Michigan Militia Scares Me

An article in the New York Times, www.nytimes.com, by Nick Bunkley and Charlie Savage recounts a scary scene: Police in Clayton Michigan raided a house containing people who were members of a militia, plotting to kill law enforcement officers in an attempt to spark an anti-government uprising.

Motivated by a religious purpose, they planned to not only kill an officer to start things off, but they’d also bomb the funeral procession for the dead officer. How low can you go?

What’s scary to me is that when people are motivated to act this irrationally for religious reasons, common sense and restraint go out the window. “Jesus wanted us to be ready,” said the militia’s website. Their plan was to cause an anti-government uprising that would usher in the final battle between good and evil and the return of Jesus. In April of 2009, the Department of Homeland Security warned of an increase in these threats of right-wing, homegrown terrorism.

Has this ever happened in the past?

Unfortunately, there’s a long history of this type of terrorism. I can think of two that fit the same plot as the militia in Michigan.

The Charlie Manson gang in Los Angeles in the early 70’s resorted to violence and terrorism by indiscriminately killing two households of people. Their purpose was, “Helter Skelter,” based on the title of a Beatles’ song. To Manson and his faithful followers, their violence would start a race war in which Manson would survive and take over…in some form. Although not religiously motivated, the idea of using local terror to start a larger movement of violence and chaos, matches the militia in Michigan.

Going back even further to 1856, John Brown (the fanatic who led the raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859), assembled money, a wagon full of weapons, men including a few of his sons, and went to Kansas. Hating slavery, his purpose was to terrorize pro-slavery people in the state. He and his sons, motivated by their religious zeal to stamp out slavery, tortured and massacred several families and escaped back over the border.

But he didn’t stop with just a little terror.

In 1859, again funded by wealthy Northerners and accompanied by a small militia, Brown raided the federal weapons arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, for more arms. His purpose that time was to move into the south and incite an uprising of slaves against their owners. Brown would help by arming the rebelling slaves and fighting alongside of them.

Thanks to this home-grown terrorist, the South decided to secede and the Civil War started. In a creepy sense, Brown got what he wanted after all. Remember the words of the song: “John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave, but his soul goes marching on…”

So in this country, we have a long history of militias using terror as a means to spark revolts, often motivated by religious purposes.

What do you think of the warning report from Homeland Security about the increase in 2009 of these kinds of groups? It seems impossible for anyone to spark something very large but when you watch the news and some people’s behavior, I wonder. Even a small act of terrorism could have profound effects on the country by the panic it could cause.

Maybe the soul of John Brown really is still marching on…

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About Colin Nelson

Colin T. Nelson worked for 40 years as a prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis. He tried everything from speeding tickets to first degree murder. His writing about the courtroom and the legal system give the reader a "back door" view of what goes on, what's funny, and what's a good story. He has also traveled extensively and includes those locations in his mysteries. Some are set in Southeast Asia, Ecuador,Peru, and South Africa. Readers get a suspenseful tale while learning about new places on the planet. Colin is married, has two adult children, and plays the saxophone in various bands.

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