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Hutaree: Why is the Midwest a hotbed of militia activity?

Michigan is second only to Texas in the number of 'patriot' groups, including militias like the Hutaree. It has a long tradition of spawning antigovernment groups.

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Despite a cooling down period during the tenure of former President George W. Bush, Michigan continued to see militia activity during the last presidential campaign cycle, SPLC says. Groups like the Hutaree and others were able to recruit members easily because the of the strong militia tradition in the area.

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In the Hutaree case, federal authorities say members of the militia reached out to larger and more mainstream organizations like the Michigan Militia, though the Michigan Milita has said it rejects the Christian survivalist doctrine of the Hutaree. In February, Hutaree members attended a summit of area militias in Kentucky to make contacts for acquiring explosive devices.

“The roots of militia activity are there [in Michigan], so if you want to organize something you know who to call,” Ms. Beirich says.

The recent rise in militias

Experts say a combination of factors contribute to the rise in militias: a faltering economy, changing roles within the traditional family structure, and shifts in the racial makeup of the country’s population.

Mr. Berlet adds that shared anxiety among lower-to-middle-class people is often a catalyst for generating conspiracy theories, which have the potency to provoke people to take up arms and commit violence.

“The candidacy of Obama – when it looked to become serious – prompted a lot of anxiety, and the anxiety continued to rise up to the inauguration,” Berlet says.

Several high-profile murders have occurred since then, including those of Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller and a Holocaust Museum guard in Washington.

“This is really getting out of hand,” Berlet says. “It’s a serious problem when people decide the solution to political problems lies in arming themselves and going underground.”

There is concern that this current wave of militia activity is more potent than it was during the Clinton era. The Internet allows conspiracy ideology to travel faster and marginalized individuals to connect with one another across greater distances. Meanwhile, there is increased political polarization.

“While you can look at the Republicans and right wing and say, ‘you let things go too far,’ the Democrats use very demonizing language and aren’t interested in a policy debate, either,” says Berlet. “They’ve been interested in bashing the Republicans and right wing as crazy and ignorant. So it’s a mess.”

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