March 31st, 2010

by Jane Thomas

The recent activities and arrests of members of the Hutaree militia movement have launched a reflection on terrorism and militias in the US. It took two scotch and sodas to prep me to read the website of this group, which, interestingly enough, has whole sections that are temporarily not available. Oh, well.

After spending eleven years in the world of domestic extremists, which included endless reading, personal interviews and direct communications, I was just not sure that the psyche was up to entering this world again. But, I wanted to know if the Hutaree were Christian Identity (CI) — they are not.

Christian extremists exist. Dangerous Christian extremists exist. They really, really believe that they know God’s word and they desire to protect that word and to fulfill that word. Lots of other groups borrow from the ideology of CI, either as a cover or an excuse. These groups are easier to deal with. But, CI believers cannot be deterred by reasoning or threat. They answer only to God. (Eric Rudolph, Atlanta Olympics and other abortion clinic bombings, were CI.) However, fortunately, they tend to collect in compounds and avoid the corrupt world. And, they are usually more concerned with controlling the members of their own organization than they are of conquering the world. Their eye is on the Rapture when they will inherit Heaven and the rest of us will be hurled into Hell. However, should they perceive a reason to strike out externally, they will do so with a vengeance and, most importantly, a clear conscience.

We have learned that it takes two specific circumstances coming together simultaneously to create a person who will commit an act of terrorism: (1) the perpetrator must believe the act is justified and (2) the perpetrator must be able to dehumanize the victim in his/her own mind. This is how one is able to absolve oneself of the act of killing. For the religious extremists, this becomes fairly easy. They are shaped to believe that unbelievers are sub-human, beasts, infidels, etc. So, given a circumstance in which they feel justified in committing an act of terror, they have both keys: justification and dehumanization.

Most domestic militia groups are really innocuous. They let off steam, they enjoy great camaraderie, they feel like warriors and they have a lot of fun. In a Christian militia like this one, they even pray together and feel like they are protecting the nation’s morals. I don’t know whether a group of these guys really intended to pull off a hit and then a bomb or not. They may very likely have had plans on the drawing board to do so, which would be very in keeping with what they think is good training. But, pulling it off — that is a whole different cup of tea.

On their website, the members of Hutaree appear to be aware that they are being observed by federal agents. The safety valve for us (an excellent one, by the way) is the existence of Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) that were established in virtually every state following the Oklahoma City bombing. These task forces are multi-discipline/multi-agency, well-trained, ear-to-the-ground units that monitor, track and, so far, have successfully defused any major domestic terrorism since the Oklahoma City incident. Unfortunately, most militias fail to understand that you don’t have to successfully pull off an incident to get in the crosshairs of the JTTF; just planning an incident will bring them to your door. No way are they going to wait to see if you can or will pull it off. When a plan becomes viable, the JTTF will move.

Just as a sidebar, the training tape was a chuckle. I watched the tape because a former FBI agent was on the news commenting on how dangerous this group might be with their firepower and how the training was similar to that of the Middle East terrorists. There is no question that all these guys on the tape had guns and camouflage. But, given that some established militias in Montana (if not now then earlier) had .50 calibers, night-vision capability and access to both urban and rural training facilities, the military type rifles being used by these guys were not so great. Likewise, the training was all in a wooded area with a lot of crawling around on the belly. Unless they intend to lure their victim into the woods, this type of training will have limited practicality in an urban setting where they are more likely to find human targets. And, should this training be to protect themselves from the “feds”, they stand no chance against the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) that trains with Seal Team 6 and Delta Force.

Terrorism is real, but needs to be kept in perspective. Terrorism is a tactic in the arsenal of weapons used in violent conflicts. Paul Pillar, in Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy, categorizes terrorist groups into four categories.

(1) Some groups are large enough and substantially represent an important part of the social, economic and political interests in a nation and have a valid grievance. These should best be engaged and an effort made to accommodate their needs. (example: The Blacks of South Africa)

(2) Some have a grievance that is so contrary to the will and need of the general population that they may need to be suppressed, defeated, and controlled. (example: Osama bin Laden, Timothy McVeigh, Ramzi Yousef, Ted Kaczynski)

(3) There are groups that have no serious grievance points but simply like the warrior life. To them, any negotiated end to the conflict would be defeat. Likewise, the activities of the group often produce a profit for the leaders which becomes a means of sustenance. (Most of our domestic militias fall into this category. Their grievances are fluid—relieve one and they will find a new one. Fortunately, they are primarily bark with very limited bite. Once in a while, they will incite an activist who will actually commit acts of violence, such as Robert Matthews and Timothy McVeigh.)

(4) Some terrorist groups are violent arms of non-violent/political movements and can be effectively restricted by working with the non-violent arm. (example: IRA to Sein Fein)

To one who has looked long and hard at these various groups, the Hutaree appear to be hyped by the media far beyond their capabilities. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to watch this play out and see what impact it has on other groups with similar ideals and goals.

Jane Thomas has a B.A. in Political Science from Oklahoma State University and a Master of Letters from Kings College, University of Aberdeen, Scotland. She has taught at the high school and college levels in the US, Thailand, and Scotland. She’s now an archivist and does research on terrorism and disaster recovery.

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3 Responses to “Hutaree”

  1. Brianna |

    At first, I thought this article was written by Tom. Nice article Jane.

  2. larry |

    Your article was very good. Your ascessment of these “Media” grown terrorist/extremist pretty much represents my feeling as well. The press jumped on this hoping to find some connection to the Tea Party no doubt. If our political leaders face any threat it wont be from these want to be types. What it may do is bring more malcontents into the militia ranks. We have lots of angry people in this country with no out let for their anger.

  3. Tom |

    I don’t know that I would describe this as media hype. The FBI ran an undercover operation that infiltrated a militia group planning terrorist operations. They conducted a number of raids and made arrests without anyone being hurt, as far as we know. The planning had progressed to the point where it could be executed, and the planners intended to undertake initial activites to do it. Why wouldn’t the media cover it?

    As a professional soldier, I’ve always viewed these militia groups with a mixture of humor and concern. These wannabe dimwits are absurd — overaged Boy Scouts wearing make-believe uniforms, giving each other ranks, crawling around the woods in camouflage face paint, and fearing enemies that exist only in their fevered minds. But, they’re armed, sometimes to the teeth, and it doesn’t matter whether their weapons are old and rusty, new and shiny, legal or illegal, they can still kill people and blow up things. It doesn’t take much for a few of these pathetic losers to put together a homemade bomb and murder a lot of innocent people, including little children, as we’ve seen.

    I don’t care if people want to go off into the woods, live in ramshackle little compounds, drink lots of beer, shoot off their guns (if they’re legal), read their Bibles to each other, sing hymns, and wait for the Rapture. It’s probably a good thing, when you think about it, because their withdrawal serves to increase the average IQ of the rest of society. But when they start seriously planning terrorist operations, it’s time to take them down, however that has to be done. From what we’ve seen so far, that’s what law enforcement did in this case. Good for them.

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