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Former Florida state legislator Benhardt “Ben” Klassen, who served as Florida chair of the 1968 presidential campaign of George Wallace (D-AL), forms the Church of the Creator (COTC) in Lighthouse Point, Florida. Klassen was born in the Ukraine in 1918, and later lived in Mexico and Canada before moving to California as an adult. He is a former elementary school teacher and an inventor, earning a patent for an electric can opener in 1954. He moved to Florida in 1958, where he became a successful real estate agent. He became a Republican representative to the Florida House of Representatives in 1965, where he campaigned against desegregation and the federal government. He is a lifetime member of the far-right John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011), though he has denounced the group as a “smokescreen for the Jews” and accused Wallace of “betraying” his supporters by intentionally courting African-American support. Klassen explains his race-based religion in his church’s 511-page holy book, Nature’s Eternal Religion. Among its “16 commandments”: “It is our sacred goal to populate the lands of this earth with White people exclusively.” Klassen popularizes the war cry “Rahowa,” which stands for RAcial HOly WAr. (Anti-Defamation League 1993; Southern Poverty Law Center 9/1999) Members of the COTC, according to Klassen’s writings, see “every issue, whether religious, political, or racial, [a]s viewed through the eyes of the White Man and exclusively from the point of view of the White race as a whole.… We completely reject the Judeo-democratic-Marxist values of today and supplant them with new and basic values, of which race is the foundation.” While most right-wing extremist groups use Christianity to justify their racism, Klassen and the COTC attack Christianity as a “tremendous weapon in the worldwide Jewish drive of race-mixing.” Klassen writes that Jews “concocted” Christianity “for the very purpose of mongrelizing and destroying the White Race.” According to Klassen, Jews are “parasites” who “control and manipulate the finances, the propaganda, the media, and the governments of the world.” (Anti-Defamation League 7/6/1999) In 2004, author Chip Berlet will write that Klassen’s religion, “Creativity,” claims that whites are destined “to rule the world and thus fulfill the purpose of the universe. To attain this destiny, it is necessary to destroy the enemies and race traitors who prevent this from happening. The primary enemies are Jews, blacks, and other ‘mud people,’ and white race traitors, including most Christians. Klassen credits the influence of Hitler’s Mein Kampf in the development of his views.… What Klassen did was to pick up ideas from the theories of [German philosopher Friedrich] Nietzsche, pantheisim, Odinism, and Celtic paganism as filtered through German Nazi retelling of the Norse heroic warrior myths, to create a religion of Aryanist white supremacy. Discarding the details, he created a form of cosmotheism in which the supreme power is the collective will of the Aryan race. The duty of every member of the Aryan race is to reflect the ideals of the heroic warrior and do battle with the enemies of the race.… Like other forms of fascism, the idea of action is central to the philosophy, as is the celebration of violence and the spilling of blood as part of a rite of passage to full adulthood.” (Chip Berlet 2004)
New York Times columnist Frank Rich urges the nation to forego the idea that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh’s conviction (see June 2, 1997) brings “closure” to the possibility that domestic terrorism could be a problem in America. Rich writes that the national media seems more than ready to move to new subjects, and shows little interest in McVeigh’s connection to what Rich calls “a diverse, violent right-wing fringe, ranging from neo-Nazis to gun-absolutists to Christian Identity white supremacists (see 1960s and After), that most journalists ignored prior to April 19, 1995.” Rich notes that the Anti-Defamation League has documented a sharp spike in “militia-related crime[s]” over the past 18 months, most of which gain little or no national news coverage. Two serious bombing plots in Oklahoma and Michigan by militia cells have recently been foiled. Abortion clinics have been hammered by assaults, prompting Planned Parenthood president Gloria Feldt to say: “There seems to be an inability to recognize that this terrorism is terrorism. Isn’t bombing a women’s health center terrorism?” Most militia operations and abortion-clinic bombings are being ignored by the national media, even the above-ground operations such as a recent series of public “conclaves” held by the neo-Nazi National Alliance. Author Frederick Clarkson, an expert on far-right violence, writes that it is “an authentic crisis of democracy when people seek to blame the government” for all ills, and “solve” those ills through violence rather than by voting, civil demonstrations, and other means. Another expert on far-right violence, Chip Berlet, says that “perhaps as many as five million” Americans adhere to the most enraged varieties of right-wing populism and are part of “the recruitment pool” for “neo-Nazi demagogues” waiting “to exploit and channel unresolved anger toward bloodshed and terror.” America, Rich concludes, ignores this at the nation’s peril. (Rich 6/5/1997)
