‘Please, a little less winning’

Inside the Greensboro Coliseum on June 14, 2016, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump unleashed one of his more memorably over-the-top campaign promises: “We are going to start winning again. We’re gonna win at every single level. We’re gonna win so much that you’re gonna beg me: ‘Please, Mr. President, we’re winning so much. We cannot stand it. Please, a little less winning, Mr. President.’”

The speech, coming two days after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, dripped with menace.

The candidate veered abruptly from his theme — jobs and trade — to read from a Washington Times report connecting shooter Omar Mateen and violent Islamic extremism in Afghanistan. Later, Trump read a poem called “The Snake,” which he used as an allegory for treacherous outsiders who exploit the kindness of a generous and naïve benefactors.

“Now, you have to think of this in terms of Islamic terror. You have to think of it in terms of our border,” he explained. “You have to think of it in terms of all the people that are crossing, that are criminals, that are killing people and hurting people.”

Outside the coliseum, protesters held signs reading, “Trump makes America hate again,” and, “A vote for Trump is a vote for fear, bigotry, racism and fascism,” while supporters waved Confederate and Gadsden flags. Right-wing militias interposed themselves between Trump supporters and protesters, and hundreds of police officers stood ready in case of a disturbance. A dozen protesters were arrested, both for disrupting the rally inside and misdemeanors like disorderly conduct and impeding traffic outside, although the event remained largely peaceful.

As the rally was winding down, Rod Webber, a documentary filmmaker from Boston, intercepted Jason Passmore, a militia activist from Browns Summit. A video of the encounter posted on YouTube begins with Passmore giving a perfunctory after-report.

“We’re happy it turned out peaceful, and no violence as of yet, so hopefully we can all go home and see our families,” says Passmore, sunglasses propped on the camouflage bill of his hat. “And that’s all that matters.”

Passmore’s friend, Manuel Luxton, with wraparound shades and a walrus moustache, stood on the sidewalk holding a Gadsden flag.

“You got anything?” Webber asked Luxton.

“End the Fed,” Luxton responded. “Stop the war crimes against the people of Novorossiya.”

Trump’s seeming admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin was one of many threads in the campaign, but the term Novorossiya is still unfamiliar to most Americans. Mostly that’s because it’s not a real country, but rather a relic of imperial Russia. Situated north of the Black Sea, the territory was seized from the Ottoman Empire by Russia in the late 18th Century, then became part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic under the Soviet Union and remained part of independent Ukraine after the Cold War.

Before Luxton could expand on his sympathetic view toward Russia’s expansionist aims, someone caught Passmore’s eyes. He would say later that though he wasn’t sure whether it was an FBI agent or Secret Service, he thought it was a federal agent.

“Ports, forts and 10 square miles, you son of a bitch!” Passmore yelled.

For far-right militia activists, this phrase is foundational doctrine. The Constitution grants Congress the power “to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such district (not exceeding 10 miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of government of the United States. The Tenth Amendment, reserving “all powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution” to the states, in turn, invalidates the authority of the FBI and other federal agencies, according to the logic of far-right constitutionalists. “Anything else is violation of the US Constitution, and is a tyrannical act of the federal government,” Passmore said, pausing briefly to catch his breath. “And, uh, it should be dealt with appropriately.”

As the militia activists took leave of the filmmaker, Passmore, a former military contractor in Afghanistan, issued a parting shot at a cluster of protesters who had been arguing against Trump’s harsh stance toward Syrian refugees.

“Muslims don’t coexist,” Passmore shouted.

A debate ensued, drawing the militia activists back into the fray. Luxton fell into a rant stitched out of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

“They’re trying to start a war against Russia, who’s never done anything against us, despite numerous provocations,” he said. “Despite US and London bankers backing the non-Russian Bolsheviks, who murdered more than a hundred million Russians, mostly Christians, that’s just swept under the rug of history.”

Trump’s paeans to “the forgotten people” and disparagement of “globalists” resonates with this pernicious alt-right view of Jews as a powerful, manipulative force shaping the course of history to undermine the white, Christian homeland. Fear of Muslims, refugees and migrants coupled with resentment of a supposed globalist elite would build the foundation of Trumpism, and supply themes that would reverberate back and forth between the future president and a right-wing militia movement already prone to conspiratorial views of federal government.

