Fearful of Government, ‘Patriots’ Organize to Defend Freedoms
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) _ They stockpile weapons and ammunition, conduct military field exercises in isolated forests and warn of an apocalyptic showdown with tyrants plotting to enslave America.
Established a year ago this month, the Michigan Militia is in the vanguard of a nationwide ``citizens’ militia″ movement aimed at confronting what members say is a federal government run amok.
``If this country doesn’t change, armed conflict is inevitable,″ commander Norman Olson proclaimed at a recruiting meeting last August.
Federal officials investigating Wednesday’s bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City wouldn’t answer questions about hate, separatist or militia group connections to Wednesday’s bombing.
One federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a raid on a Decker, Mich., farmhouse targeted people ``that the militia doesn’t want to be associated with.″
Authorities questioned and released the farm’s owner, James Douglas Nichols, who is the brother of one of two men in custody in connection with the bombing.
Militia leaders Friday denied any connection with the bombing.
``Our stand in the militia is defensive,″ Chief of Staff Ray Southwell said. ``This obviously had nothing to do with defense.″
Southwell, a real estate agent from Alanson, and Olson, a gun shop owner and Baptist preacher, say they were inspired to create the militia by a number of signs of creeping tyranny.
The last straw was enactment of the Brady gun control law and crime legislation that banned some types of assault weapons. Other ominous signs, leaders say, range from military helicopters hovering over citizens’ houses to stickers on road signs with mysterious numbers that could be signs for foreign troops.
The date of the bombing _ April 19 _ is significant to the militia, headquartered in the northern Michigan town of Harbor Springs.
Southwell and Olson frequently cite the federal raid on the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas, as a sign that no gun-owning citizens are safe. The doomsday cult’s compound burned April 19, 1993, after a standoff with federal agents.
The militia describes its members as spiritual heirs of the Revolutionary-era citizens who took up arms against British tyranny. On April 19, 1775, British Redcoats fought American colonists at Lexington and Concord, Mass.
The federal crime law lists 19 specific weapons that it bans, though it also includes scores of other firearms.
Time magazine reported in its April 21 issue that two men thought to have rented the truck used in the Oklahoma bombing provided a fake South Dakota drivers’ license with a birthdate of April 19, 1979.
Militia members meet and hold military-style drills regularly. They are required to own firearms but are vague about what might lead them to armed confrontation.
The group frequently cites Idaho white supremacist Randy Weaver as a sign that no gun-owning citizens are safe. Weaver spent 18 months in prison after a deadly 1992 standoff with agents that left one agent dead, along with Weaver’s son and wife.
Various neighbors said the Nicholses had attended some meetings of the Michigan Militia, Patriots and We The People militia and tax-rights groups. But the groups themselves aren’t a very visible community force.
``In this area, if you were a member, you’d hide it,″ said autoworker Eugene Lonuski. ``We’re conservative farm people.″
From its beginnings in rural Emmet County near the top of Lake Michigan, the militia movement spread rapidly across the state. The Militia claim 12,000 members and chapters in 70 of the state’s 83 counties.
Soldier of Fortune, a magazine for mercenaries and other military enthusiasts, describes the Militia as ``superbly organized.″
Militia members pledge allegiance to the original Constitution and Bill of Rights, which they contend the government wants to usurp. Gun control, they say, is essential to carrying out a broad conspiracy to impose a world government controlled by the United Nations.
Southwell and other leaders strongly deny links to white supremacist or other hate groups. But some militia members have ties to such groups, said Maryann Mauney, a researcher at the Center for Democratic Renewal, an Atlanta organization that tracks hate and militia groups.
``The question, which no one can answer just yet, is what, exactly, the militias intend to do with their guns,″ concluded a report released last year by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.