around January 6 almost immediately after Trump’s 10:25 p.m. tweet. White-nationalist America First leader Nick Fuentes tweeted at 2:26 a.m. that he intended to join Trump on January 6. Ali Alexander—who had been organizing and leading various “Stop the Steal” protests outside ballot-counting facilities in key battleground states—started promoting Trump’s post later that afternoon.

Within days, Alexander took a leading role in organizing protests on January 6, teaming up with Amy Kremer and other mainstream Republican operatives to make them happen. There wound up being four different pro-Trump events in Washington that day; the one overseen by Alexander was called the “Wild Protest,” for which you could get the details at his wildprotest.com website.

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes—who now stands charged with seditionist conspiracy for his actions on January 6 and those leading up to it—had been a featured speaker at the first “Stop the Steal” rally on December 12, exhorting the crowd: “He needs to use that now, he needs to invoke the Insurrection Act and suppress this insurrection,” adding: “If he does not do it now, while he is commander in chief, we are going to have to do it ourselves later, in a much more desperate, much more bloody war.”

Trump’s tweet raised Rhodes’ hyperbole to new heights; on December 21, he warned in an interview that there would be “a massively bloody revolution” if Joe Biden took office. Two days later, he posted a letter saying that “tens of thousands of patriot Americans” with “mission-critical gear” stashed nearby would be in Washington on January 6.

A December 27 email from stopthesteal.us, headlined “TRUMP JUST TWEETED JAN 6TH EVENT! AGAIN!” encouraged followers to attend, directing them to Alexander’s “Wild Protest” site. “PRESIDENT TRUMP WANTS YOU IN DC JANUARY 6,” it emphasized, adding that the organization was working to secure the votes of Republican Senators to oppose Biden’s certification: “We’ve identified six (seven including Senator-elect Tommy Tuberville) that could join our cause. StopTheSteal.us is working closely, whipping the vote up, with patriots in the Congress.”

As Media Matters reported, some two dozen GOP officials and organizations in at least 12 states used Facebook as a platform to organize bus trips to the rally. The posts advertising the buses were unsparing in the use of incendiary rhetoric, too.

“This is a call to ALL patriots from Donald J Trump for a BIG protest in Washington DC! TAKE AMERICA BACK! BE THERE, WILL BE WILD!” wrote the New Hanover County GOP of North Carolina in a Facebook post advertising bus seats. (The phrase “be there, will be wild!” was a rallying cry by Trump to his followers for that day.)

Trump himself kept tweeting.

December 27: “See you in Washington, DC, on January 6th. Don’t miss it. Information to follow.”

December 30: “JANUARY SIXTH, SEE YOU IN DC!”

January 1: “The BIG Protest Rally in Washington, D.C. will take place at 11:00 A.M. on January 6th. Locational details to follow. StopTheSteal!”

Trump’s tweets and the rush of organizing that followed gave the green light to the would-be uncivil warriors. “On January 6, we find out whether we still have a constitutional republic,” one MAGA fanatic tweeted on New Year’s Eve. “If not, the revolution begins. I’d rather fight and die than live in a socialist society. Pretty sure 80 million Americans feel the same way.”

In the leadup, QAnon accounts grew excited. More than half of the 20,800 QAnon-identified accounts on Twitter mentioned the date and the rally, though only a minority called for violence. Rather, most of them posted their typically outlandish claims intended to outrage and inflame readers.

“No wonder the President said January 6 in DC was going to be wild. @LLinWood just told us many of our politicians are raping and killing children. They won’t be able to walk down the street,” one QAnon account on Parler posted.

When the day arrived, the thousands drawn to D.C. were primed for action. The big event on January 6 was the “March to Save America” at the White House Ellipse, at which Trump spoke. There were other rallies scheduled to follow: Ali Alexander’s “Wild Protest,” scheduled to take place northeast of the Capitol; and three variations on “Stop the Steal” rallies at Freedom Plaza, just east of the White House. These later events were largely short-circuited by the insurrection, as the crowds fled the venue to join the scene at the Capitol.

The tweet inspired a broad swath of conspiracies unconnected to the Oath Keepers or Proud Boys, usually involving only a handful of actors. In one such case, according to the indictment, a trio of extremist Trump supporters from California traveled to Washington, in their own words, to “violently remove traitors” and “replace them with able bodied Patriots.” Embroiled with the mob on the Capitol’s western entrance, one of them tazed Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone into unconsciousness, while another encouraged the mob to climb in through broken windows; once inside, the trio trashed congressional offices.

The three of them apparently met on a Telegram channel called “Patriots 45 MAGA Gang,” where they shared Trump-related conspiracy theories and agreed that action needed to be taken to prevent Trump from being unseated as president. Two days later, local Trump activist named Edward Badalian asked the channel, “okay who is down to drive to DC on Jan4?” The next day, he opined that “we need to violently remove traitors and if they are in key positions rapidly replace them with able-bodied Patriots.”

“We gotta go handle this shit in DC so the crooked politicians don’t have an army of thugs threatening violence to back their malevolent cabal ways,” wrote Badalian in one thread.

“We are taking this shit back,” Badalian wrote in another thread. “Yeah, absolutely, yes,” replied Daniel Rodriguez, another local Trumpist.

In other conversations, Rodriguez told his cohorts that he would “assassinate Joe Biden” if he got the chance and “would rather die than live under a Biden administration.” On December 29, Rodriguez posted: “Congress can hang. I’ll do it. Please let us get these people dear God.”

The trio gathered weapons and gear—a stun gun, pepper spray, gas masks, and walkie-talkies—in the weeks before January 6. Badalian and Rodriguez traveled together from California, and "joined a caravan" in Kentucky on January 5 headed to the Stop the Steal event, setting up caravan communications with a radio app on cellphones.

When they arrived in Washington, Rodriguez texted his cohorts on Telegram: “There will be blood. Welcome to the revolution.”

