Unpacking the March4Trump: Klan, Police, and III%ers Oh My!
Wed, Mar 15, 2017
On March 4th, supporters of Trump’s proto-fascist presidency took to the streets nationwide in a variety of rallies and marches. In response, counter protesters organized in a number of different ways to shut down these events, with varying degrees of success. While, between local and alternative media, much has already been written about the events that took place in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Beyond the overt pro-Trump agenda though that the marchers were supporting, the Oregon “March4Trump” served as a vehicle for the more insidious agenda of white nationalist and militia movement groups. While the growing ties between the patriot movement, white supremacists, and the Alt-Right have begun to be unveiled, the “March4Trump” provides an excellent example as to how exactly this melding is taking place.
But the real story is not the screaming that was carrying back and forth across State Street. In full view of the Trump supporters and counter-protesters, white supremacists and militia members were using this event as a cover to organize in public. The Trump administration is creating opportunities across the nation for violent white supremacists to parade in the open, practice their organizing skills, and gain supporters.
The Portland metro area has a recent transplant to the city, a bona fide member of the KKK and a Christian Identity believer, who has also previously worked with the National Socialist Movement. His name is Steven Howard, and he was present at the March4Trump, mixing it up with those at the rally and taking part in the harassment of the counter-protesters, unopposed by the so-called “security” claiming to “manage” the march.
Steven Howard, the NSM, and the KKK
Howard is not just another southern boy who posts the occasional selfie with the Confederate flag. He has been an Imperial Wizard of the Northern Mississippi White Knights of the KKK since at least 2012, appearing in several documentary films. In 2016, he was working with the National Socialist Movement, and attendedtheir rally in Harrisburg. Recently, he has moved to the Portland area, and is known to reside in Vancouver, Washington.
Renamed the National Socialist Movement (NSM) in 1994, the National Socialist American Workers Freedom Movement was founded in 1974 by former members of the American Nazi Party. The NSM has been stepping up their recruitment efforts in the last decade, and is the largest Neo-Nazi group in the country,according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. In the last decade, the NSM has been attempting to change their image, to appeal to a wider audience and shake their ties with Third Reich Nazis. They haven’t worn Nazi uniforms since 2007, instead adopting an all black “battle dress” attire. Following the presidential election in 2016, they replaced their swastika emblem with a rune, in attempt to curry favor with the “alt-right” Neo-Nazi rebranding.
The NSM has proved so popular that it has even drawn converts from the KKK, but this has also backfired, as it did in 2007, when Gordon Young, former leader of the World Knights of the KKK who took on leadership of the NSM in Maryland, was forced to resign after being charged with sexually assaulting a minor. Howard’s affair with the NSM also faded quickly. Although it is unknown what caused Howard to depart from the NSM, recently a couple of their members referred to Howard as a “media whore” in an online video, and Howard has returned to referring to himself as the Imperial Wizard of the Northern Mississippi White Knights of the KKK.
On March 4, Howard was in Lake Oswego, where he harassed several counter-protesters, and then stood guarded by the III%ers “security team,” who seemed more than happy to let this KKK member do as he liked in their midst. This is unsurprising, given that the III%ers and Howard share similar roots in the history of American white supremacist movements.
What is unseen in the March 4 photos, is that under his neck bandana, Howard has a 14/83 tattoo. Many people are aware of the “1488” Neo-Nazi slogan, that stands for the “14 words” motto coined by a member of the white supremacist terrorist group The Order. “88” is a stand-in for “HH,” or “Heil Hitler.” In the case of Howard’s tattoo, “83” is for “Hail Christ,” a popular substitution used by members of The Christian Identity movement.
Christian Identity is a racial interpretation of Christianity, which believes that all non-white people will be killed or enslaved to create a heavenly kingdom on earth for “god’s chosen” race. Christian Identity was promoted by George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party. Gordon Kahl, a sovereign citizen tax resister killed by the FBI in 1983 shootout following a shootout with US Marshals, had ties to both the Posse Comitatus movement and Christian Identity. And so did The Order, which was inspired partly by Kahl’s death and by William Luther Pierce’s race-war fantasy novel, The Turner Diaries. The Idaho-based white supremacist church Aryan Nations practices a version of Christian Identity, and Randy Weaver, the target of the ill-fated Ruby Ridge standoff, also had ties to the movement. Christian Identity proponents believe in typical anti-semitic conspiracy theories, and often train in paramilitary tactics as a way of resisting the government and preparing for their fantastical race war.
