If anybody is still saying “It can’t happen here,” I’ve got breaking news for you. It’s already happening here, and it’s only going to get worse. Vermonters are living in fear or getting the F out, and we’re only an eyeblink away from a violent incident.
We could start with the post-Uvalde spate of school threats which, so far, have been caught in time or turned out to be noise. But that roulette wheel keeps a-spinnin’, and eventually it’s going to land on double zero. And even if the threateners were gormless copycats, they still create a climate of fear in our schools and our families.
The worst of the school threats happened in Canaan, where extremist parent Shane Gobeil said he would “show up and kill somebody” if his child was approached by a transgender person or a drag queen. The schools were shut down for two days, and prosecutors obtained an Extreme Risk Protection Order against Gobeil, which means he can’t possess or purchase firearms for the next six months.
And then what? Gobeil is well-known in town for being a potentially violent extremist who seems to have swallowed the most vile of the far-right fairy tales. I mean, “drag queen” is the latest conservative bugbear, so at least he’s up to date. Many Canaanites feel perpetually threatened by him. By himself, he creates a chilling atmosphere in the community.
How many Gobeils do we have in Vermont? How long until someone grabs a gun before opening his mouth?
He’s not alone. And it only takes one.
Vermont’s classic proto-Gobeil is Max Misch, cartoonishly muscled and tattooed hate merchant who’s stirred up a city’s worth of trouble all by himself down Bennington way. He hasn’t turned violent — yet. But all by himself, he chased Kiah Morris out of the Legislature and out of town.
And leave us not forget Eric Greiner, Brandon’s number-one gun nut and serial threatener. He terrorized townspeople, and the town fathers refused to do anything about it. Finally, last summer, the feds arrested him on firearms possession charges, but not before Michael Shank wrote a commentary entitled “White Extremism is Winning In My Vermont Town,” published by USA Today.
Now that’s the kind of publicity that money can’t buy. We market Vermont as a safe haven and great place to raise a family. The state is especially eager to convince people to move to our small rural communities. Most of them are good places, but there are land mines under the surface and you never know when you’re going to set one off.
Oh, and then there’s Daniel Banyai, who made himself a nice little paramilitary training school in Pawlet and terrorized the town for years before being, we think, brought into check by the authorities. But as far as I know he hasn’t gone anywhere and hasn’t demolished the facility he built without any permits. He’s still got I don’t know how many guns.
These guys are being riled up by a steady stream of hate speech from what used to be the extreme fringe of the Republican Party, but has now become mainstream. Hey, look: a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate staged a fake SWAT team raid against a RINO — Republican In Name Only — and swaggered in behind the team talking about “no bagging limit, no tagging limit, and it doesn’t expire until we save our country.”
That’s the kind of hate that ferments in the hearts of a small number of true believers. But again, it only takes one. And the conservative hate machine is doing its best to inspire the Gobeils and Greiners of the world.
And it’s only going to get worse. Right-wing media is in a feedback loop, always looking for the next hot button to inflame their consumers. Organized groups like the Proud Boys are actively trying to disrupt everything from Drag Queen Story Hour to our democracy itself. (The latter, with the active connivance of Donald Trump and his bootlickers.) The Patriot Front, meanwhile, was one telephone tip away from doing God knows what at a Pride rally in Idaho. They were fully armed and ready for trouble, that’s for sure. And their planned assault was “meticulously planned,” which is nice to hear.
So far, the Patriot Fronts of Vermont have contented themselves with posting noxious stickers around Burlington and throwing a rock through the Pride Center’s glass door. I have no confidence whatsoever that they’ll always be satisfied with such cowardly efforts.
How long until they go beyond threats and spark an actual tragedy here in Vermont? Let’s spin the roulette wheel again and hope it doesn’t hit double zero.
There’s more, but here’s the last one for this post. Last week, a 14-year-old was brutally attacked after school on a bike path in Barre. So far, authorities have released few details. There’s no word on motive, so I won’t speculate. But this is another sign of how much mayhem lies just below the surface these days, even in peaceful little Vermont.
We are not immune to whatever’s disturbing so many people and riling them up to the point of violence. It is happening here. Whatever we’re doing to prevent it is not enough. I fear we won’t realize that until after the next incident. Around here, we’re big on closing barn doors after the horse is gone.