Why Militias Are So Hard To Stop

“When you’ve got neo-Nazis harassing an innocent family in the suburbs because of a podcast that has nothing to do with them, it’s pretty clear this country has a domestic extremism problem. The Department of Homeland Security knows it, Congress knows it, and every single person who watched the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol in horror knows it. There are many elements to the domestic extremism threat in America, but one prominent component is private militias. An assessment from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has warned that violent extremist militias present “the most lethal” threats in the U.S., and the share of public demonstrations involving far-right militias has increased since the 2020 general election, according to data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.”

“Militias pose a prickly dilemma for law enforcement because they butt up against a bunch of different American narratives around self-defense, gun rights and how to live in a safe society. Some militias are just a group of guys doing target practice in the woods. Other militias plot to kidnap a governor.”

“The presence of the term “a well regulated militia” in the Second Amendment to the Constitution leads a lot of people to believe that these groups must be constitutionally protected, but the Bill of Rights is open to interpretation. Some scholars say the Second Amendment was referring only to state-run militias called upon by the governor or federal government as needed, not private groups. In fact, in the Supreme Court’s 2008 landmark ruling that upheld an individual’s right to bear arms, the justices notably reaffirmed an 1886 ruling that the Second Amendment “does not prevent the prohibition of private paramilitary organizations” — in other words, private militias.
“Private militias want us to think the Second Amendment protects them, and they’re just wrong,” said Mary McCord, the executive director of Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection. “‘Well regulated’ has always meant ‘regulated by the state.’””

“When Facebook recommended he join the Wolverine Watchmen, Dan thought it was a group for firearm training. It wasn’t until a fellow group member started inquiring about how to find the home addresses of police officers that alarm bells started going off.

Dan, whose last name has not been publicly released in order to protect him, went on to become an FBI informant who was critical in uncovering the Watchmen’s plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. In March, he testified at a preliminary hearing for three of the more than a dozen people arrested and charged in the case since October.”

“law enforcement doesn’t always act when it encounters militia activity, and that can lead to dramatic consequences. It’s part of the reason why armed protesters, including some militia members, who had planned to storm the Michigan Capitol in April 2020 didn’t have to storm anything. Instead, they were allowed inside by state police and stood in the gallery above the Senate chamber, toting semiautomatic rifles, staring down as lawmakers went about their business. At least two of these militia members were later arrested for the foiled plot to kidnap Whitmer.”

Mexico Just Took an Important Step Toward Ending Military Impunity

“The marines would soon be charged with kidnapping three men in early 2018 in the border city of Nuevo Laredo. These may be the first of many indictments stemming from that six-month deployment, which human rights activists said turned into an extrajudicial reign of terror over the city. Altogether, 257 of the marines special forces unit are suspected of kidnapping or murdering at least 49 people in the spring of 2018, some bodies found tortured and shot through the head in the desert. Others have never been seen again.

One of the disappeared, Jorge Dominguez, was a U.S. citizen, whose case was documented in December by POLITICO. He was 18, running an errand for his father, when he was snatched off the street by soldiers in military vehicles. But despite witness accounts and evidence of a slew of similar abductions, the Trump administration did not intervene on behalf of Dominguez’s family.”

“Mexico’s military is regularly accused of crimes, and the army has been implicated but not prosecuted in the 2014 disappearances of 43 school teachers in the city of Iguala. But soldiers are typically untouchable, and in the rare circumstance that Mexican soldiers have found themselves in court, it’s usually after intense international pressure.”

“the arrests could be viewed as an olive branch to a new U.S. administration. “Trump didn’t really care about oversight of human rights abuses by Mexican forces,” says Raul Benitez, a Latin American security professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. “But now, the Biden government may be looking with more detail toward the violations of human rights.”

But the arrests might also have a purely domestic explanation.

“One idea I’ve seen suggested is that, from the Mexican side, AMLO really doesn’t trust the navy in the same way his predecessors did,” says Duncan Tucker, who works with Amnesty International in Mexico City. Since his election, AMLO has increased the army’s power exponentially, awarding it building projects, giving it control of some ports and hospitals, granting it increased control of the border and expanding its budget. Past Mexican presidents had always favored the navy, perhaps because the U.S. also favored them. But AMLO is something of a nationalist. He may view the navy as tainted by U.S. influence, Tucker says, and so might be willing to see it punished publicly.”

“the difference in Nuevo Laredo is that one man, former journalist turned human rights activist Raymundo Ramos, investigates, documents and publicizes the cases. Without him, it’s almost certain the marines would never have appeared in court.”

“While the 30 arrests are not insignificant, there were 257 marines deployed to the area, sharing three small barracks where some of the missing were hidden. And it seems that no high-ranking officials have been charged. The navy has even sealed the records of special forces commanders for five years, so that no one can know who was stationed where.”