After battling police, the trio entered the Capitol and trashed congressional offices. Two of them went on Alex Jones’ Infowars program two days later and blamed all the violence on “antifa,” while falsely claiming they had not gone inside or participated in the violence.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Proud Boys Leader And Far-Right Gunman Finally Indicted In Portland Attacks

It’s only taken five years of ongoing assaults and preplanned violence by right-wing thugs—accompanied by an obscene double standard in enforcement by police officers and prosecutors—for authorities in Portland, Oregon, to finally start taking the problem seriously. But two separate cases this week in Portland courts indicate that progress is finally happening.

On Wednesday, notorious Proud Boys brawler Tusitala “Tiny” Toese was arraigned on multiple felonies related to the violence he led at a Portland rally on August 22, 2021, and order detained without bail. Then on Thursday, the man who opened fire on a group of protesters in a park on February 19 near his residence, killing one person and wounding four others before he was himself shot, was also arraigned in Multnomah County Circuit Court on multiple counts after he was released from his subsequent hospitalization.

Benjamin Smith, 43, was in a wheelchair while making his court appearance by video. He now faces count of murder, four counts of attempted murder and three counts of assault with a firearm, to which he pleaded not guilty.

Toese was charged with a total of 11 felony counts, including six counts of assault, two counts of unlawful use of a weapon, two counts of riot, and two counts of criminal mischief. The judge ruled that he will be ordered to remain in the downtown Portland jail without bail.

The prosecutions suggest that legal authorities, at least, have begun to awaken to the reality that, while they have been focused on suppressing left-wing protests and activists, right-wing extremists have been getting away with extreme violence directed at those same factions for the past five years. Toese in particular has been one of the more violent actors in those scenarios and yet has managed to largely escape serious legal consequences for them until now.

Similarly, when a right-wing ex-Navy SEAL was believed to have tossed a pipe bomb at Portland residents protesting police brutality at a park in August 2020, the Portland Police Bureau only conducted a brief investigation and never filed charges, complaining that none of the people targeted were willing to cooperate with investigators.

So when Smith opened fire on the crowd in February, and police initially described the incident by saying it “appeared to be a confrontation between armed protesters and an armed homeowner,” and complaining about uncooperative witnesses, there were concerns that the non-investigation might be repeated.

The gravity of the case, however, was much greater. Moreover, despite the initial police spin, the facts soon emerged: the people who Smith confronted—a group of traffic-safety volunteers who were shepherding a demonstration at Normandale Park in northeastern Portland—were unarmed. Witnesses described how he confronted the group and yelled at them to leave the area; the volunteers responded by telling him to leave them alone.

“(Smith) responds by demanding they ‘make’ him leave and he approaches a participant aggressively, who pushes him back,” Deputy District Attorney Mariel Mota wrote in the affidavit. “(Smith) continues to yell at participants and a few moments later, (he) draws a handgun and fires at multiple people, striking five.”

A person participating in the march with a concealed-carry permit stopped Smith’s rampage by rushing to the scene and shooting him in the hip. Smith was listed in critical condition for the first week of his hospitalization, but was discharged from the hospital this week and promptly booked into Multnomah County Jail on Wednesday.

A respected and well-known 60-year-old activist named June Brandy Knightly was pronounced dead at the scene. Four others were injured, including one who was shot in the neck, paralyzing them from the neck down, while a second victim was shot multiple times and hospitalized.

Smith’s roommate, Kristine Christenson, told Oregon Public Broadcasting shortly after the shooting that he had become increasingly radicalized during the late Obama administration and early Trump years. Eventually, she said, he would yell racial slurs in his room and make misogynistic remarks.

“He got angrier and angrier,” Christenson said, noting that he owned a number of guns including rifles, shotguns and handguns. “I have not been comfortable living with him for a while. I did not feel safe with him, especially this last two years with the whole COVID thing. I think that made him even more angry.”

“He talked about wanting to go shoot commies and antifa all the friggin‘ time,” Christenson said. “He was just a sad angry dude. … He talked about wanting to do this for a while. He was angry at the mask mandates, he was angry at the ‘damned liberals.’”

Smith’s social-media trail revealed that he was a committed fan of Alex Jones, Andy Ngo and other far-right media agitators. He used far-right Telegram channels to spew misogynistic hate, anti-Semitic comments and claims like “Communists aren’t human beings… it’s okay to kill them.” He also once wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Kyle Rittenhouse True Patriot.” He commented that he wished the Proud Boys would “shoot people up.”

"...Violence is the answer,” he wrote on Telegram. “If you think for a single moment the government isn't willing to commit acts of violence against you to enforce this insane shit, you're dead wrong. That's not ego, that's fact. Stop being stupid."

He was particularly drawn to Ngo’s work, commenting frequently on the anti-antifa agitator’s Twitter threads. Days before he opened fire in Portland, he had commented in a reply to a Ngo post showing a police shooting: “This is why you arm yourselves folks.”

Predictably, Ngo tried to exploit the incident, describing it as “Antifa vs. Neighbor,” and claiming: “The narrative by antifa that it was a far-right attack is falling apart.” Even as Smith was being charged, he attempted to pin blame on the anti-fascists targeted by Smith, tweeting: “They say evidence was removed from the scene & are asking for cooperation from witnesses. Antifa accounts had called for destruction of evidence.” After the details of Smith’s far-right radicalization, embrace of violence, and devotion to his own work was exposed, Ngo predictably fell silent and has not mentioned the case since.

Smith’s tentative trial date is May 5, currently assigned to Circuit Judge Michael A. Greenlick.

The charges against Toese were handed down in December by a grand jury naming both Toese and another Proud Boy, but only unsealed in late January. The second man—Miles Douglas Furrow, 41, of Oregon City, Oregon—faces multiple counts of assault and riot after he was identified as the man who jumped into the front seat of a parked car the Proud Boys had identified as being driven by an antifascist and began brutally beating the driver. Toese had bashed out the windows of the car just prior to the assault.

The violence erupted when a phalanx of black-clad anti-fascists marched past the vacant Kmart parking lot where the rally was being held (the event had moved at the last hour after being originally scheduled for the downtown Portland waterfront), and a cluster of Proud Boys began chasing them. A van involved in the situation came to a halt at the edge of the parking lot, and its occupants also were chased down Sandy Boulevard.

