Report: militia activity on the rise in US

The Southern Poverty Law Center warns that US antigovernment militias are gaining traction.

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Right-wing militia groups are on the rise in the United States after nearly a decade of obscurity, according to a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which monitors hate groups and extremist activity. 

The report, released Wednesday, warns of "unmistakable signs of a revival of what in the 1990s was commonly called the militia movement."

Militia rhetoric is being heard widely once more, often from a second generation of ideologues, and conspiracy theories are being energetically revived or invented anew. "Paper terrorism" — the use of property liens, bogus legal documents and "citizens' grand juries" to attack enemies and, sometimes, reap illegal fortunes — is again proliferating, to the point where the government has set up special efforts to rein in so-called "tax defiers" and to track threats against judges....
Militia training events, huge numbers of which are now viewable on YouTube videos, are spreading. One federal agency estimates that 50 new militia training groups have sprung up in less than two years. Sales of guns and ammunition have skyrocketed amid fears of new gun control laws, much as they did in the 1990s.

The report also cites a range of events and reports as evidence for the purported upswing in militia activities, including the murders of six law enforcement officials over the last several months by those espousing anti-government, racist, or pro-militia beliefs. It also singles out the June shooting of a National Holocaust Museum guard by James Von Brunn, who had ties to white supremacist groups, as The Christian Science Monitor reported.

The SPLC report also claims that with the election of Barack Obama to the head of the US government, which militias typically perceive as their enemy, the messages of militias, not traditionally focused on racial hatred, have taken on racial undertones.

Agence France-Presse reports that some experts believe that the upsurge in militias is in part caused by "a vibrant world of unsubstantiated yet widely publicized conspiracies."

Fox News writes that conservative groups are dismissing the report, which they say relies on a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report released earlier this year on right-wing extremism. They say that the DHS report relies on unofficial reports and unfairly lumps together legitimate critics of the Obama administration with radical militias, and as a result the new SPLC report is suspect for the same reasons.

They are attempting to brand all right-of-center protesters as potential domestic terrorists or extremists," [William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC,] said. "They are painting whole swaths of people as hate groups and extremists."
As for the purported rise in "militia" groups, which SPLC includes as part of the broader anti-government "Patriot" movement, Gheen said: "We're just not seeing it."

Dwight Lewis, a columnist for The Tennessean, writes that "the Southern Poverty Law Center's track record is one that doesn't show it disseminates information to the public just to be blowing smoke."

Consider the letter SPLC officials wrote to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno 15 years ago warning about extremists in the militia movement, saying that the "mixture of armed groups and those who hate'' was "a recipe for disaster.''
Six months later, the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed.
Yes, we've got to take note of the return of these right-wing militia groups, but more importantly, government and law enforcement officials need to make sure they're kept in check.
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