When the Federal Bureau of Investigation foiled a domestic terrorist plot involving 14 men allegedly planning to kidnap and possibly assassinate Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, it propelled White anger and White militias back on the front pages of news and signaled the level of dangerous discontent in America.
Andrew Birge, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, called the men “violent extremists” and Detroit U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider stressed there is no place in Michigan for such violent actions.
“All of us in Michigan can disagree about politics, but those disagreements should never, ever amount to violence,” Detroit U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider told reporters. “Violence has been prevented today,” he said on October 8.
Brandon Caserta, Adam Fox, Kaleb Franks, Ty Garbin and Daniel Harris were charged in federal court in a conspiracy to act before the Nov. 3 elections according to a federal complaint. Federal Magistrate Judge Sally Berens said October 16 that there was sufficient evidence of probable cause for five of the six men to stand trial in federal court and ordered them held in custody untill the trial.
The Associated Press reported seven others linked to a militia group called the Wolverine Watchmen were charged in state court for allegedly seeking to storm the Michigan Capitol and seek a “civil war.” A seventh suspect, Brian Higgins, 51, of Wisconsin was arrested October 15, and charged with material support of an act of terrorism—a possible 20-year felony. The others were identified as Joseph Morrison, Pete Musico, Paul Bellar, Shawn Fix, William Null, Michael Null, and Eric Molitor.
The two groups trained together and planned “various acts of violence,” according to Michigan state police. Officials said the plots were stopped with the work of undercover agents and informants.
The arrests happened October 7. The six charged in federal court face up to life in prison if convicted. The state terrorism charges the other seven men face carry a possible 20-year sentence.
An affidavit by Michael Fink, an investigating officer, said the Wolverine Watchmen and associates made terroristic threats towards government officials and organizations and provided material support for planned acts of terrorism. The suspects were angry at Democratic Gov. Whitman’s measures to slow the spread of Covid-19 in the state via stay-at-home orders. Several armed members of militias and heavily armed gun enthusiasts protested at the Michigan State Capitol building earlier this year in opposition to Gov. Whitmer. At least two of the suspects were photographed carrying guns at the earlier protests at the capitol. Two brothers, William and Michael Null, who were charged were identified as the identical twins photographed months earlier carrying long guns during a protest inside the state Capitol, reported several news outlets.
According to law enforcement officials suspects in the plot also discussed abducting Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat.
Gov. Whitmer has blasted President Donald Trump and his “rhetoric” for the volatile environment. The president’s cry of “liberate Michigan” was seen by many critics as a green light for those groups that converged on the capitol in the Spring. After authorities exposed the plot Mr. Trump continued criticizing Gov. Whitmer saying she needed to “open up” Michigan and that she was doing “a terrible job” and “wants to be a dictator.”
The president continued his criticism of the governor during an October 17 campaign rally in Western Michigan and when his supporters began the chant “lock her up,” Mr. Trump responded to the crowd, “lock ‘em all up.”
Gov. Whitmer responded via Twitter stating: “This is exactly the rhetoric that has put me, my family, and other government officials’ lives in danger while we try to save the lives of our fellow Americans,” adding, “It needs to stop.”
This latest case raises questions about White domestic terror, militias and exposes that America is unraveling from deep rooted internal problems.
Resentment of angry Whites
Several people spoke to The Final Call about the rise of White militias, White supremacist groups and the socio-political climate in the country.
“Using the term militia to describe these terrorists is a fraud … a misrepresentation,” said Dr. Wilmer Leon, political scientist, and analyst. “What they are trying to do by calling themselves a militia is give themselves a level of constitutional legitimacy that their hatred does not warrant,” he said. Dr. Leon characterized them as hate groups with guns who are being driven by an anger brought on by a confluence of issues converging on them.
“The major driver is that America has failed them, and they can’t admit it,” said Dr. Leon.
“They, like everybody else in this country was sold this myth of the American dream … American exceptionalism, Manifest Destiny, American internationalism … the Protestant work ethic, that if you work hard enough. That’s fraud,” he said.