Labeling groups like the Proud Boys “domestic terrorists” won’t fix anything

“Canada recently designated the Proud Boys, a far-right hate group, as a terrorist organization, a move that has put pressure on President Joe Biden’s administration to take similar punitive action against the group and others who participated in January 6 attack on the US Capitol.

The Congressional Research Service has asserted that the Capitol insurrection was an act of domestic terrorism, as defined by federal regulations and law. The FBI has identified the criminal activity by the Proud Boys as a domestic terrorism threat.

But while the federal government maintains a list of foreign terrorist organizations, it does not have a mechanism to formally designate domestic terrorist organizations. National security experts argue that creating one would not only invite legal challenges, but would do little to improve law enforcement’s response to the nascent threat of domestic terrorism.

Creating such a list would raise legitimate First Amendment concerns because it could potentially be used to target political dissidents on both the left and the right. Experts also say it’s ill-suited to address the kind of domestic terrorist attacks and plots that the US is facing, which according to the Department of Homeland Security, primarily come from right-wing extremists acting as individuals, rather than as organized groups.

The best way forward, they say, is for the federal government to better employ existing tools to combat domestic terrorism — a threat that was not prioritized by former President Donald Trump, who repeatedly refused to denounce white nationalists and told those who stormed the Capitol, “We love you.”

“Violent white supremacists are not a new problem,” Faiza Patel, the director of liberty and national security at the Brennan Center for Justice, said. “Law enforcement has dealt with them before and can do so again. The FBI’s robust response to the attack on the Capitol shows that these groups can be investigated and prosecuted under existing law, undercutting any argument for new tools.””

“People are not okay”: The mental health impact of the Trump era

“In at least 41 criminal cases — including an assault on a Latinx man in Florida and threats against a Syrian-born man in Washington state — Trump’s name was invoked in connection with violence or threats, according to an ABC News analysis. The network found no criminal cases with such direct connections to presidents Barack Obama or George W. Bush.”

Trump is gone. But the threat of right-wing violence that arose under his watch remains.

“The most successful terrorist campaign in American political history took place after the Civil War.

Ex-Confederate soldiers and ordinary Southerners unwilling to give up on white supremacy formed a series of violent cells aimed at undermining Reconstruction. Their attacks, the most infamous of which were lynchings of recently freed Black people, aimed to disrupt racially egalitarian governments and impose costs on the North for continuing to occupy Southern land. The violence increased after Reconstruction ended, working to intimidate local Black populations while Southern states created new regimes that would render them second-class citizens.”

“We do not actually need a huge spike in far-right violence for it to be politically impactful. The mere threat of future violence can poison a democracy.”

“If more moderate Republicans are afraid to speak up, extremists will increasingly speak for the party. The more the extremists speak for the party, the more they will push Republicans voters to the far right and embolden violent far-right actors, further intimidating moderate voices from speaking out.

This is one key difference from the political dynamics of the 1970s. Back then, no significant faction of the Democratic Party was aligned with the violent radicals. Today, large sections of the far right see themselves as acting on behalf of or in conjunction with the Trumpist forces in the Republican Party. In footage of Capitol Hill mobbers ransacking the Senate floor, one attacker justifies his actions by saying “[Ted] Cruz would want us to do this.”

“There seem to be enough guns, political support, and rhetorical space to sustain at least some degree of mobilization by violence-curious radicals,” says Paul Staniland, a political scientist at the University of Chicago. “It’s a lot easier to unleash carnage than to pack it back away.””

France, the way to Islamic reformation is to challenge institutions — not stigmatize Muslims

“Recent events underscore the need for a reformed reading of Islam. But such reformation will not be brought about by stigmatizing Islam or Muslim communities, as the French president did. What is needed is to challenge Muslim institutions to take a clear position on Islamic jurisprudence justifying violence.”

“It was a policy statement about cracking down on “radical Islamist” influence among French Muslims to prevent their transformation into a “counter-republican” community. However, Macron’s bizarre remark that Islam “is in crisis all over the world today” unsurprisingly got most of the attention in the Middle East.”

“What was meant to be a debate about combating Islamic radicals in France turned into an outcry against “Macron’s stigmatization of Islam.” Nuanced Muslim voices got lost in the noise.
The Macron fiasco didn’t overshadow the problem of violence in the name of Islam for long. The beheading of a schoolteacher, Samuel Paty, on Oct. 16 for showing his students images of a caricature depicting Islam’s prophet came as a crude reminder of the problem. Calling it an isolated act, as the grand mufti of Egypt did, doesn’t cut it any longer. Nor does the lamentation over French atrocities in Algeria half a century ago. The problem of violence motivated by a certain interpretation of Islam is real.”

“Three key premises held by the Islamic Salafist tradition lie at the source of the problem. First, the idea that sovereignty lies with “God,” not the people, restricts the role of legislatures to enacting Islamic law, which is also understood in its most literalist interpretation. Rulers who don’t uphold this principle are deemed idolatrous. Second, Muslims’ “apostasy,” often defined as having a different interpretation of their faith, is punishable by death. Third, when Muslim leaders fail to enact these rules, individual Muslims have a duty, under certain conditions, to carry them out themselves.

