Members Only | March 16, 2021 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
There’s a growing body of evidence showing the Republican Party has a paramilitary wing
María Isabel Puerta Riera explains how we got here.
United States Senator Ron Johnson said recently that he wasn’t scared when, on January 6, armed insurgents sacked and looted the United States Capitol. They “love this country,” the Wisconsin Republican said. But “had the tables been turned and President Trump won the election and tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and antifa [stormed the seat of government], I might have been a little concerned.”
That statement was disturbing not only for the implicit racism it carried, but for the stunning confirmation of what’s becoming clear to those of us who are paying attention. The Republican Party has a paramilitary problem, and it isn’t new.
During his 2016 campaign, Donald Trump alleged, without proof, that the electoral system was fraudulent, raising concerns about the impact that his false accusations would have in the event of his defeat. His unexpected victory opened the door to the far-right fringe and legitimized efforts that contributed to strengthening the ties between them. Many feared that this close relationship would be critical in the 2020 presidential election cycle, with rising domestic tensions and the role that paramilitaries would play in addition to Trump’s false claims about the election.
The ongoing investigation into the US Capitol attack should bring into the discussion how one of the major parties in the country is going to stand for democracy while leading a double-life with paramilitaries bent on racial supremacy.
It has been clear for some time now that the Republican Party had a more-than-welcoming attitude toward certain paramilitary groups. The deadly events in Charlottesville in 2017, although fundamentally led by white supremacists called by the former president “very fine people,” also had protection services provided by paramilitaries. The following year, more signs of backing for their man in the White House came from Trump-supporting paramilitary groups targeting Muslims. In Oregon, a walkout staged by Republican state senators, in 2019, gained support from paramilitary groups that made credible threats against a planned rally.
For almost three decades, these paramilitaries (thought to be in the hundreds across the country) have viewed the government as the adversary. With a friend residing in the White House, however, these groups experienced an identity crisis. This need for an enemy explains the shift into targeting immigrants and religious minorities. It wasn’t just to please their man. It was to embrace a cause allowing them to grow.
After Trump won, there was an increase in the number of paramilitary groups, but the GOP has been no stranger to them. In 2017, a local chapter of the Republican Party in Oregon passed a resolution allowing paramilitaries (the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters, for instance) to provide security at the local party events. These groups are part of the Patriot Movement, a loose far-right network affiliated with the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and armed confrontations in Nevada and Oregon in 2016.
The Republican Party seems to be very comfortable with these groups around, as we have seen in Nevada, Oregon, Michigan, and other states. However, this is not a recent venture, since the accounts of strengthening ties can be traced back even before Trump won the election in 2016. The openness about their common interests is perhaps new, but it’s not surprising. Alarms were sounded when state Senate Majority Leader, Republican Mike Shirkey of Michigan, participated in a rally organized by paramilitaries that stormed the Michigan Capitol back in April 2020 alongside a member of a group involved in the planned kidnapping of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Though Michigan has a history of paramilitaries, the state GOP had tied itself to them, especially since the election as party co-chair of Meshawn Maddock. She organized a protest to interrupt ballot counting in Detroit, where paramilitaries were present.
Johnson’s statement is outrageous, not only for the racism, but also for the approval of white armed groups as opposed to unarmed groups as well as the acknowledgement that he didn’t feel threatened by them since they were exercising their freedom. Compare that to his comments about BLM and Antifa, but that’s another discussion.
The connections the Republican Party has with paramilitaries are not ambiguous, yet the ongoing investigation into the Capitol attack will likely provide more evidence of the extremely disturbing behavior of the formerly conservative party. Ties between not only Trump and his associates, like Roger Stone, whose security detail included members of the Oath Keepers, but the GOP at state and local levels, should bring into the discussion how one of the major parties in the country is going to stand for democracy while leading a double-life with paramilitaries bent on racial supremacy.
—María Isabel Puerta Riera
María Isabel Puerta Riera is a political scientist, currently adjunct professor at Valencia College (Florida), and former associate professor at the Universidad de Carabobo (Venezuela).
Published in cooperation with Alternet.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.