It’s Not Just Militias. Right-Wing Extremist Groups Have a History in Michigan.

Author JoEllen Vinyard says militias are only the latest in a line of radical organizations to find footing in the state.


Over the last century a number of extremist movements have found a home in Michigan. 

Some scholars say the activity of militias in the state today can be traced back to groups such as the KKK and Black Legion decades ago.

“Each of those movements has been a reaction to the times, but Michigan has been a center of all kinds of activity.” – Dr. JoEllen Vinyard

In modern times, divisive political rhetoric compounded by the stress of a global health pandemic creates an ecosystem for these groups to thrive — culminating in plots such as the attempt to kidnap  Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that law enforcement officials stopped this week.

Listen: Dr. JoEllen Vinyard on Michigan’s history and the national environment feeds the activity of militia groups today.


Dr. JoEllen Vinyard is author of “Right in Michigan’s Grassroots: From the KKK to the Michigan Militia.” She says Michigan has been home to a number of radical right-wing groups over the years.

“We had very strong KKK presence in the 1920s, Father Coughlin’s movement,” Vinyard says, “Each of those movements has been a reaction to the times, but Michigan has been a center of all kinds of activity.”

Today extremist groups in the state are typically termed as ‘militias,’ despite the often violent implication of threats made by such organizations. Vinyard says the label of domestic terrorism is often selectively used. 

“In the last few years we have not been concerned about domestic terrorism,” says Vinyard. “Even though the president has been told that domestic terrorism is a bigger threat than external terrorism.”

Vinyard says easy access to firearms in states with large National Riffle Association membership groups, such as Michigan, emboldens the actions of extremists. She says toxic masculinity also fits into the dichotomy of militia groups, which are predominantly comprised of male members.

“It is still an attitude that men are stronger; men are better,” Vinyard says. “They aren’t subject to whims.”

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