They planned to kidnap the governor of Michigan and start “a civil war”: the arrest of 13 men a few weeks before the American presidential election highlighted the existence of small armed groups of the extreme right which constitute, according to the federal police, the main terrorist threat under the mandate of Donald Trump.
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A heterogeneous movement
Armed groups, with right-wing ideologies and various motivations, have long been part of the American landscape.
When Donald Trump came to power, they broke anonymity by participating in the far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, protests against containment measures to fight the coronavirus in the spring, or during protests against police brutality since this summer.
The best known – Three Percenters, Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, Boogaloos Bois or Patriot Prayer – have in common the defense of the right to own a gun and hostility to government, authority or leftist ideas.
Some are advocates of white supremacy and have ties to neo-Nazi movements, or view law enforcement agencies as agents of authoritarian government, others are plotting a national revolution or a race war.
They sometimes subscribe to the theses of the far-right conspiracy movement QAnon, which claims that Donald Trump is waging a secret war against a global liberal sect made up of satanist pedophiles.
According to specialists, these militias have several thousand supporters in the country, who communicate by encrypted messages on social networks.
Most of the 13 men arrested Thursday in Michigan adhere to the Boogaloo ideology, and several of them were members of a local group called Wolverine Watchmen.
The Boogaloo movement, which brings together neo-Nazis and far-right anarchists, wants to overthrow the government through civil war. His supporters can be recognized by the Hawaiian shirts they wear over military attire.
Several Wolverine members took part in protests against the restrictions in Michigan by Governor Gretchen Whitmer, claiming it violated their rights.
They regularly trained in the handling of weapons “to prepare the + Boogaloo +, in reference to a violent insurgency against the government or a politically motivated civil war”, according to the Michigan justice system.
The FBI believes that far-right activists, isolated or within small groups, have been the main threat of domestic terrorism in the United States since 2019. They are accused of being responsible for dozens of deaths over the past three years, compared to a handful of victims of Islamist extremists.
FBI Director Christopher Wray claimed in September that white supremacists were the main extremist threat, but most of the deadly violence was carried out by anti-authority and anti-government activists, such as the May assassination of two California police officers by a sympathizer of Boogaloo.
Threat to the election
These small groups pose a threat to the November 3 ballot. Donald Trump, who regularly denounces the risks of massive fraud orchestrated by the Democrats, called on his supporters to go to the polling stations to “protect” the ballots.
“I call on my supporters to go into the offices and watch carefully because this is what is going to happen,” the Republican President said during the debate with his Democratic opponent Joe Biden in late September.
He then also caused an uproar by calling on the Proud Boys to “stand by” instead of condemning them. “We are ready,” replied Joe Biggs, one of the leaders of this group accustomed to brawls with left-wing activists.
In states that allow the carrying of weapons in public space, it is difficult to prevent militias or armed militants from gathering outside polling stations, as long as they do not make direct threats.
But they could be a tool of intimidation. Christopher Wray recently said that the FBI was concerned about the risk of violent clashes between far-right militias and activists declaring themselves “anti-fascist” ahead of the election.
“We now have additional fuel for an eruption of violence,” he said.