A series of roving street battles followed, featuring sticks, batons, baseball bats, paintball and Airsoft guns, and wafting clouds of bear mace, accompanied by bursts of fireworks. Participants on both sides carried large shields.

Some Proud Boys returned to the abandoned van—a Metro ambulance van designed to carry people with disabilities—and proceeded, at Toese’s urging, to break out its windows, then tip it over and destroy the equipment inside.

They also caught up to an anti-fascist at his parked pickup truck, which appeared to be carrying water supplied for the counter-protesters. With Toese again urging them on while breaking the car’s windows, they slashed the man’s tires and sprayed him with mace, after which one masked Proud Boy with fighting gloves—later identified as Furrow—entered the cab and began beating the man. The man eventually was able to get out of the truck and flee the scene.

The affidavit depicts Toese—who had in fact helped organize the event as an ironic “Summer of Love” gathering—as the primary commander of the attacking Proud Boys. It alleges that he ordered groups of men clad in body armor to advance or “fall back” as they clashed with counterprotesters. It says Toese directed a group of Proud Boys to open fire with paintball guns as he watched, after which he waved them forward while both sides hurled various objects—fireworks, rocks, anything handy—at each other.

During his arraignment, prosecutors argued that he should be held without bail pending a preventative detention hearing—in part because of the comments he made while giving speeches onstage.

“In reference to a perceived belief that Antifa would appear at the rally,” the affidavit says, Toese told the audience: “Well guess what’s going to happen to your fascist heroes today if they show up and try to attack somebody. They’re going to get an ass whooping.”

“You want to keep on poking a sleeping bear, guess what? It’s going to rise up and it’s going to be 1776,” Toese continued. “You’re going to mess around and find out, the wrong way.”

He later directly addressed a group of journalists and streamers: “That’s our message to you, Antifa: the Americans are coming out and they’re sick and tired of this shit. If we have to fight fire with fire, we’re going to fucking do it. Fuck Antifa.”

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Michigan Militia Wanted Whitmer Kidnapping To Spark ‘Boogaloo’ Civil War

One of the Michigan militiamen wanted to spread Gov. Gretchen Whitmer out on a table, hogtied and displayed while they took pictures of themselves. Another worked on detonating an improvised explosive device in his yard while his 10-year-old daughter offered him a Doritos chip. The paramilitary training, the reconnaissance at Whitmer’s home, the weapons collections—it was all part of a plan to spark a nationwide civil war, the men believed. "We wanted to be the first to kick it off," a key witness testified.

The testimonial evidence in the trial of the four men charged with plotting to kidnap and kill Whitmer in its first weeks has been both riveting and disturbing. Most of all, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the entrapment defense planned by their attorneys is unlikely to hold water: All of the cooperating witnesses so far have attested that none of the FBI’s multiple informants at work on the case induced anyone to commit the crimes.

A 26-year-old onetime member of the Wolverine Watchmen, as the group called themselves, from Hartland Township named Ty Garbin was the prosecution’s primary witness this week. Garbin, who entered a guilty plea last year as part of a cooperation agreement, told the jury that no one else convinced him or anyone else in the group to join the kidnapping plot.

The defendants—Adam Fox, 37, of Grand Rapids; Barry Croft, 44, of Bear, Delaware; Daniel Harris, 23, of Lake Orion; and Brandon Caserta, 32, of Canton, Michigan, all members of the so-called “Wolverine Watchmen” militia—are leaning heavily on claims that the government entrapped them into the plot to abduct Whitmer from her summer home and put her on “trial,” for which they now face federal kidnapping-conspiracy charges. The trial’s outcome could have broad ramifications for how federal authorities tackle the rising tide of right-wing domestic terrorism, as well as ongoing prosecution of the January 6 U.S. Capitol insurrectionists.

Garbin testified that, when he joined the Wolverine Watchmen, he was okay being labeled "a domestic terrorist," and so were his co-defendants, since they had no illusions about the nature of what they were planning. He described the various actions the group took in preparation for executing their plan, ranging from building explosives to constructing a "shoot house" to casing the governor’s summer home, all while creating secret chat rooms online to avoid detection.

At the end of his direct examination, the prosecutor asked Garbin whether he or any of the other Watchmen had been convinced by FBI informants to join the conspiracy. Garbin flatly answered: “No.”

Earlier, prosecutors had asked Garbin to describe what “Boogaloo”—the far-right civil-war movement to which the militiamen subscribed—meant.

“The Boogaloo is a movement that consists of multiple political ideologies…the foundation of it is basically we need a second civil war, another revolution,” Garbin explained. “The plan was for us to basically be … the ignition to it and hopefully other states and other groups follow suit.”

Last week, the jury heard how Croft had worked on a setting off a homemade bomb during a training session with the others in Cambria, Wisconsin. On a recording, they could hear Croft being approached by his 10-year-old daughter.

“Daddy, do you want a Dorito?” she asked.

“Honey, I’m making explosives, can you get away from me please?” Croft responded, before adding: “I love you.”

An undercover FBI agent testified that Croft had tried to light the fuse twice, but it had failed both times.

Garbin described how the group’s plans had progressed, beginning with a plan to storm the state Capitol in Lansing, taking hostages and holding televised “trials” of state officials, to be followed by their executions. The men also discussed firebombing police vehicles and targeting police to create a diversion while they committed bank robberies to finance their operations.

Finally realizing that storming the Capitol wasn’t feasible, the group's focus shifted to kidnapping Whitmer in late June, Garbin testified. He detailed how the group rehearsed by building a “shoot house” that would enable them to train for a home invasion by simulating the interior of Whitmer’s summer home.

Garbin said the training included first-aid lessons, with the expectation they would suffer combat wounds while engaging police. They also built a firing range on his property, intended to sharpen their shooting skills, using tires filled with sand.

Last week, jurors heard recordings of Fox describing his hopes for kidnapping Whitmer.

“We just want the bitch, we want the tyrant bitch,” he said. “I want to have the governor hog-tied, laid out on a table while we all pose around like we just made the world’s biggest goddamn drug bust, bro.”

