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SPLC Action Fund assists congressional panel investigating extremism

SPLC Action Fund experts recently submitted their findings about militia extremism to a congressional subcommittee investigating the subject in the wake of growing concerns about political violence, including the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

The SPLC Action Fund statement described several instances of public intimidation and political violence over the past year in which militia groups have targeted and terrorized peaceful protesters, Black Lives Matter activists and federal, state and local government officials, agencies and facilities.

The findings are documented in a written statement to the House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties as part of their May 26 hearing, “Confronting Violent White Supremacy: Examining the Rise of Militia Extremism.”  The committee, led by U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, who is the committee chairman, has held five hearings on white supremacy during the 117th Congress. SPLC Intelligence Project extremism experts, led by Research Analyst Rachel Goldwasser, prepared the statement as part of the hearing’s record. 

“The riot at the capitol on Jan. 6 of this year has illustrated how far extremists will go and how willing they are to undermine democracy and democratic processes with the objective of advancing their own agendas,” according to the statement

The instances of public intimidation and political violence cited by the SPLC Action Fund include the following:

  • A January 2020 incident in which hundreds of people from more than a dozen different militia groups organized their own march during a gun rally at the Virginia Capitol in Richmond.
  • An April 30, 2020, incident in which heavily armed men, some dressed in tactical gear and openly carrying assault-style weapons, shut down activities in the Michigan Capitol in Lansing. Some of the men involved were later arrested and charged in connection with an alleged attempt to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, take hostages and burn the Michigan Capitol building.
  • A number of election-related incidents, including an armed rally in Detroit on Nov. 6, 2020, during ballot counting.
  • The deadly Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that saw extremists – including militia members, hate groups, conspiracy theorists and white nationalists – interfere with the certification of the 2020 presidential election.

The SPLC Action Fund statement also noted the connection between the conspiracy-minded Oath Keepers organization – which targets armed forces and law enforcement officials for recruitment – and dozens of so-called “constitutional sheriffs” across the country, who promote the dangerous, false notion of “county supremacy.” This notion asserts that county sheriffs possess ultimate law enforcement authority and hold the power to form their own posse that includes militias and other citizens to oppose enforcement of state and federal laws that they deem unconstitutional. 

In 2020, the Southern Poverty Law Center documented 566 active antigovernment groups across the U.S., including 169 militias and Oath Keepers chapters in over 40 states. The findings are part of the SPLC’s annual Year in Hate and Extremism report.

The SPLC Action Fund’s statement to the subcommittee, which includes policy recommendations to address the threat, can be read here.

Photo by AP Photo/Matt Rourke