What comes next?

dayaftercoverThe voters have spoken and Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States.

I spent a fair amount of my day today reading the reaction of friends and colleagues around the country and across the globe.  Let me encourage you to read what two of them had to say.

Bill Ayres (the scholar not the ex-terrorist) offers a considered look at all the ways that people like me were wrong in how we understood Trump, the race, the electorate,  the very state of America. When I wrote on social media last night that we are not yet the country that I had hoped we were, that’s in part what I meant.

Steve Saideman offers a first take on the ramifications of a Trump presidency for international relations, and it’s worth reading. I have my own thoughts on the matter as well, some of which I’ll touch on below, others that I’m still chewing over.

I spent more time today reading and responding to the fears and disappointment of current and former students. I repeated to many of them part of what I said in a text I sent just before midnight last night to my own kids, students away at university on a mountaintop in rural Tennessee:

I’m sorry for how this looks right now. Even if HRC wins, your elders failed you. We failed you. Making this country a better place is going to be up to you. I believe in you and your goodness, decency, and humanity. You can lose faith or you can dig in and work to make this a better place. Never discount the power of small steps. Never lose faith in yourself, in others, especially those you disagree with.

I checked in with them this afternoon to see how they’re doing the day after. Got this text from my son in response: “Yeah I’m good.” And then …

Saw a big dirty pick up truck parked prominently on campus with two big flags flying off the back – the American flag and a rainbow flag.

That gives me hope. And yet there’s more than enough still to come that has me on edge.

True, the wounds in our common life as Americans have rarely been laid as bare or have felt as raw to me as they do right now. But there’s more to it than that.

For all the damage that Trumpism has already done, and can still do at home, the harm won’t necessarily stay confined to our own shores. Donald Trump is going to have charge of American foreign policy. As a professor of international relations that truly frightens me.

In August I gave you an updated list of the foreign policy pledges and promises that Trump had made while on the campaign. Here it is again, updated further.

  • Authorize torture against terrorism suspects to extract information, whether it works or not.
  • Use torture against terrorism suspects in order exact vengeance.
  • Order the US military to commit war crimes, including killing the families of suspected terrorists.
  • Replace military commanders who balk at illegal orders.
  • Abandon longstanding alliances, like NATO.
  • Abandon longstanding allies to the tender mercies of predatory neighbors.
  • Walk away from defense commitments to South Korea and Japan even if that means they develop nuclear weapons of their own.
  • Tear up the multilateral agreement that led to Iran’s abandonment of its nuclear weapons program.
  • Unilaterally abrogate longstanding free trade agreements, specifically NAFTA.
  • Wage trade wars against China and other countries he deems guilty of engaging in unfair trade practices.
  • Withdraw from the World Trade Organization if it does not bend to American will.
  • Cancel America’s commitment to take meaningful steps to combat climate change under the terms of the historic international Paris climate agreement.
  • Close America’s border with Mexico and confiscate remittances from Mexican workers in the US in order to fund the building of the border wall.
  • Bar Muslim immigrants and refugees from US soil.
  • Bar immigration or the admittance of refugees to the United States from countries or regions plagued by terrorism.
  • Introduce an ideological litmus test for immigrants and their American-born children.
  • Try American citizens accused of terrorism before military tribunals.

How many of these will a President Trump do? How many will he try to do?

I literally have no idea. That’s what scares me.

The militias are ready for Nov. 9

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Michigan’s militias are ready for Election Day, and what comes after.

Whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump wins next Tuesday, the militia movement isn’t waiting to prepare for what comes next. They’re ready now.

The Reuters news agency today reported on a Georgia group called the Three Percent Security Force* which was conducting training operations in the woods near Jackson, a small town southeast of Atlanta near the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge.

As the most divisive presidential election in recent memory nears its conclusion, some armed militia groups are preparing for the possibility of a stolen election on Nov. 8 and civil unrest in the days following a victory by Democrat Hillary Clinton.

They say they won’t fire the first shot, but they’re not planning to leave their guns at home, either.

In a video that accompanies the Reuters report (unfortunately I cannot embed it here) the leader of this particular group, a paralegal named Chris Hill who goes by the codename “Bloodagent,” said his group expects violence whatever happens on Election Day.