Most of the men were similarly inclined to violence, according to the testimony. Garbin said that Harris—who would describe bloody scenarios with a “blank” face—was determined to kill Whitmer at any cost. “It was suicidal … someone, or a group of people to go kill her and then go kill themselves afterwards,” he said.

Jurors also heard a recording of Caserta ranting in a similarly cold-blooded fashion about taking on government officials.

“I’m taking out as many of those motherfuckers as I can. Every single one. And if you guys are going to give any of these motherfuckers a chance, any of these gang, fucking criminal ass, government thugs that rob people every day, if you are going to give them even a second to try and speak or tell their story? Don’t even fuck with me dude,” Caserta could be heard saying.

However, Croft was the one member of their group who apparently made everyone else nervous because of his eagerness for violence. FBI agent Christopher Long testified last week that at one point, at a meeting in Ohio where he was not present, other Wolverine Watchmen talked about voting Croft from the group because they believed he was too violent even for them and that he wanted to move too quickly—and that would end up with all of them being arrested.

“Mr. Croft was ready to do it right now,” Long testified. “Their concern was he would get them locked up.”

Similarly, Garbin testified that Croft wanted the Watchmen to carry out a series of bank robberies to raise cash for the plan. He thought that launching a preemptive assault on the state police would prevent them from responding quickly.

“He wanted to attack that facility, firebomb it and destroy as many police cars as possible,” Garbin said.

These plans resemble many of the fantasies right-wing extremists have harbored and cultivated among themselves for generations about fomenting a civil war that would overthrow liberal democracy. In fact, Croft’s plan practically replicates a 1967 plot in Seattle by a far-right terrorist group called the Minutemen. Their scheme, as it happened, also backfired when their gang was infiltrated by informants, and the men all wound up in prison.

It’s a familiar blueprint, with a familiar outcome.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Fitness Fascists Hijack Workout Cultures To Push Far-Right Politics — And Street Violence

Ethan Nordean embodies the far-right fascination with fitness: The now-imprisoned January 6 insurrectionist who first made himself a national figure by beating up antifascists in street brawls is also a fanatical weightlifter who made his living previously by selling vitamin supplements. He is like a lot of Proud Boys—who espouse the virtues of physical fitness and manly violence—that way.

It’s a thread that runs through much of the rising tide of far-right extremism, not just in the U.S. but globally, as researcher Cynthia Miller-Idriss explored recently at MSNBC. It’s not that being a fitness buff makes a person into a right-wing authoritarian—rather, it’s that the structured mindset involved is an attractive and desirable trait among far-right ideologues and thus becomes a targeted recruitment ground, very much in the same way that they target people with military backgrounds.

“The intersection of extremism and fitness leans into a shared obsession with the male body, training, masculinity, testosterone, strength and competition,” explains Miller-Idriss, who is the director of American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research and Laboratory.

Researchers with the U.K.-based Hope Not Hate reported earlier this month that young men in Europe and the U.S. are being recruited and radicalized by a network of online “fascist fitness” chat groups on the encrypted chat platform Telegram. The network lures them in with health tips and strategies for achieving greater strength and improving their bodies, after which recruits are eventually invited to closed chat groups where extremist ideologies are the primary fare.

“Fascist fitness groups, which have been growing across Europe for several years, have helped turn what was once an individual project of self-improvement into something ideological,” the organization’s annual report says. “Some of those involved in the fascist fitness scene seem to have positive experiences that focus their energy on doing something that is not directly harmful to others.

“However, these groups also mix extreme fascist ideology with self-improvement and camaraderie which can bring people in to the movement, to radicalize and associate positive change in their lives with fascism. Worryingly, others view it as preparation for violence towards minorities, antifascists and race war.”

It notes that similar fitness groups have arisen within the context of COVID denialist and anti-vaccination/anti-lockdown movements. These groups are ideologically distinct from the violence-prone neofascist fitness groups, but they share many of the same beliefs in far-right conspiracy theories and disinformation.

Miller-Idriss observes that an obsession with fitness and health has historically been woven into fascist politics; both Hitler and Mussolini extolled their virtues and considered strict attention to both a requirement for their respective movements. More recently, right-wing extremists have launched mixed martial arts (MMA) and boxing gyms in both Europe and North America, where they mix training in hand-to-hand combat and street-brawling situations with white nationalist ideological indoctrination.

European intelligence authorities in particular have taken note of the trend as a number of reports from different nations have described the ascent of combat sports and MMA in providing a platform for far-right radicalization and organizing street violence. Governments have introduced intervention and prevention programs with the cooperation of national sports associations and local gyms in places such as Germany, Poland, and the U.K.

Miller-Idriss notes that the U.S. is comparatively far behind in this trend, but will be catching up in the months and years ahead as the idea spreads. She notes that the white nationalist Rise Above Movement (RAM), which originated in California, started out as a local “fight club” before it graduated to leading street riots, including violent participation in the August 2017 “Unite the Right” riots in Charlottesville, Virginia. One of RAM’s founders, the fugitive Robert Rundo, is now trying to organize a global network of MMA “Active Clubs” in both Europe and the U.S. from his European hideouts.

“The danger of these groups lies, firstly, in their emphasis on transforming activists into soldiers that might be motivated to commit acts of violence. And, secondly, in the community they create, where members start to associate sometimes real, positive change in their lives with fascism,” said Hope Not Hate’s annual report.

Senior researcher Patrik Hermansson told The Guardian: “These fitness groups frame individual self-improvement as a part of a wider political struggle, creating fresh motivation and a sense of purpose for people who believe that physical confrontation and violence are legitimate and necessary. They have become a space for far-right activists to mobilise.”

