October 31, 2020
I’ve been absent from this blog in October largely because I’ve been talking to the world about right wing extremism and the looming threat of impending civil war. Pandemic lockdowns, fears of America becoming one big “anarchist jurisdiction” like Portland, and Donald Trump telling fascist fighting clubs, like the Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by” had already elevated fears. And then a militia group in Michigan, taking Trump’s “Liberate Michigan” tweet to heart, hatched a plot to kidnap and execute their governor and overthrow the state government. I’ve talked to news teams from France, South Korea, Switzerland, Italy, Turkey, and several others about Portland leading the country on one path or another. Standing at the crossroads.
What will happen after Tuesday, regardless of which candidate wins? I’ve seen pick-up trucks with rebel and Trump flags driving through black neighborhood in Portland, with semi-automatic weapons on full display. Is this their promised “Boogaloo” at our doorstep?
The organization I chair, the Coalition Against Hate Crimes, issued the following statement urging law enforcement agencies to take this moment seriously. I will be back here to follow up this week.
October 20, 2020
Our country is passing through a time of great division. The voices of extremism have been growing and the threat of violence centered around the presidential election has raised anxiety levels in many communities. The includes communities who have long been the targets of hate and scapegoating, as well as federal workers, and even law enforcement. The Coalition Against Hate Crimes (CAHC) would like to use its collective voice to urge our partners in law enforcement to enact a cohesive strategy to protect Oregonians from those who have pledged violence around and after the election. This threat ranges from voter intimidation to acts of massive domestic terrorism.
We call on our coalition law enforcement partners to ensure the safety of the citizens and residents of our state by doing the following;
- Have a clear plan about how law enforcement will respond to election related violence, including by those civilian groups that claim to be “pro-police.” This plan should be a collaboration between local, county, state, and federal law enforcement, and should be presented to the public. The priority of confronting domestic terrorism must be high through the new year.
- Law enforcement should reach out to vulnerable communities who have been the target of hate in the past, including BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities and those subject to religious bigotry, to develop security strategies and encourage the reporting of bias related behavior. The Department of Homeland Security should provide resources to protect to communities who have been threatened by right-wing extremists.
- All levels of law enforcement must make clear that any member who participates in right-wing extremist activities will be removed from armed service.
- Law enforcement must engage in a public effort to both address the threat level and create a mechanism by which the public knows how to properly respond. This can include utilizing the state’s new bias crime hotline to report potential threats and plots, leading to immediate investigation.
The last few years, the right-wing extremist movement has returned to the forefront of our body politic. Jeremy Christian, the anti-government activist posted an ode to Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, on his Facebook page before his 2017 murderous attack on a Portland Max train. Armed Proud Boys have been roaming Portland and Salem, looking for confrontation. Militia groups, like the Oath Keepers, have promoted themselves as soldiers in a coming civil war. The race war McVeigh hoped to spark has been rebranded as the “boogaloo,” with armed adherents, both on line and in the street, promising violent conflict if their man in the White House is not re-elected. The recent arrests of the militia members in Michigan who were plotting to kidnap (and execute) Governor Whitmer and overthrow the state government demonstrate how real these “patriot” visions for massive social disruption are.
Communities in Oregon have been traumatized by the presence of white-nationalist, fascists, and anti-government extremists, many regularly sporting weapons of war. This should not be normal in our state or in America. People are in fear of what a Trump victory or defeat could mean for public safety. This fear is magnified by the perception that many in law enforcement condone, or even participate in this form of oppression and domestic terrorism.
If a community member sees a threat being made to a mosque, synagogue, LGBTQ+ center, Black frequented venue, members of immigrant communities, or a federal building on social media, they should 1) believe that law enforcement is going to take it seriously, and 2) have a clear avenue to report it to authorities. Our partners in the justice field can help build community resilience in the face of growing fears of grievous violence.
Law enforcement partners must speak in a unified, clear voice that the threat posed by right-wing violence is at odds with our democratic values. It must be dealt with and not allowed to grow. There are those that are calling for a second civil war to begin in the next few months. We must stand together against the calls for violence and division and law enforcement must play a role in preventing this catastrophe.
CAHC/Law Enforcement Background
The CAHC was formed in 1997 in the wake of the Oklahoma City Bombing. The actors in that 1995 terrorist act killed 168 innocent people, including 19 children, and injured another 759 civilians, all who were inside the Murrah Federal Building. The goal of the bombing was to ignite a race war in America. They had spent time in the militia movement in Michigan, training with right-wing extremists who hated federal and state government agencies. Following the bombing, Attorney General Janet Reno requested that federal, state, county, and municipal law enforcement agencies form partnerships with community-baed groups to prevent further domestic terrorism from the radical right.
The CAHC was created as a partnership between advocacy and civil rights groups and law enforcement and government agencies to do this work. For 23 years, we have collaborated on better reporting of incidents, supporting the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes, community-level education, and providing resources to the victims of hate. Since our founding, we have had active participation from all levels of law of enforcement, from the Portland Police Bureau to the FBI. The partnerships have, at times, been tense, but have allowed for open channels of communications around key issues of public safety in our state.