Donald Trump’s legacy includes the specter of increased right-wing terrorism
The world will breathe a sigh of relief after a Donald Trump loss. That’s not to say people favor Hillary Clinton’s pro-war neoliberal track record, but they understand humanity dodged a loose cannon gung-ho to fling around nuclear weapons and accelerate climate change.
But a Trump loss doesn’t mean the dangers exit along with his stubby-fingered groping. He has been trying to delegitimize the election for months by calling it rigged, and has refused to say that he would concede. Being a sore loser carries no legal weight, but it would further inflame his base, 73 percent of whom think the election could be stolen.
Already there are militias preparing for “civil unrest in the days following a victory by Democrat Hillary Clinton. They are convinced “the Islamic State, or agents sent by Mrs. Clinton, or both, may soon descend” on them. At Trump rallies, supporters warn of coming riots nationwide and “another Revolutionary war” to remove Clinton from office.
This rhetoric can be dismissed as fantasies stewing in the overheated imagination of reactionaries who envision race wars and their neighborhood going “up in flames” every time a centrist Democrat is elected or Black people march for justice. But there is another grave risk likely to explode after a Clinton victory: right-wing terrorism, particularly mass shootings.
Over the last year, as white male anger congealed around Trump, there has been a lull in mass shootings, about 60 percent of which are carried out by white men. While a causal relationship between his campaign and domestic terrorism can never be proved, there are reasons to think the drop in mass shootings is linked to Trump’s candidacy as well as it is more probable there will be an outburst of right-wing terrorism after a Clinton victory.
The foremost reason is recent history. The day after Obama’s inauguration in 2009, Keith Luke, a 22-year-old neo-Nazi, went on a rampage of murder and rape in Brockton, Massachusetts, saying he was “fighting for a dying race.” Over the next two years there were at least seven other cases of deadly right-wing political terrorism carried out by white men, with targets including a Planned Parenthood clinic, the Holocaust Museum, an IRS building, and massacre in Arizona that nearly claimed the life of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. There were other aborted political terrorist attacks or ones that ended in the death of the gunman only. The common thread was attackers were motivated by anti-government sentiment, often fueled by the likes of Fox News, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin.
Two elections later, those extremists are quaint compared to a Republican Party oozing angry white men from top to bottom. Trump leads a mob of bullies, demagogues, and cutthroats like Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, Chris Christie, Stephen Bannon, Roger Stone, Corey Lewandowski, Alex Jones, and Roger Ailes. FOX News and talk radio have been overtaken by conspiratorial race-baiting websites like Breitbart, Infowars, and Stormfront whipping the right into a continual frenzy that the real America is on the verge of being destroyed by illegals, gun-grabbing feds, Islamic terrorists, and the national debt. (The day before the election, the top story on Infowars was “New flu shot released to cull public.”)
Trump voters are much angrier at the government than most voters and consumed by bizarre resentments. A plurality say “society seems to punish men just for acting like men” and 41 percent say they experience a lot of discrimination based on sex. That’s right, more than four out of ten Republican men think they are the victims of systematic gender discrimination.
The average Trump voter is also racist, steeped in paranoia and unhinged from reality: 65 percent think Obama is a Muslim, 59 think he was born in another country, 58 percent think Antonin Scalia was murdered or are unsure if he was, and 56 percent think vaccines cause autism or are unsure. Of those voters with the most favorable opinions of Trump, 42 percent think growing numbers of immigrants “threaten U.S. values” and 47 percent think it will be “bad for the country” when America is projected to become majority-minority in 30 years. Additionally, 32 percent of Trump voters think Blacks are less intelligent than whites, 40 percent say Blacks are lazy, and nearly half call them “more violent.” To top it off, 87 percent favor a “temporary ban” on Muslims entering the country.
Put it all together, and this is a constituency that backs ethnic cleansing. But defeat means they cannot use government to deport immigrants and ban Muslims. The paranoia and resentment of many Trump voters will intensify as they believe the election was stolen as a prelude to war being waged on them. And while at most a tiny minority will go to extreme measures, the fact millions have been convinced a Clinton presidency is an existential threat and guns are the solution, means some will unleash the rage Trump nurtured on society.
The violence is already bubbling up. One examination of the public Facebook pages of more than 240 active militias found a significant spike in recent activity of members vowing insurrection and violence if Clinton wins. These groups also wax and wane according to who is president. Under George W. Bush, the number of Patriot groups, which include many militias, declined by 85 percent from the peak of the Clinton era, to a low of 131 in 2007. Within five years, under Obama, the number of Patriot had grown an astonishing 10-fold.
In May 2009, a Department of Homeland Security report warned “lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent rightwing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States.” The ensuing rightwing outcry led DHS to repudiate the report and gut the desk tasked with investigating right-wing terrorism. In six years after the report was released, the Southern Poverty Law Center counted 63 lone wolf actual or planned terror attacks, the vast majority by right-wing, white supremacist, or avowed misogynists. (Only six were linked to Jihadis.)
If anything, the danger of right-wing terrorism is greater than ever. Much of that aggression has been channeled into Donald Trump’s campaign, which may account for the drop-off in mass shootings. That’s why his defeat is likely to see a rise in attacks. The militias preparing for insurrection are a vector of future terrorism. Shane Bauer’s eye-opening look into these militias found they walk “a delicate line between stoking its members’ paranoid fears and fantasies of rebellion and holding them in check.” Some militia leaders admitted they expelled or even reported members to authorities whom they suspected were planning to kill Muslims or assassinate politicians.
One of Trump’s legacies is the specter of right-wing terrorism. This is a candidate who has encouraged his supporters to intimidate Black voters and mused about his followers assassinating Clinton if she won. Not surprisingly, right-wing terrorism manifested itself before the election ended. In October, the FBI busted a Kansas militia called “The Crusaders.” Three members allegedly conspired to carry out an Oklahoma City-style massacre of Somali immigrants. They planned to time the attack to the day after the election so as not to affect it.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations put the blame squarely on Trump for encouraging “domestic terrorist groups to commit acts of terrorism and violence against our community.” The three white militiamen arrested used language strikingly similar to Trump, who regularly compares Syrian refugees to poisonous snakes that will destroy American society. The militiamen referred to Somalis as “cockroaches” and wanted to kill them because they “represent a threat to American society.” They hoped a bloodbath would “wake up” a lot more people to “decide they want this country back.”
Trump has convinced millions of heavily armed Americans that if he doesn’t win, then it will be the end of America. And with many followers going around with an itchy finger on the trigger, convinced war is inevitable, how long before some of them start shooting?
Arun Gupta contributes to The Washington Post, YES! Magazine, In These Times, The Progressive, Telesur English, and The Nation. He is author of the forthcoming, Bacon as a Weapon of Mass Destruction: A Junk-Food Loving Chef’s Inquiry into Taste, from The New Press. Follow him @arunindy or email at arun_dot_indypendent_at_gmail_