Call it a symptom of the internet age. Call it an invention of the Trump era. Call it what you will, but you can now call up a group of right-wing conspiracy theorists and there will arrive, at your door or chosen location, a gun-toting band of patriots. All across the country, groups of white supremacists, far-right militias, and human-trafficking-fighters are organizing, networking, and mobilizing.
This isn't really anything new; it's just changing shape. When the FBI and ATF surrounded Ruby Ridge, they were met with dozens of right-wing locals. At Waco, folks came out of the woodwork to witness governmental overreach and the eventual death of nearly a hundred people. Among them was future domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh. We've always had these people in the United States. But now, the country, and the world, is much smaller.
Social media–and the proliferation of the internet in general–has allowed for the rapid radicalization of young minds and the mobilization of real numbers of right-wing fanatics across the country. It took hardly any time at all for hundreds of people, armed and not, to arrive at Cliven Bundy's ranch in order to push back against the Bureau of Land Management (saying that Bundy owed millions in grazing fees and that an endangered tortoise deserved the chance to live. Way to go, militia-guys). And that was in 2014. Since then we've seen the Bundys crop up again in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where they occupied the park and received care packages full of dildos (that's not important to the story, I just think it's funny). But as far as people on the right go, the Bundys are almost harmless. Since Malheur we've seen thousands of disparate fascist-types at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, where Heather Heyer was killed by a fascist motorist. Fasc counter-protestors were everywhere following the George Floyd Uprising, and simultaneously everywhere to protest COVID restrictions–like in Michigan, where they occupied the Statehouse and threatened to kidnap Governor Whitmer. Then, of course, we have the insurrection of January 6th. Jesus, it's been a long few years, huh?
So today, let's talk about the proliferation of mobile groups of right-wing, fascy, shitty people, ready and willing to cross a state or the country in order to push back against the deep state. Because while things have been somewhat quiet lately, there are plenty of smaller events happening today, tomorrow, and everywhere.
Ammon Bundy's Phone-a-Patriot
Last year, a couple brought their baby into an Idaho hospital. The baby, severely malnourished, was admitted and began to make a quick recovery. The couple pulled the child from the hospital early, however, as they were adherents to the far-right belief that hospitals were a nexus of child trafficking–and were very hesitant to bring the child in the first place. They were proven correct, in their minds, when the couple were eventually stopped by police and their child taken from them and remanded to CPS. The baby was taken back to the hospital, where it was found to be in even worse condition. Then came Ammon.
Ammon Bundy, since Malheur, has spent his time in a fair bit of the spotlight, running for governor of Idaho, and putting together the People's Rights Network, a fifty-some odd-thousand group of right wingers who are, supposedly, there to answer calls to respond in situations of government overreach, ostensibly provide mutual aid, and sometimes just treat the network like a network. But when the above couple lost their child, they put in a call, and Bundy answered.
Ammon and the network organized a response, and out came dozens of patriots to the Idaho hospital that held the baby. They surrounded the building, called in threats, doxxed staff and accused them of trafficking and molestation. Out of fear of the patriots breaking in and taking the baby, they had to secret the child away through a tunnel in the basement to an outbuilding. And though the baby did make a recovery and was returned to the parents after its stability was ensured, the damage had been done. One of the doctors had already fled the country to get away from the threats.
A Ruby Ridge for Gen Z
Elsewhere in Idaho, a used-to-be actor and comedian has built himself a bear-themed compound. Owen Benjamin, now a self-styled comedian for the far-right, has made his neighbors extremely nervous about recreating Ruby Ridge, as he sees his compound as a sort of influencer destination for his small but considerable fanbase of disgusting fans. Think of it as a kind of Fyre Festival with guns. That's disconcerting, no?
It would be one thing if a bunch of these types decided to turn an empty patch of land upside down while they're on it, but the problem is not just that these people are getting together and presumably having a real awkward time; it's that there exists an environment in which this easily happens. Radicalization can happen fast in this world, and it's only hastened when one has the potential to be exposed at every turn. You may have forgotten that after the Bundy standoff in 2014, a couple who had come to the Bundys' defense then returned to their home in Las Vegas, armed up, and a couple of months later engaged in a fairly wild shootout, killing two police officers and a bystander while talking about the coming revolution. It does not take much, sometimes, and a social-media-saturated fuckpit led by an Alex Jones-endorsed comedian is a not unlikely place for the next headline news.
What This Means, Practically
Leftists are often caught on our collective back foot when it comes to swift response. There are absolutely organizations–from Mutual Aid Disaster Relief to the various John Brown Gun Clubs–but they are not nearly so numerous and armed as, say, the Proud Boys, Blood Tribe, or even Ammon Bundy's patriot network. It's not necessary that we create groups to match these, I don't think, as we don't necessarily need to have some rapid response team that travels across the country. But we need to be thinking about how outmatched we are. As always, we need to be thinking about our communities, about outreach and organizing and radicalizing our own.
With this being an election year, we're entering a more politically-fraught time, and with that comes the more obvious ways to participate in our fight. And while showing up against fascists marching or hanging out at your statehouse is all well and good, we must go beyond simple response and keep our communities engaged even when we're not pushing back in the streets. The more consistent our engagement, the broader our network, the more likely we are to keep and sustain a movement. And we've got to have these communities in place, lest the new networks of the far right muscle in.