Three days after the Trump rally, Passmore posted a photo of himself on Facebook with Luxton and other friends outside the Greensboro Coliseum, writing, “This will be the start of something great.” He elaborated in a separate comment: “GCM (Guilford County Militia). How does that sound to everyone?”

A kaleidoscope of extremism in the militia movement

With Trump’s election, the aspirations of newly emboldened white nationalists transitioning from internet trolls to street fighters would soon collide with a re-energized antifascist resistance, culminating in fierce clashes and a deadly car-ramming attack allegedly committed by James A. Fields Jr. after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.

The new “alt-right” shares an activist ecosystem with the older far-right militia movement, which emerged in the early 1990s in response to federal agencies’ heavy-handed enforcement actions at Ruby Ridge in a remote corner of northern Idaho, and then later against the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. From an ideological standpoint, militia activists identify as patriots, constitutionalists — an interpretation that views the county sheriff as the highest law enforcement official in the land, and empowers everyman with a firearm to enforce his view of the Constitution — and Three Percenters — an allusion to the idea that only a select few colonists took up arms to overthrow British rule.

The militia movement, while avowedly open to all without regard to race, has often provided a haven for violent white nationalists. Though not monolithic, many militia groups have embraced the same causes as white nationalists, including veneration of Confederate monuments and hostility toward Muslims. They also tend to share with white nationalists a hostility towards antifascists, which is more often than not repackaged in the more palatable rhetoric of anticommunism.

But other militia groups have taken a more conciliatory position, disavowing white nationalism while opening dialogue with more moderate factions of the antifascist movement in hopes of maintaining public safety, protecting property, and upholding the First Amendment.

Passmore and his associates have formed a relatively cohesive action set, with many of the same individuals showing up at the 2016 Trump rally, and then going on to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville more than a year later, as well as other events focused on preserving the legacy of the Confederacy and promoting Islamophobia. The group’s use of different names and insignia — Guilford County Militia on one hand, and matching shields inscribed with the letters “NC” in Charlottesville on the other — provides some plausible deniability for members challenged on their radical beliefs and participation in extremist events.

The recent history of activism by Passmore and his associates also shows how far-right activists acting in concert may choose from a buffet of ideologies and esoteric interests — neo-Confederate, anti-Muslim, anti-migrant, anti-Semitic, conspiratorial anti-globalist, extreme libertarian, Second Amendment absolutist, flat-earth, anti-modernity, male chauvinist — that every member may not share. Many of these views, particularly neo-Confederate and anti-Muslim, share a common currency with the patriot movement. For that reason, patriot activists may not recognize or may be willfully blind to the markers of white nationalism within their ranks, allowing white nationalists to organize and recruit from within the larger far-right universe with relative ease.

James Campbell, Jason Passmore, Casey Becknell and Hunter Smith took part in Confederate Memorial Day in Graham in May 2017. (photo by Daniel Hosterman)

‘Shooting and training for a fight’

Jason Passmore’s fluid stance on white nationalism is one that can often be found among the more hardened warriors of the militia movement. Paradoxically, as the father of biracial children, Passmore embraces a vision of racial enclaves, while professing a willingness to fight alongside both David Duke and Louis Farrakhan against what he considers a “tyrannical government.”

Despite his disavowal of racism, Passmore has literally weaponized white nationalism by conducting firearms training with a collection of white racialist activists, including Luxton, who calls himself a national socialist, and Cody Beachy, who has publicly expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler and Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte, whose bloody war on drugs has claimed more than 12,000 lives.

And Passmore has insinuated that he would be willing to use violence against federal authorities. Five days before 2016 Trump rally, he posted on Facebook: “Anyone that feels we should just talk on Facebook and have meetings without shooting and training for a fight is not on my sheet of music.… When it comes to a fight, we will stop the blood or shoot the people that shoot at you. So anyone who wants to train, learn, shoot, camp. Or breach, bang and clear.” The latter sequence references a tactic used by the US military to forcibly enter a building, disorient an adversary with a flashbang, and then clear the room.

