‘Passion for the Past’ returns

History dept. speak on right-wing terrorism at home and abroad

History professors traced the Jan. 6 Capitol Riot and plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer back to a trend of right-wing conspiracy at last week’s “Passion for the Past” speaker event.

Dr. Christian Peterson, a Ferris history professor with a focus on US foreign relations, presented alongside Dr. Alexander Brand of Rhein-Waal University in Germany via Zoom. They each offered detailed accounts of right-wing terrorism in their own country and how they mirror each other on the world stage.

Peterson started off his presentation by explaining that the US government’s definition of terrorism does not go into right or left-wing ideologies. When he uses the term “right-wing terrorism,” it relates to racism, conspiracy theories and existential threats.

To localize, Peterson dove into the 2020 plot to kidnap Gov. Whitmer and overthrow the Michigan government. Though the plotters communicated through encrypted messaging to stay under the radar, they were never far from the federal government’s attention.

“They had an FBI informant right from the beginning,” Peterson said. “Someone was so disturbed by what they were seeing by certain people on Facebook — about murdering Whitmer or kidnapping her and hanging her — that they contacted the FBI office on their own, and that person just turned into an FBI informant.”

Peterson went on to explain that because the informant was there from the beginning, the FBI was able to keep track of everything that was being discussed, record it and eventually arrest those involved. According to the Associated Press, 13 men were arrested as suspects following the plot. The harshest sentence declared so far amounts to 16 years in prison for co-conspirator Adam Fox.

 Another example of right-wing terrorism Peterson gave was the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the US Capital. He explained who the attackers were and how it relates to right-wing terrorism.

“These are middle class [and] upper class Americans,” Peterson said. “A lot of them have good paying jobs [and are] educated people. These are not crazy people, and many people had no intention of having peaceful protests. Obviously some did, but this was part of a long-term conspiracy that people resorted to violence to overcome an election [where] the results were very accurate.”

His explanation for why these acts of terrorism were happening was due to the influence of well-known people. He specifically referenced Donald Trump’s tweets and how people understood them to mean that they should plan out these acts of violence.

When Peterson was done, Brand began his presentation over German right-wing terrorism.

He began his presentation by explaining how Germany had an attack similar to the one that happened in the US on Jan. 6, 2021. The attack in Germany took place in December of last year.

“What had just happened that was reported by The Washington Post is that Germany… had just carried out the largest counterterrorism operation in its history,” Brand said. “What the authorities had just discovered and prevented was a plot to replace the current German government violently, causing harm. And I think what adds to it is that it was carried out by a right-wing group and was called a right-wing group.”

Brand went on to explain that he found what had happened in the US and what has happened in Germany to be “suspiciously similar.”

When Brand was done presenting, the floor was open for student questions. One of the questions some of the students wondered about was how much of an influence Jan. 6, 2021, had on other countries.

Brand answered the question by referring to Germany’s December attack. He explained that he did not think that it played a huge part in influencing Germany. According to Brand, the strategies used in Germany were different, as the plan was to have a quieter approach to try to overthrow the German government.

“The strategy was to basically enter the German parliament, take out a couple of politicians, block access, install [a] new government and then the people would join in,” Brand said.

After answering the student questions, Peterson ended on some advice for students concerning the information given about Jan. 6, 2021.

“I would really encourage people, young people in particular, to really sleep well at night knowing that we still have the… nonpartisan voting system,” Peterson said. “We have schoolteachers and all sorts of people running the elections, counting the votes, doing the best they can [while being] increasingly under threat. If you don’t have the people to do the infrastructure of democracy, dictatorship is right around the corner because you can just basically convince people that if they lose, its [a] fake election.”