Howard may pale in comparison to these far more violent figures in American white supremacist history, but he is of the same lineage. The groups he is active with are carrying on the violent, racist legacy, and as Howard showed on March 4, he looks to continue in those footsteps, by assaulting and berating people in a public park in Lake Oswego.
It is perhaps unsurprising that the march organizers are willing to let KKK members and fascists join them, given that they have questionable racial politics of their own. The march was organized by a member of the Oregon III% (The III%ers, or Three Percenters), who are a decentralized militia with links to the Oath Keepers. Unlike the Oath Keepers however, whose membership is strictly former or active servicemen and police, the III%ers are willing to engage with folks with criminal records and other problematic behaviors. These groups have a made it their mission to oppose lawful government, and enact their own vision of a United States in which might makes right, and their armed gangs of paramilitary soldiers confront the federal government, seizing public property for their own enrichment. In the mindset of the III%er, a gun is the only law that counts -- and as the armed “security” at the march has shown, they don’t mind if white power thugs like SH join their gatherings and harass people that they dislike.
In context of the most recent March4Trump, the III%ers agenda became clear when members swooped into organize a caravan from Salem to Lake Oswego after one of their members was able to infiltrate the organizing staff during the fallout of from “Kevin the Geek” being ousted from the planning of the march. This strategy reflects the underlying agenda of the III%ers to use patriotic and Pro-Trump events as a smokescreen for pushing their own agenda.
The III%ers and the Oath Keepers are the contemporary face of the militia or armed patriot movement, which has been experiencing a resurgence since 2009. The 1990s militia movement surged in response to both the Ruby Ridge andWaco standoffs, but reached a peak in 1995, when Timothy McVeigh, a Christian Identity proponent, bombed the Oklahoma City Federal Building with Terry Nichols. The militia movement drew much of its language and concepts from the decentralizedPosse Comitatus movement, started in Portland, Oregon in 1969 by a former member of the American fascist organization, The Silver Shirts. Posse Comitatus had deep ties with the Christian Identity movement, and inspired many sovereign citizens. In addition to Christian Identity fantasies of race war and anti-semitic conspiracy theories, Posse Comitatus was united by the idea that the US Constitution’s description of federal powers was a sham, and that county sheriffs were the only legitimate force of legal interpretation and law and order.
LETTER TO THE PATRIOT MILITIAS: THE ALT RIGHT MURDERS VETERANS
Christian was increasingly obsessed with the same conspiracy theories that the alt-right cultivate in order to expand the gap between reality and fiction. While many on the alt-right disbelieve conspiracy theories like “Pizzagate,” they continue to promote them to gain followers and manipulate a distrust in the surrounding community and media. When the alt-right began holding “free speech” rallies, Christian’s rhetoric became increasingly violent toward those targeted by the alt-right. Joey Gibson’s local Portland Prayer group, also known as the “Warriors for Freedom,” helped Christian locate a material outlet for his hatred. When he arrived at one of Gibson’s “free speech rallies,” Christian immediately attempted to attack counter-protestors with a baseball bat unprovoked. After police confiscated his bat, Gibson continued to scream at antifascists, even throwing up a Nazi salute and racial slurs, but was welcomed within the rally.
The Birth of Canada's Armed, Anti-Islamic 'Patriot' Group
An eight-month VICE Canada investigation into the inner workings of the group has found it to be a tight-knit openly anti-Islamic group that is unique in Canada's far-right ecosystem—one that, as one expert puts it, seems to be a "wholesale lift of an American militia." During VICE Canada's investigation, the group's rhetoric and tactics rapidly escalated from virulently anti-Islam online posturing to IRL monitoring of mosques, live fire paramilitary-style training, claiming to buy land, and plans for creating smoke and flash bombs.
The Canadian III% is, in essence, a direct lift of an American militia that has been outfitted with a rough paint job to fit into a Canadian worldview—even the name III% comes from an American myth that it was three percent of the American population that fought against the British in the War of Independence. The group is hierarchical, similar to motorcycle clubs or the Soldiers of Odin, and to become a member you have to be patched in by showing loyalty and worth to your superiors.