Beachy, who could not be reached for comment for this story, responded, “I got your six.

Passmore says that shortly after the Trump rally, he received a visit from a Joint Terrorism Task Force comprised of elements of the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. (Passmore’s Facebook history actually indicates that the visit occurred on June 7, a full week before Trump’s visit.)

“They knocked on my door and wanted to talk, accused me of being a terrorist,” Passmore recalls. “They asked me if I would turn in anyone who tried to coerce me or involve me in a terrorist act. I politely told them no, I wouldn’t because they don’t have no jurisdiction.”

Passmore says he was radicalized by the Ruby Ridge siege, a 1992 incident that unfolded when US marshals scouted the homestead of a loner named Randy Weaver, who was wanted on gun charges in a remote corner of northern Idaho. A deadly shootout between the marshals and one of Weaver’s sons set in motion an 11-day siege on the Weavers’ house that resulted in the death of Weaver’s wife by FBI sniper fire.

Passmore’s friend and fellow militia member James Campbell says he watched the standoff on television as an 8-year-old. He recalls family members talking about what an injustice the siege was. Later, as a teenager, he had the opportunity to meet Weaver.

“A lot of what was told about him wasn’t true,” Campbell says. “They spun him as this Nazi, this Aryan race Nazi. He wasn’t a nationalist so much as a separatist. He didn’t like people.”

Like Campbell, Passmore said his “anti-tyrannical government” stance grew out of his awareness of Ruby Ridge, along with the heavy-handed police repression of protesters at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999. Passmore, now 33, met Weaver at the age of 15, joining the militia movement around the same time.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Passmore has an inherent distrust of US foreign policy. He believes the 9/11 attacks were an inside job. And, even though he went to Afghanistan as a contractor — he did so strictly for financial reasons, he says, as his business struggled when the recession hit — he believes the military has no business in the Middle East. He even marched in Greensboro to protest the impending invasion of Iraq.

“I protested the war before I went to Afghanistan,” Passmore said. “I don’t think we should be in Afghanistan or Iraq. It’s a waste of money and lives. We shouldn’t be involved in Israel or Syria. I can say firsthand I’ve seen our government play both sides.”

By the time of the June 2016 Trump rally, Passmore’s experience as a military contractor coupled with his longstanding constitutionalist beliefs had congealed into an isolationist stance, opposed to both American military intervention and a liberal policy on refugee resettlement. Luxton shared the same view.

Passmore says he’d been conducting firearms training with four to seven Three Percenters from across the state at the time. He had met Luxton four years prior at a training with a group of North Carolina Three Percenters and invited him to join him for rifle practice. Passmore says he met Beachy after the Trump rally. Following a background check to ensure that he wasn’t an undercover agent, Passmore says Beachy joined the Guilford County Militia for a couple trainings.

On June 30, 2016, Passmore posted a call for “open recruiting” for GCM on his Facebook page. The post indicated the group was open to all, regardless of “age, sex, creed, color, religion.” The newly minted militia appropriated the Guilford Courthouse flag, the banner flown by patriots during the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in 1781.

On Independence Day 2016, Passmore posted a photo of himself and his crew practicing riflery from a shed roof, commenting, “God, please grant us the strength and protection we will soon need. Please grant us and protect our family from the storm they will surely be exposed to. We know this fight is righteous. Please keep us brave in the face of evil. May our bullets fly true and our friends keep us well supplied.”

Casey Becknell, a 43-year-old Civil War re-enactor from Lexington, commented, “And may God bless Dixie thru it all,” ending with a text symbol to represent the Three Percenter movement.

Manuel Luxton (with “Invade” sign), Hunter Smith (with whiteboard), Casey Becknell (wearing fatigues) and Zach Smiley (wearing Gadsden cape) participated in an “anti-sharia” rally in Raleigh in June 2017. (photo by Daniel Hosterman)

Restoring the Confederacy and demonizing Muslims

After Trump’s election, the North Carolina-based Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan drew international headlines with a pledge to hold a “victory parade.” When the appointed date of Dec. 3 arrived, upward of 100 mostly masked far-left antifascists from the Triangle were waiting at the anticipated parade route in rural Caswell County, armed with aluminum baseball bats. The Loyal White Knights finally mustered a motorcade around 3 p.m., but surfaced two counties away in Roxboro.

