Pro-Trump or anti-government? Accused plotters might be too dumb for ideological consistency

October 12, 2020, 11:17 AM

From left, top: Ty Garbin, Adam Fox, Daniel Harris, Michael Null.
Bottom: Kaleb Franks, William Null, Brandon Caserta, Eric Molitar.

(Photos: Kent and Antrim County Sheriffs Offices)

The 13 alleged militiamen accused of plotting against the state government may have wanted to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Many may have also supported Donald Trump and attended an anti-lockdown rally led by conservatives in April. But the defendants appear to have been inspired less by white supremacist ideology and political partisanship than "an off-the-cliff radical variant of a feeling deeply rooted in American culture: fear and hatred of government," Slate reports.

One of the so-called "Wolverine Watchmen" charged last week — Brandon Caserta, the guy with the stretched ear lobes and tattoos — seemed to be an anarchist who detested the president as well as the governor, as evidenced by this social media post:

But he was also a coronavirus-denier and supporter of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old who allegedly shot two Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Though he and others expressed apparently racist and/or partisan views online, Slate notes that none of the conversations recorded by informants and excerpted in the FBI's 15-page affadavit show partisan leanings, suggesting the group did not fall neatly into a left–right paradigm and was moreso unified by its loathing of government.

... in the passages cited in the affidavit, there are no racist remarks or references to President Donald Trump’s rhetoric. More typical is this soliloquy on July 24 by Adam Fox, clearly the group’s leader:

"In all honesty, right now … I just wanna make the world glow, dude. I’m not even fuckin’ kidding. I just wanna make it all glow, dude. I don’t fuckin’ care anymore. I’m just so sick of it. That’s what it’s gonna take for us to take it back. … Everything’s gonna have to be annihilated, man. We’re gonna topple it all, dude. It’s what great frickin’ conquerors, man, we’re just gonna conquer every fuckin’ thing, man."

In hearings last month before the House Homeland Security Committee, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the bureau conducts about 1,000 domestic terrorism investigations a year—“well north of 1,000” this year. Most of these cases, he said, involve white supremacist groups ... But Wray also said that the most “lethal” attacks come from “anti-government, anti-authority, anarchist” extremists. “We don’t think in terms of left or right,” he said. “That’s not how we view the world.”

But though the alleged militiamen purported to be anti-government, many had Trump signs on their properties and parroted the president's rhetoric in online posts. How it's possible for them to hold space for both ideas is summed up nicely by a comment from David Kilcullen, a terrorism expert who has written that the rise of radical militias may be a sign of an “incipient insurgency:"

“Most terrorists are idiots,” he tells Slate.

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