While all eyes were on Washington during Trump’s second acquittal in an impeachment trial, which showed that the Republican Party at a national level is willing to turn a blind eye (at best) to armed coup attempts, even more ominous developments were occurring at the state and regional levels. This can be seen most dramatically in the State of Michigan. (Many of the quotations and other facts upon which this article is based can be found in David Kirkpatrick and Mike McIntire’s detailed article, “G.O.P.’s Embrace of Michigan Militias Set Up Stark Political Shift,” NY Times, Jan. 9, 2021 https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/08/us/militias-republicans-michigan.html )
Since the January 6 fascist coup attempt by Trump and his followers, the Michigan Republican Party has lurched even further to the right, getting itself into position for the possibility of waging civil war with the aim of establishing what would amount to an authoritarian state. First, at its February 6 Convention, held exactly one month after Trump’s attempted fascist coup, the party elected one of the insurrectionists, Meshawn Maddock, to the position of co-chair. Meshawn Maddock helped organize 20 buses for the January 6 Trump rally. During the march toward the U.S. Capitol, she tweeted about “the most incredible crowd of people I have ever walked with.” Second, Londa Gatt, who has stated that “the Proud Boys are true patriots,” was named to a top slot in a statewide Republican women’s group.
Last December, Meshawn Maddock also led a group attempting to barge into the Michigan Statehouse to disrupt the vote count. Soon after the November election, Ryan Kelley, a Republican Planning Commissioner in Allendale Township, was part of an armed group that held another protest against the counting of the ballots in Michigan. Kelley, who also attended the January 6 Washington rally and was videoed going up the Capitol stairs, has just announced he will run for governor.
In April 2020, some of these same people were involved in the armed siege of the Michigan Statehouse over COVID restrictions declared by Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer. During the siege, one fanatic hung a noose from the back of his truck. Michigan House of Representatives Member Matt Maddock, Meshawn Maddock’s husband, greeted a group of rioters during the Capitol siege and was seen speaking with them off to the side.
More “moderate” Republicans like Mike Shirkey, the State Senate Majority Leader, condemned the April siege of the Statehouse at the time, but have since backtracked, making peace with proto-fascist Michigan Militia members and other armed fanatics. Some of the latter were arrested in October in a plot to kidnap Governor Whitmer and put her on “trial.”
Besides sowing chaos and a failed effort to overturn or block Joe Biden’s solid (50% vs, Trump’s 48%) electoral victory in Michigan, what are these far-right Republicans and their fascist allies aiming at?
One goal is to purge and drive further to the right the Republican delegations to the Michigan Legislature, in order to establish a majority that is actually willing to overturn future election results by declaring massive ballot “fraud.” Due to gerrymandering, Republicans control both houses of the Michigan legislature even though they haven’t won a statewide election since 2014. A second goal is the establishment of armed groups powerful enough to intimidate voters or those counting the ballots. Either of these eventualities would amount to a rightwing coup at a state level.
Similar efforts are being carried out in a number of other U.S. states, as the Republican Party purges itself of all but hardcore Trumpists. While in the short run this may — and even that is not certain — cost them some elections, they are in the meantime consolidating the Party as a neofascist formation with more in common with groups like France’s National Rally (formerly the National Front) or Germany’s Alternative for Deutschland than with traditional conservativism. In some ways, with their advocacy of violence, the Michigan Republicans are actually to the right of these European neofascists.
It is important to focus on these regional and state developments to grasp and to combat the continuing dangers of the Trumpist, neofascist right wing in this country. It should never be forgotten that many of the most reactionary manifestations in U.S. politics have occurred at the local or regional rather than the national level. One need only recall the overthrow of Reconstruction in the 1870s, or the decades of segregation and voter suppression in the South right up through 1965, each of which were carried out with tremendous state and vigilante violence at the cost of thousands of lives, most of them Black people. We need also to remember the vigilante mobs, egged on and funded by corporate capital, that repressed the Industrial Workers of the World in the western states during the First World War and the Red Scare that followed. And more recently, the racist “neighborhood” mobs that tried to prevent school integration in Boston in the 1970s offers another example.
What we are facing today is nothing less than a January 6 type insurrection at a state or regional level. Tens of millions have been duped into believing the Big Lie that the 2020 election was marked by massive fraud that deprived Trump of a victory. Just below the surface of this transparent lie, one can find something closer to the truth, but even more ominous, the conviction that “real Americans,” i.e., white Christians, are being outnumbered at the polls by People of Color, immigrants, and progressive and moderate white “traitors.” This is the ugly truth behind the Trumpist rhetoric of losing “our” country to “them.”
These kinds of beliefs, and the organizations for which they form the ideological basis, chief among them the ever more Trumpist Republican Party, are more concentrated in some states and regions than others. That is why we should expect — and prepare to resist — a series of coups and civil wars begun by these neofascists at the state or regional level. In this, Michigan is hardly alone.