Dr. Leon described a situation in America where poor Whites were fed a diet of scapegoating Blacks and other minority groups for their plight. He said historically Whites have struggled with a class dynamic among themselves that must be understood in an historical context.
In the post-slavery Reconstruction era poor White farmers began forming coalitions with formerly enslaved Blacks. The wealthy White industrial class deliberately interfered in the relationship, fearing they could not control it and injected racism to justify why it should not happen.
“They convinced those White people; ‘you may be poor…uneducated, but you ain’t no nigger. You are White and simply because you are White, you are superior,’” Dr. Leon explained.
This is at the root of modern-day resentment of angry Whites, he said. “That has been a consistent wedge and they use it to their advantage when it makes sense.”
Although disparities exist between wealthy White power elites and poor working-class Whites, extremists still scapegoat the Black, Brown, and Red populations. White anxiety exists amid a time when America like past empires is falling, which is a sign of why some of the extremist groups are even threatening against a peaceful transition of power if President Donald Trump loses re-election.
“The dog whistle in President Trump’s cry ‘Make America Great Again,’ under it is ‘Make America White Again.’ That is why the White nationalists and those of that mindset are fleeing to his call,” said the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam in a July 4 address called The Criterion.
“But the question that we have to answer today is: Are you a hypocrite America because if you did not mean for the Black, the Brown, the Red and even the poor White to enjoy the full rights of citizenship then why call us what we are not?” said Minister Farrakhan.
Experts also note White extremists are not monolithic and are on both the extreme left and right of the political landscape.
Angry and violent Whites are not unfamiliar to America, only now White extremists are exerting themselves bolder and more brazen in their contempt of things socially and politically.
“What people have to understand is since the Ku Klux Klan, immediately following the Civil War, these groups have always been around,” said Ricky Jones, chair of the Department of Pan African Studies at the University of Louisville.
“They’re an American standard, but once we entered a period of time where the country at least wanted to pretend to be more humane, they were pushed into the attic like you would do a crazy uncle,” he said.
Mr. Jones said it is telling how the groups feel it is okay to come out strong during the time of a presidential administration that has shown support to them. “So, the beauty of Donald Trump has been … he has served to expose all of these warts on America that’s been hidden,” Mr. Jones quipped. He added that while people worry about a reckless Mr. Trump; he is an individual; they need to worry about America.
Notoriously racist, these groups are touted as the new Ku Klux Klan and like their predecessors despise Blacks and non-whites but target other Whites. Although many White extremists had historically targeted the U.S. government, this has changed with the advent of Mr. Trump, say observers.
Dr. Wesley Muhammad, scholar, author, and student minister of the Nation of Islam, described the new dynamic as a “rapprochement” with the government because of their support for Mr. Trump. “What we see actually is a new and surprising turn toward government by these White militia groups,” said Dr. Wesley Muhammad.
“The White militia groups have historically been anti-government; that has always been part of their program … it usually involved war with the government,” he explained.
Dr. Muhammad pointed out that there is a “synergy” between Mr. Trump and angry Whites. “Now you have … White militia and racist groups claiming to start a civil war if a particular president of their choosing isn’t elected,” he said.
Experts say with White racial based threats, terrorism has been increasing in America.
A study released in June 2020 by the CSIS-Center of Strategic and International Studies said between 1994 and 2020, there were 893 terrorist attacks and plots in America.
Overall, right-wing terrorists perpetrated the majority—57 percent—of all attacks and plots during this period, compared to 25 percent committed by left-wing terrorists, 15 percent by religious terrorists, 3 percent by ethnonationalists, and 0.7 percent by terrorists with other motives.
The CSIS report defined left-wing terrorism as the threat of violence by sub-national or non-state entities opposing capitalism, imperialism, and colonialism; and supporting a decentralized social and political system such as anarchism. Right-wing terrorism goals may include racial or ethnic supremacy, opposition to government authority or opposing a particular policy.
