Kathleen Belew is worried. That worries me.
An expert on white power terrorists, she fears Donald Trump’s refusal to accept the election results may be inciting violence. The false charge that the presidential election was “stolen” will likely become a rallying cry for the Trump base.
The Trump loss, specifically his phony claim that he was robbed, will infuriate these fringe figures: “If these white power advocates double down on the idea this was a rigged election, history tells us there will be major spikes in violence, deliberate attacks,” Belew says.
She is a history professor at the University of Chicago and wrote a definitive book on the white power movement, “Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America.” She dismisses the notion that this often is a “lone wolf” problem.
“These militant fringe groups are much more directly connected than is appreciated,” she told me in an interview. “They share a lot of ideas,” and vent their violence-inducing anger.
They include the militant paramilitary groups, the Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nation, neo-Nazis, the Proud Boys, the Boogaloos and extreme gun rights movement.
That infuriates Trump, who has threatened to fire Wray before he leaves office.
Belew points out that “mass violence and waves of militia activity are not new to America.” What is new, she notes, are high officials “emboldening them” and “supporters in public office as part of our political landscape.” It’s not just Trump giving aid and comfort to the fringe white nationalists; several newly-elected House members are supporters of QAnon, a racist conspiracy sect. A West Point study concluded QAnon “represents a militant and anti-establishment ideology rooted in an apocalyptic desire to destroy the existing corrupt world.” It warns of “an increasing frequency of criminal or violent acts by QAnon supporters.”
There’s a false reassurance that these fringe white power groups are a few nuts hidden way in rural Montana cabins.
Instead, Belew finds these groups are diverse — except for race — and “are found in all parts of the country, in rural, suburban and urban areas.” They include “religious leaders and felons and veterans” — have volleyball games and spaghetti dinners and “even match-making schemes to help young white power activists meet one another.”
They have been given license by the Trump administration. Elizabeth Neumann, assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Counterterrorism, resigned after she and others couldn’t get the president to address the “dramatic rise in white nationalist violence.” Instead, she charged, “his rhetoric was a recruitment tool for violent extremist groups.”
This has ranged from his initial refusal to criticize the neo-Nazis and other white nationalists at Charlottesville in 2017 to this fall declining to denounce during a debate the Proud Boys, a white power hate group.
His claim now that the election is being “stolen” is the most perilous. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), one of the few Republicans willing to stand up to Trump’s bullying, says Trump “recklessly inflames destructive and dangerous passions.”
Trump’s deceitful charge undermines confidence in our Democratic system, but it could also threaten to unleash a dangerous wave of violence.