The Albertan group claims to meet on a weekly basis to train with live ammunition and prepare themselves for when the "shit hits the fan." The group's attention shifts constantly, but it seemingly revolves around hating on Antifa, the influx of refugees crossing Canada's borders and, most prominently, the possibility of a Islamic terrorist attack. Unlike the Soldiers of Odin, or other like-minded groups, the III%ers don't seem to feel the need to play coy with their hatred of Islam.
by Nora Brooks
Cowboy, Western United States, c.1900. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Once near the Alvord Desert—a corner of Oregon literally never in the news until last year, when cowboy militants took over the Malheur wildlife refuge in protest of the jailing of ranchers for burning federal land—my then husband and I stopped at a gas station on the way to a hot spring up the highway. We were almost out of gas. We had swimsuits on under our hiking gear. I had put my hair into two braids running down my shoulders and pinned a toy sheriff’s badge to my shirt. I didn’t think about doing this at all. Wearing the sheriff’s badge was a lark, like impersonating a character from Bonanza. It was supposed to be sexy and a little ridiculous.
You can’t pump gas yourself in Oregon by law, so we went into the store to find the attendant. The two guys standing by the checkout stared at me blankly, something itchy and uncomfortable in their gaze. The guy behind the counter had creases from the sun fanning out around his eyes and white hair. He was wearing the kind of thin white cotton shirt that hints at the undershirt beneath it, aviator glasses and a huge gray Stetson. “So you’re the sheriff,” he said.
I looked down at my chest. I waved my plastic badge away like imaginary flies. “It’s nothing.”
I did this partly because this was the only place to buy gas for 100 miles.
He showed me his own badge, which was real. It made a heavy noise when he put it down on the counter. I unpinned mine and handed it to him. Without hesitation, he took it. I was playing a character, but he was not, not for a second.
In the West cowboys can be found everywhere, just as soon as you get outside the urban outposts of liberal thought and artisanal pickles that dot the coastal edge of the continent: namely Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland. (You could throw in some of the larger towns like Boulder, Colorado.) Outside of this, the landscape is comprised mostly of churches, diners, bars, and sagebrush. This polarized geography can make for some remarkable moments of mutual misunderstanding. It is precisely the sense that what was valuable in this sheriff’s world was a joke to mine that Trump was able to ride to victory.
Even in the West and the great swaths of the Midwest, most people live in cities or the suburbs that ring them; the rural areas are underpopulated, with only 20% of the U.S. population according to the 2010 Census. But Trump didn’t need to get the votes of city-dwellers. He just needed enough geographical distribution of his wins to get the electoral vote. Just before the election, the Agri-Pulse Farm and Ranch Poll reported that 55 percent of farmers and ranchers who responded were voting for Trump, compared to 18% for Clinton. Thirty states, nineteen made up of vast pasture lands and farms, gave Trump the votes he needed.
One thing that made Trump so popular in these parts was his stance towards federal regulations that hold sway over how land and water can be used, and can make the difference as to whether a small family outfit will survive. The president of the Nebraska farmers’ union told Modern Farmer just after the election that farmers were “just by god mad, and they don’t want the EPA telling us what to do.” Oregon farmer Shelly Boshart-Davis told the local news that: “When Trump would talk, he talked about getting rid of regulation. As a small business, as a farm, that really, really spoke to us.”
It’s not so much that Trump made himself seem one of them—no one would mistake him for a farmer or rancher—as he convinced them he heard them.
A case in point is the Bundy family. During the presidential race, one commenter for Daily Edge, a political news company, tweeted in early November that Trump was “Cliven Bundy in a suit and tie.”
Cliven Bundy is the patriarch of a Nevada ranching family with a long history of bucking the authority of the Bureau of Land Management. He first achieved minor folk hero status in 2014 at the Battle of Bunkerville, as it is known in certain corners of the Internet. At issue was more than a million dollars in fines owed to the BLM for illegally grazing his cattle on public land for over 20 years. His family had made use of land in the area since 1877, some of which is now part of the nearby national park. In 1993, environmental restrictions meant to protect an endangered turtle put new limits on grazing. He refused to recognize the authority of the BLM and continued to make use of the land. When in 2014, the BLM finally insisted on collecting their money, he refused to pay them. Consequently, they confiscated his cattle.
The story might have ended there, except for an ex-marine named Ryan Payne and the network of militia groups he founded, Operation Mutual Aid. Cliven posted pics of his cattle on social media and issued a plea for help. Within 24 hours, Payne and his men were at the Bundys’ back door, having driven through the night to reach them. “We’re just a little farm family down here. We don’t have military training, we don’t have military equipment. We don’t even have a shotgun that works right,” Cliven’s son Ryan said at the time. “So when Ryan Payne and his militia started showing up, we could finally have a ray of hope that we can have a little bit of defense.”
