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During the Obama years, right wing groups repeatedly issued hysterical calls to stockpile arms against encroachment by the Obama administration. With Trump in the White House, that tune has changed; right wing paramilitary groups are being encouraged by Republican Party officials to stand armed, ready to defend Trumpism. In what appears to be an escalation of an ominous trend, the Multnomah County Republican Party (MCRP) of Portland, Oregon, voted to approve a proposal, brought by MCRP Chairman James Buchal, to allow armed members of Oregon Three Percenters, and the Oath Keepers, to provide security for future pro-Trump, alt-right, and anti-Sharia rallies.
According to the Guardian, "Brawls and verbal confrontations punctuated the latest in a series of far-right 'patriot movement' events" recently when about "100 attendees clashed verbally and occasionally physically with 'anti-fascist' protesters."
With their members being harassed and shouted down, Buchal told the Guardian that calling in militia groups was their only recourse. Emphasizing violence coming from the left could be shaping a new and dangerous narrative enhancing the legitimacy of rightwing paramilitary groups.
"The Oregon Republican Party's sanctioning of the Three Percenters and other militia-types as security is a sinister turn for American politics," Devin Burghart, vice president on the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR), told me in an email exchange. "Deploying unaccountable, untrained, heavily-armed, and volatile far-right individuals at events where racism, Islamophobia, and other forms of bigotry are core themes is a recipe for disaster.
"The Three Percenters, Oath Keepers, and militia-types, stomping around these protests, clad in body armor and brandishing heavy firepower, aren't there to keep the peace, they serve as the enforcers of racism and bigotry," Burghart added.
Patriot Prayer, a rightwing group from Vancouver, Washington, led by Joey Gibson, has staged many pro-Trump and "free speech" events in liberal cities and on college campuses throughout the Pacific north-west.
"Militia groups have also previously volunteered as security at pro-Donald Trump rallies in Lake Oswego in March and at Patriot Prayer's Vancouver, Washington rally in April," the Guardian reported in late June.
The Oath Keepers, formed in 2009, and The Three Percenters, are radical antigovernment groups. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) described the Oath Keepers as "one of the largest radical antigovernment groups in the U.S. today." The group claims to have thousands of current and former military members and law enforcement officers as members, and while it maintains it is "defending the Constitution, the entire organization is based on a set of baseless conspiracy theories about the federal government working to destroy the liberties of Americans."
Oath Keepers have appeared at rallies in Berkeley, California, and Boston, Massachusetts, standing with activists from the far right; activists holding what were once seen as fringe positions. Members of the group also showed up in Ferguson, Missouri, shortly after the murder of Michael Brown. The SPLC's Bill Morlin reported that Oath Keepers' "stood armed on the roofs of white-owned business, proclaiming they were protecting life and property."
Political Research Associates (PRA), a Massachusetts-based research organization, describes The Three Percenters (aka 3%ers, III%ers, or "Threepers") as "a Patriot movement paramilitary group that pledges armed resistance against attempts to restrict private gun ownership. Adherents and supporters have been associated with threats and acts of violence. Like other Patriot groups, they depict the federal government as tyrannical. Their name refers to the (disputed) percentage of American colonialists who took up arms against the British during the Revolutionary War."
The Three Percenters were present in numbers in Burns, Oregon, before and during the right wing occupation of the Malheur wildlife refuge in early 2016.
According to PRA, "the Oath Keepers, [and] the Three Percenters are part of a new wave of Patriot movement groups that are successors to the militia movement of the 1990s and have had a dramatic rebirth since the 2008 election of Barack Obama to the presidency."
While the Oath Keepers are a formally incorporated group, with a board of directors and membership rolls, the Three Percenters are more like a loosely organized social movement.
The three Percenters were present at the Bundy Ranch confrontation with Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agents in Nevada in April 2014; a Josephine County, Oregon dispute between miners and the BLM in April 2015; and a Lincoln, Montana dispute between miners and the BLM and Forest Service in July 2015.
The SPLC's Morlin pointed out that "The country's largest anti-Muslim organization with close ties to the Trump Administration, ACT! for America, is welding its bonds with armed militia and Patriot groups, including Oath Keepers."
ACT calls itself "the National Rifle Association 'of national security,' Morlin noted, and claims it is the nation's 'largest non-profit, non-partisan, grassroots organization with 500,000 members and 1,000 volunteer groups.'"
"The Oregon GOP is making a grave error helping to legitimize these far-right paramilitaries and the bigoted groups they defend," IREHR's Burghart pointed out.
Bringing on armed right wing paramilitaries "appears to be part of a larger pattern of trying to mainstream these organizations, while at the same time criminalizing anti-racist protesters during the Trump regime," IREHR's Burghart pointed out. "In addition to laws restricting protest, new government efforts cast anti-racist demonstrators as criminal. For instance, the State of New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness recently listed anti-fascist demonstrators under the 'domestic terrorism' heading."