Hermansson carefully observed the radicalization process in these spaces: how members were lured in with health tips and then hit later along with the ideological component:

The language in these “fascist fitness” chat groups is often indistinguishable with that on any other fitness blog or Instagram post: increase your protein intake, avoid bread, work out regularly, and sleep properly. The tone is encouraging and accepting when members post images of their half-naked bodies, and ask for advice on both how to lose weight and gain muscle. Some look like avid gym-goers; others have just started and want to lose weight …
However, the photos of bare torsos are usually anonymized with stickers of Hitler’s face over each poster’s face, and between the fitness and weight loss advice is sandwiched the fascist propaganda. Both texts and promotion of far-right groups such as Patriotic Alternative (PA) are common. In other messages, more sinister reasons for the self-improvement projects reveal themselves. One admin of a group posted a picture of himself in a gym mirror with the message: “training to stop a bus loaded with Soros paid protesters.”

There were users such as “Dan,” who lost 45 pounds after joining one of the larger “fitness fascist” Telegram groups in July 2021 and became such an enthusiastic white nationalist—posting almost daily—that he was shortly promoted to group administrator. “Associating positive change in one’s life with a violent and hateful ideology is obviously dangerous,” said Hermansson.

One of these group admins posted a selfie in a gym mirror, accompanied by text saying he was “training to stop a bus loaded with [philanthropist George] Soros paid protesters.” Another participant described his ethos: “Defend your race, defend your land, achieve immortality.”

In a phone interview Wednesday, Miller-Idriss told Daily Kos that the underlying dynamic of strict discipline that is fundamental to so many fitness programs is both what draws right-wing extremists to recruit there as well as what makes some people vulnerable to that recruitment.

“What we do often find in the lab here is that there’s a whole bunch of different vulnerabilities to the fringe ideologies, and one of those tends to be people who are attracted to and need extremely structured frameworks for their lives,” she said. Moreover, becoming fit also produces the natural effect of making people feel more powerful, and these movements become both a way for them to channel those feelings and enhance their personal sense of meaning in life.

“That’s where they are sometimes the most effective,” she said. “I’ve always made the argument that the emotional interest in these groups comes first and then the ideology later. Young people join these groups because they’re mad and they want to provoke adults and because they want to find a sense of belonging—that push and pull of rebellion and solidarity. They all have that longing, the need to be part of something bigger than themselves.

“Fitness kind of taps into both those sets of emotions. You can feel angry and rebellious and strong, that feeling of being a warrior. That language of being a warrior, a soldier, is core to a lot of the ideological rebellion, but it also has the sense of belonging, maybe more than any other cultural component of these ideologies.”

In some regards, the reason the right has had so much success recruiting young people to their cause is that these concrete real-life improvements contribute meaning to their lives in tangible ways that often are not present in more liberal ideologies.

“These things are full of meaning and purpose, and they’re also full of structure,” Idriss-Miller said. “It’s not ‘anything goes,’ which can leave people feeling like they don’t know what to do or how to move forward. In these places, there’s a very clear path forward and there’s a right way and a wrong way. And I think to a lot of people, especially young men, that can be very seductive—especially when, with the fitness component, it’s something making you feel better and stronger and more confident, possibly more attractive.”

Ethan Nordean was someone in search of a purpose when he found the Proud Boys in May 2017. He had joined the U.S. Navy out of high school with hopes of becoming a SEAL, but wound up washing out of basic training, and largely reduced to helping run his family’s chowder-house business in Des Moines, Washington. He avidly lifted weights, worked at a local gym, and sold vitamin supplements in a partnership with a Renton police officer.

Nordean’s Bangarang Elite Supplements sold the supplements for $40 per tub through a PayPal link on a “Team Bangarang” Facebook page. After he joined the Proud Boys, someone touted the supplements in a comment: “I take this pre-workout supplement before knocking out commies,” he wrote.

Nordean liked to post pictures of himself working out at his ‘Smart Gym.’

Nordean also set up a company called “Smart Gym Fitness for the Mind and Body” that sold itself as providing a “holistic overall health solution.” Nordean appears to have set up a facility while simultaneously dispensing spiritual wisdom: “Faith is a source of strength building,” the site’s text reads under a photo of Nordean praying. “Owning it with a bible, daily prayer and some leadership principles as part of a routine trains one's processing directives toward healthier decisions and actually drives motivation.”

His hyper-disciplined approach to life created an authoritarian mindset that was a perfect fit for the Proud Boys. And Nordean’s radicalization arc tracks with the larger trend emerging over the past decade in which people have displaced religion in their lives with personal fitness as a more immediate and concrete source of meaning, replacing their churches with their gyms.

The significant factor both share is that they provide a sense of community, a place where people can congregate to actively socialize. As Zav Romanoff put it in The Atlantic:

As more Americans have moved away from organized religion (a 2015 Pew Center study found that 23 percent of the adult population identified as “religiously unaffiliated,” up from 16 percent in 2007) they have also moved toward new forms of community building, as well as new ways to seek mental clarity and spiritual experiences. The gym is a popular avenue for this kind of searching, in part because it mimics the form of traditional religious services.

Increasingly, gyms are becoming cult-like and authoritarian. Some gym chains such as CrossFit have become notable for this; unsurprisingly, CrossFit recently went through serious upheaval amid revelations that the company’s founder and CEO regularly indulged in both racist and misogynist behavior.

Hope Not Hate observes that this trend seems to have intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic with the (temporary) replacement of gym facilities with at-home workout businesses. The online aspect of these gathering places seems to have made them even more vulnerable to attracting far-right elements and becoming hospitable platforms for radicalizing fellow fitness partners:

Positioning physical fitness as part of a wider political struggle adds significance to an otherwise quite lonely activity, allowing groups like WSAC to form and grow around this shared identity and activity. This might be part of the reason why such groups have appeared and have risen in popularity during the pandemic. Disconnected physically, many have looked to online communities for connection, and when it comes to the far right, also ways to engage and push forward the aims of the movement under the constraints of social distancing restrictions. Physical exercise and self-improvement more generally can help satisfy the urge to do something practical, that goes beyond simply talking online, for the movement’s activists (while also being relatively low risk).