The violent anti-abortion group known as the Army of God (AOG—see 1982) praises the Saudi Arabian government for publicly beheading three citizens accused of being gay. The US government has long suspected that the AOG has broadened its focus to oppose homosexuality as well as abortion. (Extremist Groups: Information for Students 1/1/2006) AOG chaplain Michael Bray (see September 1994) posts a message on the AOG Web site proclaiming, “Let us give thanks” for the executions. Surina Khan of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission says: “This is really chilling. It really disturbs me, in terms of the rhetoric and what effect it has.” AOG is proclaiming its solidarity with Muslim extremists over their opposition to gay rights in their countries, posted anti-gay stories on its Web site, and publicly praised the fake anthrax attacks against abortion clinics (see 1997-December 2001). Bray writes: “While the Christians among us westerners would decline to emulate our Muslim friends in many ways… we can appreciate the justice they advocate regarding sodomy. Might these fellows also consider an embryonic jihad? Let us welcome these tools of purification. Open the borders! Bring in some agents of cleansing.… In the meantime,” he concludes, “let us pray for justice: viz., that the heads of adulterers, sodomites, murderers, child murderers [abortionists], witches, traitors, and kidnappers roll.” Lorri Jean of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force tells a reporter: “I think this is a blatant call for people to murder gays and lesbians, among others. It’s the logical extension of radical fundamentalism and religious intolerance.” Khan notes: “I think that any alliance they may be building with fundamentalist Muslims is alarming. And this may be just the beginning.” Chip Berlet of the firm Political Research Associates says: “One has to appreciate the cosmic irony here. They can side with a religion they don’t approve of against a scapegoat they both loathe and demonize.” He adds, “Within the Christian Right, there is a distinction between the reformists and those who want insurgency.” Violent extremist groups such as AOG, he says, see before them a “three-headed monster—of liberalism, feminism [which includes abortion], and the gay and lesbian civil rights movement. And the monster doesn’t die unless you cut off all three.” (Clarkson 2/19/2002)
Salon columnist Alex Koppelman explores the widening sets of claims that purport to prove President Barack Obama is not a US citizen—the heart of the so-called “birther” conspiracy theory. The Obama campaign long ago produced a valid birth certificate that allowed Obama to run legitimately as a presidential candidate (see June 13, 2008), Obama’s mother Ann Dunham has also affirmed her son’s citizenship, and Hawaiian officials have confirmed that Obama was indeed born in a hospital in Honolulu (see October 30, 2008). However, some on the right continue to promulgate the tale of Obama’s supposed Kenyan citizenship, or Indonesian citizenship, or British citizenship. The Chigago Tribune recently ran a paid advertisement questioning Obama’s citizenship (see December 3, 2008). Conservative news and opinion blogs such as WorldNetDaily run stories on a near-daily basis challenging Obama’s citizenship, or producing hoax “birth certificates” that “prove” Obama was born in Mombasa, Kenya, or other locales (see July 20, 2008). Plaintiffs have filed lawsuits challenging Obama’s citizenship in a number of state courts, all of which have been rejected (see March 14 - July 24, 2008, August 21-24, 2008, October 9-28, 2008, October 17-22, 2008, October 21, 2008, October 31 - November 3, 2008, October 24, 2008, October 31, 2008 and After, November 12, 2008 and After, November 13, 2008, and Around November 26, 2008), and a similar case goes up for review in the Supreme Court (that case also challenges Republican presidential contender John McCain’s citizenship, as McCain was born in the former Panama Canal Zone to parents serving in the US military, another legitimate way of securing citizenship—see March 14 - July 24, 2008 and August 21-24, 2008). Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine and a columnist for Scientific American, notes that some people will never let go of the idea that Obama is not a citizen, no matter what level of proof is provided. “There’s no amount of evidence or data that will change somebody’s mind,” he says. “The more data you present a person, the more they doubt it.… Once you’re committed, especially behaviorally committed or financially committed, the more impossible it becomes to change your mind.” Any inconvenient facts are irrelevant, he says. Chip Berlet, a senior analyst with Political Research Associates, agrees. People who believe in a conspiracy theory “develop a selective perception, their mind refuses to accept contrary evidence,” Berlet says. “As soon as you criticize a conspiracy theory, you become part of the conspiracy.” Social psychologist Evan Harrington adds: “One of the tendencies of the conspiracy notion, the whole appeal, is that a lot of the information the believer has is secret or special. The real evidence is out there, [and] you can give them all this evidence, but they’ll have convenient ways to discredit [it].” Koppelman notes that during the presidential election, so-called “birthers” said that they would drop their claims if only Obama would release the “long form” of his birth certificate, even though to do so would be to violate Hawaii’s privacy laws, which keep all such documents under lock and key. During the campaign, Dr. Chiyome Fukino, the director of Hawaii’s Department of Health, released a statement saying she had verified that the state has the original birth certificate on record (see October 30, 2008), and that Obama’s Hawaiian birth is a matter of state record. Experts with the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, part of the FactCheck (.org) organization, have examined the certificate and verified its authenticity (see August 21, 2008), as has PolitiFact (see June 27, 2008). Koppelmann notes that the conspiracy theory has grown to the point where talk-show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage have suggested that Obama used the occasion of his grandmother’s death to go to Hawaii to alter the record (see November 10, 2008). Koppelman notes that many who align themselves with the “birther” movement are well-known conspiratorists. Author Jerome Corsi, who attacked Obama’s citizenship in a pre-election book (see August 1, 2008 and After), has spoken of “secret government plans” to form a “North American Union” with Canada and Mexico. Philip Berg, who filed the lawsuit that had until now drawn the most public attention, asserts that the 9/11 attacks were staged by the US government (so-called “trutherism”). Another critic, Andy Martin, who seems to be the source of the rumor that Obama is a Muslim and is a strong “birther” proponent, was denied an Illinois law license on the grounds that he was mentally unfit to practice law (see October 17-22, 2008). Robert Schulz, who ran the Tribune ads, is a well-known tax protester and anti-government rhetorician. (Koppelman 12/5/2008)
The progressive news magazine Mother Jones publishes a detailed examination of the Oath Keepers (see March 9, 2009), one of the fastest-growing “patriot” groups on the far right. The group was founded in April 2009 by Stewart Rhodes, a lawyer who once served as an aide to libertarian US Representative Ron Paul (R-TX). According to author Justine Sharrock, it has become “a hub in the sprawling anti-Obama movement that includes Tea Partiers, Birthers, and 912ers.” (Sharrock is referring to the burgeoning “tea party” movement, the people who believe President Obama is not an American citizen (see August 1, 2008 and After and October 8-10, 2008), and the “9/12” organization formed by lobbying organization FreedomWorks and Fox News host Glenn Beck—see March 13, 2009 and After.) Beck, MSNBC commentator Pat Buchanan (see May 28, 2009, June 20, 2009, and July 16, 2009), and CNN host Lou Dobbs have publicly praised the organization. In December 2009, a grassroots summit organized by the Oath Keepers drew lawmakers such as US Representatives Phil Gingrey (R-GA) and Paul Broun (R-GA). Sharrock’s profile is based on research and interviews with Rhodes, other Oath Keeper leaders, and ordinary members such as Private Lee Pray, who is stationed at Fort Drum, New York.
Group Made Up of Uniformed Citizens - What sets the group apart from others on the far-right fringe is that its membership is restricted to US citizens in uniform—soldiers, police officers, and veterans. At its ceremonies, members reaffirm their official oaths of service, pledging to protect the Constitution, but then go a step further, vowing to disobey “unconstitutional” orders from what they view as an increasingly tyrannical government. Pray says he knows of five fellow Oath Keepers at Fort Drum.
