This is the alleged plot: kidnapping Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer from his vacation home, detonating bombs across the region to confuse the response of the authorities, implying a disturbance in the Michigan government and legislature, and watching groups in other states follow and send the country into civil war. .
Why Whitmer? Because he has been the poster child for what they see as too harsh lockdowns amid the coronavirus pandemic.
This is not an isolated plot and these groups have become bold. Called “Boogaloo” The movement, defined by military-grade weapons in the hands of civil warriors dressed in Hawaiian shirts, has used the pandemic to recruiting aggressively online. Critically, groups like Wolverine Watchmen have been given enormous sway in Michigan this year.
In late April, as residents were inflamed at the start of the pandemic, armed and pastiche militiamen from conspiracy theorists and first-time genuinely angry protesters burst into police outside the Michigan State Capitol building and occupied while the legislature is debating stay-at-home orders. The morning after the action, President Donald Trump tweeted that the protesters were “very good people” and that Whitmer had to negotiate with them.
Two weeks later, the Michigan legislature canceled sitting before another planned job. From the militia group’s point of view, this was a tremendous victory. They have the implied political guise of the President, and they have closed the government.
While Trump’s office has had to put him at odds with anti-government extremists and conspiracy theorists, his outside status has created perceptions of him as their ally inside the fort. When he should have cursed the QAnon conspiracy theory is dangerous and specter white supremacist, Trump at every opportunity protects and defends this perception of himself while maintaining reasonable denial.
In particular, when asked to condemn white supremacy, Trump told them to “step back and stand up”. In short, he didn’t create this power, but he leaned upon them, and strengthened them, when they challenge their political enemies.
When federal officials shot a man suspected of killing a member of the far-right, Trump celebrated the shooting, saying “ there must be retaliation. ” When his political allies, such as Roger Stone and Michael Flynn, have broken the law, he and his Attorney General reward their loyalty by commuting sentences or dropping charges.
This is the frightening philosophy of justice of the leader of a free world. When it comes to radical extremists and conspiracy theorists, this is not a trivial development. Indeed, Trump’s actions implied impunity in exchange for loyalty and retribution for disloyalty.
The net effect is validation of the “silent majority” which is a volatile ingredient in a mixture of extremism and conspiracy theories. One role model acts, another follows. This is the hope of the shooter in the massacre at Christchurch mosques, an Australian citizen who was radicalized online.
While clearly harmless, conspiracy theorists have also been mobilized. They sincerely hope they will change the course of Australian history when they march in Melbourne against Prime Minister Daniel Andrews and his lockdown. Pre-emptive arrests and searches of protests by military police forces only confirmed their assessment of an arrogant government.
While the situation in the US is different, it would be irresponsible for legislators in Australia to view the plot against Whitmer and the events at home as something quite different. As ASIO points out, there are far more right-wing actors in Australia. When bad actors see the breakdown in social cohesion in countries like the US and Australia, they look for opportunities to improve their rankings.
The onset of the pandemic, declining trust in institutions, a dramatic increase in internet use and a dangerous disinformation campaign have created a ripe environment for these forces to grow in Australia.
So what should Australian elected officials see in the Michigan plot? They must come to the public conclusion that the pandemic has accelerated the conditions for a right-wing and dangerous conspiracy movement to flourish.
And they must arm the authorities with every tool necessary to deal with this threat, including naming far-right groups on terrorist lists, which ASIO considers.
Elliott Brennan is a research fellow at the Center for United States Studies and an author Coronavirus and protests: How COVID-19 has changed the face of American activists.
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