FLINT, Michigan -- William Null, one of 13 people arrested in a plot to allegedly kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, was not an unfamiliar name to a group of Flint activists.
Dale Weighill, a member of the Genesee County Equality Caucus who helped organize a Flint march in February of 2017 in support of Muslims after President Donald Trump’s travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries, said that Null made threats via social media and attended the march with a group of militia members. Weighill shared a Facebook screengrab with Flintside in which Null wrote of the march, “any one (sic) want to see these libtards in action? MLM is going.” MLM stands for Michigan Liberty Militia.
“Bill Null, and the other militia members, had posted videos of themselves hailing Trump and shooting up the woods and threatening to kill us for hosting the march,” Weighill wrote in his Facebook post. “Since that time, I’ve observed Mr. Null’s Facebook page multiple times and saw him pictured online in military garb and heavily armed, at the Michigan Capitol this spring.”
There was a small group of militia counter-protestors that showed up at the march. More than 400 people attended to, as Weighill says, march to “let our Muslim friends and neighbors know we loved and appreciated them.”
Null’s arrest, though, is a reminder that counter-protestors often show up to peaceful marches and rallies specifically to instigate conflicts and altercations. It’s also a reminder that what people are capable of is never known during emotional interactions.
The ACLU notes in its guide for protestors that counter-protestors also have free speech rights. WIRED also has useful tips that can help when encountering instigators or counter-protestors that include staying in a group and having knowledge of surroundings. Human Rights Campaign and Amnesty International also have helpful tips for safety during protests.
There’s also one sure way to avoid interactions with potentially violent or instigating counter-protestors: just don’t interact with them, and report any direct threats to authorities immediately.
“I've always just dealt with these situations as they've arisen, which usually means ignoring people,” said Benjamin Pauli, assistant professor of social science at Kettering University and author of Flint Fights Back. “I don't think there's hardly ever a situation where it's a good idea to engage.”