The Michigan militia members allegedly plotting to murder policemen are merely one piece of a growing movement. John Avlon on the common roots of armed groups trying to foment civil war. Plus, read an excerpt from Avlon’s book, Wingnuts, about the history of the Hatriots.
Yesterday’s arrest of nine members of a shadowy Michigan-based Christian militia group known as the Hutaree, who allegedly planned to murder a local law-enforcement officer and then bomb his funeral in the hopes of setting off a civil war against the government, provides the latest example of a phenomenon I called Hatriots—people who confuse hate and violence for patriotism.
The Hatriots are on the rise: Paramilitary militias tripled—from 42 to 127—in the first year of the Obama administration, as detailed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Based on the allegations, the Hutaree are typical: a small, hateful family affair, propagated by father David Brian Stone, who went by the nom de guerre “Captain Hutaree.” The name Hutaree signifies “Christian Warrior” as stated on the group’s Web site, which also shows group members participating in military training exercises in the Michigan woods. Amid the biblical invocations and paramilitary imagery are slogans such as “violence solves everything”—a decided break from clear commandments to love one another. Their MySpace page shows the group has 366 “friends” and its homepage is linked to various other militia groups.
Arrests in the '60s found plans for a cyanide attack on the United Nations and extensive weapons caches, including bombs, mortars, machine guns, and more than one million rounds of ammunition.
One of the troubling tributaries of the militia movement historically is the Christian Identity movement, which combines prophecy with paranoia and intimations of violence. In one Michigan-related root, Henry Ford’s onetime PR man William J. Cameron was a proponent of the Christian Identity movement and, in the 1920s, published the infamously fraudulent and anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the Dearborn Independent. The Hutarees base their survivalist training on a conviction that the Antichrist is coming. “ We believe that one day, as prophecy says, there will be an Antichrist,” its Web site states. “J esus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment…. We, the Hutaree, are prepared to defend all those who belong to Christ and save those who aren't.”
While belief that President Obama might be the Antichrist has been one of the ugliest pervading traits of Obama Derangement Syndrome, the Hutaree seem to base their Antichrist aspersions on the rise of international organizations like the United Nations, a common theme in New World Order conspiracy theorists who believe that a socialist one-world government is being engineered to undermine domestic sovereignty and enslave U.S. citizens.
• The Militias’ YouTube Strategy We have seen militia groups proliferate on the fringes of the American political landscapes before. In the early 1960s, after John F. Kennedy took office, a group called the Minutemen began developing a “patriotic resistance” movement patterned after colonial militias, doing wilderness military drills, hoarding weapons and ammunition to prepare for a Soviet invasion in advance of what they said was a plan to “confiscate all private firearms by the end of 1965.” Its founder Robert Bolivar DePugh briefly tried to form a political party—dubbed the Patriot Party— but his plans for political influence were undone when he was arrested for a plot to blow up the Redmond, Washington, city hall and surrounding power plants, before robbing local banks. Arrests of affiliated Minutemen groups found plans for a cyanide attack on the United Nations and extensive weapons caches, including bombs, mortars, machine guns, and more than one million rounds of ammunition.
In the 1990s, the militia movement heated up again in the wake of the raid on David Koresh’s Branch Davidian compound by the Bill Clinton-led federal government. Calls for “leaderless resistance” and “lone wolf” operations ultimately fueled the aspiring militia member Timothy McVeigh to bomb the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, murdering 168 innocent men, women and children.
Now, with the election of President Obama we are experiencing another resurgence in the militia movement. The arrest of the Hutarees in light of their violent plot follows the online exhortations of the 3 Percenter militia leader Mike Vanderbeough’s call to throw bricks through the windows of Democratic Party headquarters in protest of the health-care vote.
It is important to note that militia members identify the federal government as their enemy and their anger is directed at President George W. Bush as well as President Obama—any attempt to simply cast their calls to arms in the context of conventional domestic partisan disputes are misguided. But the escalation of fear and hate in the service of hyper-partisanship has apparently helped these organizations to recruit and proliferate. Last year’s controversial Department of Homeland Security report issued in April 2009 has, unfortunately, proved prescient.
The Hutarees' plot to murder law-enforcement officers and “levy war” against the United States government should be a wakeup call to all of us. It is yet another sign of the unhinged anger that is percolating out in the heartland, spurring unstable individuals to identify fellow Americans as their enemies. We should not have to wait for another Oklahoma City bombing to remind us that these militia groups are, sometimes literally, playing with dynamite.
John Avlon's new book Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America is available now by Beast Books both on the Web and in paperback. He is also the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics. Previously, he served as chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.