Growing spectre of a new American Civil War?

Growing spectre of a new American Civil War? In Louisiana, a frightening stand-off between hundreds of black and white gunmen… as MoS reveals Pentagon plans to send in the army if militias descend on Washington in wake of disputed election

It likes to call itself ‘the happiest city in America’, but it doesn’t feel that way in downtown Lafayette. 

A group of black militia march through the streets, trigger fingers poised on loaded semi-automatic rifles. 

Dropping suddenly to one knee, they raise their fists in the air. And then the chanting started: ‘Black Power! Black Lives Matter!’ over and over again.

Across the street, a rival white militia, armed to the teeth and dressed head-to-toe in army fatigues, raise their guns in response and start screaming back: ‘All Lives Matter! Protect the police!’

It likes to call itself ‘the happiest city in America’, but it doesn’t feel that way in downtown Lafayette. A group of black militia march through the streets, trigger fingers poised on loaded semi-automatic rifles

This tense stand-off continued for several hours last weekend in the small Louisiana city once loved by tourists for nothing more controversial than its spicy Cajun shrimp gumbo.

Just days after President Donald Trump controversially encouraged the neo-Nazi Proud Boys militia to ‘stand back and stand by’ during the first presidential TV debate, Lafayette had become a tinderbox of racial hatred. 

And similar showdowns between white and black militias have been playing out in cities across America, including members of the Proud Boys appearing at neo-Nazi gatherings and clashing with Left-wing groups.

Chillingly, there is talk of a second American civil war. The Mail on Sunday has learned that Pentagon officials have drawn up plans to send in troops if rival militia groups attempt to descend on Washington after the bitterly contested November 3 election. 

Violent clashes have already led to more than two dozen deaths across the country as more and more Americans join gun-toting groups of paramilitaries.

Meanwhile, Trump has been accused of stoking the flames of civil unrest by claiming the election has been rigged against him, leading some to fear he might not commit to a peaceful handover of power if he loses.

The Mail on Sunday has learned that Pentagon officials have drawn up plans to send in troops if rival militia groups attempt to descend on Washington after the bitterly contested November 3 election. Armed members of Grandmaster Jay’s protesters are seen marching in support of Black Lives Matter

With the latest polls showing his rival Joe Biden ahead by as much as 16 points – which would guarantee a Democrat landslide – critics have accused the President of being so desperate to cling to office that he will do whatever it takes to retain it, and that includes inciting violence.

On Thursday, the FBI arrested 13 members of a Michigan militia called the Wolverine Watchmen, who allegedly planned to kidnap the state’s Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer and to storm the state Capitol building. The Watchmen are also suspected of attempting to identify the homes of law enforcement officers to make ‘threats of violence intended to instigate civil war’.

Whitmer blamed the ‘sick plot’ on Trump who, during one of his infamous Twitter storms, had urged his supporters to ‘Liberate Michigan’ in protest at the governor’s strict pandemic lockdown.

A former deputy director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, was scathing about the President, saying: ‘The person most responsible for sowing this kind of discord, this type of division, inciting this type of violence is President Trump.

These are the messages the President is putting out on a daily basis, constantly berating the democratic process, claiming it is replete with fraud.

‘It is precisely this type of rhetoric that causes extremists to feel like now is the time to take action. It serves as a trigger for folks who are already violent, maybe unstable, pointed in that direction anyway.’

Of course, talk of another civil war is shocking. For the first one, in the 1860s, was the culmination of decades of simmering resentments over slavery, tore the country apart and ended with more than 600,000 dead.

What happened in Lafayette last Saturday was yet one more illustration of the unnerving forces lurking not far below the surface in America.

One of the fastest-growing black militia groups is the 2,000-strong Not F****** Around Coalition, led by former DJ and rapper John ‘Grandmaster Jay’ Fitzgerald Johnson. 

He had ‘mustered’ the Lafayette rally in direct response to Trump’s refusal to condemn the far-Right Proud Boys and to highlight the fatal shooting of a local black man, Trayford Pellerin, by police.

The militia leader, his voice booming through a loudspeaker, whipped his followers into a frenzy: ‘People say ‘Make America Great Again’ but it’s make America great again for them, not you. It ain’t never been good for black people.

‘Marching didn’t work. Singing didn’t work. Holding hands and all that kumbaya stuff didn’t work. So guess what? We’ve changed the game. We fight fire with fire. You take out one of ours, we take out ten of yours.’

‘Kumbaya’ is a word rooted in the American spiritual song of the same name, often used disparagingly to refer to naive efforts at harmony.

Listening stony-faced across the street was Michael McComas, founder of the 4,500-strong Louisiana Cajun pro-Trump militia.

A ‘Proud Boy’ takes the pledge of allegiance to the US flag. Far-Right groups have taken to social media, threatening to head to polling stations on November 3, ostensibly to ‘protect’ voters but really, critics claim, to intimidate

Surrounded by followers, he said to loud cheers: ‘We’re American patriots. We believe in our God, our Bible and our constitutional right to bear arms. There’s a lack of respect for authority. We’re here to back up the police, if necessary, and protect innocent bystanders and businesses.’

Suddenly, two gunshots rang out and, amid screaming, the ‘troops’ from both sides hit the ground or ran for cover.

Chaos reigned as the local sheriffs, guns drawn, raced forward into the melee. Within seconds, they’d pinned a black protester to the ground and grabbed his gun before slapping on handcuffs and dragging him away.

