[11/2/20] – Domestic Terrorists Threaten Election

On Tuesday November 3rd, 2020, the existing dichotomy – those for the current President’s vision for the future of our country and those against – in the United States will be on full display. In anticipation of violence regardless of the outcome, businesses are boarding up, schools are closing early, and citizens are stocking their cabinets. Several state militias are aligning with voices declaring that we are on the precipice of a full-scale civil war and preparing for a doomsday scenario on Election Day. Threats (and nearly executed plans) by militia groups toward voting sites, politicians, and anyone who stands in opposition to the values of their inner-circle have already been making headlines. A joint-report conducted by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) and MilitiaWatch released last week concluded that five states are at an elevated risk for militia-led responses – peaceful or otherwise – in response to the election. This week, we explore the relationships among politics and militia groups through the lens of sociology with a focus on in-group affiliation and out-group antagonism, domestic terrorism, and social movements.

Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for Domestic Terrorists Threaten Election

Learning Objectives

LO1: Discuss how potential for violence in the aftermath of the election is driven by social factors such as race, gender, and social class. 

LO2:  Understand how labeling armed groups as “militias” and “terrorists” carry different stigma and social implications.

LO3: Explain how the presence of firearms at rallies and protests complicates the possibility for civil discourse to occur.


Militias and White Nationalists, Possible Post-Election Violence

Cooter can discuss why some militia and white nationalist extremists may react violently if Donald Trump loses the presidential election, particularly in light of the recent acquittal of the Bundy gang for their armed occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.

Opinion | Far-right militias and domestic terrorism in America: ‘This threat got ahead of us’

The government must wake up to the threat of domestic terrorism before it’s too late, says former Homeland Security counterterrorism analyst Daryl Johnson.

Readying for war: Inside an armed right-wing group in Utah

The Utah Citizens’ Alarm is a self-styled militia that formed in response to protests for racial justice this spring. The group’s leaders claim they are trying to protect their community, but experts warn they are part of a worrying trend of Americans taking the law into their own hands.

Discussion Questions

How might militia groups disrupt the election process? What are the limits to which they will go to in order to achieve their goal of maintaining the current President and government structure? Why might someone decide to join a militia movement? Why might someone decide to abandon any affiliation with a militia group?

What does it mean to be a member of a militia? How does the militia ideology facilitate the opportunity for in-group solidarity and out-group antagonism? How does the presence of firearms at their rallies and demonstrations create obstacles for civil discourse among groups who disagree with their ideology?

What are the limits of freedom of expression and free speech when using rhetoric to fuel ideological positions, recruit members, and distort reality to fit their paradigm? What differences and similarities exist among extremist militia groups on far-left and far-right in terms of their messaging and sources of information? What are the dangers of myopia?

What is at stake in this election that has militia members preparing for war? Where do think citizens are most at-risk for increased violence from militias in their area? What about the culture of this particular area of the United States might make them more prone to the risk of violence? What activity do you anticipate occurring most frequently, and why?

What is the difference between an armed militia group and a terrorist group? What is the role of gender, race, and social class in the portrayal of militia groups as patriots? Why might the media shy away from referring to armed militia groups that are using fear and intimidation to exercise their will (e.g., terrorism) as terrorists? How does calling these groups terrorists change their social construction?


A _______ sociological investigation of militia groups may pursue the research question, what factors shape the individual value perceived by members of being affiliated with a terrorist organization?
a. Structural-Functional
b. Conflict
c. Symbolic-Interaction
d. Postmodern

A _______ sociologist researching militia groups may focus on the role of in-group solidarity in maintaining the cohesion, organization, and direction of militia groups.
a. Structural-Functional
b. Conflict
c. Symbolic-Interaction
d. Rational-Choice

The media is largely responsible for the _______ of armed militia groups as patriots as opposed to domestic terrorists.
a. Deviance
b. Formal sanctions
c. Latent functioning
d. Social construction

Photo credit: iStockphoto.com/BackyardProduction

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