Independent journalist Arun Gupta reports on recent anti-Muslim rallies and growing concern that far-right militia groups have an “informal” alliance with U.S. police forces
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Aaron: It’s the real news, I’m Aaron Maté. Anti-muslim protests were held across the US on Saturday, but the so-called national march against sharia was vastly outnumbered by counter demonstrators in more than a dozen cities. Several arrests were made including in Seattle, where clashes between the two sides broke out. The march against sharia was organized by Act for America. The southern poverty law center calls Act for America a hate group, but it has close ties to top republicans, including some in the White House, and that’s helped fuel concern over the blurring of lines between right-wing extremists, and government. Joining me is a journalist who covers the far right extensively, Arun Gupta. He reported on the Seattle protests for Raw Story, and he also wrote a recent expose for the Intercept on the ties between militia members and police at a similar protest in Portland, last week. Arun, welcome. Arun: Great to be with you Aaron. Aaron: Thanks for joining us. So, you were at the Seattle protest, which was the most fiery of all the demonstrations that took place across the country this weekend in the so-called march against Sharia. Talk about what you saw. Arun: So it was a relatively small gathering, a few score. The easiest way to describe it is it felt like some sort of science fiction or fantasy gaming convention. It was overwhelmingly guys, mostly white, and they were clustered in little groups based on similar hairstyles, clothing, insignias. So you had like proud boys, which is this western chauvinist group that was founded by a former founder of Vice magazine. There were these ‘fashy’ guys, that’s a reference to the haircut they have. Fascist haircuts, they have, there were 3% militia members. There were guys waving the Kekistan flag, which is this flag of the mythical nation of Kekistan, something invented by 4chan trolls, and if it all sounds really opaque and weird that’s kind of the point. It’s something where it’s very much a subculture where they’re signaling to each other. One thing to understand is, a lot of these tiny sub-subcultures don’t really like each other that much, but what unites them is this hatred of muslims, this hatred of the anti-fascists know as MTFA, and then also kind of is a deep-seated current of misogyny that runs through their politics. Aaron: Which is ironic because the premise of marching against Sharia, according to the organizers, is to defend women’s rights, right? Arun: Yeah, well that’s the thing. They get obsessed with women. Everything about Sharia is women, and that’s one of the things I found curious because, first of all Sharia law doesn’t really make that much sense. There’s Islamic law, Sharia actually means the path. It’s more a set of rules and cultural scriptures on how a devout muslim is supposed to lead their life, and it’s based is part on the ten commandments and also, the five pillars of Islam in terms of prayer, charity, making a pilgrimage to Mecca, all that sort of stuff. And then it does influence Islamic law but this is mainly about family, marriage, and an inheritance. Even in muslim majority nations, that’s all it really tends to cover. So, and I interviewed eight people there, and not one of them could say, you know I was like “So where does sharia law exist in the US?”, and they eventually all had to admit it doesn’t exist anywhere. So I’m like “So, you are protesting something that doesn’t exist.” Mainly it’s a way for them to come out, flex strength, and be united in hatred and, it’s kind of easy to ridicule them. But they’re also really dangerous, given what just happened in Portland, with the murder of two men, allegedly by a white supremacist named Jeremy Christian, who went to a previous outbreak in Portland in April. Aaron: Right Arun, so let’s go to Portland. You wrote a piece for the Intercept on the fact that police there, in fact, Department of Homeland Security police, were working with militia members at a recent protest against hate groups and hate crimes. Arun: Yeah, yeah. It appears to have been informal. According to the Portland police there was actually guidance of discussion that the police there were all sorts of police agencies there, state police, Portland Police, county sheriffs, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Protective Service. They had all discussed that there was supposed to be no actual cooperation with the right wing militia men. You know so we were not going to cooperate with the left. But repeatedly using eye witness accounts, videos, and then we talked to two of the militia men themselves. DHS police actually allowed these right wing militia men, who were from the groups that were labeled as extremists anti-government groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. They were allowed to engage in policing functions. And this includes apprehending and body slamming a suspect to the ground. We have video in one instance and in a second instance an eye witness says he saw this. Then another militia man actually assisted in the arrest. There’s numerous video of this. Todd Kelsey with the American Freedom Keepers Militia. You can see him on the video reaching into the bag of an officer’s handcuff as they have an arrestee on the ground and then helping to put on those handcuffs and tighten the handcuffs and lift the suspect to his feet. And people are like oh what’s wrong with this? And it’s just like it’s clearly cooperation between Trump’s federal police and these extremist militia men who support him. Aaron: And