Encouraged by their success, the Triangle antifascists turned their attention to a Confederate Memorial Day rally event organized by Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County, or ACTBAC, on May 20, 2017.

Passmore, Campbell, and Luxton from the Guilford County Militia joined the Alamance Regulators militia and ACTBAC to defend the Confederate monument in downtown Graham. With them were Becknell, the re-enactor and Three Percenter, and Hunter Smith, a 30-year-old Denton resident who was also involved in the Civil War re-enactment scene.

A video posted by Ruptly — a Berlin-based video news agency that is part of the Russia-slanted RT network — captures the ideological tension as the two sides traded insults.

While leftists chanted, “Fuck your flag,” Passmore, Campbell, Luxton, Becknell and Smith stood in a throng of right-wing activists waving Confederate, Gadsden and Three Percenter flags. Passmore carried the Guilford Courthouse battle flag.

“We live in a country where the most successful demographic is Asian men,” Smith shouted. “White supremacy! The most successful demographic in this country is a minority.” Luxton, meanwhile, accused the leftists of harboring an Israeli intelligence agent agitating for war with Syria.

Campbell, Luxton, Smith, Becknell and Beachy, though not Passmore, showed up three weeks later at a rally in Raleigh organized by ACT for America, a national group that promotes a defamatory view of Islam as a treacherous religion full of stealth jihadists. Zach Smiley of Davidson County also joined the ad hoc group.

Luxton wore a T-shirt that said, “Deus vult,” a battle cry of the Crusades. He carried a sign reading, “Invade the world, invite the world is not sustainable.” Later, on Facebook, he acknowledged the white nationalist group Identity Evropa as the inspiration for the sign.

Although ACT for America had publicly distanced itself from white nationalism and disavowed an “anti-sharia” rally in Arkansas organized by neo-Nazi Billy Roper, members of Identity Evropa filled out a significant portion of the relatively small event in Raleigh. Appealing to young white men on college campuses, Identity Evropa proclaims a “demand that we, people of European heritage, retain demographic supermajorities in our homelands.” Trading on anti-Semitic tropes, the organization’s website charges that a “globalist elite… has relentlessly pushed for open borders and mass immigration” in “an attempt to import a new people, who are seen as more politically malleable than Americans — particularly those of European descent.”

Orry Von Diez, at the time an Identity Evropa leader from Yadkin County, warned during a speech at the rally: “We will not stand by while our women are draped in scarves, while our children are mutilated and while our men are emasculated before our very people. This is not what our Western civilization is all about.”

Luxton and Campbell chatted idly with von Diez and other Identity Evropa members. One admired Campbell’s whiteboard, which read, “Free helicopter rides for commies.” The helicopter ride meme, which entered wide currency in far-right circles beginning in 2016, is a none too subtle reference to a practice by the Chilean and Argentine military dictatorships in the 1970s of summarily executing left-wing activists by dropping them from helicopters into the ocean. The meme was also adopted by the group Anti-Communist Action, or Anticom.

When asked about his promotion of the “helicopter ride” meme, Campbell acknowledged it was “extreme,” but pleaded, “Just because I held up a sign, I’m never going to act on it.” He seemed unwilling to consider the possibility that it might be an incitement that could prompt an unstable person to commit an act of violence.

Von Diez deleted his Facebook page after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville and has since dropped off the radar, Campbell says, but a Google Hangouts video conversation — made public as part of a leak of the server used by Anticom that was publicly archived by the nonprofit news organization Unicorn Riot — offers a window into his worldview. (Anticom announced plans for a rally in Charlotte as a sequel to Unite the Right, but then canceled after celebrity white nationalist Richard Spencer withdrew.)

In the video, an unidentified member asks, “Do you want to bring up the group specifically that was disproportionately present in the formation of early communism?”

Von Diez, sitting at a desk surrounded by maps and stacks of old books, responds, “That’s an easy one, considering that Marx himself was a Jew. I have no qualms with calling them out.”

