One of the more pessimistic warnings about a Donald Trump presidency appears to be coming true.
Right-wing militias are walking out of the anti-government shadows and standing side by side with law enforcement, and sometimes Republican Party officials, to counter demonstrations against racist police brutality.
An overnight shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, left two people dead and a third wounded during a confrontation between militia members guarding a gas station and demonstrators protesting the police shooting of 29-year-old Jacob Blake.
No arrests have been made in that case, but video shows a man armed with a rifle open fire and then calmly walk toward police officers who had been ordering the crowd to disperse, while another video shows officers giving the gunman water shortly before the shooting and thanking him for coming.
Breaking News: Extended footage of the shooting in Kenosha. #KenoshaProtests #KenoshaShooting #JacobBlake… https://t.co/gOhz4QRdPO— Tuan Saint Patrick | NOW on HAPPs TV (@Tuan Saint Patrick | NOW on HAPPs TV) 1598424476.0
Armed anti-government groups have faced existential tension after Trump's election, but they've resolved the dilemma by forming a "counter-resistance" to demonstrations against the president and law enforcement, and also by providing security to Republican groups.
That's exactly the scenario that Timothy Snyder, a Yale University historian, warned against after the 2016 election.
"Watch out for the paramilitaries," Snyder wrote on Feb. 2, 2017. "When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh."
"When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle," he added, "the game is over.
The Trace found, just over three years ago, at least five instances in Michigan, Oregon and Texas where anti-government gun groups had aligned themselves with conservative elected officials and GOP causes.
That alignment seems to be accelerating amid ongoing nationwide protests against racist police violence following the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Some of the earliest violence to erupt as part of those sustained demonstrations was allegedly touched off by a member of the Hells Angels biker gang who "wanted to sow discord and racial unrest by breaking out the windows and writing what he did on the double red doors," according to Minneapolis police.
However, the so-called "Umbrella man" still hasn't been arrested nearly a month after a tipster revealed his identity to police.
White supremacists posing as Black Lives Matter protesters also instigated riots that broke out late last month in Richmond, Virginia, where six people were arrested in connection with violence and vandalism.
Oregon police stood by over the weekend as right-wing protesters brandished handguns and other weapons against left-wing demonstrators in Portland, and a video from early June appears to show Salem officers advising militia group members how to avoid curfew violations during a protest.
Similar scenes have played out at other demonstrations across the country, including at protests where unmasked and gun-toting protesters rail against coronavirus restrictions and threaten lawmakers as police calmly stand by.
The president sent federal agents into Portland earlier this summer to crush protests there, after gassing peaceful demonstrators across from the White House to clear a park for his photo-op, and some right-wing militia groups hailed those forces as “our Portland heroes.”
Anti-government militants have been openly embracing conservative candidates in recent years, but experts on those extremist groups are increasingly alarmed by their shows of force during this summer's protests.
"[It's] part of their effort to normalize the presence of armed paramilitaries on the streets, which is a remarkably disturbing turn of events,” said Devin Burghart, president of the Seattle-based Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. “What we’re seeing right now is the outward manifestation of years of organizing by militia-type groups. They’ve moved from backwoods training to on-the-streets activism."