as you said, you spoke to Kelsey and he told you he was basically under orders from the police to help out with crowd control. Arun: Well, yeah that’s what he and various eye witnesses said that, that he said things like that. They claimed he said. I can just snap my fingers and have the police arrest you. He denied that one in particular. But I was told that by multiple people that he was telling people, that he did say well you know the police were telling us to do crowd control. Which you know sounds kind of pretty suspicious that the police would do that, but again there are all these videos where they’re blocking the paths of people on the sidewalk. The sidewalk in particular, we’re talking about is Federal Plaza, so it is federal property but the police are watching him do this and it’s just like there’s no reason to be blocking people who are acting peacefully. So it does appear to be this kind of gray area and apparently the U.S. Attorney, issued a, DHS issued a statement saying the US Attorney is now looking into this because it is highly irregular. We also have video and eye witness reports of another instance in which, pro Trump supporters attacked peaceful protesters including with a flag pole and pepper spray. And DHS Police are just watching and when they finally do intervene it’s to basically push the counter-protesters against the wall and to allow the pro Trump supporters who committed the assault to walk away. So I think what we are seeing is this kind of informal … I talked to another expert who covers the right wing and I think he’s right in saying that this is just kind of an informal phenomenon because they see each other as brothers in arms. And I think that’s what is really dangerous. It’s kind of a simpatico ideology between cops and these right wing militias and the left is the enemy. And so we see this cooperation between them. It may not be coming from the top but it’s just as dangerous. In fact, some ways more dangerous coming from below. Aaron: The intercept reported in January that the FBI has investigated the infiltration of law enforcement agencies by white supremacists. Is this a phenomenon that predates Trump or is it one that’s certainly been encouraged since he came to office? Arun: Well, this goes very far back. So the case of Los Angeles and Daryl Gates who was responsible for the creation of the first SWAT units, you know these basically paramilitary units that really just are completely out of control. The writer Mike Davis talks about how Daryl Gates in his words would recruit, rednecks, white rednecks from the south as to police blacks in LA. In the case of Portland, there’s a captain, so a very high ranking official in the Portland Police Department who is a known Nazi sympathizer. He was caught mailing plaques to Nazis in a park in Portland. He was kind of creating a memorial to them. So this is really nothing new. It’s been going on all over the country for, ever since the police were founded. The police were originally a slave patrol. So this is kind of in bedded in the DNA, this kind of white supremacist nature. But I think we are seeing more infiltration deliberate infiltration and now, cooperation in terms of police and white supremacists. Aaron: Arun, can you talk about the broader context for hate crimes right now? You point out in your piece that there have been at least five hate crime murders linked to white supremacists, since President Trump took power. Arun: Right. There’s a, you know, shortly after there was a murder of an Indian man in a Kansas bar. There was a stabbing death recently of an African American man on a college campus. The two murders in Portland and then in Washington state, two Native men were run down by a truck. And one was killed. And in all instances there’s either direct or pretty good circumstantial evidence linking this to the Alt-Right and Trump supporters. And we should remember right before the election there were three militia men in Kansas who were essentially going to engage in this massacre of Somalian immigrants. And they were waiting until after the election, you know, which basically was indicating that they supported Trump. And didn’t want to do anything to harm his chances. So, I think we’re seeing a general upsurge. Of course, there’s been all these hate crimes reported and documented since Trump’s election. But I’ve been visiting Portland regularly over the last six months. And I’ve been interviewing a lot of people of color, who they just talk about this has just become a regular occurrence. It started in the run up to the election. Just verbal bashing, racist remarks, Nazi graffiti being left around and this stuff doesn’t get reported and you know in Portland alone. In just talking to individuals, I mean who knows how many of thousands of these kinds of low level hate crimes have been perpetrated. So we’re definitely seeing this just type of rising hatred and I think it’s very important to point out that Trump is not just exposing something that’s already there. Every single one of the people I talked to in Seattle and also Todd Kelsey, they’re new to this sort of thing. None of them had been active before November 2016. And this is again what makes it really dangerous, like Wilhelm Reich talked about this in the mass psychology of fascism, that the Nazis bought in the new. And that’s what we’re seeing with these Trump forces, they’re bringing in the new. And they’re still very small but there is a clear danger here. Aaron: Arun Gupta, independent journalist who among many topics, covers the rise of the far right. And the link to his piece is at raw story and intercept. Arun thank you. Arun: Thanks for having me on. Aaron: And thank you for joining us on the real news.