This weekend, the FBI conducted a series of raids in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana to detain members of a Christian militia group on criminal charges. So what does this group believe, and how do its members fit in with the larger radical right?
The group in question calls itself the "Hutaree"; its website says the term translates as "Christian warrior." And in keeping with that name, the material it has posted online reflects an outlook of violent religious confrontation. The Hutaree believe that acts of violence can bring about the final judgment prophesied in the Christian Bible and therefore have been arming themselves to go to war with the Antichrist, "evil Jews," and Muslims. They have documented their training exercises in a series of YouTube videos. And they spell out the theological rationale for their actions on the "About Us" page on their website:
Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment. The only thing on earth to save the testimony and those who follow it, are the members of the testimony, til the return of Christ in the clouds. We, the Hutaree, are prepared to defend all those who belong to Christ and save those who aren't. We will still spread the word, and fight to keep it, up to the time of the great coming ... The Hutaree will one day see its enemy and meet him on the battlefield if so God wills it. We will reach out to those who are yet blind in the last days of the kingdoms of men and bring them to life in Christ.
According to the indictment unsealed this morning in court, the nine members of the group eight men and one woman planned to "levy war" against the U.S. government. To incite such a war, the group planned to murder law enforcement officials and then follow up their initial attacks with a separate attack on the fallen officers' funeral(s), where a large number of law enforcement personnel would no doubt be gathered.
With other news of vandalism and harassment from right-wing activists angry about the passage of health care reform, some commentators are already depicting the arrests as a further sign of how conservative activists are promoting violence in their ranks. But even within the militant world of the Michigan militia movement, the Hutarees are viewed as extreme religious fanatics. Michael Lackomar, a leader of the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia, told the Associated Press that he'd fielded a frantic call from a Hutaree member Saturday night reporting the onset of the federal raids. After hearing pleas for help, Lackomar said that his group declined. "They said that they were under attack by the ATF and wanted a place to hide," Lackomar recalls. "My team leaders said, 'No thanks.' "
A posting on a Hutaree message board by someone named Anna seems to back up Lackomar's claim that Hutaree members were seeking help from other militia groups in the area.
"We need some help please," she wrote. "I am enroute south with my children using the wifi's as I can. They were catching others as they came to their rallying points, they broke into homes and took children and used the tasers on wives, my son who is 12 and I got out by crawling through the creeks behind our house. My husband and others are taken, please call the press and tell them, if any in the Michigan Militia is still free please rally with them. Please help."
Still, while the more secular and libertarian leaders of the militia movement may distance themselves from the Hutaree, the two militant strains of right-wing activism share some tactical affinities, says Kenneth S. Stern, the American Jewish Committee's director on anti-Semitism and extremism. "What you're starting to see in the number of militia groups sprouting up in the last year is a general antigovernment ideology," Stern says. "The targeting of cops is not inconsistent with that. The literature that glorified that white supremacist movement that helped the militia movement take off in the 1990s advocated those tactics especially in books like 'The Turner Diaries.' And some of these groups like the Order and others started setting traps for law enforcement and going after first responders."
Stern cautions that it's too soon to draw broader lessons from the alleged Hutaree plot. But he does add that "whenever you have a combination of the ideology that says, 'the government is evil and we'd better do something about it,' and a religion that says, 'Hey, God wants you to do something about it,' that can be problematic."