Domestic terrorism Experts worry about resurgence of radical militias

Published 30 March 2010

Experts say that discontent with the state of the U.S. economy, resentments of illegal immigrants, suspicions that health care-like bills are ushering in an age of “socialism” in America, and unease with the fact that the U.S. president is an African American — all mixed with a volatile brew of conspiracy theories — have swelled the ranks of extremist militia organizations, increased the vehemence of their hate rhetoric, and pushed some of their members to plan violent acts against the U.S. government

Terrorism experts say recent conservative political unrest has fueled resurgence of radical militias, even though the popularity of these militias had declined after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Experts blame the recession and the election of an African-American president with a perceived liberal agenda for this growth in militia activity (see “rowing Concerns in U.S., U.K. about Domestic Terrorism,” 11 March 2010 HSNW; and “Intelligence Experts: Recent Attacks on U.S. Government Buildings are Indeed Terrorism,” 15 March 2010. HSNW).

The Detroit News’s Paul Egan and Doug Guthrie quote these experts to say that the long debate over health care reform, labeled as a victory for socialists, fueled new conspiracy theories with some old themes that play on political and religious fears.

They see themselves kind of losing control of their country and their religion,” said James Corcoran, chairman of the communications department at Simmons College in Boston and an author of books on U.S. militia groups (Bitter Harvest: Gordon Kahl and the Rise of the Posse Comitatus in the Heartland; and, with Morris Dees, Gathering Storm: America’s Militia Threat). “This isn’t the face of the America they remember or want.”

Egan and Guthrie write that militias came into the national spotlight in 1995, after the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. Timothy McVeigh and Michigan native Terry Nichols were convicted in the bombing, which killed 168. Nichols and McVeigh attended some Michigan Militia events, but the group denied Nichols and McVeigh were members.

Militia popularity declined during the administration of President George W. Bush, but the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) said the number of groups espousing anti-government doctrines and political conspiracy theories is again rising (see SPLC’s Intelligence Report no. 137 [spring 2010]: Rage on the Right). The report identified 512 groups throughout the United States, including 47 in Michigan (Michigan is behind only Texas, which has 52 such groups).

Professor Jeff Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at the St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, is also a retired lieutenant colonel and former senior legal adviser in the Army Special Forces. He notes that the McVeigh Oklahoma bombing occurred fifteen years ago. “We’ve had, by my count, 13 convictions for Islamic terrorist plots in that time. That is still the No. 1 threat, but [the re-emergence of militias] is a strong warning that threats can come from anywhere” (see “Noticeable Increase in the Number of Americans Arrested for al Qaeda-related Terrorism,” 17 March 2010 HSNW).