It’s not that being a fitness fanatic identifies you as a far-right extremist, of course. Rather, the point is that fascist political movements have always been syncretic—that is, they incorporate activities, ideas, and behaviors fully within the cultural and political mainstream and then claim them as their own, which both legitimizes their toxic ideology and hijacks and distorts those mainstream elements. Confronting the rise of neofascist and other far-right extremist ideologies involves being able to identify those extremists when they attempt to insinuate themselves within the mainstream.

As Miller-Idriss says:

Fitness of course is a staple and a hobby for many people, for whom it is enjoyable and rewarding for brain health and overall well-being. Physical fitness channels dopamine, adrenalin and serotonin in ways that literally feel good. Intertwining those feelings with hateful and dehumanizing ideas, while promoting the concept that physical warriors are needed to create the strength and dominance to defend one’s people from a perceived enemy, makes for a dangerous and powerful cocktail of radicalization.
For those of us working to find better pathways to reach at-risk youth, understanding the ways that far-right groups recruit and socialize youth—in ways that go well beyond rhetoric and ideas—is crucial. It’s critical that leaders, including parents, physical trainers, gym owners, coaches and others in the fitness world understand how online grooming and recruitment can intersect with spaces that we generally think of as promoting health and well-being
Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

'Patriot' Threatens Nevada Governor With Death As Republicans Cheer

It was bad enough that Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak, a moderate Democrat, was verbally assaulted in late February as he was departing a restaurant with his family by a pair of bellicose men who threatened to hang him. Even more disturbing were the supportive remarks from Republican officials who lauded the attack.

“We should string you up on lamppost right now!” “They hang traitors!” shouted the men, one of whom recorded his own video and posted it on social media, as they walked out to the parking lot. And two Republicans running for the nomination to replace Sisolak for governor—Reno attorney Joey Gilbert and Las Vegas council member Michele Fiore—lauded it: “I cannot think of a more deserving person,” Gilbert wrote, while Fiore chimed in that Sisolak was “lucky it was just words.”

This kind of rhetoric is not simply violent but eliminationist in nature: That is, it’s discourse intended not simply to oppose a political or cultural foe but to dehumanize and demonize them, to render them nonhuman objects fit only for elimination—vermin, diseases, existential threats. It’s a powerful precursor to real-world violence because it not only obliterates any compunction about killing, it positively creates permission for it.

It’s the kind of rhetoric, as I’ve long discussed, that has played a central role in the radicalization of the American right, having come to the fore of conservative discourse alongside the rise of Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and a whole generation of hate talkers. Moreover, it has come front and center in right-wing discourse over the past year and a half, unleashed by the electoral defeat of a president who had become the nation’s eliminationist-in-chief.

The incident in Las Vegas’ Summerlin neighborhood is only one of multiple similar instances indicating that the spread, frequency, and intensity of this rhetoric is becoming thick on the ground, particularly in regions where far-right “Patriot” movement politics dominate—and being encouraged by ostensibly mainstream Republican politicians. Moreover, we’re also seeing it become normalized on right-wing media like Fox News, where Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham have made it a staple in their audiences’ nightly infotainment diet.

The men who verbally assaulted Sisolak self-identified as Patriots in their video. “You running into a Patriot now. Huh? Huh?” the man recording the encounter—later identified as Justin Andersch, a far-right podcaster from Las Vegas—can be heard demanding of Sisolak as they exit the restaurant into the parking lot. After walking away back toward the eatery, he briefly exults for the camera: “Patriot shit!”

The encounter opens with the man asking Sisolak to pose with him for a selfie, after which he attacks: “I can’t tell you what a piece of f—-ing s—- you are,” the man says.

“Sorry to hear that,” Sisolak replies, and steps away toward the door.

“You New World Order traitor piece of shit bastard,” the man continued. “You’re in here without security?” he shouts. “Yeah, you piece of shit. I’m surprised you have the balls to be out here in public, punk. Out here without a cop, without security? Whoooo! You got balls on you, boy!”

Sisolak’s wife, Kathy—a Nevada native of Chinese descent—was also a target of the hate spewed by the men. When she brushed up against Andersch, he cursed: “Don’t touch me, lady! Selling us all down the river! You working for China piece of shit!”

Then came the threats: “You fucking traitors! We should string you up on a lamppost right now, pussy boy!”

A man who accompanied him outside, telling the Sisolaks to leave, chimed in: “Do you know what they do to traitors? They hang them!” Andersch loudly agreed, and continued to badger Sisolak out to his car, calling him a “treasonous, China-working cocksucker motherfucker,” adding: “Whoooo! You’re lucky I’m a law-abiding citizen!” He finally broke off the assault when Sisolak’s daughter Ashley caught up to them.

The rhetoric and conspiracy theories spouted by Andersch have become conventional wisdom among the Patriot crowd, including Gilbert, who claims that Donald Trump is the “real” president, and that he won Nevada by 44,000 votes. Similarly, Gilbert has accused Dr. Anthony Fauci of “murder,” calling him a “psychopath” who “should be in prison.”

Afterwards, Gilbert—a former boxer who was part of the mob that assaulted the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021—published a long post on Facebook celebrating the threats. “That time is upon us where these fraudulently elected leaders of ours will not be able to walk the streets alone,” it opens. “They should not get a free pass. They won’t be able to go to restaurants, they won’t be able to go in public spaces without being confronted for the damage, harm, misery and murder they caused to the citizens AND CHILDREN of this State and country.”

Gilbert goes on to say that “I cannot think of a more deserving person” for the abuse “than the corrupt, bought and paid for hack, Steve Sisolak —to be treated that way. Hell no I do not condemn it. You earned it Steve. You absolutely earned it.”

He added a warning to Sisolak that “it’s coming—just wait till everyone finds out about what was really in that vaccine and how many people were actually murdered and would not have died, had you provided them with proper treatment from the very beginning … I hope everyone realizes what this man did to the older folks in this State that he murdered in the hospitals with Remdesevir.”

Fiore—a notorious figure in Nevada politics with close ties to the Bundy family (she helped negotiated an end to the 2016 Malheur Wildlife Refuge standoff)—was asked about the incident by Las Vegas Sun reporter Jessica Hill, and responded: “Governor Sisolak is fortunate it was just words. If you look at the history of dictators pitchforks will be next.”