Payne soon was in charge of tactics for the whole operation. Under Payne’s guidance, protesters surrounded BLM agents guarding confiscated Bundy cattle, at one point shutting down a highway with snipers. Finally, the BLM surrendered the cattle and went away. The Bundys draped a banner over a freeway overpass reading: “The West Has Now Been Won!”
The BLM probably backed down so quickly that day at Bunkerville because of the specter of Waco.
More War on Terror?: The Politics of Punishment and the Shooting in Las Vegas
Outbreaks of mass violence must be understood as social problems in need of political solutions rather than criminal justice problems in need of more punishment.
Las Vegas police participate in a 2012 "Multi Assault Counter Terrorism Action Capabilities" training at Nellis Air Force Base.
More carnage at the hands of men with guns. Nevada, like much of the country, lacks meaningful restrictions on access to assault rifles and the ammunition that feeds them. We can only hope that an event like this will undermine the logic of expanding gun ownership and “open carry” perpetuated by the gun industry and its prime lobbyist, the NRA, and lead to a more rational interpretation of the Second Amendment.
More likely, however, is an intensification of the politics of fear and an expansion of the War on Terror, driven in part by misguided but well-meaning calls to define this latest mass shooting as a domestic terror incident. It is understandable that when people see the horrible acts of non-white people labeled as terrorism, they want similar acts by whites to be labeled the same way, in the hope that by doing so the power of the NRA and the radical right will be undermined by equating gun violence with whiteness.
For now, we know nothing about the killer’s motives. Was there some sort of warped political motivation behind this or was this a case of profound, but all too common, untreated mental illness? One of the first such mass sniper shootings was carried out in 1966 at the University of Texas. The shooter had a massive brain tumor and had been turned away from medical treatment before killing 14 people from the university clock tower.
Demanding that the Las Vegas shooting be treated as terrorism runs the real risk of further expanding the power of the FBI, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and President Trump to engage in more of the unjust and counterproductive practices associated with prosecuting the War on Terror in the US. The FBI routinely relies on scams that border on entrapment to lure young and vulnerable people into “plots” that have been entirely created and facilitated by the FBI. The more outlandish the plot they cook up, the more headlines they get, despite the total inability of the person arrested to conceptualize, much less carry out such an attack.
Following 9/11, the US created a national network of “Fusion Centers” designed to gather intelligence and fight terrorism. When it quickly became clear that there was no such work for them to do in the vast majority of jurisdictions, they quickly shifted over to an “all hazzards/all crimes” posture that has led to an expansion of surveillance of non-violent political groups.
An expansion of the War on Terror would likely further accelerate the militarization of policing as well. Trump recently signaled his support for this when he dialed back the modest restrictions President Obama had placed on the transfer of military hardware to local police forces. Broadening the mandate of this “war” will encourage even more military hardware on our streets, and possibly more importantly, an expansion of the “warrior” mindset among police, who already view much of the public they police as “enemies.”
While calls for equality before the law are much needed, we too often equate that with expanding the use of punishment. Do we really want to increase the arrests of whites for drug violations to make the War on Drugs more racially just? Shouldn’t we instead question the basic idea of using police, courts, and prisons to manage an urgent public health issue? We need to break the habit of equating justice with punishment and look instead to develop prevention mechanisms that bring us more safety.
We should support rational gun control legislation and a rethinking of the Second Amendment that would allow us to reign in the availability of assault weapons. Unfortunately, such a “supply side” approach is unlikely to be very successful. There remains strong political support for easy access to guns of all kinds. Even robust restrictions on handguns would be slow to make much a difference, because there are currently more guns than people in the US.
We need to also consider a broad range of demand side solutions. Keep in mind that one of the greatest drivers of gun sales and the cynical politics of gun deregulation is racial fear and animus. Whenever there are increased calls for racial justice, such as the emergence of Black Lives Matter, gun sales increase. This is a political problem that gets to the heart of racism in American society. It is this reality that must be addressed head on if we hope to reduce the stockpiling of guns.
Closely related to this is a deep distrust of the state and any kind of broadly collective approaches to the common good. Large swaths of the population feel deeply alienated from a state that they see as directly producing economic displacement in their lives while providing what they see as hand outs and special treatment for “others” such as immigrants and people of color. This kind of loss of political faith is driving militia movements, Oath Keepers, the open carry movement, and other to turn to weapons as a mythical defense against an imperial state.
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