As a native Minnesotan, I want every voter to know that the recent plot by white supremacists to kidnap Michigan’s Governor Whitmer was not the beginning of their siege on America. It started in Minneapolis. Investigations have proven that most of the violence, gun fire and fire setting was conducted by white men associated with white supremacist groups. What is less known is that as soon as the George Floyd protests began in late May, calls to “protect Minneapolis” appeared on white supremacist websites. The response was immediate and dangerous.
These vigilantes caravanned through black neighborhoods without license plates, shot at local volunteers, and tried to burn my city to the ground.
Angela Meyers was one of dozens of volunteers on the streets in North Minneapolis. From the beginning of the protests, she knew something was very wrong. “The fires, the major destruction that we saw — it looked like some of these buildings a demolition crew had come through. Those were not just kids who wanted to break something. It was actually people who were intent on causing this major destruction and who knew what to do.”
“Lock and load boys. Boog flags are in the air, and the national network is going off.” ~ Facebook post from a Boogaloo Bois supporter who helped coordinate terror attacks on the city of Minneapolis.
“I was checking the website”, said Meyers. From the very beginning of the protests a call went out to “protect Minneapolis” on the Boogaloo Bois website and they responded. This call was really a cover for acts of terrorism by white supremacists’ intent on inciting violence to start a race war. “You know people were waiting for their moment to cause this destruction. A lot of them were white men”, she said. “When we were out on the street, what we prepared for was telling some kids ‘Hey, don’t throw a brick here’ or something. But actually it was dangerous. A very dangerous situation.”
Leslie Redmond, President of the Minneapolis Chapter of the NAACP, was one of the volunteer organizers who spent two weeks on the streets every night: “Churches and different businesses got threats. We got word that white supremacists were coming into the community and that they were targeting black churches. We saw that some type of targeting was going on with black barbershops and so, yeah, there was a real concern. And we don’t know what would have happened if we weren’t out there.”
For the first couple of nights, these unmarked vehicles drove around for hours watching, with guns visible. Then one night, shots rang out. Someone in one of the trucks opened fire on a peaceful group of neighbors. Everyone ran for cover. Some hid out in a store basement until it was safe to come out. These were unprovoked attacks on a crowd of African American neighbors who had volunteered to watch and keep their community safe.
Campaign materials from Trump and other GOP candidates have used these incidents to stoke fear in the hearts of voters. They imply that black protestors were wreaking havoc on the city and endangering the lives of peace-loving citizens. This danger is real. But it’s not coming from the African American community or from the left. It’s coming from right wing activists who feel empowered by our president. Their goal is to incite violence and convince white voters that they are in danger from people of color and progressive democrats. This misinformation is dangerous because of the ways it is used by Trump and the GOP to win votes and encourage more violence. It also masks the real power of our communities and the ways we can work together for good.
Despite Trump’s campaign rhetoric, the reality is that something beautiful happened in Minneapolis. Following the first couple of days of protest, people came out on the streets to keep their community from burning, to clean up, and to support each other:
“That’s where it turned into a real community effort because it became more than just being on the streets. It became our community taking care of our community. It became us taking care of us.” said Corissa Sutton, a community volunteer in North Minneapolis. “We were taking care of our own situation. We had so many donations that came in that we had things stacked everywhere. It was for the volunteers, it was for the community who needed things. It was a bad situation that turned into a wonderful situation for all of us, really.”
Neighborhood volunteers protected their communities all over town. A group of Somali citizens ran off white men who appeared to be ready to cause trouble at their beloved community store; neighbors around Powderhorn Park banded together to patrol and found a box of incendiary devices pre-set in an alley near their homes; they brought brooms and shovels to pitch in and clean up Lake Street; a tent filled with donations provided water, food and even diapers on the corner of 38th and Chicago where Floyd was killed in South Minneapolis. These were neighbors from all walks of life who came together to support each other and protect the community – the very opposite of what ads for trump and GOP candidates are running every day.
Because it became more than just being on the streets. It became our community taking care of our community. It became us taking care of us. ~Corissa Sutton
This re-telling of history also provides cover for those who are intent on violence. A September report revealed that 93% of BLM protests were peaceful, but many counter protests were not. Yet our President and his more radical followers are using it to stoke the flames again and the threat of more right-wing violence is looming large:
“The International Crisis Group, whose mission is to sound an alarm ahead of deadly conflicts in hot spots around the globe, last month turned its attention for the first time to possible election-related violence in the United States.
Warning that far-right militias could take matters into their own hands in key states if ballots are contested, Robert Malley, the president of the group, said, ‘We would never predict civil war, but isolated incidents of violence could be quite serious.’”
There’s no question that the danger of militant white supremacists has risen steadily since Trump’s first election. Whether it’s the plan to kidnap Michigan Governor Whitmer, the increasing violence instigated by white counter protestors at BLM rallies, his ominous refusal to disavow Proud Boys or the activities of his secret police, Trump has made it clear that he is counting on a fight over this election. Recent headlines have also warned about President Trump’s “Army of Poll guards” , who are already harassing voters across the country. In Philadelphia, Trump supporters are video tapping people dropping mail-in ballots.
At the same time, what really happened in Minneapolis — the way that we all worked together to protect our community — is happening now all over the country. American volunteers have sent over 17.5 million letters and made phone calls to urge everyone to vote. They’re standing in line for hours and mailing in their ballots. The huge voter turnout is an affirmation of the real power we have.
The majority of citizens believe in equitable democracy. But given the extensive level of voter suppression happening right now, it is not guaranteed that Biden will win. Either way, many feel that violence is likely:
“I believe they will use the actions of prior protests and judicial orders including directives by state governments to batter citizens for legally expressing their political views.” Teresa Raiford of Don’t Shoot Portland told me recently. “I don’t believe we have evidence that would show this isn’t what they are planning. An assault against the American people on Election Day is what I believe is going to happen regardless of who’s elected.”
Our President appears to be counting on it. How will we respond? Will we allow Trump to tear our country apart or will we find ways to come together again to protect our communities, our families and our future? November 3rd is just around the corner. The time to start planning is now.