United States – When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, the United States experienced a dramatic rise in anti-government group membership. Trump clinched the presidency in 2016 and membership decreased [see image below]. It’s possible that membership dropped after Trump’s election because he shares similar “anti-Deep State” views with these groups. Former President Obama was perceived as a polarizing figure in the anti-government movement — Trump less so.
The non-profit Southern Poverty Law Center fights for racial justice and monitors domestic hate groups. The center saw a 2018-2019 decrease in anti-government groups from 612 to 576. Of the 576 groups counted in 2019, 181 were identified as “militias.” From sea to shining sea, alt-right U.S. anti-government groups may yet stir a hurricane after this election. Why? It depends on whether or not their candidate, Donald J. Trump, is re-elected as president.
Anti-government groups have been around for centuries
Militias aren’t new. During the American Revolutionary War, a militia called the Minutemen organized independently from British colonial forces. The Minutemen’s aim was to strategize tactical warfare against the British. The difference between the Minutemen and the groups we’re seeing today is that we’re not really seeing militias at all.
In fact, all 50 U.S. states prohibit private militias. Plenty of legislation has reinforced the rule, including The Militia Act of 1903. It affirms the U.S. militia consists of the National Guard, active in individual states and the District of Columbia. The U.S. militia also contains the military reserve.
Since our government oversees its own militia, it’s technically incorrect for anti-government groups to refer to themselves in that way. The Southern Poverty Law Center refers to militias as “anti-government groups.” The hallmark of these groups is a deep resentment for the U.S. government, despite members calling themselves “patriots.”
Even before World War II, some Americans maintained membership in fascist groups like the Christian Front. Later, an anti-government group, also known as the Minutemen, arose during the Cold War. Towards the end of the 20th century, a White supremacist named Dr. William Luther Pierce founded the National Alliance movement. This movement was a call-to-action to commit violence against the government.
Pierce’s son, Kevin, said to ABC News that the National Alliance movement is about “hatred” and “exclusion.” Active in the 1980s and 1990s, racism was deeply ingrained in this movement. The aim was to incite Americans to arm themselves. In doing so, group members would trigger a war between the races that would dismantle the government. The ultimate prize would be creating a Whites-only ethnostate.
Inspired by literature such as Luther Pierce’s The Turner Diaries, Timothy McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 1995. The Oklahoma City Bombing directly inspired people to commit violence against Muslims after Trump’s 2016 election win. Though the National Alliance movement retreated from the public eye for several decades, its underground membership expanded, removed from public consciousness.
How does the anti-government movement look now?
In 2020, the death of George Floyd, an African-American, galvanized people of all backgrounds to protest against police brutality. Many of these protests continue to be organized by affiliates of Black Lives Matter, an international political and social movement. As the Black Lives Matter movement gained traction, anti-government groups saw an opportunity to continue their counter-revolution.
Similar to the National Alliance movement in the ‘80s and ‘90s, most anti-government groups embrace racist ideologies. During the 2017 Charlottesville, Virginia march, White supremacists chanted, “Jews will not replace us.”
The president failed to condemn those marchers in the aftermath. Instead, he said there were “very fine people on both sides.” A movement that organized for decades underground, reemerged in public discourse.
This July, two armed anti-government groups faced-off in Louisville, Kentucky — an event that nearly escalated to violence. The African-American group known as the NFAC (Not F***ing Around Coalition) was protesting Breonna Taylor’s murder by local police. The alt-right group, the Three Percenters, arrived on the scene to “assist” the police. According to Tara Brandau, a Kentucky Three Percenters leader, her group showed up purely because the NFAC was there.
During this year’s first presidential debate, the president failed again to condemn White supremacy. In fact, he told an anti-government group, the Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by.” In response, some anti-government groups are showing up at the polls, armed. They say they are helping the president “monitor” election proceedings. Buzzfeed spoke to several leaders of popular anti-government groups. The majority said they did not seek to intimidate voters but they took Trump’s comment as an “order.”
It’s difficult to predict the escalation of violence, if any, that might occur after Tuesday’s election. Many Americans have decided to vote absentee, which will undeniably delay the election results. Will anti-government groups resort to violence if Biden is elected? Or, if the president is re-elected, will militias take to the streets to quell potential anti-Trump protests?
Thumbnail Credit: Andrew Shurtleff/The Daily Progress