Arrests may be the militia movement's ”gut-check” moment

Nicholas Riccardi and Richard Fausset / Los Angeles Times /

Published Apr 8, 2010 at 05:00AM / Updated Jan 16, 2014 at 01:54PM

DENVER — Even in the extreme world of the militia movement, the Hutaree — eight men and one woman in southeastern Michigan accused of plotting to kill police to foment a revolution — stood out.

They trained with other survivalist groups and attended at least one militia conference in Kentucky, according to court papers filed by federal prosecutors. But their neighbors in the militia movement were suspicious of the Hutaree’s Christian ideology and obsession with a coming apocalypse.

“It’s just sad,” said Lee Miracle of the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia, which included some of the men who later joined the Hutaree. “They kind of drifted away and ended up more with a kind of cultlike group.”

To experts who follow militias, the existence of the Hutaree — and the cool reaction it generally received from other militia groups — are reminders that the movement is far from monolithic.

The best-known militias are mainly concerned with perceived violations of constitutional protections against government power, but there has long been a minority that, like the Hutaree, took a more religious view, said Robert Churchill, a University of Hartford history professor and author of “To Shake Their Guns in the Tyrant’s Face,” a history of the 1990s militia movement.

The group uses uniforms emblazoned with CCR for “Colonial Christian Republic,” and believes that former NATO leader Javier Solana could be the Antichrist.

On Friday, a federal judge ordered the nine Hutaree members to remain jailed until trial, calling evidence against them “very disturbing.” They face charges of sedition and use of weapons of mass destruction. Authorities said they planned to act in the coming weeks; their defense attorneys counter that the group was guilty only of swagger.

The militia movement has been mostly out of the public eye since the late 1990s, but it began to regain strength during George W. Bush’s presidency and has experienced a renaissance under the nation’s first black president.

Since Barack Obama’s inauguration last year, the number of militias in the country has tripled, according to a recent report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremist groups. The center identified 512 active “patriot groups” in 2009.

Churchill said the Hutaree’s alienation from some of its militia brethren corresponds to a split in the movement that was also evident during its last time in the limelight, during the 1990s. The Hutaree, he said, appeared to be part of a “millennialist” militia movement largely concerned with end-times prophecy and full-blown, New World Order-type anti-government conspiracy theories.

After the recent arrest, some militia groups were sympathetic to the Hutaree, while stopping short of endorsing violence.

But several militias distanced themselves from the Hutaree. Michael Vanderboegh, a former militia member who is prominent in the anti-government constitutionalist movement, called it “nuttery.”

This separation reflects an earlier pattern. In the 1990s, Churchill said, the constitutionalist groups also made serious efforts to distinguish themselves from the millennialists.

Miracle, the Michigan militia member, said one of his group’s affiliated organizations, called the Lenawee Brigade, was contacted by a Hutaree member seeking help when federal heat was becoming evident. Miracle said the Lenawee turned the Hutaree down.

Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center contended that the Hutaree had plenty in common with the mainstream militia movement. He said many groups fear a new world order and globalist conspiracy against the U.S., but lack the Hutaree’s overt Christian rhetoric. He also pointed to the group’s MySpace page, which he said had more than 300 friends listed from other wings of the movement.

“They weren’t viewed as the lunatic fringe two weeks ago,” he said.

Potok acknowledged that only a tiny minority of militia members seek violence.

Aitan Goelman, who was part of the team that prosecuted the Oklahoma City bombing, said that when people start to act on violent rhetoric, it frequently produces divisions.

“It goes beyond fantasy and your purported ideals and becomes a real gut-check moment,” he said.

The distinctions among militia groups may hark back to the Clinton era, but Churchill notes one new trend in the age of Obama: the increased use of patriot-style rhetoric in mainstream discourse. Referring to the angry vocabulary used by lawmakers and media pundits such as Glenn Beck, Churchill said the wall between the patriots’ sphere of conversation and that of mainstream conservatives “is starting to break down, is starting to erode.”