Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Emboldened right-wing militias, with many rural adherents, are an increasing threat, Dept. of Homeland Security says

Emboldened far-right militias, many dominated by rural residents and some affiliated with white supremacy groups, are increasingly threatening racial-justice protests, intimidating voters and more.

"Throughout the West and beyond, in a summer marked by protests seeking racial justice, armed vigilantes also have shown up at Black Lives Matter events in small towns and big cities alike. Their presence in some places has the tacit support of law enforcement or even local elected officials," Erika Bolstad reports for Stateline. "Now, experts who monitor right-wing vigilantes and white nationalist organizations are on even higher alert for the possibility of violence at political rallies. They also fear vigilantes or armed groups might show up at ballot drop-off locations and outside of Nov. 3 polling places to intimidate voters and increase paramilitary activity afterward if election results are disputed or seen as illegitimate."

During a presidential debate, President Trump urged supporters to "go into the polls and watch very carefully" and told white nationalist group the Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by," which their leader interpreted as a call to intimidate voters, according to his social media posts, Stateline reports.

Election officials across the nation have stepped up training and strengthened ties with local law enforcement to prepare for possible violence or intimidation. Still, threats have persisted. Voter intimidation has been reported in several rural areas in Oregon, from individuals who were armed or blocking ballot dropboxes with vehicles, Lizzy Acker reports for The Oregonian. And in Georgia, a rally was canceled after threats of a large militia presence.

However, sometimes militias have tacit or explicit support from local officials. In Virginia, a few rural counties have officially recognized local militias as organizations that enhance public safety and security, Gregory Schneider reports for The Washington Post.

Federal authorities are paying attention, especially to militias affiliated with white supremacist ideology. "White supremacists represent the top and most lethal domestic terror threat to Americans, the Department of Homeland Security said Oct. 6, when it released its first-ever Homeland Threat Assessment," Bolstad reports.

It is easier for paramilitary groups to form and act in the U.S. than in other countries because of easier access to firearms, writes Vasabjit Banerjee for policy magazine Just Security. Banerjee, a political science professor at Mississippi State University, studies insurgencies in developing nations. The increase in militias and other paramilitary groups in the U.S. is cause for concern, he writes. 

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