This summer, in an online “Best Places to Live in America in 2021” report, which ranked 10 US states as “America’s most hospitable,” Vermont ranked first. The state’s impressive response to COVID-19 and heavy public health spending has bolstered its place. But what is paradoxical about this report is that most of the Top Five states in the ranking are states where armed white supremacy and extremism are pervasive, manifest in state institutions and non-state actors, and make frequent headlines due to threatening behavior and intimidation and violence – all unwelcome activities that this report has not quantified.
Vermont, for example, is witnessing armed white supremacy statewide, but so are North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa, which rank third, fourth and fifth respectively in the rankings of best places to live and friendliest states in America. The Capitol Hill uprising on January 6 was a wake-up call to many, but this movement was alive and well across America for years. In fact, the data shows an increase in white domestically-based armed extremism, unprecedented in recent decades. And while former US President Donald Trump has been rightly credited with encouraging this white armed extremism by modeling bullying and intimidating behavior and threats of violence, local governments and states now allow more of this behavior. It’s more than just a Trump effect. American foreign policy is a story of armed intimidation. White armed extremists are only learning a lesson from the American history books.
Take Vermont, where even its progressive colleges, like Middlebury College, are unsafe for professors of color (who have left campus describing it as “racist hell”) and where, this summer alone, extensive investigations from the Vermont Human Rights Commission found several incidents of systemic racism in its armed institutions: the Chester Police Department, discriminating against a black driver; the Bennington Police Department, for discriminating against former black lawmaker Kiah Morris; and the state police, by discriminating against the black owner of Clemmons Family Farm. It was just this summer.
Vermont is increasingly making national headlines for all the wrong reasons. The story of the national thread after the story of the thread illustrates how many people of color – including the leaders of the Vermont-based NAACP chapters and black state lawmakers – have had to flee their homes due to white extremism armed and white supremacist pervasive in the community, schools (with an increasingly hostile pushback against equity and inclusion efforts in schools), local government and law enforcement. State.
White armed extremists in Vermont are so emboldened that they publicly post their militia websites and openly recruit on social media. And with some of the country’s softest gun laws, it’s becoming a haven for armed white extremists, like Max Misch. That’s why Vermont’s most infamous armed white extremist – Daniel Banyai – moved to the state for this reason: It was an easy place to build an armed militia complex.
But Vermont is not alone. Take third place North Dakota, where the neo-Nazis recently planned to take control of a local town, dissolve its local government and establish an Aryan stronghold, and where schools across the state are reporting the insidious nature of white supremacy as racist threats. create hostile school environments. It is such a widespread problem that local administrators describe the state’s racism as a “pandemic”, with the identity of victims anonymized in order to protect them from further harm. Growing resistance to critical race theory in North Dakota (and Vermont, too), as well as the rest of the United States, doesn’t help matters either, further fueling the local white supremacist movement.
Take Minnesota in number four, where armed white supremacists have descended on the Twin Cities to foment violence in the wake of George Floyd’s death and again on the anniversary of his death, and where armed white extremists, Identifying with the national Boogaloo Wood movement, gunned down a Minneapolis police station last year.
Take Iowa in fifth place, where Nazi symbols and white supremacist messages – saying that “we are everywhere” – appear in city parks, where “white supremacist hotlines” have been established. were created this year to track threats, and where black Iowans were encouraged not to travel alone as it is too dangerous. One wonders how these states can be considered the “most welcoming” when the movements of armed white supremacists are clearly gaining ground.
When states like Vermont, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa are ranked as the most welcoming and best places to live, that fails to take into account the experiences of communities of color who face threats from physical violence and intimidation. In fact, a ranking like this does even more harm by highlighting the experience of communities fleeing white armed extremism.
So how can we effectively and quickly combat this growing white armed extremism before the threat further metastasizes? As an example of a policy response, the Center for American Progress has suggested everything from anti-hostage bills and better data collection on the national terrorist threat, to the eradication of violent white supremacy in the country. army and law enforcement. This is very necessary in states like Vermont where prejudice and discrimination persist in the application of local and state laws. Other policy responses, from the Brookings Institution, for example, have recommended the obvious – the arrest and indictment of law-breaking extremists – as well as the suppression of social media and a more active fight against anti-conspiracies. government.
However, when weapons are so easily acquired, trafficked and unchecked in many of these states, more will be needed to counter armed white extremism. The four states highlighted above score poorly on the Giffords Law Center’s annual gun law scorecard. And with gun sales soaring during the pandemic and showing no signs of slowing down, even as state legislatures are showing a new backbone in making their states safer for everyone, as New York has made with its recent declaration of emergency on gun violence, it may be too late given how easy it is to smuggle arms across America.
We must take this threat seriously. While many of us are launching an evacuation fund to help Vermonters flee violent or intolerant environments, it cannot be left for citizens to save themselves and evacuate. We need a national effort that draws the line, regains ground against armed white supremacists and extremists (whether in state systems or as non-state actors), strengthens the rule of law vis-à-vis with regard to access to weapons, gives priority to prevention and normalizes non-violent behavior. A big demand for America, I know. But we need it now before this pandemic consumes us all.
Michael Shank, a Montpellier resident, teaches at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University and at the Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of Vermont News & Media.