The "grassroots" anti-government protests against COVID-19 measures to help Donald Trump and sponsored by big GOP interests are of course being used by white supremacist domestic terrorist militias to recruit and to plan further attacks.
America’s extremists are attempting to turn the coronavirus pandemic into a potent recruiting tool both in the deep corners of the internet and on the streets of state capitals by twisting the public health crisis to bolster their white supremacist, anti-government agenda.
Although the protests that have broken out across the country have drawn out a wide variety of people pressing to lift stay-at-home orders, the presence of extremists cannot be missed, with their anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic signs and coded messages aimed at inspiring the faithful, say those who track such movements.
April is typically a busy month for white supremacists. There is Hitler’s birthday, which they contort into a celebration. There is the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, the domestic attack 25 years ago that killed 168 people and still serves as a rallying call for new extremist recruits.
But this April, something else overshadowed those chilling milestones. It was the coronavirus, and the disruption it wreaked on society, that became the extremists’ battle cry.
Embellishing Covid-19 developments to fit their usual agenda, extremists spread disinformation on the transmission of the virus and disparage stay-at-home orders as “medical martial law” — the long-anticipated advent of a totalitarian state.
“They are being very effective in capitalizing on the pandemic,” said Devin Burghart, a veteran researcher of white nationalists who runs the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, a Seattle-based research center on far right movements.
What success the groups have had in finding fresh recruits is not yet clear, but new research indicates a significant jump in people consuming extremist material while under lockdown. Various violent incidents have been linked to white supremacist or anti-government perpetrators enraged over aspects of the pandemic.
The New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness said in March that white supremacists have encouraged followers to conduct attacks during the crisis to incite fear and target ethnic minorities and immigrants. “We have noticed domestic extremist groups taking advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic by spreading disinformation,” Jared M. Maples, its director, said in a statement. The coronavirus has been dismissed as a hoax, painted as a Jewish-run conspiracy and, alternatively, described as a disease spread by nonwhite immigrants, he said.
Last month, the Department of Homeland Security warned law enforcement officials throughout the United States of the mobilization of violent extremists in response to stay-at-home measures, according to a senior law enforcement official and a congressional staff member, who were not authorized to discuss the warning publicly.
A department memo dated April 23 noted the recent arrests of individuals who had threatened government officials imposing coronavirus-related regulations. The memo was distributed to law enforcement “fusion centers” that counter terrorism nationwide and to congressional committees, the officials said.
Extremist organizations habitually try to exploit any crisis to further their aims. While not monolithic, a spectrum of organizations — from anti-immigrant groups to those with a variety of grievances and those that overtly espouse violence — found something to like about the coronavirus.
“They view it as a chance to turn people,” said Megan Squire, a professor at Elon University in North Carolina who tracks online extremist chatter.
At its core is one of the oldest fallacies in the books, the suggestion that COVID-19 is a disease that only kills the inferior. To the white supremacist, it's a tailor-made recruiting tool.
Please note that the biggest proponent of the notion that everything is fine and that everyone is overreacting is our racist-in-chief himself.
But let's not forget the domestic terrorism angle, too.
An emergency proclamation issued Thursday in Stillwater, Oklahoma, requiring the use of face masks in stores and restaurants was amended Friday after threats of violence.
"In the short time beginning on May 1, 2020, that face coverings have been required for entry into stores/restaurants, store employees have been threatened with physical violence and showered with verbal abuse," Stillwater City Manager Norman McNickle said in a statement.
"In addition, there has been one threat of violence using a firearm. This has occurred in three short hours and in the face of clear medical evidence that face coverings helps contain the spread of Covid-19."
Due to the threats of violence the city has decided to amend their emergency order but still want people to wear face masks whenever possible, the statement said.
The proclamation issued Thursday required, among other things, businesses to require patrons to cover their faces to combat the spread of coronavirus.
But on Friday, Mayor Will Joyce softened the rule to encourage, not require, face coverings, after several reports emerged of employees being verbally abused and being threatened with physical violence while trying to enforce the order -- all in just three hours of the rule going into effect.
"Many of those with objections cite the mistaken belief the requirement is unconstitutional, and under their theory, one cannot be forced to wear a mask. No law or court supports this view," said City Manager Norman McNickle in a statement. "It is further distressing that these people, while exercising their believed rights, put others at risk."
It's going to get a lot worse in the weeks and months ahead.