It later turned out the man had fired his weapon accidentally – but the reaction was a terrifying indication of how rapidly a supposedly peaceful demonstration could collapse into violence, as it has done elsewhere with fatal consequences.

Last month, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, a member of a ragtag white militia formed in Kenosha, Wisconsin, fatally shot two Black Lives Matter protesters while guarding a local car dealership from looters.

He claimed he pulled the trigger in self-defence, and since his arrest his case has become a cause celebre for the far Right.

In Brunswick, Georgia, the New Black Panthers – a reference to the original 1960s black power group – led by a man calling himself General Rottweiler marched in front of the home of Gregory McMichael, one of two white men accused of fatally shooting black jogger Ahmaud Arbery after mistaking him for a robber.

Stomping with menace, they yelled: ‘Bullets not ballots!’

Far-Right groups have taken to social media, threatening to head to polling stations on November 3, ostensibly to ‘protect’ voters but really, critics claim, to intimidate. 

A veteran Washington correspondent says: ‘There are plans being discussed at the very highest level of government about what happens if Trump loses the election but contests the outcome and refuses to leave the White House – something which absolutely could happen.

‘We are talking about a scenario where armed militia descend on DC from around the country with the pro-Trumpers defending their man inside the White House and opposing militia turning up to try to drag him out. These are credible scenarios that are being discussed at the highest level of law enforcement and the military.’

This may be hyperbole – and there is every chance that Trump can still win – but such thoughts catch the current public mood. The prospect of heavily armed citizen ‘armies’ is unthinkable in most other Western countries, but private militia groups are firmly rooted in the history and constitution of America.

Militia – units of non-professional ‘soldiers’ made up of private citizens to aid the regular army – were first mustered during the days of colonial British rule.

Then, during the American War of Independence and later the Civil War, militiamen were again called to action.

The right to bear arms is in the Second Amendment of the US Constitution, which says: ‘A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.’

There are thought to be about 550 active militia groups in the US, with new ones sprouting up all the time. Devin Burghart, of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, says veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are increasingly attracted.

He says: ‘A small percentage, but a percentage nonetheless, has warmed to the idea that the way to deal with political conflict is to engage in armed struggle. This is a dangerous indicator of where things might go.’

Within minutes of Trump’s ‘stand back and stand by’ reference to the Proud Boys, the chairman of the group, Enrique Tarrio, ordered workers at his Miami T-shirt business to start printing shirts with the slogan Proud Boys Standing By. Reportedly, 3,500 have been sold, with thousands more on order.

The group’s founder, Gavin McInnes, said of Trump: ‘I think he was saying, ‘I appreciate you and I appreciate your support.’ ‘

A gun-toting pro-Trump militia is seen above. The right to bear arms is in the Second Amendment of the US Constitution, which says: ‘A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed’

McInnes, 49, was born in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, to Scottish parents who emigrated to Canada during his childhood. He created the group – identified by a uniform of Fred Perry polo shirts, Proud Boy tattoos and Make America Great Again hats – in 2016. 

McInnes has been a supporter of the far-Right British rabble-rouser Tommy Robinson and claims to have been inspired by the Mods in the 1960s who ‘took pride in what little they had and loved their country’.

Taking their name from a song in the musical Aladdin, the Proud Boys are believed to have as many as 10,000 members, including some in the UK.

They bond over a series of bizarre rules including an initiation ceremony where they call out the five breakfast cereal brands while being beaten and, apparently, renouncing masturbation.

Members cannot wear flip-flops, fedoras or cargo shorts to meetings, and any man can join the group by declaring: ‘I am a Western chauvinist and I refuse to apologise for creating the modern world.’

In 2017, McInnes allegedly punched a Left-wing protester on his way to a pro-Trump event called ‘the Deplora-Ball’, a reference to defeated presidential rival Hillary Clinton, who had called his supporters as ‘a basket of deplorables.’

McInnes later bragged that his ‘knuckles had been scraped’ by the protester’s teeth, leaving him susceptible to ‘loser’s Aids’.

Other Right-wing groups have reported surges in membership, with gun shops across the US claiming sales are up as much as 26 per cent since the start of this year.

‘There is an atmosphere of fear,’ a major Democratic donor said last night. ‘Fear on both sides. Who knows where this will all end?’

Professor Megan Squire, who tracks online far-Right extremist groups, said: ‘They are waiting for something to pop off. It’s a simmering feeling.’

Oren Segal, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League’s Centre on Extremism, said white supremacists ‘turn to violence when they feel their culture is being taken away’, adding that white militia ‘tend to get more angsty when they think their guns are being taken away.’

Now, they fear their election will be taken away, too. Last night, one member of a Right-wing militia accused Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of ‘trying to stage a coup’ against Covid-infected Trump when she declared she will begin discussions to invoke the 25th Amendment, designed to oust a President who is unable to govern for reasons of mental or physical health. 

‘The coup against our President has started,’ he wrote. ‘Grab your guns and let’s go.’

Last month, US news website Salon wrote: ‘For decades, if not longer, the American right has fantasised about a second Civil War. With Trump as President, a season of death and suffering from the coronavirus pandemic, and a climate of intense economic ruin as well as political and cultural division, the would-be secessionists may finally get their wish.’

Such words may exaggerate the truth, but the rest of the world is holding its breath as America ventures into highly dangerous territory over the next few weeks.

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