We used to leave our doors unlocked. Morning, night, whether we were at home or not. I’ve never felt unsafe in my town. There have certainly been times that I’ve felt unsafe from threats made on the internet, but those threats were coming from other places. Not here. Not in our little rural village.
I open Facebook. I see mugshots of people who share my DNA; two second-cousins I’ve not seen in years. I remember them from childhood: chubby, with bowl cuts, totally indistinguishable from any of the other kids at our middle school. Bill was behind me on the slide ladder at Uncle Junie’s pool when I got stung by a wasp. I didn’t know what to do, so I went down the slide in silent shock. I’ve never trusted hollow, duct-taped aluminum railings again. Both those former kids were arrested as part of a plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
I check Twitter. There’s the sheriff of my county, giving an interview defending white supremacist terrorists, specifically the white supremacist terrorists I attended family reunions with. The sheriff and I go to the same dentist. Once, during a routine cleaning, I heard Sheriff Leaf two chairs over, complaining that he wished someone would run against him for the job, which he no longer wanted. When someone did oppose him in the next election, he fought back. My white supremacist second cousin sent threats to people who campaigned for Leaf’s challenger. Less than twelve hours after his disastrous defense of my cousins, Dar Leaf changed his mind again, scrambling desperately to distance himself from the “militia members” he proudly stood with to protest Governor Whitmer’s restrictions.
Over a dozen arrests, spanning several counties. A plot to abduct the Governor, transport her across state lines, and execute her for “treason.” All because bars and gyms were closed to slow the spread of a dangerous pandemic ravaging the country. All because a stubborn barber decided to keep his shop open and was stunned to learn there would be consequences.
My cousins’ sister, whom I’ve remained in contact with via social media, posts an ultimatum: if you believe that they’re involved, unfriend her. They did nothing wrong. If you’re not willing to rally to support them, to raise money for their combined $500,000 bail, if you won’t put a sticker on your car expressing your support, you can unfriend her. I fulfill her request with a click of my trackpad. The last I see of her anger is a vow that she stands with the Michigan Liberty Militia.
The founder of that group hails from our village, where everyone tempers their gossip with insistence upon the boys’ innocence and pleas that we not trust the media. Wait until you see the evidence, they warn. Things aren’t what they seem.
The Detroit Free Press runs an article about the people involved in the plot. Above the section about my blood relations, they’ve used the heading, “‘redneckery’.” They describe rural white conservatives as some kind of wronged people, whether they intend to, or not. Testimonials from neighbors and descriptions of bleak rural yards strewn with beer cans seem sensational or horrific, I assume, to anyone who’s never lived among the rural working poor. But we all live like this, I think, looking out at the remnants of our weekend campfire in the driveway. There are cans here. And a car that hasn’t moved in years. And we haven’t joined a militia.
“I have hard time wrapping my head around the fact that these guys have dropped everything to help [my step grandparents] and your grandma when they had trouble with their houses,” my mom says in a Facebook comment. But militias? Anybody in Michigan understands those.
I was twelve years old when I learned that the government is out to get us. Not from anyone in my immediate family. At the local pizza place one night, my uncle got into a tense conversation with my grandparents about a family in Idaho who were murdered for exercising their second amendment rights. To him and every other single-issue voter in town, Democrats lurked around every corner, just waiting to take our guns. The FBI, the ATF, Federal Marshals were the enemy.
Yesterday, “President” Trump boasted about U.S. Marshals carrying out an extrajudicial execution in his name. The “president” of this supposed “land of the free” bragged about his death squad killing a civilian while his supporters cheered him on. The same family members who felt the government overstepped in Waco, at Ruby Ridge, now they admire the intelligence of a leader who views not just the U.S. Marshals as his own killing force, but who courts those very militias that are supposed to oppose the extreme fascist actions he’s taken.
Many of the men charged in the terrorist plot against Governor Whitmer are hardcore Trump supporters, but since the ringleader once referred to Trump as a tyrant and owns the same generic anarchy flag found in every metalhead’s basement lair or suburban garage hang-out space, the plot was carried out by Leftists. By Antifa. By BLM. By Democrats and liberals, all howling for the fetal body parts of aborted white, Christian babies. Don’t believe the evidence before your eyes. Believe that the right is right, the left is evil, and it’s perfectly normal to storm the state capitol brandishing two semi-automatic rifles with high capacity magazines because face masks are itchy and you can cure a virus by screaming “freedom” at it.
On October 9th, my mother shared a conservative meme about Covid-19. The text warned that living like you’re afraid of dying means you’re dead already.
Last night, she called to tell me that my seventeen-year-old brother tested positive and has had a fever for days. My eighteen-year-old sister is symptomatic. Not my mother, who voted for Trump and still intends to vote for him. Not my stepfather, who also supports Trump. My siblings, who didn’t have a say in whether or not this man was elected, have been condemned to wait and see if they’ll recover fully, partially, or at all. And on November 3rd, their parents will walk into their polling place and cast their votes for the man who did this to their children. The man who, according to another Facebook post shared by my mother, is fighting a war on behalf of Christians by killing so many of them.
Last week, my friends and I made a lot of uneasy jabs about the cottage across the road from the Airbnb we stayed at. The ramshackle little house needed new gutters. A broken down truck half-covered with blue tarp sat in the driveway. An American flag hung in faded tatters beside a crisp, new “Trump 2020” banner. We joked that the occupants might be responsible for that kidnapping thing we’d heard about in passing.
Not long after that, I stood on the porch of our rental and watched that “Trump 2020” flag hang stiff and cheap in the breeze as my grandmother told me over the phone what the “little shits” had done. When we drove away from our trip, my friends joked that at least we were going to be away from that Trump house.
But that same, cheap nylon “Trump 2020” hangs in pride of place over my neighbor’s porch, as well.
We lock our doors now.