Impoverishment and Rurality Doesn’t Radicalize the Right, White Supremacy Does

Alana M. Anton, MA

On October 9, 2020, the FBI, following a months long investigation into an extremist right-wing group, arrested multiple members in Michigan. The group was preparing to carry out a well-rehearsed plan to kidnap and presumably assassinate the governor of MI, Gretchen Whitmer. It should not be lost in the narrative that Whitmer is the second woman governor of MI. Misogyny is an American value, right along with white supremacy.

These members included Pete Musico and Joseph Morrison of the Wolverine Watchmen. Additionally, Ty Garbin was arrested at his modest suburban home in Hartland Township, MI.

It took about 12 seconds after the first report for Twitter and other social media outlets to find and post photos of the home and training grounds of the Watchmen, owned by Morrison. The home and training facility was also the home of Morrison’s child and his father-in-law, Musico. The initial viral post was sent out by Jacobin contributor Walker Bragman (@walkerbragman). The post posits that the economic conditions of these white Christian identity extremists was the impetus of their radicalization. The post immediately went viral.

Economics do play a part in the politics of people, of course they do. But, when it is white right-wing extremists acting out their brand of politics, we rush to the lazy and frankly simple excuse that poverty, rurality, and the notion of the disgruntled white man are perfectly reasonable excuses for violent radicalization.

But, those pesky data…always in the way of a good piece of propaganda. According to the Pew Research Center’s data from 2016, that argument just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Of voters with a registered party affiliation, the poor and working class, that is, those families with incomes $30k or lower, are more likely to vote Democrat, 43% to 20%. Of those registered to vote but not registered with a party about 32% lean Republican. Even when broken out by race, poverty plus whiteness does not equal “voting against one’s best interests.”

Rural voters are more likely to vote conservative by a significant margin, that’s a surprise to no one. However, and this is a BIG however, voting conservative does not in any realm of the imagination coincide with plots to kidnap, assassinate and who knows what else that this particular scheme’s details included.

As a staunch leftist and working-class country girl I am offended and enraged at the implication it does. I can know my neighbor hates my politics, maybe even my identity, but I know their garden hose will still help put out my house fire.

Ty Garbin, Joseph Morrison, and Pete Musico are neither impoverished or underprivileged, anyway. If we are going to entertain this argument, we should probably begin with facts.

The FACT is that Morrison purchased that house and its 2.5-acre ranch with his part of a $3 million inheritance he received from a relative in 2018, reported in Deadline Detroit by investigative journalist, Violet Ikonomova. Garbin lives in a modest manufactured home with a well-tended yard and two regular late-model cars in the drive. It is easy to see argument debunking photos of both homes on the real estate web-site Trulia. Census data puts the median family income of Hartland Township at $79,524. Jackson Co, where Morrison’s 2.5-acre ranch is located, the median income for a family is $50,970. The unemployment rate for both locations is lower than, or within spitting distance of, the national numbers released this month.

These are not the faces of poverty. These are not the faces of opportunity denied.

These are the faces of disgruntled white men, perturbed by the privilege they see as their birthright leaking drip by drip out of the faucet of male entitlement.

Morrison isn’t poor. He’s sloppy in the way lots of people are, an annoyance to his neighbors for sure. But throwing garbage in your yard means you need better home training, something unavailable to him because his personal history is tragic. But it ain’t an indicator you’re poor.

These photos, and the comments about them, are full of white responders giving a full-throated defense of a claim bearing no resemblance to the truth. Neither the specific living conditions of the thugs involved nor the generalized ideology of poor and working class Americans are supported by these photos or Bragman’s claim.

Besides the erroneous claim that the poor and working class are radicalized into violent fascist extremism because they are poor, the framing provided these white men is a set of excuses never provided to Black, Brown, or Indigenous activists. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and numerous other studies, have repeatedly shown the bias in reporting when it comes to Black, Brown, and Indigenous people perceived to be “criminals”. This extends to Twitter maybe even more than the local news affiliate.

But, while we are on the topic, an investigation by Color of Change found that in NYC alone, affiliates misrepresented the involvement of Black perpetrators in “criminal” activity by 30%. WNBC alone reported violent crime perpetrators as Black 71% of the time, when the actual arrest rate in NYC is 51%, itself an overrepresentation of the Black population.

The Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center found when Native Americans are portrayed at all, they are more likely to be cast or drawn as cartoons, drunks, and ignorant. The President of the United States himself began his campaign calling Mexican immigrants, and by association, all Latinx migrants, rapists and drug dealers.

I wonder where he might have found support to speak the quiet part out loud?

No. I won’t have it and the people I hope I stand up for won’t have it. Poor and working-class coal miners in West Virginia were bombed by federal planes fighting for the 8-hr. workday and the right to be paid in the national tender of the United States of America in the Battle of Blair Mountain. They fought against the garment industry built on exploitative child labor in the 1920s and 30s. It was and is poor and working-class Black Americans who fought for the right to vote, the right to be educated, to exercise their right to bear arms like any other American, all in the face of state sanctioned violence that murdered a generation of Black liberation activists.

David Duke is not poor or working class.

Mother Jones was.

Gavin McInnes is not working-class.

Brenda White Bull is.

Indigenous peoples, poor and almost genocided out of existence, fought for the Patriots and the Union. Yet, their fight for clean water is framed as anti-American, but all Americans, including the citizens of Flint, MI, Pittsburgh, PA, and Washington, DC, benefit from this activism.

It is the poor, the working class, the actually oppressed who fight against true government overreach. Police brutality. Black sites in Chicago. Union busting. Corporate pollution.

The framing they receive? That they are “criminals”, “thugs”, and violent, anti-social miscreants.

Non-existent poverty didn’t radicalize the Wolverine Watchmen or the Proud Boys or any others like them.

A president that winks and nudges at these…domestic terrorists, a man who can barely contain his excitement for their support? That’s who radicalized them.

Donald Trump didn’t create this phenomenon on his own. Oh no. He’s just a low rent, Dollar General, wanna be dictator-lite.

White, male supremacy is the foundation. The concrete slab upon which we continue to build.

White supremacy is in the DNA of this country. Every founding document, every institution. We built ourselves on the backs of and saturated this ground with the blood of the Black, Brown, Indigenous, lives, and the lies of White privilege told to destitute white. Impoverished and working-class, each one.

So, no, their pretend poverty is not to blame. If it were, every oppressed community would have set it alight 300 years ago.

White supremacy radicalized them.

It was inevitable. It’s in our DNA.