Fiore was so proud of the response that she posted Hill’s tweet on Facebook. One of the commenters asked: “Do they make a semiautomatic pitchfork??”

“What stops these two men from shooting Sisolak and his wife? Nothing,” remarked Tiffiany Howard, a UNLV associate pastor, to Nevada Current. “If you have a very weak statement from the audience these two men are pandering toward, which is the Republican Party, and say things like ‘you should be lucky they didn’t come out with pitchforks and fire’ then that will be the next step. We should be more than a little bit nervous.”

Some Republicans did speak out to criticize the assault, including Sisolak’s likely opponent in the fall, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, who commented: “Hateful verbal abuse and violent threats have no place in our political system.” Similarly, Michael McDonald, chairman of the Nevada Republican Party, said that “there is no place for the behavior and violent threats we saw against the Governor on that video this weekend.” (McDonald qualified his remarks by claiming that Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters did the same thing in encouraging the confrontation of Trump administration members in public, but neglected to note that members of his party were encouraging far worse.)

“Violence has no place in American political discourse,” Heath Mayo of the nonprofit Principles First told the Las Vegas Sun. “There are people in the (Republican) Party right now who think that’s OK. If you’re losing or if someone doesn’t do what you want them to do and they’re a public official, you have a right to go intimidate them and harass them. That’s anti-American.”

Eliminationist rhetoric has long been a powerful undercurrent in right-wing politics, but it has typically been sublimated as “jokes” or “hot talk” that broadly suggest violence. The current trend bubbling to the surface has no such amelioration—these are straight-up calls for violence and celebration of the idea, endorsed publicly by ostensibly mainstream political figures. Remember the audience member at the Turning Point USA event in Idaho hosted by Charlie Kirk, who asked:

At this point, we’re living under a corporate and medical fascism. This is tyranny. When do we get to use the guns? [Crowd whoops.] No, and I’m not, that’s not a joke, I’m not saying it like that. I mean literally, where’s the line? How many elections are they gonna steal before we kill these people?

When the video hit social media and went viral, most Idaho Republicans were silent—except for the local Republican legislator from Nampa, Rep. Ben Adams, who tweeted that it was a reasonable question:

Our Republic would not exist without this kind of rhetoric. The question is fair, but Charlie Kirk probably isn't the person to ask.

Indeed, while the viral video created a brief stir among the mainstream liberals this rhetoric targeted, the reality was that among right-wing circles online, this kind of discussion was in fact already quite commonplace—particularly among the Patriots who were eager to defend the cause of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. After all, talk of a “civil war” had been circulating in militia-movement circles since its origins in the 1990s, and had intensified as they became unleashed during the era of Donald Trump’s candidacy and tenure as president.

It has been especially acute since Trump lost the election in November 2020, an event that spurred a furious deluge of violent threats directed at liberals and leftists in right-wing social media circles. More recently elected Republican officials have indulged in it, such as Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar’s bizarre anime video in which he fantasized about killing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Joe Biden, or Wendy Rogers’ recent speech to a white nationalist gathering in which she demanded “a newly built set of gallows” for Democrats and liberals.

Just this week, Laura Ingraham’s Fox News program featured a sublimated kind of eliminationist rhetoric: depicting liberals not only as vile humans beyond the pale of acceptable behavior, but a dire existential threat—to American children.At this

Discussing Florida’s anti-LGBTQ “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, Ingraham launched into a defense of the bill by claiming that its critics are pedophiles who want to “sexually brainwash” young children at school, with a chyron reading: “Liberals Are Sexually Grooming Elementary Students.”

When did our public schools, any schools, become what are essentially grooming centers for gender identity radicals? As a mom, I think it's appalling, it's frightening, it's disgusting, it's despicable. Florida just passed a bill to keep this type of sexual brainwashing out of schools. Democrats, though, claim the bill is bigoted, branding it as the "Don't Say Gay Bill." Well, nice try. The real controversy, though, isn't this bill. It's that schools are peddling gender ideology when our international rankings in math, science, and reading are down across the board.

Ingraham went on to argue: “It’s not ‘Don’t Say Gay,’ I don’t think anyone’s saying that. We’re saying that children are innocent, and their innocence should be protected.”

This kind of rhetoric is structurally similar to ancient anti-Semitic “blood libel” discourse claiming that a Jewish cabal wants to sacrifice children for their blood, demonizing the targeted population by depicting them as a lascivious threat to people’s young offspring. The same kind of structure is at work in the QAnon conspiracy theory claiming that Democrats secretly operate a global pedophilia ring with the purpose of harvesting the blood from children so that life-extending adrenochrome can be gotten from it.

After years of gradual radicalization, eliminationism is now becoming the American right’s open and unapologetic mode of politics. And as long as “decent” people turn away and pretend it isn’t happening, it will poison our discourse and our democratic institutions beyond recognition.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

‘Entrapment’ Defense In Whitmer Kidnap Case May Hinder Prosecution Of Extremists

The trial of the four Michigan militiamen facing federal charges for allegedly plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer got under way with jury selection this week. It’s happening in an environment in which prosecutors appear to have established firm control over both evidence and witnesses, with the judge overseeing the case consistently ruling in their favor.

The defendants—Adam Fox, 37, of Grand Rapids; Barry Croft, 44, of Bear, Delaware; Daniel Harris, 23, of Lake Orion; and Brandon Caserta, 32, of Canton, Michigan, all members of the so-called “Wolverine Watchmen” militia—are leaning heavily on claims that the government entrapped them into the plot to abduct Whitmer from her summer home and put her on “trial,” for which they now face federal kidnapping-conspiracy charges. Its outcome could have broad ramifications for how federal authorities tackle the rising tide of right-wing domestic terrorism, as well as ongoing prosecution of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrectionists.

The Justice Department originally charged six men in the case, but two of them entered guilty pleas as part of their agreement to serve as prosecution witnesses at the trial. Seven other men face state charges from Michigan authorities for their participation in the plot.

