Violent white supremacy remains the “most persistent and lethal threat” to the US, according to federal law enforcement, which has also warned that far-right anti-government groups pose a “violent extremist threat” within the months leading up to Election Day and the 2021 inauguration serving as a “potential flashpoint for violence.”
The FBI announced on Thursday that it uncovered an alleged plot among right-wing groups to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who has reported an “explosion” of threats against her following statewide restrictions in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic
Federal and state authorities have charged 13 men involved with the alleged conspiracy.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel told MSNBC that the FBI’s arrests “may very well be the tip of the iceberg.”
The plot allegedly involved members of the “Boogaloo” movement, which has rallied alongside other far-right groups, including militias, Proud Boys and white nationalists, while supporting a second US civil war, which many of its supporters believe will be provoked as a race war.
Boogaloo adherents have been linked to arrests across the US, including a man in California accused of killing a police officer and federal agent in June.
The same day of the first debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, the FBI issued an intelligence report warning that far-right groups and white supremacists pose a “violent extremist threat” to the US, marking the time between Election Day and the 2021 inauguration as a “potential flashpoint” for violence.
According to the report obtained by The Nation, “Boogaloo adherents likely will expand influence” within the Dallas area, where the document emerged, “due to the presence of existing anti-government or anti-authority violent extremists, the sentiment of perceived government overreach, heightened tensions due to Covid-19-related state and local restrictions, and violence or criminal activity at lawful protests … that led to violence at otherwise peaceful and lawful protests.”
A delayed report from the Department of Homeland Security released on Tuesday warned that domestic violent extremist groups remain – particular white supremacist extremists, or WSEs – remain the nation’s largest security threat.
“White supremacist violent extremists who have been exceptionally lethal in their abhorrent, targeted attacks in recent years,” wrote acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf.
The agency reported that a “new, alarming trend of exploitation of lawful protests causing violence, death, and destruction in American communities” has erupted in recent months as “the co-opting of lawful protests led to destruction of government property and have turned deadly.”
Mr Trump has been accused of ignoring warnings and emboldening groups, while focusing on left-wing demonstrators and relying on his Justice Department to prosecute his political opponents.
Several men allegedly involved with the Michigan plot have ties to Wolverine Watchmen, a far-right anti-government militia that has also voiced support for the president on its social channels.
In social media images, Barry Croft is seen supporting the Three Percenters, among several anti-government militias in the US.
In YouTube videos, Brandon Caserta declared that “the enemy is the government” from in front of a black flag bearing an anarchist monogram, though his social media posts and remarks more closely align with far-right anti-government views, including posing in front of a Gadsen flag and sharing memes supporting Kyle Rittenhouse, who is accused of killing anti-racist protesters in Wisconsin.
Members allegedly organised to suppress what its adherents believe is an “uprising” against the president.
The DHS report echoes similar findings from the FBI, which has repeatedly sounded the alarm in recent months over racially motivated violent extremism, which comprises most of the bureau’s work concerning domestic violence.
In recent testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee, director Christopher Wray said most racially motivated cases involved white supremacists.
“Within the domestic terrorism bucket, the category as a whole, racially motivated violent extremism is, I think, the biggest bucket within that larger group,” he said. “Within the racially motivated violent extremist bucket, people subscribing to some kind of white supremacist-type ideology is certainly the biggest chunk of that,” he said.
“Lately we’ve been having about 1,000 domestic terrorism cases each year – it is higher this year,” he said. “I know we’ve had about 120 arrests for domestic terrorism this year.”
In February, he told the House Judiciary Committee that the threat of far-right domestic violent extremism has risen to a “national threat priority” for 2020, posing a “steady threat of violence and economic harm” as long as its underlying drivers persist, including “perceptions of government or law enforcement overreach, socio-political conditions, racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, and reactions to legislative actions.”
Last year, FBI reported 107 domestic terrorism arrests, on pace with the number of arrests it made for international terrorism. Racism and hate-driven ideologies were the driving forces behind most of the ideologically motivated killings and violence in the US in 2018 and 2019, and were the most lethal of all domestic extremism movements over the last 20 years.
Mr Wray said: “The spate of attacks we saw in 2019 underscore the continued threat posed by domestic violent extremists and perpetrators of hate crimes. Such crimes are not limited to the United States and, with the aid of Internet like-minded hate groups, can reach across borders.”
DHS officials began addressing white supremacist violence in 2019, when then-acting secretary Kevin McAleenan described white nationalism as one of the most dangerous threat to the US as he delivered “direct and unambiguous” remarks stressing that the “continuation of racially based violent extremism, particularly violent white supremacy, is an abhorrent affront to the nation.”
In 2017, the FBI and DHS had warned in a joint intelligence report titled “White Supremacist Extremism Poses Persistent Threat of Lethal Violence” that “lone actors and small cells” within the “white supremacist extremist movement” (which the agencies reference as WSE) will continue to pose a violent threat to the US over the course of the following year, claims that have echoed in subsequent reports.
The agencies had warned that those groups were responsible for 49 killings in 26 attacks between 2000 to 2016, more than any other domestic extremist movement.