Preparing for Tyranny, Martial Law - He and other members are actively recruiting, arguing that under Obama, the US government is turning increasingly tyrannical and must be opposed, violently if need be. Pray says that many Oath Keepers had problems with some government policies under President Bush, but those reservations have grown with Obama’s ascension to power. Rhodes tells Sharrock: “Too many conservatives relied on Bush’s character and didn’t pay attention. Only now, with Obama, do they worry and see what has been done. Maybe you said, ‘I trusted Bush to only go after the terrorists.’ But what do you think can happen down the road when they say, ‘I think you are a threat to the nation?’” Pray, like many members, believes it will be a year at most before Obama declares martial law, perhaps under the pretext of a natural disaster or another 9/11-level terror attack, and begin detaining citizens en masse and banning interstate travel. Another Oath Keeper advises Sharrock to prepare a “bug out” bag with 39 items including gas masks, ammunition, and water purification tablets, so that she will be prepared “when the sh_t hits the fan.” Pray and his friends have a “fortified bunker” at one of their member’s parents’ home in rural Idaho, where they have stashed survival gear, generators, food, and plenty of weapons. If need be, they say, they will attack their fellow soldiers. Pray describes himself as both a “birther” and a “truther,” believing that Obama is an illegitimate president installed by a government that launched the 9/11 attacks on its own soil to drive the country further down the road towards tyranny. Pray has suffered demotion for a drinking problem, and was denied deployment to Iraq when he injured his knees in a fall. Right now his job involves operating and maintaining heavy equipment on base, and he is listed currently as “undeployable.” He and his fellow Oath Keepers on base spend their free time researching what they call the “New World Order” (see September 11, 1990) and conspiracies about detention camps. Pray is one of the few active-duty members who will agree to have his name made public; Rhodes encourages active-duty soldiers and police officers to hide their membership in the group, saying a group with large numbers of anonymous members can instill in its adversaries the fear of the unknown—a “great force multiplier,” he calls it. Pray worries that the CIA is monitoring his phone calls and insists that unmarked black cars follow him when he drives. A fellow Fort Drum Oath Keeper who only allows his first name of Brandon to be used, and who is also “undeployable” due to his own injuries, says that the off-limits areas of Fort Drum contain concentration camps. Sharrock notes that the soldiers’ behavior might be considered “paranoid,” but writes, “Then again, when you’re an active-duty soldier contemplating treason, some level of paranoia is probably sensible.”
Stewart Rhodes - Rhodes, a Yale graduate and constitutional lawyer, is working on a book currently titled We the Enemy: How Applying the Laws of War to the American People in the War on Terror Threatens to Destroy Our Constitutional Republic. He is an Army veteran who was honorably discharged after injuring his spine in a parachute jump, and worked for a time supervising interns in Ron Paul’s Congressional office. He briefly practiced law in Montana, has worked as a sculptor and a firearms instructor, and writes a gun-rights column for SWAT magazine. He describes himself as a libertarian, a staunch constitutionalist, and a devout Christian. He decided to abandon electoral politics in 2008 after Paul’s presidential bid failed, and turned instead to grassroots organizing. In college, he became fascinated with the idea that had German soldiers and police refused to follow orders in the 1930s, Adolf Hitler could have been stopped. In early 2008, he read a letter in SWAT magazine declaring that “the Constitution and our Bill of Rights are gravely endangered” and that service members, veterans, and police “is where they will be saved, if they are to be saved at all!” Rhodes responded with a column predicting a future President Hillary (“Hitlery”) Clinton turning the US into a despotism while dressed in her “Chairman Mao signature pantsuit.” He asked readers if they intended to follow this “dominatrix-in-chief,” hold militia members as enemy combatants, disarm citizens, and shoot all resisters. If “a police state comes to America, it will ultimately be by your hands,” he wrote. You had better “resolve to not let it happen on your watch.” Shortly thereafter, he set up a blog he called “Oath Keepers,” asking for testimonials from soldiers and veterans, and began gaining popularity. Military officers offered assistance. A Marine Corps veteran invited Rhodes to speak at a local tea party event. Paul campaigners provided strategic advice. In March 2009, Rhodes attended a rally staged by a pro-militia group, and in front of the crowd of some 400 participants, officially launched the Oath Keepers movement (see March 9, 2009). Buchanan and Beck have praised Rhodes, with Buchanan predicting that he “is headed for cable stardom.” Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones of Infowars.com has repeatedly featured Rhodes and the Oath Keepers on his radio talk show.
