Commentary. The plot to kidnap a Democratic governor is an example of the violence of Trump’s ultra-loyal base, ready to go to war over imagined slights.

In Michigan, homegrown terrorists offer a taste of civil war in America

“Snatch and grab, man. Grab the fuckin’ Governor. Just grab the bitch. Because at that point, we do that, dude — it’s over.”

These were the words of Adam Fox, a white militiaman at the head of a group with a ridiculous name, the Wolverine Watchmen, who had been planning a very serious project for months: to kidnap the Democratic Governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer.

They planned to kidnap her, subject her to a mock trial and probably kill her, while an allied group would storm the state parliament and take hostages, starting a civil revolt. This was planned to take place three weeks before the elections. Fox was recorded by an FBI infiltrator, and on Thursday a raid took place: 13 arrests, six militiamen and the rest accomplices, a complicated plan to blow up a bridge and distract the police, a taser to stun the governor with electric shocks, an underground lair hidden under a carpet as a meeting room and place to keep the hostage, drills, inspections, weapons and explosives. In short, the accoutrements of terrorism.

They believed Governor Whitmer was guilty of implementing a partial anti-Covid lockdown in April: a crime against liberty, according to the many “patriots” armed to the teeth making up the base of Trumpism, and whom Donald Trump is giving political cover with bursts of tweets.

Some have been fearing civil war if the president refuses to accept his looming defeat (although it can never be taken for granted) and tries to snatch victory from a friendly court like the Supreme Court. Is this alarmism? There was a foretaste of it in Michigan. It was empirical proof of how serious the situation is, and how violent it is. One could call it the “AR-15 index.”

This is not the name of an economic parameter, but of an assault rifle. The semi-automatic copy of the M-16 supplied to the U.S. Armed Forces (while the kit to turn a single-shot rifle into a machine gun is sold in all the best gun stores).

In 1994, the federal automatic rifle ban came into effect, and the number of AR-15s dropped to 70,000. In 2003, the prohibition ended, and the number of AR-15 was 380,000. In 2008, at the time of Obama’s election, there were 633,000.

At the end of Obama’s presidency, the number of rifles jumped to a peak and never dropped again: 2.3 million AR-15s per year is the last estimate from 2016, at the take-off of Trumpism.

This was the assault rifle in the hands of the 17-year-old boy who killed two people during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in August. A 17-year-old assassin with a machine gun, in the company of militia men, complimented by the police (“we appreciate you guys, we really do”) before shooting people and then running away.

Kyle Rittenhouse is only 17 years old. For every single day of his life, his country has been at war—against terror, drugs and all the other products of generous American warfare. The police around him have been militarized more and more every day, and authorized to break in, shoot and kill. And ever since Kyle finished middle school as a boy, the president of his country has been praising the “patriots” of the white militias.

A confused ultra-right-wing of blue collars with an arsenal in their garage and barricaded mountain huts where the explosives are stashed next to the still.

A lurid ultra-right that is a close neighbor of the ultra-right of turbo-capitalist jackets and ties and fanatically religious white families. “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” Trump tweeted in April, when thousands of protesters besieged the state parliament in protest against Governor Whitmer’s anti-virus lockdown. Many were armed—with AR-15s.

This year, those born at the beginning of the war on terror are voting for the first time.

A few hours after the raid, Trump was already accusing Ms. Whitmer of being “horrible” because she accused him of sympathy for white supremacists while Joe Biden supposedly doesn’t say a word against Antifa, anarchists and looters.

This is the intrinsic fascism of Trumpism: the calculated confusion between disorder and injustice and the persecution of the former while they themselves render the latter more cruel. Put in the hands of the militia men, this ideological structure produces violence against every enemy: blacks, gays, Islamists, every progressive, even meek ones like Governor Whitmer.

Militias are the offline version of psychopathic conspiracy theorists like QAnon, an acronym that has invaded social media by convincing a lot of fools that Joe Biden is the leader of a worldwide pedophile plot—and which social media only recently banned. Less than a month ago, FBI Director Christopher Wray confessed to the House Internal Security Committee, in a public hearing, that the biggest threat to the US at this time is “racially motivated violent extremists.”

At least 276 white militias are known to operate, and now-rather-outdated estimates speak of 60,000 members scattered throughout the country, but particularly in Arizona, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio (none in Illinois, despite the Blues Brothers line “I hate Illinois Nazis”).

They have recorded a surge in numbers under Obama and in support under Trump. Who are the most famous national ones? The Three Percenters, named from the number of settlers said to have taken up arms against England. The Oath Keepers, all former policemen who swear to “defend the Constitution against all internal and external enemies.”

The Constitutional Sheriffs, local police who consider federal power subordinate to the local. There is also a black one, the Not Fucking Around coalition: for now, they have appeared, armed and disciplined, on the sidelines of some Black Lives Matter demonstration. But there are hundreds of regional paramilitary groups that are appropriating the army’s equipment and clothes, and they stand out only because many of them have beer bellies. The situation has become so bellicose that last month, Trump junior launched an online appeal for “an army of Americans” to check the legitimacy of the vote.

Last week, all the big social media platforms—Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp—decided, in various ways, to delete any and every “electoral” post that contains references to war and words like army, revolt, shooting and so on. After Tim McVeigh blew up a federal building in 1995 with a van loaded with chemical fertilizer, no one can afford to not take militias seriously. But no one has the right to stir them up.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!