Far-Right Militias Are Back

Leah Feiger: To be fair, a militia of 2,500 across the United States that’s carefully organized on Telegram and promotes the use of armed weapons as a response to anything from natural disasters to fake claims of election fraud is still really concerning. I’m concerned.

David Gilbert: Absolutely, and I think that gets lost. When you write articles like these, a lot of people kind of say, “Oh, you shouldn’t be platforming these people. They’re making this up. They’re bluffing.”

Leah Feiger: Definitely.

David Gilbert: But there are people in these Telegram groups who want to join armed militias, and it’s part of a bigger resurgence in far-right paramilitary activity and discussions that me and other experts are seeing online in recent weeks and months, and that’s really disturbing.

Leah Feiger: We’re going to take a quick break, and when we come back, we’re going to talk about how all of these kinds of militias are starting to go mainstream again and what this means for 2024.Welcome back to WIRED Politics Lab. David, you were talking about how militias are having a resurgence right now. What exactly do you mean by that?

David Gilbert: What I mean is that Lang is, and his network of militias that they’ve launched is just one part of a broader movement that both I, other journalists and researchers who are monitoring the space have seen in recent weeks, and it’s all linked to the 2024 election, that people need to be ready to respond if something happens and, of course, what that if is is if Donald Trump loses.

Leah Feiger: So what does Lang say will happen in the event that Donald Trump loses?

David Gilbert: Well, Lang talks about civil unrest, and that if Trump loses, that people will automatically be outraged. Do you believe that the outcome was accurate that Joe Biden did win the election?

Jake Lang: No, I think it’s pretty much a statistical outlier or an impossibility.

David Gilbert: When I spoke to him, he reeled off a list of the most widely known election conspiracies from 2020.

Jake Lang: Rigged, stolen, manipulated, scam, whatever you want to call it. It was not the will of the people.

David Gilbert: When he looks forward to 2024, he is predicting that if Trump loses, there will be a major catastrophe and there will be a lot of people angry, and that’s where his militias is going to be ready to step in.

Leah Feiger: Is this real? I mean, people say a lot of things online. What kind of connections are you and other researchers drawing between this moment in 2020?

David Gilbert: The network of people who are organizing this is much greater and much stronger because they have had four years to create these nationwide networks of connections and groups, whether it’s online or in-person. We saw ahead of 2020 that there were some researchers and some journalists who were raising flags, not a lot, but they were raising flags and saying, “This is worrying.” The intelligence services were also noticing that this was happening, but no one took any action. I think that this time around, we’re about five months out from the election, I think that the signals are much stronger. In recent weeks, I have definitely noticed a serious uptick in people who are discussing things like militias, things like sheriffs’ posses, that people need to be ready for 2024, this idea that something is going to happen on November 5th if the result doesn’t go the way people think it will go. So I think that that’s the parallels that you see between 2020 is that people ignored what was there in front of them. In 2020, you could kind of see why that happened because something like January 6th had never happened before. So what is happening this time is much bigger, but people at the moment, at least, don’t seem to be paying attention.