A militia network’s enthusiasm to lend paramilitary support to Oregon’s Republican senators last month could be a bellwether for the 2020 campaign season.
These militias have seized on the words and policies of lawmakers, some of whom welcome their assistance, to further their cause. This campaign season will likely offer more of these opportunities for an entrenched network of far-right extremists.
“We see it the same as we saw the protesters in the wash at the Bundy Ranch,” Eric Parker, leader of The Real Three Percenters Idaho, told the Daily Beast. Parker, an Idaho resident best known for aiming a rifle at federal agents during the 2014 Bunkerville standoff, was referring to 11 Republican state senators from Oregon who, on June 20, staged a walkout to avoid a quorum that would allow that state’s majority Democrat senate to pass a landmark environmental bill.
What should have been an unspectacular event escalated with just six words from one Republican senator.
“Send bachelors and come heavily armed,” Sen. Brian Boquist threatened upon hearing of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown hinting at dispatching state police to round up and return him along with the other missing legislators. “I’m not going to be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon.”
Boquist’s remarks imply that state police officers would be met with lethal violence and warn that only officers without spouses should be dispatched.
Militia members quickly mobilized on social media to offer support for the absentee public officials and circulated memes glorifying violence and war on Facebook. Paul Luhrs, a leader in the Oregon Three Percent, told the Daily Beast his group would do “whatever it takes” to protect the senators.
Oregon’s Senate President Peter Courtney canceled the senate’s June 22 session after state police reported a “credible threat from militia groups” at a planned rally at the Capitol that day, according to Senate Democratic caucus correspondence obtained by the Oregon Capital Bureau.
What took place in Oregon last month offers an example of the militia movement rallying behind the Republican Party and the MAGA platform it represents. What’s more, it offers a warning of the real-world effects on civil society when public servants echo extremist ideas.
The antigovernment extremist movement is three years into a process of radical change, where for the first time in the movement’s roughly 30-year history it sees an ally in the Oval Office. And with the fear of the movement’s primary foe lessened, the militias have redirected their vitriol toward America’s political left and most vulnerable communities nationwide.
Rhodes, who once advocated for the hanging of Sen. John McCain and boasted of his organization’s ability to wage battle with law enforcement officers, has for years been trying to appeal to Trump.
In 2016, as then-candidate Trump claimed voter fraud and a rigged election, Rhodes issued a call to action for Oath Keepers to form undercover intelligence teams and patrol voting stations to “look for and document suspected criminal vote fraud or intimidation activities.” Rhodes then put out another order for Oath Keepers to provide security at Trump’s inauguration, and even extended that security to the “Deploraball,” an inauguration party in Washington, D.C., organized by right-wing provocateurs.
After attending a number of far-right rallies under the guise of free speech, Rhodes announced in 2018 the creation of Oath Keepers’ Spartan Training Groups – seemingly a rebrand of the Oath Keepers’ years-old Community Preparedness Teams but with the explicit purpose of combating “antifa and the far left.”
Most recently, Rhodes has been imploring President Trump to send combat troops to the Southern border to serve as a bulwark against what he calls an invasion of migrants, which Rhodes sees as part of a leftist plot to change the voting demographics permanently in favor of the Democratic Party. For his part, Rhodes is offering Oath Keepers as a pool of militiamen-in-waiting that Trump could call for help.
Rhodes and his Oath Keepers’ support of Trump is no outlier in the militia movement.
Chris Hill, founder and leader of the Georgia-based antigovernment militia Three Percent Security Force, stated in the runup to the 2018 midterm elections that his group would protect President Trump with “use of force” if Democrats took control of the House and Senate and pursued impeachment.
“I [have] zero confidence in the government,” Hill told a reporter from Denmark’s TV2. “I love Donald Trump, but the government is corrupt. I pray for a revolution tomorrow morning.”
Hill, a Georgia resident, also threatened 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams in a video posted to Facebook. The Three Percent Security Force is one of the most well-known Three Percenter militias in the country and has twice been tied to instances of political violence targeting Muslims, immigrants and people of color.
“We want President Trump to kick the shit out of deep state / police state,” Hill wrote on Facebook as reported by the Daily Beast. “And Stacy [sic] Abrams for Governor in Ga, you flag burning, gun grabbing, socialist b----..we will defend our state from you, f--- you.”
Most recently, Hill has been attempting to organize nationwide, far-right rallies to support voting ID laws, making English the national language, ending regulatory agencies like the Internal Revenue Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and building Trump’s wall on the Southern border.
June’s Oregon senate walkout was far from the first time the state has seen the militia movement cozy up to the GOP.
In 2017, as anti-Trump protests swept through Portland and antifascist activists clashed with far-right extremists from Patriot Prayer and the hate group the Proud Boys, the Multnomah County Republican Party voted to approve Oath Keepers and Three Percenter groups for use as private security.
The move was spearheaded by Multnomah County GOP chairman James Buchal, who recently agreed to represent Patriot Prayer’s leader, Joey Gibson, in a $1 million civil lawsuit.
As the events in Oregon show, the militia movement has, in the Trump era, shown remarkable flexibility and a desire to normalize their extremist worldview in the very center of power. And while no one knows exactly what Trump will say on his campaign trail, we do know that there’s a legion of militias across the country waiting to seize on his every word.
Photo illustration by SPLC