Photo credit: Jared Stanger
On August 25, 2020, the Facebook group Kenosha Guard hosted an event titled “Armed Citizens to Protect our Lives and Property” in Kenosha, Wisconsin. A post on the event asked, “Any patriots willing to take up arms and defend our city tonight from evil thugs?” and Kyle Rittenhouse and his assault rifle answered.
The event, which was organized in retaliation to the protests condemning the cold-blooded attempted murder of Jacob Blake, culminated with Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, firing his illegally acquired AR-15 into the crowd of peaceful protestors — murdering two people and critically injuring a third. He was not arrested until the next day, allowed to walk right past the police and travel back to his home state of Illinois.
Militia groups just like the Kenosha Guard have been appearing across the nation. Utah has seen its own share of these pop-up militia groups, one of the largest, which calls itself Utah Citizens’ Alarm, or “UCA,” has upwards of 15,000 members. The majority of these groups are made of white nationalists, angry and retaliating against the protests held to decry police brutality. This is of particular concern, as they pose a massive risk to our community. Without proper intervention, the risk of violence similar to what occurred in Kenosha grows by the day.
Before their Facebook page was removed for violating community guidelines, hundreds of threatening comments could be found on UCA posts, comments promising violence and death to protestors, chilling remarks such as, “run these no good terrorists over. why the hell are we putting up with this crap in this country. it’s time to start shooting these bastards,” from Dan Gotter; to direct threats of lynching from UCA member Ron Ward: “Hang em publicly”.
Utah Citizens’ Alarm and affiliated groups have been attending events across the state of Utah, armed and eager to instigate violence. They jeer at protestors and interrupt our speakers, barking hate and anger as we try to peacefully protest.
While the events crashed by UCA are innumerable, some are more noteworthy than others. The first event they counter-protested was in Provo, on June 29th — among their ranks were self-proclaimed Proud Boys (a far-right neo-fascist militia that was declared a hate group with ties to white nationalism by the FBI in 2018).
On August 3rd, UCA members made a particularly volatile appearance at a protest outside of the Cottonwood Heights Police Department, guns drawn and screaming in our faces, and then proceeded to stalk protestors to a vigil being held by Zane James’ friends to honor his life at Butler Park, right next to Impressions Preschool and Cottonwood Heights Middle School — where children were playing sports — strapped with their assault rifles and multiple magazines full of extra ammo.
The only thing that kept them from getting any closer to these children were protestors, putting themselves at great risk to protect those they did not even know.
Most recently, members have been aggressively disruptive at events in Salt Lake City. On the afternoon of August 30th, they showed up to “Power to the People: March to the Utah State Capitol” by Insurgence USA, and then the following day, to the event “Justice for Jacob Blake” held by the Salt Lake Equal Rights Movement.
Both of these peaceful events concluded early to avoid violence incited by members of these far-right militia groups and to ensure protestors were able to get home safely.
The similarities between Utah Citizens’ Alarm and the Kenosha Guard are glaringly obvious, and it seems to be only a matter of time before a member of UCA takes it upon themselves to shoot and kill protestors, no doubt emboldened by Kyle Rittenhouse’s heinous actions in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
These militias are violent hate groups, thinly veiling their racism and bloodlust behind the noble notion of “protecting their cities” — an ironic sentiment, considering they are the ones making our cities unsafe by spouting hate and waving their assault rifles around, while we are peacefully marching and organizing to condemn police brutality.
Why have racial justice protest numbers dwindled in the past few weeks? It is not a stretch to say it’s because of UCA and the fear they instill.
Intimidation in any sense is condemnable, but intimidation meant to - and succeeding in - curbing free speech, is especially heinous.
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