He turns for a copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious anti-Semitic forgery frequently cited by neo-Nazis that purports to expose a Jewish plot for world domination. “In fact,” von Diez says, “I have this always with me.”

Later, as the group discusses the liability of James A. Fields Jr.’s alleged car-ramming attack, von Diez opines, “The only way to control the hysterics is to control the means of producing the hysterics, and that is through the media sensationalism that is put out into the direct palms of every individual.”

Another Anticom leader quips, “So what you’re saying is, ‘We should hang the lügenpresse.” The German word, which translates as “lying press,” was widely used in Nazi Germany.

Von Diez responded lightheartedly with a phrase that echoed Joseph Goebbels, the Third Reich propagandist: “Our patience has run out.”

Part 2 runs on June 21.

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Casey Becknell unfurls a Gadsden flag at the “anti-sharia” rally. Behind him are Zach Smiley, Hunter Smith and Manuel Luxton. All four would later attend the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. (photo by McCausland)

Cast of Characters

Cody Beachy — Active with Guilford County Militia; present at June 2016 Trump rally in Greensboro and June 2017 Raleigh “anti-sharia” rally but did not go to Charlottesville; Facebook posts demonstrate admiration for Adolf Hitler, and hostility towards migrants; lives in northeast Greensboro

Casey Becknell — Civil War reenactor and self-proclaimed Three Percenter; joined NC Shield Guard at Charlottesville, and also attended May 2017 Confederate Memorial Day rally in Graham and June 2017 “anti-sharia” rally in Raleigh; lives in Lexington

Clyde Bone — Framing carpenter in Gaston County; attended Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville as part of NC Shield Guard

Nikita Bone — Davidson County resident; joined NC Shield Guard in Charlottesville; Facebook posts reveal an admiration for fascist philosopher Julius Evola, and hostility towards migrants

James Campbell — Active with Guilford County Militia and went to Charlottesville as part of NC Shield Guard; also June 2016 Trump rally in Greensboro, May 2017 Confederate Memorial Day rally in Graham and June 2017 “anti-sharia” rally in Raleigh; primarily identifies as a Constitutionalist and Second Amendment activists and denies being a white nationalist, but maintains a friendship with Manuel Luxton; lives in Browns Summit 

Manuel Luxton — Self-avowed “national socialist,” or nazi, who is a sympathetic to Russia, also a flat-earther; longtime friend of Jason Passmore and James Campbell; active with Guilford County Militia and went to Charlottesville as part of NC Shield Guard; also June 2016 Trump rally in Greensboro, May 2017 Confederate Memorial Day rally in Graham and June 2017 “anti-sharia” rally in Raleigh; residence unknown, although he likely lives in Guilford County considering that he maintains Facebook and Gab social media accounts under the name “Guilford News Network”; Social media posts show extreme hostility towards Jews and migrants, and a casual celebration of violence; his identification with perpetrators of racist violence include celebrating the vehicle allegedly used by James A. Fields Jr. to murder Heather Heyer, and recently adopting a photo of an Italian man accused of shooting migrants as his Facebook profile photo

Jason Passmore — Former military contractor who founded Guilford County Militia; now lives in Stokes County and is a member of the Stokes County Militia; attended June 2016 Trump rally in Greensboro and May 2017 Confederate Memorial Day in Graham, but did not go to Charlottesville; espouses an extreme libertarian philosophy and supports racial separatism, although his children from a previous marriage are biracial; while he denies being a white nationalist, he makes no apology for conducting firearms training with Manuel Luxton and Cody Beachy; social media posts display an eagerness for confrontation with the federal government and “antifa”

Zach Smiley — Joined the NC Shield Guard in Charlottesville, while also appearing at the June 2017 “anti-sharia” rally in Raleigh; his Facebook page indicates he’s from Davidson County

Hunter Smith — Civil War reenactor and avowed white nationalist; carried a shield displaying the number “14” representing a popular white nationalist slogan in the NC Shield Guard in Charlottesville while also participating in May 2017 Confederate Memorial Day rally in Graham and June 2017 “anti-sharia” rally in Raleigh; Facebook comments have expressed admiration for the Unabomber; interested in self-sufficiency and living off the grid; currently lives in Denton

Read Part 2.

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