Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Crimo isn’t just a Lone Wolf, he may be part of an Extremist Underground

Many law enforcement officials and elected officials have repeated their conclusion that the 21-year-old man, Robert Crimo, who terrorized a Highland Park, Illinois 4th of July parade, allegedly killing seven and injuring 38 was a suicidal “lone wolf”.

But there are some in that community disputing this who say he was not just known, but an active 2020 election denier who had pursued them, exhibiting Nazi tendencies and the same adherence to white identity that has been observed among other mass gunmen. Were we in another country, say in Germany in the early 1930s, we would call them ‘the foot soldiers of fascism’.

“Bobby Crimo is not a lone wolf,” wrote Highland Park resident Rachel Wachstein in a message posted into a recent Twitter post. “What I know for certain is that he and his associates knew my name, my address, and make and model of my car. He and his associates had doxed me, creating a flyer calling me a dangerous communist … and a call to action that I must be stopped.”

Why was Wachstein on the radar of a 20-year-old kid and friends she described as “hoodlums?”

The answer: She had held an opposing rally when Crimo and his friends held a Stop the Steal Rally disputing the 2020 election. According to Wachstein, there are multiple news articles from The Patch and the Chicago Tribune featuring photos of the 4th of July shooter at Trump MAGA events.

She wrote that she recognized him as one of the many local, angry white 20-something men who harassed her after a rally. During a “Protect the Results” vigil in Dec. 2020 at the Highland Park Sunset Park, Wachstein said he was there with his friends, “doing Nazi salutes and screaming statements that they ‘refused to accept a socialist-communist America … and wouldn’t rest until the Antifa scum and Black Lives Matter monkeys get put in their place.'”

There have been at least 314 mass shootings in the U.S. so far in 2022. The exhausted majority is simply worn out by the violence and chaos and gridlock and we are tired of our families not feeling safe anywhere; from grocery stores to schools, to shopping centers and movie theaters to public celebrations.

But that may, in fact, be the objective; to instill in us such a longing for order that we will be willing to hand control over to the entities who may be perpetrating the violence we seek to escape.

Those watching the rising tide of gun violence, (conveniently blamed by one political party on “mental illness”) may in fact be a symptom of the Republican party’s embrace of an increasingly far-right identity that includes white supremacists, white nationalists, and fundamentalist Christian Nationalism. In other words– these obscenely-common mass murders may not be as random as they appear. They may be the product of an identity-immersion environment filled with hatred, fear, violence and extreme rhetoric that is designed to create them.

“‘They are preparing for war,” writes Political Science Professor at the University of California and the author of “How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them” Barbara Walter. She discussed where political extremists are taking this country in a recent Washington Post article.

Consider the identities of most all the recent mass-murderers: young white men between the ages of 18 and 28, disaffected, grievance-filled, ideologically on the fringe, focused on white identity and superiority; with ready access not just to guns, but having amassed a cache of assault-style weapons. These are weapons of war, and they have no other purpose other than to wage it.

“The reality is, if we don’t talk about it, [violent extremists] are going to continue to organize, and they’re going to continue to train,” added Walter. “There are definitely lots of groups on the far right who want war. They are preparing for war. And not talking about it does not make us safer. What we’re heading toward is an insurgency, which is a form of a civil war. That is the 21st-century version of a civil war.”

Let’s debunk that mental illness claim; there is no reason we should think that mental health issues are any more prevalent in this country than in any other country in the world. The difference between the U.S. and the rest of the world is the American public’s overwhelming access not just to guns, but to assault-style weapons of war.

That fallacy serves the purposes of those who continue to pour guns into this country — arming their audience, fomenting identity politics, and seeking to keep the rest of us off-kilter and focused on the trumped-up cultural issues.

Clues from History

The 20th Century offers examples of how authoritarianism uses chaos and violence to intimidate and then take control. In the early 1920s, Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini sent his thugs from region to region of Italy, causing chaos, and attacking populations they deemed “not Italian enough.” As he slowly took control of the country, those who challenged his authoritarian rule were “disappeared”.

German fascist dictator Adolf Hitler began to gather power in the 1920s, staging a beerhall coup in 1923 as he gathered disaffected men — white, angry, willing to blame others for whatever situation was the object of their frustration — and pointed them toward targets. Early on he built the feared “brownshirts” his private militia designed to protect him and cause the chaos for which he was the self-styled solution.

Within a few years, his German Workers Party became the majority political party, putting him in a position to become chancellor, where he did away with civil liberties, imposed censorship, and made himself dictator.

Walter, whose father was born in Germany in 1932, said he had never forgotten his childhood in Nazi Germany. By 2016, he grew extremely nervous about the MAGA campaign. In her interview with The Washington Post Barbara Walter related:

“I remember saying: ‘Dad, what’s really different about America today from Germany in the 1930’s is that our democracy is really strong. Our institutions are strong. So, even if you had a Trump come into power, the institutions would hold strong.” Of course, then Trump won. We would have these conversations where my dad would draw all these parallels. The brownshirts and the attacks on the media and the attacks on education and on books. And he’s just, like, ‘I’m seeing it. I’m seeing it all again here.’

That’s really what shook me out of my complacency, that here was this man who is very well educated and astute, and he was shaking with fear. And I was like, Am I being naïve to think that we’re different?”

This is Part I of an Our Voice series: The Foot Soldiers of Fascism. Part II will focus on the active building of armed and cultural insurgencies in opposition to democracy, including the militias involved in the Jan. 6 assault on the United States Capitol, and the activist attack on our Constitutional rights providing the movement’s adrenaline.

Featured image: this Highland Park police officer’s response exemplifies the country’s in the wake of the mass shooting at the 4th of July Parade. Photo by Associated Press photographer Brian Cassella.

Editor’s Note: Contributing to this Our Voice opinion piece were Jan Wondra, Stephen Hall, and Adam Silverman.