Expert on violence says the GOP has a militia problem
Members of the Proud Boys march in Manhattan against vaccine mandates in New York City (AFP)

A detailed analysis from Just Security editor Rachel Kleinfeld walked through the ongoing problem that the Republican Party has with militia groups taking over their ranks.

Groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers have become household names after the Jan. 6 attack on Congress. "The events on January 6 are not past. They are prelude," Kleinfeld wrote.

She cited people like Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who was tasked with hand-delivering lists of fake electors to Vice President Mike Pence. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) pressured his state's House Speaker, Rusty Bowers, to call a new legislative session and decertify the 2020 election in the state. While there was violence seen before from GOP voters, it has become mainstream by party members.

"As a researcher on violence and democracy around the world, I have studied party-linked militia groups for years," explained Kleinfeld. "In countries like Iraq, Nigeria, Lebanon, and Colombia, politicians outsource violence to specialists in the trade, just as they hire consultants for robocalls and direct mail. In the past, googling these terms brought up countries just escaping from conflict or descending into it. Now, the United States, where militias have been embraced by GOP leaders at the national, state, and local level (as I discuss in detail below), appears among the early search results."

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The Oath Keepers weren't just part of 2020. They came together to "protect" polling places to ensure that Trump was protected from the potential fraud he was arguing would exist in 2016. They came to the inauguration. Oath Keepers did "security" at Trump rallies in Texas, Minnesota, Washington, D.C. and in other places between 2016 and 2020.

Those who became enemies of Trump, like Bowers, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and others like Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), have been targeted with violent threats.

While 2020 was ground zero for political violence, in 2017, Kleinfeld pointed out that "the Portland branch of the Republican Party voted to allow militia groups, including members of the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, to act as security at their public events." Last year, a Colorado county GOP brought in paid militia members to serve as security. Also in 2021, Michigan’s Grand Traverse County was asked to denounce the Proud Boys and the attack on the Capitol, but the county commission vice chair left and then came back with his rifle.

The chair of the Wyoming Republican Party is a member of the Oath Keepers. Proud Boys are working to take over Republican Parties at the local level around the country. Miami-Dade County, Florida is among them. The Nevada Republican Party director has been outright recruiting Proud Boys to scare more traditional Republicans from running for office in the Las Vegas area. In Michigan, the Republican candidate for governor, Ryan Kelley, was indicted for his participation in the Jan. 6 attack.

There are more incidents in a growing list.

"Violent groups that get involved in politics in other countries follow a common path that I detailed in my last book," explained Kleinfeld. "At first, politicians recruit experts in violence and intimidation to use those tools as a campaign tactic. Later, those violent leaders run for office or take political roles directly, cutting out the political middleman."

She used 11 of India’s current national legislators facing 10-year-old murder charges as an example. There are also 30 who have attempted murder charges.

The question becomes why Republicans would so openly welcome violent militia members and criminals into the party.

"Because violence and intimidation are already bolstering their power. Intimidation is being successfully used to silence opposition. Representative Gonzalez was one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump. After threats to his wife and young children, he decided not to run for reelection," Kleinfeld continued.

While normal Americans think they can avoid the attacks, violence is increasing in the United States. Protest rallies are becoming more dangerous and it's now legal in Oklahoma to ram one's car into protesters. It's also legal for someone to "stand their ground" and use a gun to protect themselves and their property. Thanks to the Supreme Court ruling last week, protecting one's self also now includes outside of their home. That sets up more possible political violence similar to what happened in Charlottesville during the "Unite the Right" rally, but add guns to the equation. As Black Lives Matter began protesting the murder of George Floyd, at least 139 drivers drove their cars into protest crowds. Four have been killed with at least 100 injured.

A report last week from the Capitol Police revealed threats against members of Congress have increased by ten times with 12 times the activity against them by white supremacists.

Assassinations might be down, but violence has dramatically increased since Trump came onto the scene of politics.

"International terrorism expert Arie Perliger has found that in Israel and Germany, domestic terrorists are emboldened when they believe that politicians encourage violence or that authorities will tolerate it from their side of the political spectrum," cited Kleinfeld. "Violence is overwhelmingly concentrated on the right. But as Justice Brett Kavanaugh has discovered, once violence has been legitimated as a tool of politics, no one is safe."

Militias are responsible for more political violence than any other group in the world, including governments. Even if Trump disappears, Kleinfeld explained that political violence in the GOP will continue and worse it will lead to more violence against all Americans if nothing is done.

Read the full report at Just Security.