Back in Georgia, the Three Percent Security Force wrapped up rifle practice in the midday sun. They then headed further into the trees to tackle an obstacle course with loaded pistols at their sides, ready for whatever may come.

“We’ve building up for this, just like the Marines,” he said. “We are going to really train harder and try to increase our operational capabilities in the event that this is the day that we hoped would never come.”

Meanwhile, closer to home, at least two Michigan militia groups — the Michigan Militia Corps Wolverines and the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia — have scheduled a training day for this coming Saturday in Lapeer, about an hour’s drive from where I live.

The second group, SMVM, has scheduled a meeting for Nov. 9 to “discuss the next 90 days after the election and the future of this nation.” Or, as their promotional material puts it, “The 9th of November: A Perfect Storm Arrives in 2016.”

I’ve been writing about these groups a lot lately. Like here. And here. And here. And again here. There’s good reason for it. They are an increasingly visible part of this deeply disturbing election season.

But most importantly, while few in number, they are more than enough to cause a lot of mayhem. And some of them are itching for the opportunity.

*Some militia groups include the phrase “Three Percent” in their name, or describe themselves as “Three Percenter” militias in reference to their claim that during the American Revolution only three percent of colonists took up arms against the tyranny of British rule. They see themselves as the equivalent today. They maintain a robust online presence which you can look up for yourself. The Anti-Defamation League first wrote about them in 2009, about a year after the first Three Percenter groups emerged on the militia scene.

Some afternoon reading on America’s ‘patriot’ right

Members of a "Three Percenter" militia on winter maneuvers.
Members of a “Three Percenter” militia on winter maneuvers.

 

You may have noticed a theme here at the blog over the last couple of weeks. I have become particularly interested of late in America’s armed, anti-government far right. You can read some of my recent thoughts on the matter here, here, and here.

In part this is because I’m currently teaching my course on terrorism, and we explore some of the ideologies that motivate such groups both here in the United States and their counterparts abroad. Some of these groups are the focus of a couple of my students’ case study research projects.

But I’ve also become interested as a consequence of the toxic rhetoric that has emanated from Donald Trump’s campaign for the White House and the way that parts of his message are being embraced by some individuals and groups that make up the armed anti-government far right.

With that in mind, here are links to and short excerpts from two articles that I’ve run across in the last couple of days. The first is an excellent, and disturbing, inside look at a border operation mounted by militia groups loosely affiliated under the Three Percent United Patriots banner.

The piece, by Shane Bauer, appears in the November/December issue of Mother Jones. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of Bauer’s report:

Members of 3UP view their border operations as an opportunity to serve the nation while putting their training to the test and honing their skills for the battle to come. Like most militiamen, they believe societal collapse is imminent. There are many theories about what will make the “Shit Hit The Fan.” Some believe it will be economic collapse. It could be civil unrest provoked by Black Lives Matter. It could be a natural disaster. It could be a government attempt to disarm gun owners and impose martial law. While many in the broader “patriot” movement prepare for that day to arrive, members of 3UP see themselves as men of action, sheepdogs in a nation of blind, ignorant sheep.

For more on the Three Percenter movement go to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s profile of one of its founders here. You should also check out the SPLC’s state-by-state breakdown of active anti-government groups, including more than 200 militia groups, here. For the record, SPLC identifies 32 anti-government groups in my home state of Michigan, including seven militias.

The second article that’s worth a little bit of your time is by Zack Beauchamp at Vox. He lays out an unlikely but all-too-plausible scenario whereby armed Trump supporters engage in election day intimidation and post-election violence. Here’s a taste:

Indeed, some of Trump’s supporters — especially from the loose-knit network of far-right political groups and militias — are now openly talking about post-election bloodshed. According to a January count by the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are 276 such militias operating in the United States. A review of 240 militia group Facebook pages by researcher Jonathon Morgan found a spike in their online activity in recent months — with some members openly warning of the need for violence if Clinton wins.

“If she wins … it’s over, time for a revolution,” one militia member writes, according to Morgan. “Enough of being tough on the blogs, be tough in real life.”