Attracts Attention of Anti-Hate Organizations - The Oath Keepers has come to the attention of anti-hate organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which have cited the group in their reports on rising anti-government extremism. Rhodes has accused the SPLC of trying “to lump us in with white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and of course make the insinuation that we’re the next McVeigh,” referring to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Author David Neiwert, an expert on right-wing groups, tells Sharrock that it would be a mistake to term them another amalgamation of “right-wing crackpots” or “extremist nimrods,” as other press outlets have done. “[T]he reality is a lot of them are fairly intelligent, well-educated people who have complex worldviews that are thoroughly thought out,” Neiwert says. Neiwert and Sharrock tie Rhodes’s message to the much earlier views expressed by members of the now-defunct Posse Comitatus (see 1969), and note that the last reemergence of this brand of rhetoric took place during the last time a Democrat, Bill Clinton, was in the White House. Today, groups like the Oath Keepers use the Internet, particularly Facebook and YouTube, and cable news networks, to connect with like-minded citizens around the world. “The underlying sentiment is an attack on government dating back to the New Deal and before,” Neiwert says. “Ron Paul has been a significant conduit in recent years, but nothing like Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann [R-MN] and Sarah Palin (see October 10, 2008)—all of whom share that innate animus.” While Rhodes and most Oath Keepers say they will only begin active disobedience under the delineated circumstances laid out by the group, some members have gone down their own paths of violence. Oath Keeper Daniel Knight Hayden set off a controversy last April 15 with a barrage of messages on Twitter stating his intention to “START THE KILLING NOW!” by engaging in a gun battle at the Oklahoma State Capitol and urging other Oath Keepers to join him (see April 14-15, 2009). Rhodes denounced Hayden, but Neiwert notes that Rhodes’s inflammatory and inciteful rhetoric can have what he calls “an unhinging effect” on people inclined toward violent action. “It puts them in a state of mind of fearfulness and paranoia, creating so much anger and hatred that eventually that stuff boils over.” In January, ex-Marine and Oath Keeper spokesman Charles Dyer, who beat a treason charge for advocating armed resistance to the government, was arrested on charges of raping a 7-year-old girl, and authorities found stolen military weaponry at his home; some militia groups have hailed Dyer as “the first POW of the second American Revolution,” but Rhodes removed information about him from the organization’s Web sites and now denies he was ever a member (see January 21, 2010). Rhodes says he and his Web staff are “overwhelmed” with the need to delete messages encouraging racism and violence from their blog, and recently he shut down one Internet forum because of members’ attempts to use it to recruit for militia organizations. Chip Berlet of the watchdog group Political Research Associates and an expert on far-right movements equates Rhodes’s rhetoric to yelling fire in a crowded theater. “Promoting these conspiracy theories is very dangerous right now because there are people who will assume that a hero will stop at nothing.” What will happen, he adds, “is not just disobeying orders but harming and killing.” Rhodes acknowledges that to follow through on his rhetoric could be risky, and reminds Sharrock that freedom “is not neat or tidy, it’s messy.”
Gold Standards, Muslim Rights, and Treasonous Federal Institutions - During a recent meeting at a North Las Vegas casino, Sharrock took part in discussions of whether Muslim citizens had rights under the Constitution, why the Federal Reserve was a treasonous institution, why the government should be run under Biblical law and a gold standard, and how abortion-rights advocates are part of a eugenics plan targeting Christians. The group takes no official stance on the US’s war on terror or its foreign engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, but a recent Oath Keeper member who promoted his dual membership in the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) on the Oath Keepers blog had his post removed by Rhodes, who called the IVAW a “totalitarian” and “communist” organization.
Expanding Membership - Rhodes says the group has at least one chapter in each of the 50 states, and claims the group has some 29,000 members, not counting the ones who keep their membership off the computer lists. Volunteers are preparing a large “outreach” to soldiers serving overseas. The organization has worked hard to become a staple of tea party events, and tells tea partiers that bringing guns to those events reminds participants of their constitutional rights. The organization has made strong connections with groups such as the Constitution Party and Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, and national figures such as Ralph Reed, the former director of Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, and Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America. Elected officials such as Broun, Gingrey, Bachmann, and Steve King (R-IA) have expressed their interest in sponsoring legislation crafted by Oath Keeper leaders. (Sharrock 3/2010)
