Michigan militias and gun show hot dogs

Our correspondent says a mixture of economic problems reminiscent of the 1990's, along with a racist hatred of Barack Obama and his policies, has helped fuel the rise of Michigan's militias.


    It's tough explaining to my Arab wife why there are armed groups like Hutaree in my home state of Michigan, allegedly plotting to fight the government and kill cops

    Violent insurgencies are something she grew up with in her native Algeria, but unlike armed groups there like GIA, GSPC and its latest al-Qaeda franchise, the garden variety militia in Michigan operates largely with the consent and knowledge of the local, state and federal governments.

    I decided to give her an idea of the Michigan she has not yet discovered, so a few weeks back I had her join me to watch a local re-airing of Michael Moore's Roger and Me (1989). 

    Moore, a native of the automotive ghost town Flint, went on to direct other memorable films like Fahrenheit 9/11

    In my eyes, Roger and Me did the viewer justice as his camera captured examples of the absurd corporate and government policies that fueled Michigan's ongoing economic depravity.

    Moore also served the hard-nosed "I don't give a damn" Michigander stereotype well by relentlessly hounding automotive executives, getting in their grill, and calling them out on corporate greed.  

    Michigan still has one of the highest unemployment rates in the US, and as fellow blogger Samuel Jacobs at the Daily Beast points out, its no accident that it hosts an estimated 47 out of the 500 documented "patriot" groups tallied in this Southern Poverty Law Center report

    Add to that the fact there are lots of public land and lakes within the state to train in and blow things up without being detected or disturbed.

    Trying to explain the climate that allows Michigan's myriad militia groups, I don't initially turn to the US Constitution's Second Amendment, even though it provides for a "Well regulated militia" and the "right to keep and bear arms".

    Those are the legal underpinnings, to be sure, along with a robust pro-gun lobby like the NRA, that defend the firearms ownership rights of millions of Americans in every state. 

    But the second amendement alone does not come even close to explaining Michigan's gun culture cult (see "Open Carry Family Picnic and Tea Party"), taken further when folks gather on weekends, clad in camouflage, to do the "just in case" drills.

    You know, like if America suddenly faces an insurrection that needs repressing, or worse: what if the Michigan State Police needs some back up?

    Going back to Michigan in September 2009 for our wedding, it was tough to explain to my bride, staying at my mother's house in the suburbs, how on my way to renew my motorcycle registration, I happened upon a street where cars were in flames while paramilitaries fanned in the streets, shooting at foreign invaders. 

    That actually happened.  What I had come across (just outside Pontiac) were professional actors from MGM Studios remaking the 1984 hit Red Dawn, which premiers this November.

    Oddly enough, this happened to be the best thing to happen to the local economy (demolishing buildings and employing local extras).

    It reminded me of the how Red Dawn continues to play a powerful role in the state. 

    Aside from vaulting the career of actor Patrick Swayze, Red Dawn 1984 rallied the people to watch how high school friends were able to use classic ambush skills to fend off a fictional Soviet invasion of the American homeland. 

    It came near the same time as Rocky IV, which again invoked US patriotism against the Soviet "bad guy." 

    Red Dawn had a powerful impact on my own upbringing, along with many others who shot cap guns at each other under the maple woods of Michigan while playing a fictional game of "cops and robbers" called "Wolverines," the name of the Red Dawn militia that is also the University of Michigan's mascot. 

    Red Dawn taught me that knowing how to use a weapon was important.  But also that those under occupation have a right to resist, and will be easy prey if they do not know how. 

    Many in Michigan live by that credo; but for a fringe group of others, including the Hutaree militia, the motivations are different

    In the early 1990's, there was no more Soviet threat.  Instead, the extreme right wing of the US (some of whom belong to militias) saw the coming of the anti-Christ in US President Bill Clinton, out to establish a "New World Order." 

    They viewed Clinton as waging an attack on their gun ownership (to understand why see "Brady Bill") under the guise of spreading of liberal values and raising taxes higher than they could already not afford. 

