After my cover story on Sequim, Wash., came out, I started getting e-mails from people around the country. Their communities were experiencing the same far-right surges, and they, too, were organizing pushback against this trend.
Whidbey Island, on the Puget Sound east of Sequim, is one of those places. While this is a historically liberal, progressive community, militias such as the Three Percenters—which calls on its members to be armed at all times—have begun establishing beachheads on the southern end of the island. They have, in recent years, organized via the local Grange, and their members have taken over local GOP chapters. When, a few years ago, high schoolers on the islands organized a March for Our Lives to call for stronger gun control laws, the militias threatened the protesters.
Granges around the country are essentially agricultural community centers, whose members share tips on farming and work together to build a stronger economic base for rural communities. What they haven’t been, historically, are organizing hubs for the far right. But these days the far right is organizing rural residents via any and every institution it can get its hands on, and the Grange in Whidbey Island proved to be low-hanging fruit. It began accepting a large influx of far-right members, and when progressives like school board member Marnie Jackson sought to counter their influence by also joining the organization, they were denied entry.
In response, progressives sought other organizing venues, setting up groups like Solidarity Over Supremacy (SOS) and United Student Leaders to directly challenge militia sympathizers whenever they ran for public office or attempted to mobilize a crowd.
One of SOS’s founders, the Rev. Emily Melder, describes it as “a group of folks who came together to counter the rise of the militias on South Whidbey Island.” These days, it claims to have 700 people on its mailing list—a large number, given that the island’s total population is only 15,000.
As in Sequim, when the militias ran far-right candidates for the school board, progressives organized against them and, with 70 percent of local voters turning out for the elections, handily beat them at the ballot box. When they ran candidates for the city council, they met the same high voter turnout and the same organized, and successful, opposition.
Now, the militias are digging in once more, turning their attention to the apparatus of the election system itself and attempting to take control of precinct officer positions. Melder says her group and other progressive organizations on the island are already strategizing to beat back these efforts and to defend the basic infrastructure that makes democracy possible. “I’m very optimistic,” avers Jackson of the progressive community’s ability to hold firm against the far right. “We continue to see troubling signs of power-building by a very small minority group who hold radical beliefs, but the community organizing is bigger, and the number of people who got involved in the last election, that was exciting.”
Now, I know this is supposed to be a Left Coast column, but some days the world just gets in the way. So, speaking of far-right, authoritarian, paranoiac visions of the world, how about that snarling, menacing, televised speech by Vladimir Putin the other day, in which he declared Ukraine to be a historical fiction and laid the rhetorical rationale for what could soon become Europe’s largest land war and land grab since 1945?
And while we’re at it, how about Trump’s truly cretinous interview in which he praised Putin’s “genius” for sending troops into the two breakaway regions of Ukraine, and then called Putin’s recognition of these regions “wonderful”? It gives you a pretty good indication of whom America would ally with, and what political priorities it would have, were Trump to get a second go-around in the White House.
In case anyone thinks the ex-president simply had a senior moment and wasn’t fully aware of the extraordinary nature of his statement—and the implications of an ex-president’s deliberately undermining a current president’s foreign policy strategy—he doubled down on it by saying the US should emulate Russia’s actions and, rather than beefing up European security systems, send soldiers to the southern border with Mexico, presumably to be used against desperate would-be immigrants.
Trump’s presence is, at this point, so stunningly malign that it threatens to unleash, or at least to worsen, political chaos from the most local of levels (Whidbey Island) to the most global of stages (war on the European continent). The Trumpite campaign against democracy is intensifying, and the effort to inject heavily armed paramilitary groups, be they the Three Percenters, the Oath Keepers, or the Proud Boys, into the American political landscape is picking up steam.
A new book by New York Times reporter Jeremy Peters reports that in 2015 Steve Bannon felt that Trump, in the way he presented himself to the public, was channeling Hitler. Whereas I repeatedly wrote the same thing, and said that having a US president emulate one of history’s most evil men was a very, very bad thing, Bannon was apparently adamant that Trump’s fascist-channeling was actually a very good thing. Seven years later, Putin is doing a damn fine job of emulating the Führer when it comes to nationalist rants, throwing his military weight against weaker neighbors, and demanding that internationally recognized borders be redrawn. How utterly unsurprising, albeit dispiriting, that Trump would deem such actions “wonderful.”