The number of extremist militia and “patriot” groups has expanded dramatically since the election of President Obama, according to a report issued by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a nonprofit organization that tracks “hate groups” and other, similar organizations. The number has expanded from 149 in 2008 to 512 in 2009—a 244 percent increase. “That is a lot of change in a short period of time,” says SPLC research director Heidi Beirich. The SPLC report says the number has “exploded in 2009 as militias and other groups steeped in wild, antigovernment conspiracy theories exploited populist anger across the country and infiltrated the mainstream.” While many of these groups do not espouse violence and are not considered a direct threat to government officials, government property, or citizens, some of them do advocate violent strikes against government organizations and/or “liberal” groups or individuals. The number dwindled during the eight years of the Bush presidency, the SPLC reports, but since the election of a black, Democratic president, along with a poorly performing economy and a female speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), as catalyzing factors, the number has increased, and continues to grow. “The country is becoming more diverse,” Beirich says. “Some people find it hard to handle.… These are extreme stressors for people.” Chip Berlet, an analyst for Political Research Associates, writes: “We are in the midst of one of the most significant right-wing populist rebellions in United States history. We see around us a series of overlapping social and political movements populated by people [who are] angry, resentful, and full of anxiety. They are raging against the machinery of the federal bureaucracy and liberal government programs and policies including health care, reform of immigration and labor laws, abortion, and gay marriage.” The SPLC tracked 42 armed and potentially violent militias in 2008; that number has grown by over 300 percent, to 127, since then. The SPLC writes: “Patriot groups have been fueled by anger over the changing demographics of the country, the soaring public debt, the troubled economy, and an array of initiatives by President Obama and the Democrats that have been branded ‘socialist’ or even ‘fascist’ by his political opponents (see August 1, 2008 and After, October 10, 2008, October 27, 2008, January 2009, March 4-6, 2009, March 17, 2009, March 25, 2009, March 29, 2009, April 1-2, 2009, April 3-7, 2009, April 9-22, 2009, May 13, 2009, May 28, 2009, July 24, 2009, Late July, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 18, 2009, September 1, 2009, September 12, 2009, September 17, 2009, November 5, 2009, January 27, 2010, May 7, 2010, May 19, 2010, May 25, 2010, July 3-4, 2010, September 13, 2010, September 18, 2010, September 21, 2010, September 29, 2010, September 29, 2010, October 3, 2010, October 14, 2010, October 26, 2010, November 16, 2010, and April 27, 2011). Report editor Mark Potok says: “This extraordinary growth is a cause for grave concern. The people associated with the Patriot movement during its 1990s heyday produced an enormous amount of violence, most dramatically the Oklahoma City bombing that left 168 people dead” (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Moreover, the report finds, the “patriot” movement has made common cause with the “tea party” political movement, and the two are becoming more and more entwined. The report finds, “The ‘tea parties’ and similar groups that have sprung up in recent months cannot fairly be considered extremist groups, but they are shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories, and racism.” The “patriot” movement’s central ideas are being promoted by national figures, such as Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck and lawmakers such as House member Michele Bachmann (R-MN). The number of identified “racist hate groups” has not increased significantly from 2008 from 2009, the report finds, growing from 926 to 932. However, the growth rate would have been far higher if it were not for the collapse of the American National Socialist Workers Party, a key neo-Nazi network whose founder was arrested in October 2008 (see December 18, 2009). So-called “nativist extremist” groups, vigilante organizations that go beyond advocating strict immigration policy and actually confront or harass suspected immigrants, have also grown in number, from 173 in 2008 to 309 in 2009, a rise of nearly 80 percent. The SPLC reports: “These three strands of the radical right—the hate groups, the nativist extremist groups, and the Patriot organizations—are the most volatile elements on the American political landscape. Taken together, their numbers increased by more than 40 percent, rising from 1,248 groups in 2008 to 1,753 last year.” The report warns that the number and intensity of violence from these groups, and from “lone wolf” extremists perhaps triggered by these groups’ rhetoric and actions, is increasing. Since Obama took office in January 2009, six law enforcement officers have been murdered by right-wing extremists. There are large and increasing numbers of arrests of racist “skinheads” for plotting to assassinate Obama, and an increasing number of anti-government extremists have been arrested for fomenting bomb plots. (Southern Poverty Law Center 3/2010; Southern Poverty Law Center 3/2/2010; Warikoo 3/31/2010) A Detroit Free Press report will directly tie the Michigan Hutaree, a radical Christian group arrested for planning the murder of local police officers (see March 27-30, 2010), to the growing trend of militant activity documented in the SPLC report. Political science professor Michael Barkun, an expert on extremist religious groups, says of the Hutaree arrests: “I don’t think this is the last we’re going to see of these groups. The number of such groups has increased fairly dramatically in the last couple of years.” Beirich will note that the Hutaree were not isolated from other militias: “They were part of the broader militia movement,” she says. However, her conclusion is disputed by Michigan militia member Michael Lackomar. “They more closely fit the definition of a cult,” Lackomar will say. “They believe the world is about to end according to how it was written in the Bible, and their job is to stand up and clear the way for Jesus and fight alongside him against the forces of darkness.” While “[a] lot of people are upset at an ever-growing government that is overreaching,” Lackomar will say, most militias do not go to the Hutaree’s extremes. He will call the Hutaree’s plans to attack police officers “despicable.” (Warikoo 3/31/2010)