    Around that time, I got a flavour of some of those groups by attending gun shows throughout the Detroit metro area. 

    Of all my favourite blue collar activities in my youth, from attending Renaissance Festivals to Monster Truck Rallies, the gun show was my favourite.

    They were usually held at some Veterans Hall or, oddly enough, a National Guard armoury (which under Hutaree's ideology, could be a legitimate target). 

    It's not just because my brother and I preferred the hot dogs they served (although I'd take Renaissance Festival medieval turkey drumstick any day to the overcooked, microwaved gun show hot dog). 

    Mullet hunting had not yet become a sport. No. What really piqued our interest were the oddball things we'd come across.

    Like a World War II-era flamethrower that was used in the Battle of the Pacific (and probably not decommissioned!).

    American veterans from WW2, Korea, and Vietnam would pawn their canteens and web belts, which we would buy up to trick out our own Red Dawn apparel for the fights we played with toy guns. 

    Most of my memories are good, but some are also creepy, now that I have lived a little and have the benefit of hindsight. 

    For example, I remember thumbing through my first copy of the banned-in-some-places Anarchists Cookbook, which teaches the finer art of making bombs out of household items. 

    The free availability of those kinds of publications would not be so amusing after an American extremist US citizen, named Timothy McVeigh, put those skills to use by bombing a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

    In the process killing 168 men, women, and children and wounding more than 600. 

    McVeigh also used to troll local gun shows, which are mostly attended by whites. 

    Among the fold out display tables I also remember seeing free literature from Neo-Nazi and KKK types, with burly tattooed men standing proudly behind the offings in spite of the fact, I told myself, that there were robust Jewish and African American communities living nearby. 

    Militia groups in Michigan and elsewhere went underground following Oklahoma City. 

    I followed some of them as a college student interning with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms (ATF) Pittsburgh Field Office, which kept close tabs on militias and other cults, including the kind that killed over 85 people in a gun battle and 51-day siege at Waco, Texas in 1993. 

    Militia and cult members often have in their ranks any number of convicted felons who possess firearms, a serious crime in the US (In addition to losing eligibility to vote, a felon also loses his "right to bear arms" upon conviction).

    I met ATF agents who lost friends at Waco and know how seriously they took the homegrown threat. 

    I also, after later spending three years as a federal agent myself, listened with interest to chatter about a "militia comeback" following 9/11, and the belief some held that homegrown gun clubs could have somehow prevented the attack by weeding out potential plotters. 

    Nonsense. Michigan militias have about as much interest in al-Qaeda as George W Bush did on September 10, 2001

    They are reviving themselves now, in my estimation, because of the same conditions that existed in the early 1990's: a troubled economy, a high rate of home foreclosure, and worse:  the racist fact that they see Barack Hussein Obama as the latest Anti-Christ who is not only progressive and pro-gun regulation, but also black.

    In their eyes, Obama is coming to take their guns and raise their taxes. 

    And while it's encouraging to know that not all of Michigan's militias are following the Hutaree ideology, they collectively may still pose a danger.

    These are hardly "well regulated" militias, and if that's what they aspire to become, then why not join the well-regulated Michigan National Guard or FEMA

    My sense is that its because the Guard and FEMA are well-regulated, with formal screening, including criminal record checks, psychological and drug tests. 

    Add the burden of a little physical exercise, plus the real possibility that they might actually find themselves in places like Afghanistan or Iraq where their fantasy of battlefield heroics might actually be put to the test, and you can see why they prefer to stick closer to home.

    While agents are out wasting time hassling travelers for carrying Arabic flash cards, it's good to know a few have also been keeping eyes on the domestic threat.

    It's all fun and games until people get shot and killed in places like Clayton, Michigan

    But for my wife's sake, and for anyone who wants newcomers to enjoy the Great Lakes State and all it really has to offer, this Clayton from Michigan would rather not see militias to begin with, much less have to explain them.



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