Biden or Trump, the impending presidential election worries Kathleen Belew.
The University of Chicago history professor made her academic name with a 2018 book chronicling the disturbing rise of white power activism from Vietnam to the Oklahoma City bombing. What she’s seen from the movement in recent years has been similarly unsettling.
“Part of the concern about the current moment has to do with the specter of a Trump loss and mass-casualty attacks out of frustration,” Belew says. “But I think there’s no scenario where I’m not worried — because even if Trump is reelected and these activists seem to have an ally in the executive, that has not in the past been a recipe for peaceful drawdown. It’s been a recipe for increasing violence.”
That’s not a happy thought, recognizes the 38 year old, whose current Twitter handle is Kathleen “Stocking Canned Goods” Belew. But as her book “Bring the War Home” points out, it was 1983, during the conservative presidency of Ronald Reagan, when disparate white power groups got together and declared war on the U.S. government, “and their reasoning was that even Reagan, even their hero in office, could not deliver the kinds of reforms that they thought were necessary,” she says. That declaration led to the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma’s capital, the most deadly attack on U.S. soil between Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11, 2001.
And, today, she says, “I just don’t see a scenario where these activists would pack up their weapons and go home.”
Belew has been busy in media recently — and, really, since her book was published — explaining the deeper resonance of events such as the alleged terror plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and President Trump’s failure, on a national debate stage, to condemn the Proud Boys or other contemporary white supremacists, instead telling the group to “stand down and stand by.”
Hers is the voice reminding us that these events don’t occur in a vacuum. Her tweet thread after the Trump debate comment noted “we are decades, if not generations, into this problem. A green light like ‘stand back and standby’ is catastrophic.”
“I can look at the sort of landscape of white power and militia movement activity and see a rising tide,” she says. "And, again, that comes from connecting things together. So we often hear stories about, you know, the Charleston shooting as anti-Black violence, the Pittsburgh shooting as anti-Semitic violence, the El Paso shooting as anti-immigrant violence, the Christchurch shootings as anti-Muslim violence."