The arrests of nine members of the Hutaree militia, a Midwestern Christian militia Hutargroup, are illustrating a rise in militia activity, which had been relatively quiet during the term of President George W. Bush but has shot up dramatically since the election of President Obama, experts that track militia groups say.
The FBI conducted raids Saturday and Sunday in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and suburban Chicago to round up senior members of the group, which a federal indictment released Monday calls an “anti-government extremist organization” intending to “levy war against the United States.”
The group is charged with five counts, including seditious conspiracy and attempts to use weapons of mass destruction, which refers to the allegation in the indictment that Hutaree members planned to use roadside bombs. If convicted, the suspects could face life in prison, the maximum penalty for the weapons of mass destruction charge.
The Hutaree is one of 127 armed militias in the US, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a nonprofit organization in Montgomery, Ala., that tracks hate groups nationwide. That number has increased 200 percent since 2008, when there were 42, SPLC says.
There is “no question” the catalyst was President Obama’s election, says Heidi Beirich, the center’s director of research. A similar upswing took place after President Clinton’s election in 1993. Militias and the antigovernment groups that spawn them often become more active when the federal government turns more liberal.
“A major shift to the left certainly helped” in both cases, Ms. Beirich says.
The economic meltdown and the growth of minorities such as Latinos are also a factor, she adds.
Who are the Hutaree?
Federal authorities say the Hutaree started to conduct military-style training in Michigan’s Lenawee County in August 2008.
After debating different scenarios, the group decided upon killing a local law enforcement official and attacking the subsequent funeral procession, the indictment says. The indictment says the Hutaree planned to use “improvised explosive devices” and “explosively formed projectiles” that, authorities say, qualify as weapons of mass destruction.
The group accelerated training in February and March with plans to carry out the attack in April, the indictment states.
The Hutaree is unique because it interacted with militia groups outside Michigan, notes Beirich. Many groups the size of the Hutaree tend to be insular and segregated from larger groups. The Hutaree, however, had 350 MySpace members despite its apparently small membership.
On its website, the Hutaree uses Christian terminology and Bible quotes that position it as a military organization prepared to confront an Antichrist. “Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment.… We, the Hutaree, are prepared to defend all those who belong to Christ and save those who aren’t,” a passage reads.
The site’s homepage includes a picture of 17 men and women posing in camouflage uniforms and brandishing assault weapons.