Nevada has a long history of right-wing extremism, from the Sagebrush Rebellion to the Patriot movement and the Boogaloo Bois.
Now, in the middle of a pandemic, with a presidential election just days away, experts are warning these groups pose a serious threat to our communities – and the democratic process.
Progressive Leadership Alliance Nevada and Political Research Associates just released a report detailing right-wing extremist activity and what officials here might be able to do to stop it from getting worse.
Bob Fulkerson is the development director and co-founder of PLAN. He said far-right groups like the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters and the Boogaloo Boys have all showed up no-mask rallies and Black Lives Matter protests in Nevada.
“I think we should be concerned about all of them because they are mainstreaming white supremacy and hatred and are prone to violence,” he said, "I think the militia that show-up heavily armed in camouflage, who do train up in the mountains of Nevada and who are proudly flying their Confederate flags, probably pose the largest threat.”
Fulkerson doesn't buy the idea that armed members of these groups are simply exercising their 2nd Amendment right to bear arms when they show up to rallies and protests.
He said there is only one reason someone brings a weapon to a protest and that is to intimidate the protesters, particularly if the group is associated with white supremacy and the rally is for racial justice.
Fulkerson said the activities and voices of the far-right have been amplified over the past few years.
“I think the difference now is things are very much more upfront and visible, and we also have somebody in the White House that is giving them counsel and giving them a thumbs up and telling them to stand by,” he said.
During the first presidential debate, President Donald Trump was asked about denouncing white supremacy and specifically the Proud Boys. The president told the group to "stand back and standby."
In a campaign stop in Nevada, the president told his supporters that Democrats were trying to steal the election through the mail-in balloting system that was established because of the coronavirus pandemic.
He has also encouraged supporters to be poll watchers on Election Day. Fulkerson is concerned that rhetoric is being taken seriously and is being kept alive by the Republican leadership.
“That message about voter fraud that is absolutely false is being perpetuated by our GOP representatives, which is also helps to give them even more courage to come out and cause trouble in the event of a contested election,” he said.
At a pro-Trump rally, this past weekend in Carson City, two Nevada lawmakers, Assemblyman Jim Wheeler and State Senator James Settelmeyer, shared a stage with Adam Moore, a leader of the Three Percenters.
Fulkerson said if there is violence on Election Day or after it, those politicians will be partly responsible.
“I think they shoulder some of the blame right now for the atmosphere of intimidation and threats of violence. They absolutely share that blame right now,” he said.
He also said other Republican leaders who don't speak out against these kinds of groups, and their messaging, are responsible.
Fulkerson noted that Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, who is a Republican, has said the mail-in ballots are honest and operating in accordance with election laws.
“To have GOP representatives standing up and saying, ‘No, there is widespread voter fraud with this bill that was passed,’ absolutely gives the militia and other violent entities in the state a green light to do what it takes in the event of a contested election,” he said.
Fulkerson doesn't believe there will be violence on Election Day, and he encourages everyone to vote and not be intimidated.
Cloee Cooper works at Political Research Associates and she is an expert in extremists.
"I think one of the things we are currently seeing is that the patriot groups showing up at polling stations is kind of anti-democratic at its core," she said.
She said her research group has been tracking far-right extremists over the summer and found they were going to racial justice and Black Lives Matter protests.
Besides going to those protests, the group tracked at least 80 incidents of far-right members showing up at polling places during election season.
"One of the things that we have to remember is that these far-right and paramilitary groups many of them have a strong overlap with either white supremest, white nationalist or far-right ideologies," she said, "When they are showing up at these sites of our democracy there is a specific goal in mind."
Cooper said while there is often overlap between the groups there is actually a wide range of ideologies among them. Some are strongly Christian, while others are anti-federal government and still others are focused on white supremacy.
She said that under the Obama administration the groups engaged in more anti-federal government activities, while at the same time, they worked to establish ties to local law enforcement and other officials.
"They were in many cases, especially in blue states, trying to build local barriers to the federal government," Cooper explained, "Now, under the Trump administration many of their goals and plans are kind of fanned and egged on by Trump."
She said many of the far-right and paramilitary groups see themselves as part of his army or defense.
Cooper said some of the groups are working with local elected officials to undermine governors. That dynamic was particularly on display during some of the rallies against lockdowns and mask mandates in the early days of the pandemic.
For some of the far-right groups, it goes beyond mask mandates and reopening the economy. Cooper said some see themselves as protectors of the nation.
"Many of these groups are deeply influenced by disinformation that is circulating online," she said, "They are convinced that it is their role to protect the country from what they perceive are the threats of these conspiratorial actors, including for them: Black Lives Matter, the Democratic Party, Antifa and others."
Cooper said there are coalitions of far-right groups coming together around the country to prepare for what they believe will be doomsday on Election Day.
Cooper's concerns about these groups are connected to the time she spent in Kosovo. She saw how an authoritarian leader was able to mobilize paramilitary groups to heightened nationalism and violence.
"I think that is partially the scary state we are in," she said, "People are getting information from different sources and really fueled by it."
She said the paramilitary and far-right groups feel like it is their duty to be the saviors of this country, "and unfortunately, we're seeing a call-and-response now from them and Trump and his administration."
Bob Fulkerson, Development Director and Co-founder, PLAN; Cloee Cooper, Political Research Associates
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