Did Trump actually defend white supremacists?

Militias in the United States : They are rehearsing for the civil war

The men wanted to storm the Michigan Capitol, kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer, put her on trial and start a civil war. Now the US police have arrested thirteen members of a right-wing militia called "Wolverine Watchmen".

The FBI had been watching her for months and monitoring her Internet communications. Now they are being charged: with terrorism, conspiracy and violations of the gun law.

The case raises explosive questions: How dangerous are the private militias in the USA? How big is your network? Are you planning not to recognize Donald Trump's election defeat? And would they start a civil war to keep him in power?

Trump calls on militias to fight back

The first and obvious answer is: yes. During the mass protests against police violence in the summer, the president called on supporters to defend public space as “patriots” against a “left-wing mob” and the “antifa”. As a result, there were direct confrontations between armed Trump supporters and armed supporters of the "Black Lives Matter" movement. Shots rang out. There were fatalities.

[If you want to have the latest news from Berlin, Germany and the world live on your mobile phone, we recommend our app, which you can download here for Apple and Android devices.]

These days violent groups such as the “Proud Boys”, who came up in the TV debate between Trump and Joe Biden, or the “Oath Keepers” are causing concern. They want to keep “their” President Trump in office - if there is no other option, also by force. In general, there are dangerously many privately owned weapons in the United States - more than the country has a population.

High proportion of veterans with military experience

Experts estimate that there are around 300 active militias with a total of 15,000 to 20,000 members. A quarter of them are veterans of the US military.

On the other hand, the Washington Post objects that the threat to democracy posed by the militias should not be dramatized. She taps five common “myths” for their reality content. First, militias are portrayed as particularly violent. Statistically, however, individual perpetrators are more dangerous.

[With the “Twenty / Twenty” newsletter, our US experts accompany you every Thursday on your way to the presidential election. You can register for free here: tagesspiegel.de/twentytwenty.]

Second, it is widely spread that right-wing militias support Donald Trump, and for the first time in US history the movement has a like-minded president in him. In fact, the militia’s main motivation is to reject a strong centralized state power - and this rejection includes the president.

Public hostility is mainstream today

Third, the hostility to the government and the worldview of the militias in general are classified as extreme. However, the development of opinion polls shows that skepticism towards the federal government has long been mainstream. In the mid-1960s, 77 percent of US citizens said they had confidence that the federal government would usually make the right decisions. Today only 17 percent say that. The basic motive for joining a militia is the concern that the state, against the will of the citizens, interferes too much in their everyday life, that the government is becoming more and more dictatorship-like.

The fourth myth is the belief that militias share a common ideology. In fact, they would have different motives and goals. Some call themselves Christians, some patriots. For some, the concern about restrictions on gun rights was the impetus, for others illegal immigration, for still others the right to sexual self-determination, resistance to higher taxes or an encroaching state in general.

Some militias support "Black Lives Matter"

Fifth, militias are often equated with racists and “white supremacists”, that is, followers of the belief in the superiority of whites. Militias, Ku Klux Klan, Nazis - everything is mixed into one pot. In reality, the range is greater. The rhetoric of many militias is directed against Muslims and Latinos. But there are also militias who are campaigning for more diversity in their ranks. And militias who support “Black Lives Matter” and their demand for “defunding” of the police.

What is dangerous and at the same time difficult to predict in the dynamic is the mixture of three elements: growing distrust of the state, expansion of the militia movement from marginalized groups into the breadth of society and general access to firearms. US military veterans joining militias are an additional risk factor. According to experts, only a few thousand of the 20 million US veterans do this. But their training can strengthen the organization and effectiveness of militias.

The United States has more guns than people

There are more firearms in America's homes than there are people in the country. And in terms of the number of citizens, far more than in any other country, including civil war states like Yemen. However, private weapons are not evenly distributed across the country. They are concentrated in less than half of the households. With around 400 million guns and officially around 50 million gun-owning households, they have an average of eight pistols and rifles in the house.

Households with weapons are found mainly in rural areas, where hunting is part of the lifestyle, and in small towns. They are less common in large cities. Republicans are more gun aficionados than Democrats. But there, too, the boundaries are fluid. Bernie Sanders, the left wing presidential candidate and in his own words a “socialist”, defends the right to private gun possession. In the green mountains of his homeland Vermont, hunting and shooting are accepted leisure activities for left-wing people too.

Trump's rhetoric puts the militias at the center

Because Trump does not distance himself clearly from right-wing militias, acts of violence involving militias and militia-linked veterans received more attention than before during his tenure. During the bloody protests against monuments to southern heroes in 2017 in the university town of Charlottesville, Virginia, an ex-Marine, Vasillios Pistolis, bludgeoned protesters.

During the May riots in Oakland, an Air Force sergeant, Steven Carillo, shot and killed a federal police officer; Carillo is committed to the anti-government movement "Boogaloo".

African Americans are threatening with weapons because of corona requirements

At the end of May, heavily armed demonstrators, mostly African American, threatened politicians in front of the regional parliament in Michigan in order to relax the corona regulations. In Las Vegas, three ex-soldiers planned to cause a riot with homemade bombs and Molotov cocktails in June, which should lead to the overthrow of the government.

The examples show: the danger exists. Fatal or potentially fatal confrontations regularly occur in the election year. Some are discovered by the security services at the planning stage. At the same time, many observers consider the warnings of civil war in the USA to be exaggerated. The balance of power between militias and state power is too unequal for that.

Now new: We give you 4 weeks of Tagesspiegel Plus! To home page