A San Diego civil rights attorney is voicing concern over the prevalence of militias and hate groups after the high-profile arrests of more than a dozen people in an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan’s governor.
“They’re fired up. They’re emotional. They’re angry and they’re often armed. That’s a dangerous situation," said attorney Jim McElroy, who is also a past board chair at Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights advocacy organization.
On Thursday, six men were charged in federal court with conspiring to kidnap the Governor Gretchen Whitmer in reaction to what they viewed as her “uncontrolled power,” according to a federal complaint. Separately, seven others were charged in state court under Michigan's anti-terrorism laws for allegedly targeting police and seeking a “civil war.”
NBC News reported several of the men have histories of anti-government organizing, as well as interest in countering what they saw as an "uprising" against President Donald Trump, according to their online profiles.
McElroy says as our nation has become more polarized, militia groups have become a greater threat. He also notes a troubling presence of armed individuals at recent social justice demonstrations.
“If people are arming themselves to come out and fight against Black Lives Matter or social demonstrations, then you’ve got a powder keg on your hand and it’s dangerous,” said McElroy.
McElroy also has a strong message for parents.
“Our kids are becoming more and more radicalized primarily from the internet. And when they get radicalized, they are more likely to join militia groups or to act independently,” said McElroy.
In San Diego, there has been recent conflict between BLM demonstrators and self-proclaimed patriot groups. One of those groups calls itself Defend East County and in June clashed with racial justice demonstrators outside of a Santee Target, which they claimed they were trying to defend from looters.
The founder of the group, though, is distancing the group from militias.
“It not a crew, a militia, a gang. We don’t train. We don’t have rules. There’s no bylaws. We organize communities,” said Justin Haskins, who established the group via Facebook.
But while Haskins distanced Defend East County from militias, he said he personally supports militias.
“I am not opposed to militias at all. The second amendment says a well-regulated militia is necessary. And we owe the very freedoms that we have to militias,” said Haskins.
McElroy has a different opinion.
“I consider them dangerous. I don’t think law enforcement wants their help,” said McElroy.