These interpretations of Islam underpin most of the violence in its name, since the Egyptian scholar Sayyid Qutb wrote his call for Jihad more than half a century ago, all the way to the Islamic State and “lone wolves” violently punishing those who “insult Islam” today. Islamic institutions such as Al-Azhar often denounce that violence and insist that its perpetrators do not represent “true Islam,” as Egypt’s mufti just did. Yet they rarely address the intellectual foundations of these belligerent interpretations of Islamic texts.

Independent-minded Islamic thinkers have long been advocating more clement readings of Islam, its laws and its relationship with non-Muslims. From Muhammad Abduh in the 19th century to Nasr Abu Zayd, Mohammed Arkoun and many others more recently, thinkers have critically reviewed Islamic jurisprudence to show its emphasis on reason, individual freedom and equality. But religious institutions and movements did not follow their lead. And political leaders, including those of the so-called secular regimes, hedged their bets and walked a fine line between reformers and Salafists. Decades of social, economic and political decay, foreign encroachment and military interventions, along with Saudi support, helped Salafi thought grow. Today, Salafi thought is no longer a fringe: It has penetrated mainstream religious institutions as well as the Islamist movements that had started off as modernist, such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

Those who are interested in promoting a reformist vision of Islam should challenge the foundations of Salafism within these institutions and movements — not “Islam” as a whole, as Macron did, nor the already stigmatized Muslim minorities who are struggling with racism and discrimination in Western countries.
Instead, Islamic institutions and movements should be pressed to come up with unambiguous answers to the key questions that Salafism poses: Does their interpretation of “true Islam” allow Muslims to use violence against others? Does it allow Muslims to uphold modern political institutions and their laws? Does it allow Muslims to live peacefully with people they consider apostates or infidels?

Challenging these institutions and movements will help, not undermine, the debate among Muslims over what Islam is — the debate that will shape the future of Islam.”

The “boogaloo” “movement,” explained

” Believers in boogaloo ideology — a focus on visible gun ownership, with some advocating for a violent civil war against the federal government — have shown up to protests in Minneapolis, Las Vegas, and other cities, sometimes wearing Hawaiian shirts (based on a movement in-joke) and carrying large guns.”

“members of the boogaloo movement are unlikely to be the majority of those arrested at either the protests or the violence. In Minneapolis, Seattle, Cleveland, Dallas, Atlanta, and elsewhere, the majority of those arrested during the protests and violence haven’t been outside agitators traveling the country to start fights and cause violence. Rather, they’ve been people largely from the same places where they are arrested.”

“The protesters had to deescalate the police”: Demonstrators are the ones defusing violence at protests

“At demonstration after demonstration, officers have met peaceful protesters, who are condemning the police killing of George Floyd — and police violence more broadly — with disproportionate and brutal force, often for no reason but to “disperse” a crowd. It’s an approach that’s only illustrated how quick police can be to use violent tactics, particularly against black individuals.”

“Vox spoke with 10 protesters in seven different cities — and nearly all of them had either directly witnessed or been subject to police violence while participating in marches and rallies in recent weeks.”

“During a peaceful protest in Toledo, Ohio, 29-year-old attorney Matthew Ahn saw police shooting wooden bullets directly at people’s bodies, severely injuring at least two individuals.”

“In Los Angeles, Abdullah described watching a state highway patrol car plow into a crowd of protesters and knock a man out in the process.”

“Such acts of police violence have contributed to a number of injuries — rubber bullets have blinded multiple individuals, while beatings have resulted in broken bones — and one death. In Louisville, Kentucky, where officers still haven’t been charged in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor, police shot and killed David McAtee near his business when he was out past curfew in early June.”

“At the marches where law enforcement has taken a more aggressive approach, the escalation by police often came with little warning, protesters say. It can be chaotic, frightening, and overwhelming.”

“There is legal recourse for protesters who have suffered injuries at the hands of police, but there have historically been some pretty big obstacles to getting accountability.
Such barriers are largely due to the protections that police have in the case of civil lawsuits because of a legal doctrine known as qualified immunity: In order to even go to trial with an allegation of police misconduct, an individual needs to show not only that it was a violation of their civil rights, but also that there’s precedent for that same action being considered unlawful in prior cases.

This shield has enabled police officers to avoid liability on many acts of misconduct in the past, including shootings, theft and property damage.

Still, experts tell Vox that protesters have plenty of grounds to pursue legal action — and already, there’s been multiple cases in the last month where the officer involved faces criminal charges.”

“Protesters have three avenues they can take, Futterman notes: They can file a civil lawsuit against a specific officer for violating their constitutional rights, they can register a complaint with the city or police station involved, or they can report the incident to a district attorney, who could then file a criminal lawsuit.”