A CSIS brief about their findings said a wave of right-wing activity in the 1990s peaked with 43 incidents in 1995 including the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995 which killed 168 people. The domestic terrorist truck bombing on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building there was perpetrated by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, two White males.
The report said in 2016, 2017, and 2019 the number of right-wing terrorist events matched or exceeded the number in 1995, including a recent high of 53 right-wing terrorist incidents in 2017. Despite a moderate decrease in 2018 to 29 incidents, right-wing activity again increased in 2019 to 44 incidents.
The data suggests right-wing extremists pose the greatest threat based on annual terrorist events and fatalities. It predicts over the next year, the threat of terrorism in the U.S. will likely increase and cited the November 2020 presidential election and the response to the Covid-19 crisis as potential triggers that can “fuel anger” and be “co-opted by a small minority of extremists” as a pretext for violence.
Concerning Whites, Dr. Wesley Muhammad remarked, they are distressed because they see the manifest fall of their world. “These Whites absolutely see themselves as being deprived,” he reasoned.
Lower class, middle-aged White males, in particular, feel disenfranchised—not because they are, but they perceive their decline. “The signs of the fall of White supremacy is everywhere … this is what is traumatizing and angering White folks,” added Dr. Wesley Muhammad.
Analysts attribute the 2008 election of America’s first Black President Barrack Obama as the proverbial shock of the hour for White males, and nail in the coffin of White Supremacy causing anxiety tinged with hopelessness. Other factors like a zero-sum birthrate where one is born, and one dies and demographic projections of Whites becoming the minority population in the U.S. by the mid-2040s are also causing White anger. Recent reports are showing an increase of suicide by White males between the ages of 44 and 45.
Using numbers from the Center of Disease Control, a new report by the United States Joint Economic Committee said nearly 80 percent of firearm suicides are carried out by White men. These men are older, uneducated and from impoverished socioeconomic backgrounds.
Known by many labels such as White nationalists, White extremists, White identarian or names like the Boogaloo Boys, the Proud Boys, and the Wolverine Watchmen implicated in the alleged plot against Governor Whitmer, the common profile reads angry, White and a danger to the United States.
Domestic terrorism experts say there is a deliberate effort by White supremacists to infiltrate law enforcement which imposes a particular danger. In a Brennan Center for Justice report titled Hidden in Plain Sight: Racism, White Supremacy, and Far-Right Militancy in Law Enforcement, the government’s response to known connections of law enforcement officers to violent racist and militant groups has been strikingly insufficient. It is a relationship that should raise serious concern, said report author Michael German, a fellow with the center’s Liberty and National Security Program and former FBI agent.
The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have identified White supremacists as the “most lethal domestic terrorist threat” to the United States. In recent years, White supremacists have executed deadly rampages in Charleston, South Carolina, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and El Paso, Texas. The report said narrowly thwarted attempts by neo-Nazis to manufacture radiological “dirty” bombs in Maine in 2009 and Florida in 2017 show their dangerous capability and intent to unleash mass destruction.
These groups also pose a lethal threat to law enforcement, as evidenced by recent attacks against Federal Protective Service officers and sheriff’s deputies in California by far-right militants intent on starting the “Boogaloo”—a euphemism for a new civil war—which killed two and injured several others.
“They have always sought a way to be inconspicuous by joining law enforcement and other government agencies,” said Student Minister Demetric Muhammad, author and researcher with the Nation of Islam Research Department.
Student Minister Demetric Muhammad pointed out that in White Supremacist history, they aspired to become judges, police officers and mayors.
“Their crimes trump anything that Muslim groups or Black groups have done, yet Black groups have been profiled by the FBI as Black Identity Extremists,” said Student Minister Muhammad.
Herein lies the dichotomy wherein one group is organizing and arming themselves to preserve White supremacy, that they fear is on its death bed and other groups—mostly unarmed—are organizing themselves to resist White supremacy.
America is not in a good place; however White supremacists are being made to feel they are in a good place.
“They’re comfortable right now. We haven’t seen this level of comfort for them since the 50s,” said Mr. Jones. (Final Call staff contributed to this report.)