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Profile: Mark Guarino

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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.” [Christian Science Monitor, 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.” [Christian Science Monitor, 3/31/2010]

Entity Tags: Timothy James McVeigh, Chip Berlet, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Aitan Goelman, Christian Science Monitor, Michigan Militia, Clinton administration, Hutaree, Heidi Beirich, Southern Poverty Law Center, Mark Guarino

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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