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Government & Politics

Midwest Now 'Hotbed' for Far-Right Extremist Groups, SPLC Says

An armed protestor stands outside the Ohio Statehouse Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio.
Jay LaPrete
/
Associated Press
An armed protestor stands outside the Ohio Statehouse Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio.

Two Ohioans identified as members of the right-wing Ohio State Regular Militia were arrested  and charged over the weekend for their participation in the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Meanwhile, the Ohio Statehouse on Sunday saw a group of demonstrators espousing an anti-government ideology.

Michael Edison Hayden, spokesman and senior investigative reporter with the Southern Poverty Law Center, says it can be tricky to distinguish between militia, anti-government groups and far-right extremists.

“It’s best exemplified by the Boogaloo Movement,” Hayden says.

The majority of armed protesters Sunday, between 15 and 20 people, identified with as members of the Ohio Boogaloo Boys.

“This particular group kind of straddles the line between libertarianism and white supremacy,” Hayden says. “So they’re a bit complicated, and the best way to understand it is they are far-right until you press them on it.”

Despite the larger Boogaloo movement’s strong ties to white supremacy, and desire for what it calls a "second civil war," the demonstrators at the Statehouse said they were on the side of Black Lives Matter protesters there. Leaders also said they were not aligned with either President Trump or President-elect Joe Biden.

Hayden says that’s a matter of political positioning.

“These groups have become much more savvy at responding to the 24-hour media cycle that is really fueled by sites like Twitter and Facebook, and their optics have changed immediately following the backlash to the violence that took place at the Capitol on January 6," he says.

Beyond any other issue, though, Hayden says, guns are their priority.

“What really drives them is these Second Amendment issues, and it’s not uncommon, of course, for those extreme Second Amendment issues to cross over with violent far-right extremism and white supremacy,” he says. “It happens quite often.”

Jessica Watkins and Donovan Crowl, both of Champaign County, were arrested on rioting charges after taking part in the January 6 insurrection as members of the Ohio State Regular Militia. That group is affiliated with the Oath Keepers, a national anti-government group that, according to the FBI, "believe that the federal government has been coopted by a shadowy conspiracy." Several Oath Keepers members are facing charges related to the January 6 insurrection.

Hayden says the SPLC is not on the lookout for any one group in Ohio, but rather the gradual spread of far-right extremist views. He says it kicked into high gear after Trump was elected president in 2016.

“The Midwest, broadly speaking, has become much more of a hotbed than it was in the past, particularly along the Rust Belt,” he says.

Copyright 2021 WOSU 89.7 NPR News.