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Wack: Right-wing extremists take cues from inflammatory words of our leaders | COMMENTARY

The plot to abduct and assassinate Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives a troubling preview of 2021, regardless of how the election turns out. Right-wing extremism is a real and growing threat in our country, and President Trump isn’t lifting a finger to get it under control. He may be making it worse.

In addition to killing Whitmer, the conspirators also planned to attack police and detonate explosives at the State House and other government facilities.

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Some might be surprised that right-wing terrorism is the biggest threat currently. According to actual numbers, it dwarfs the threats from left-wing groups and religious terrorists, the usual bugaboos used to frighten the public. That’s not some left-wing talking point, and certainly won’t be found on Fox News. It comes from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), as well as the FBI and our intelligence agencies.

According to data analyzed by CSIS, (in a report titled “The Escalating Terrorism Problem in the United States”) so far this year, right-wing extremists perpetrated over 90% of attacks in the U.S., and two-thirds of the attacks in 2019.

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Since 1994, right-wing terrorism accounts for the majority of incidents, and grew significantly in the last six years. In terms of fatalities, except for 9/11, right-wing terror killed far and away the most Americans, and since 2018, accounts for 90% of American terror fatalities.

In this context, President Trump’s repeated attacks on the integrity of our election system, his baseless allegations of rampant election fraud, and that the election will be stolen from him are fuel for more violence. Add in his troubling comments that extremist groups should “stand by," that his supporters should “guard” voting locations, and his refusal to commit to a peaceful, orderly transfer of power, and the recipe for mayhem is well underway.

Connecting the president’s words to the actions of violent extremists may seem like a stretch, but just listen to what the extremists say.

The U.S. Department of Justice documents some far-right extremists referring to themselves as “Trumpenkriegers”—or “fighters for Trump.”

In a June 2019 online post, a member of the Atomwaffen Division (AWD) stated, “the culture of martyrdom and insurgency within groups like the Taliban and ISIS is something to admire and reproduce in the neo-Nazi terror movement."”

During the first presidential debate, Trump stated in reference to far right extremists that they should “stand down and stand by.” NBC news subsequently reported that Proud Boys (another far right group) organizer Joe Biggs announced that he was “standing by,” and that the president “basically said to go [expletive] them up. President Trump told the Proud Boys to stand by because someone needs to deal with ANTIFA... well sir! we’re ready!!”

Let’s be honest: we all know we have some of these individuals in our community. I receive email from them. They attend the anti-government rallies, they hold extreme views about taxation and the Second Amendment, or they are strongly opposed to equal rights for minorities and gay people. They themselves might not be ready to pick up a weapon or detonate a bomb, but they likely know, or influence someone who will. To the extent our community ignores, tolerates, or passively encourages such thinking and speech, which then leads to the behavior, we put ourselves at risk for the kind of violent mayhem these individuals think is the solution to our challenges.

Republican Mike Shirkey, the Michigan Senate majority leader, and bitter political rival of Whitmer, had this to say about the 13 individuals arrested and facing a raft of state and federal charges:

“A threat against our Governor is a threat against us all. We condemn those who plotted against her and our government. They are not patriots. There is no honor in their actions. They are criminals and traitors, and they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

This is a significant alteration in tone and message for Shirkey, who was a vocal supporter and participant in the armed protests against Whitmer, also attended by some of the conspirators. What he’s learned is that the criminals he consorted with took his prior inflammatory words at face value, and saw them as permission to act out their violent fantasies.

We all need to accept the reality that certain political rhetoric goes too far, and can motivate the unstable and violence prone to take up arms against civil society. Listen carefully to who talks about “liberation,” “oppression," and “tyranny,” or how they make excuses for, minimize, or ignore those that do. In coming months, they also are responsible for what transpires.

Robert Wack writes from Westminster. He can be reached at Robert.p.wack@gmail.com.

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For any member of the community who would like to submit a guest community voices column for publication consideration, it should be approximately 700 words and sent to bob.blubaugh@carrollcountytimes.com.

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