Militia Groups and the “Rigged Election”
Using Facebook activity to find armed militia supporters who are engaging with Donald Trump’s claims of a rigged election.
Faced with probable defeat, Donald Trump is now claiming the election is rigged (it’s not). While election officials spent Monday trying to reassure the public that US democracy is intact, Trump surrogates doubled down on their candidate’s accusations, warning of widespread voter fraud, and suggesting that supporters revolt.
The message is resonating. Over 100,000 people commented or reacted to Trump’s recent Facebook posts about election rigging. Though at rallies some of Trump’s supporters insist the tough talk is not a call to violence, others discussed armed rebellion and assassination, and buried amongst the supporters who engaged with the candidate’s message on Facebook are at least 210 people who are involved with armed militia groups.
Though not always violent, armed, anti-government militias are common in the United States. The Southern Poverty Law Center counts 276 such militia groups. Last year an armed militant group seized a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon, and just last week “The Crusaders,” a group of three men in Kansas, were arrested for plotting a terrorist attack on a mosque and apartment complex used primarily by Somali refugees. The Crusaders’ attack, planned for the day after the presidential election, was intended to cause a “bloodbath” that they hoped would start a religious war.
The Facebook pages of the men behind The Crusaders— Curtis Allen, Gavin Wright, and Patrick Stein — turn up connections to other militias in Kansas and across the country. A closer look at militia activity across Facebook reveals that, while many restrict their activity to closed, private communities, over 240 militia groups keep active, public Facebook pages*.
It’s on these public pages that supporters who have commented or reacted to Trump’s Facebook posts about rigged elections discuss how they view the upcoming election, the US government, and rebellion.
Over 32,000 different Facebook users have commented or reacted to a post on one of the 246 public pages maintained by militia groups, with most of the that activity occurring in the past few months.
When Donald Trump tells people the election is rigged, they believe him. Some of those people already believe it’s their duty to take up arms against a tyrannical government. But it’s almost impossible to rig an election. Claiming otherwise is irresponsible and dangerous.
*The search for militia Facebook pages was limited to public pages created for armed, non-professional fighting units. I removed pages that were setup in protest, hadn’t posted at least once in 2016, are dedicated to historical societies or reenactment groups, or were setup as a joke, like the many “anti-zombie” militia pages.