The defense’s entrapment claims suffered a major blow last month when one of the original six co-defendants in the federal case, Kaleb Franks, entered a guilty plea to the charges as part of an agreement to cooperate with prosecutors as a state’s witness. As part of the bargain, Franks confirmed that neither he nor his co-defendants were set up by the government.

"The defendant agrees to plead guilty to the superseding indictment, which charges him with kidnapping conspiracy," the agreement read, noting that Franks, 27, of Waterford Township, "understands the crime," and that "[the] defendant knowingly and voluntarily joined that agreement." Moreover, the agreement states, so did his alleged cohorts.

Nonetheless, the defendants have a lot of material to work with in constructing an entrapment defense. The FBI deployed 12 undercover informants in its investigations, and at least one of them—a man nicknamed “Big Dan”—played a key role in providing the group with paramilitary training as well as acting as a second-tier leader for the “Watchmen.” Three of the FBI agents involved in the case are no longer part of the prosecution’s witness lineup in large part because they have run afoul of the agency for behavior mostly unrelated to the militia case.

Judge Robert Jonker, as BuzzFeed’s Ken Bensinger reports, has so far ruled in the prosecution’s favor regarding these claims, not only refusing to toss out the charges on entrapment grounds but ruling last week that the defense could not raise the entrapment claims for the trial’s first half. Jonker also has agreed to the prosecutors’ efforts to limit the defendants’ evidence and witnesses, and to exclude hundreds of statements derived from the government’s own secret recordings, which defense attorneys insist establish that no conspiracy existed, from the proceedings.

No doubt prosecutors are intent on not having a repeat of the 2013 case of another Michigan far-right paramilitary group, the Hutaree Militia, against whom all charges were dismissed by a federal judge who found that while the assembled extremists discussed all manner of antigovernment violence, they did not take the concrete steps to accomplish it required in all domestic terrorism cases.

That is not really an issue in the case against the Wolverine Watchmen, however. Not only did the men engage in paramilitary training and surveillance of Whitmer’s home as part of their plot, but they also purchased weapons and bomb-making material in their preparations.

Prosecutors list 19 such concrete acts by the defendants, beginning with Fox’s August 23, 2020 proposal to kidnap Whitmer during a meeting with Harris and Caserta. The men also held field training exercises in September 2020, the indictment says, in which they practiced tactics for combatting Whitmer's security detail. Croft and Harris tested explosives and hung human silhouette targets nearby to gauge the spread and reach of the shrapnel.

If convicted on the kidnapping charge, all four could face the prospect of spending the rest of their lives behind bars. Three of the men—Fox, Croft, and Harris—also face charges of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction related to their efforts to construct a bomb that would take out a bridge near Whitmer’s home, which like the kidnapping charge carries a maximum life sentence.

The men originally connected as a militia unit during the April 2020 protests in Lansing over COVID-19 restrictions placed by Whitmer, and were part of the contingent of armed militiamen who entered the Capitol building during one of the protests. It later emerged that their original plan involved a complete takeover of the building, taking Whitmer and others hostage, and holding televised “trials” followed by executions. However, the men later scaled back their plans to simply kidnapping Whitmer at her home.

Defense attorneys are claiming the federal informants ensnared the militiamen in a plot devised by the FBI that they otherwise wouldn’t have participated in, largely because several of the informants organized and oversaw some of the men’s meetings. However, the circumstances of the case are similar to other previous militia trials—such as the 1996-97 Washington State Militia trial, in which an undercover FBI agent named Michael German had provided the plotters with a meeting place (which happened to be packed with cameras and recording devices) and had overseen some of the gatherings—that have ended with juries handed down guilty verdicts.

“It is a really hard defense. You are saying my client did it, but you should not punish him anyway because it wasn’t fair, somebody manipulated him into it,” Jesse J. Norris, a criminal justice professor at the State University of New York, told The New York Times.

German told the Times that he found the contingent issues about informants and agents around the Wolverines case troubling, mainly for what it suggested in terms of likely sloppiness in the course of the investigation and prosecution. “There is certainly a lot of lumber that this case seems to have given defense attorneys to build a story about what happened,” he said.

As Bensinger has noted in his reportage on the informants, the FBI has long made use of confidential informants in its criminal investigation, and has employed them to infiltrate everything from mafia gangs to leftist dissident groups. Among the program’s previous targets have been Al Capone and the Ku Klux Klan, as well as the Black Panthers and Martin Luther King Jr.:

The tactic has a decidedly mixed record. Informants have helped make cases that averted terrible violence. But informants have also coerced innocent people, falsified evidence, and even committed murder while working for the FBI. The bureau’s reliance on informants, much criticized in the 1970s, received renewed scrutiny in the wake of 9/11, when they were used to probe Muslim groups for alleged involvement in Islamic terrorism.

The rise of far-right political violence, however, poses special challenges for law enforcement. "This is a different type of domestic terrorism phenomenon than we’ve faced in previous decades — completely different from anything I’ve observed," Javed Ali, a University of Michigan professor, told the Associated Press.

"You’ve got all these points on a very diverse threat spectrum — not centralized in any one corner, no single groups, no national leadership, completely disorganized and disaggregated," Ali said. "It’s difficult for law enforcement to spot these threats. The Whitmer plot is a case in point."

Attorney General Merrick Garland stressed in a recent speech that the government is focused “on violence, not ideology” in its approach to domestic terrorism, noting that “in America, espousing a hateful ideology is not unlawful.” But if the Wolverine Watchmen’s legal defense is able to succeed by establishing in court that the methods used to build the Michigan case are unsound, it could have far-reaching consequences for the government’s ability to investigate these groups—as well as to prosecute other related cases, such as the January 6 Capitol insurrection prosecutions. It also could feed the conspiracist claims by Tucker Carlson and others that the FBI manipulated those rioters into performing criminal acts.

Most militia groups have kept a lower profile since the Michigan kidnapping bust in October 2020 and the post-January 6 arrests, according to Rachel Goldwasser, a research analyst with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The outcome of the Michigan trial, she said, may "indicate whether they stay in their foxholes or come out as a force in public again."

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos