Militia organizations like Lenawee County-based Hutaree keep a low profile, but it is among an exploding number of anti-government groups that have sprung up across the country.
The Montgomery, Ala.-based Southern Poverty Law Center documented a 244 percent increase in active "Patriot" groups between 2008 and 2009. Numbers jumped from 149 in 2008 to 512 last year. Among those groups, the number of paramilitary militias jumped from 42 to 127 in the same time period.
In a report issued March 2, the law center documented 47 Patriot groups in Michigan - second only to Texas where the center found 52 such groups. Thirteen were listed in Ohio.
"That is a result of a couple of things," explained Heidi Beirich, director of research at the law center. "One was the Democrats taking over all three branches of government. Back when President Clinton was elected, we had the same kind of groups springing up out of nowhere."
She said the poor economy has added to the anti-government sentiment, and in a larger sense, the country's increasing racial diversity also is a factor.
"For some people, that makes them feel like their America has disappeared," Ms. Beirich said. "There is a lot of rhetoric out of these groups about, 'Where is my country, where is my freedom going? Who is that socialist maniac in the White House?'•"
The law center was aware of two chapters of Hutaree militia - one in southern Michigan and another in Utah - although none of the nine people indicted by a federal grand jury in Detroit on charges of conspiring to attack law enforcement officers was in the law center's database, Ms. Beirich said.
She said Hutaree appears to have an apocalyptic Christian approach that differs somewhat from a standard militia group "which is just very, very anti-government." The groups typically proffer paranoid conspiracy theories, she said.
"These are people who are taking up arms and training because they're so afraid the government is going to do something, so they have to be in a ready war stance," Ms. Beirich said.
In the wake of the arrests in southeast Michigan, northwest Ohio, and Indiana over the weekend, militia groups like the Lenawee County Militia and Michigan Militia posted notices on their Web sites distancing themselves from Hutaree and saying they "do nothing illegal."
Lee Miracle, coordinator of the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia, said it bothered him that Hutaree was being labeled as a militia group "when I think the proper term would be armed cult." He said news of the alleged plot gives all militia groups a bad name.
"The Hutaree, to me, they are an extremist religious cult, a post-apocalyptic survivalist group," Mr. Miracle said. "The word 'militia' came out, and it's an easy word to float around."
He said the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia does not condone criminal activity but believes "a well-armed, educated citizenry is the best defense of a free people. "We're really a hyper-preparedness group, and we think that's the best way for a society to remain free and stable."
Americans knew little of militia groups before 76 Branch Davidians were killed in a 1993 siege by law enforcement in Waco, Texas. Then, two years to the day later, 168 people were killed in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted and executed for the bombing, had attended at least one Michigan Militia event but was not a member of the group.
Ms. Beirich said the majority of militia members may be law-abiding, but they have no way of knowing who might come to one of their gatherings, take their philosophy, and turn it into violence.
"There have been about 75 domestic terrorism attacks since Oklahoma City by our count, and the majority came from people with extreme anti-government views, so this stuff is dangerous," she said.
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