'Stolen election' rhetoric: more dangerous than you might think

'Stolen election' rhetoric: more dangerous than you might think
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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.

That's politics.


Belew’s concern is that for the militant white power extremists, this could also be invitation for drastic action and mass murder like the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. A few months ago, the FBI apprehended a paramilitary group that planned to violently overthrow the Governor of Michigan, put her on trial and probably execute her. As the votes were being counted in competitive states, armed Trump supporters showed up to protest.

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.


FBI director Christopher Wray, a Trump appointee, has said these white power groups are a greater danger than the left-wing anarchists oft cited by President TrumpDonald TrumpVirginia GOP gubernatorial nominee acknowledges Biden was 'legitimately' elected Biden meets with DACA recipients on immigration reform Overnight Health Care: States begin lifting mask mandates after new CDC guidance | Walmart, Trader Joe's will no longer require customers to wear masks | CDC finds Pfizer, Moderna vaccines 94 percent effective in health workers MORE and Attorney General William BarrBill BarrSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Lawyer for former officer charged in George Floyd death alleges witness coercion CNN legal analyst joins DOJ's national security division MORE. The gravest domestic terrorist threat comes from those with a "white conspiracy-type ideology," the FBI chief told Congress.

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 aren't conservatives; they are radical haters, Belew notes: “many of these activists would proudly proclaim their allegiance with Hitler.”

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 RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyImmigration experts say GOP senators questioned DHS secretary with misleading chart Top border officials defend Biden policies US Olympic Committee urges Congress not to boycott Games in China MORE (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.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.