Michigan at 'highest risk' for right-wing militia activity around the election, report warns

click to enlarge Armed protesters at an anti-coronavirus lockdown in Lansing in May. - Steve Neavling
Steve Neavling
Armed protesters at an anti-coronavirus lockdown in Lansing in May.

Michigan is among five states with the highest risk of right-wing militia violence during and after the election, according to an alarming new report from a nonprofit that tracks political violence.

The Armed Conflict & Event Location Data Project (ACLED) examined the activities of more than 80 militias across the country and concluded that Michigan is at a heightened risk based on active militia training, anti-coronavirus lockdown rallies, and the presence of the Proud Boys, the far-right brawlers whom President Donald Trump told to “stand back and stand by.”

Michigan is home to several active militias, including Michigan Liberty Militia and the Michigan Home Guard.

“In light of this activity, tensions run high” in Michigan, the report states.

Battleground states such as Michigan also run a higher risk for violence. Trump won by just 0.2% in 2016, or some 10,000 votes.

The report highlights the arrests of 14 men accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and attack the state Capitol and law enforcement with the goal of instigating a civil war.

Among the warning signs for militant activity are protests against states' coronavirus lockdowns. In April, hundreds of armed protesters stormed the state Capitol in Lansing, and the rallies were among the first in the nation. An analysis of Black Lives Matter rallies found that counter-protesters, including Proud Boys, often were involved, sometimes clashing with demonstrators. On Aug. 15, for example, the Proud Boys clashed with supporters of the anti-fascist Michigan People’s Defense League and Black Lives Matter movement.

In May, armed militia members pledged to block police from forcing the closure of an Owosso barber shop that opened in defiance of Michigan’s stay-at-home order.

Michigan officials are taking precautions. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson recently banned guns near polling locations, and Attorney General Dana Nessel said state troopers will be sent to polling places in counties where officials fear local sheriffs may not enforce voter intimidation laws.

The report concludes that the “trends raise significant concerns for the security of the election period.”

“It is yet unclear how many of these groups will react, no matter the vote’s outcome,” the report states. “Does a Trump loss lead to anger at the system and a backlash against what is deemed a stolen election? Does a Trump victory further empower groups that see him as a supporter, including through verbal encouragement ahead of the election? The answers to these questions are as numerous as they are uncomfortable.”

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