Christian Science Monitor reporter Mark Guarino delves into some of the reasons why Michigan has such a high concentration of militia, anti-government, and other extremist groups within its borders. The analysis comes in the aftermath of the arrest of nine members of the Hutaree, a violent Christian group whom the FBI says were planning on murdering one or more police officers (see March 27-30, 2010). Michigan has 47 known militia or “patriot” groups, second in the nation behind Texas (which contains 57 such groups). These numbers come from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a nonprofit civil rights organization that tracks hate group activity. The SPLC says dozens of new militia and “patriot” groups have begun since the 2008 election of Barack Obama as president; between 2008 and 2009, the SPLC says, the number of groups throughout the country has grown from 149 to 512 (see March 2, 2010). The Michigan branch of the Hutaree is one of the most violent and far-right of these groups, the SPLC says, but Michigan and the entire Upper Midwest has become a hotbed of “patriot” activity. Chip Berlet, an analyst for Political Research Associates, says: “There are a number of regional factors that, over time and at various moments, helped the militia movement take hold in different parts of the country. It certainly has emerged strongly in the upper Midwest.” Indiana has 21 such groups, Wisconsin and Ohio 13 each, and Illnois 10, according to SPLC figures. Michigan has a long history of such activity, according to SPLC official Heidi Beirich. Many of Michigan’s most prominent militia groups, including the Michigan Militia, came into being during the term in office of the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton. The Michigan Militia gained notoriety when the media found ties between it and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see October 12, 1993 - January 1994, January 1995, 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995, and April 21, 1995). Militia activity in Michigan dwindled during the Bush presidency, but with Obama as president, has risen sharply. The Hutaree members were able to attract some members of less openly violent groups such as the Michigan Militia, though spokesmen for that group say that their organization rejects the Christian survivalist doctrine of the Hutaree. Beirich says, “The roots of militia activity are there [in Michigan], so if you want to organize something you know who to call.” Experts say a combination of factors contribute to the rise in militias: a troubled economy, changing roles within the traditional family structure, and shifts in the racial makeup of the country’s population. Berlet notes that shared anxiety among lower-to-middle-class people is often a catalyst for generating conspiracy theories, which have the potency to provoke people to take up arms and commit violence. “The candidacy of Obama—when it looked to become serious—prompted a lot of anxiety, and the anxiety continued to rise up to the inauguration,” says Berlet. “This is really getting out of hand,” Berlet says. “It’s a serious problem when people decide the solution to political problems lies in arming themselves and going underground.” He concludes: “While you can look at the Republicans and right wing and say, ‘You let things go too far,’ the Democrats use very demonizing language and aren’t interested in a policy debate, either. They’ve been interested in bashing the Republicans and right wing as crazy and ignorant. So it’s a mess.” (Guarino 3/30/2010) Former federal prosecutor Aitan Goelman, who helped convict McVeigh of the Oklahoma City bombing, suggests that the true danger of groups like the Hutaree and other militias is not from the groups themselves, but from the risk of these groups’ inflammatory declarations and actions sparking violence from so-called “lone wolves,” who like McVeigh are not necessarily active members of any such groups, but whose actions go farther than most groups ever intend. Goelman notes that in 1995, a Democrat was president, just as today; Clinton pushed through a controversial federal assault weapons ban (see September 13, 1994) and Obama has successfully implemented an equally controversial health care reform package; and, both then and now, extremists on the right are warning of an impending government takeover. “On the edges” of political discourse today, Goelman says, “you have rhetoric that carries over to extreme factions.” He continues, “Anytime you have group-think and this churning of ridiculous ideas back and forth, eventually you’ll get someone like McVeigh who’s going to say, ‘I’m going to take the mantle of leadership and fire the shot heard around the world and start the second American revolution.’” McVeigh considered the Michigan Militia “too moderate” and himself as a “man of action” who wanted to go farther than these groups. “I think [his associations with militias] put a battery in the pack,” Goelman says. “Some of this is fantasy. I think the idea that it is kind of fun to talk about a UN tank on your front lawn and the New World Order (see September 11, 1990)… but when someone blows up a building and kills 19 kids in a day-care center, it’s not so glamorous anymore,” he says, referring to the Oklahoma City incident. “The reality of murdering innocent people ends up far less glorious than striking the blow.” (Guarino 3/31/2010)
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