Trump and his aides consistently and angrily deny using irresponsible language that raises the risk of civil unrest. The problem is that violence could erupt all the same because of the atmosphere of paranoia that Trump has helped create.

I have argued for a long time on this site that the greatest terrorism threat America faces comes from within, not from newly arrived immigrants nor from refugees acting as an ISIS Trojan horse.

I sincerely hope that in two weeks time, and in the days that follow, we don’t see that point driven home again, and in horrifying fashion.

Trump is how democracies die

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III% United Patriots is an umbrella organization for militia groups nationwide.

 

When I started drafting this post yesterday I didn’t think things could get worse. And then, in Wednesday night’s debate, Donald Trump refused to say that he would accept the outcome of the election should he lose.

What I’m saying now is I will tell you at the time. I will keep you in suspense, okay?

There is no precedent for this in American democracy. None. Never in our history has a major party candidate, when asked directly, refused to honor the peaceful transfer of political power.

And no, Trump’s stand is not the same as what Al Gore did in 2000. Gore had in fact conceded the election to Bush. Then, when informed that under Florida election law a recount was mandatory, he rescinded that concession to allow the process to play out as required under the law. And when the Supreme Court ended the recount before it was completed, ensuring Bush’s election, Gore accepted that outcome, and did so graciously.

In fact, Trump’s position is sinister. As Peter Beinart put it at The Atlantic:

For months now, Hillary Clinton has been arguing that Trump represents a threat to American democracy. Tonight he made her point more effectively than she could ever have dreamed.

Frankly, I’ve lost track of all of the things that have alternately mystified, infuriated, and terrified me about this election cycle. But this one is different. Consider me legitimately terrified.

For some time now Donald Trump has been claiming that the presidential election is rigged against him. Warning that the election might be stolen, Trump has called on his supporters to turn out on Election Day not just to vote, but to watch the polls for signs of vote fraud or cheating.

As Vox points out, there is some actual history behind Trump’s charge. American elections have, in the past, really been rigged. But:

They’re incredibly rare, and in fact near impossible, in 2016, which makes bringing up fears of a “rigged election” this year a boogeyman at best and dangerous at worst. But at times in America, they’ve been quite common.

But the people who’ve most often rigged elections aren’t liberal elites acting in cahoots with nonwhite shock troops — they’re white supremacists trying to maintain white power in the face of a diverse electorate.

Trump has been weaving this dangerous narrative for months, which has left election workers across the country on edge:

Poll workers across the country are on high alert after the recent firebombing of a Republican Party headquarters in North Carolina and reports that two armed men lingered for hours outside a Democratic campaign office in Virginia. Some feel that Donald Trump’s claim that the election is rigged, and his suggestion that supporters and their friends go to polling places to “watch,” are rhetorical time bombs.

Over at the Washington Post, though, fellow academic and noted blogger Dan Drezner has taken comfort in the fact that there’s little evidence that anyone’s rushing to heed Trump’s call to arms. Of course this was before Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power.

Others, however, have been far less convinced. Count me among them.

Because this is how democracies fall. Trump’s refusal to accept the outcome of the election is legitimately horrifying. It opens the door to serious post-election violence by his most radicalized supporters.

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Graphic by J. Morgan. Click to enlarge.

Make no mistake, those supporters are out there. In an analysis of Trump’s Facebook posts about election rigging, data scientist Jonathan Morgan found hundreds of individuals involved in armed anti-government militia groups across the country who engaged with the candidate’s message. Morgan writes:

A closer look at militia activity across Facebook reveals that, while many restrict their activity to closed, private communities, over 240 militia groups keep active, public Facebook pages.

It’s on these public pages that supporters who have commented or reacted to Trump’s Facebook posts about rigged elections discuss how they view the upcoming election, the US government, and rebellion. …

When Donald Trump tells people the election is rigged, they believe him. Some of those people already believe it’s their duty to take up arms against a tyrannical government.

Back in June, before he was the Republican nominee, I wrote about how Trump has been embraced by European far-right political parties and movements and endorsed by America’s racist white-nationalist fringe. Given his rejection of the most basic principles and norms of democracy, is it any wonder?