Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Michigan Hutaree FBI Raids

FBI agents conducted raids in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan this weekend, arresting several members of a Christian militia group called the Hutaree.  The details of what exactly the raids had to do with and how many people have actually been arrested are somewhat sketchy, but the Detroit News is reporting that it relates to threats made against Muslim organizations.  The group is based in Adrian, MI, about 50 miles from my house.

The existence of militia groups in Michigan is not by any means a secret.  The "Michigan Militia" got some attention nationally in the 1990's when it was erroneously linked to Timothy McVeigh following the Oklahoma City bombings.  Soon after I moved to southeast Michigan someone joked that I had moved into the heart of militia country -- Ann Arbor.  While Ann Arbor isn't, rural southeast Michigan might be.  It's one of those things we know about and don't spend a lot of time worrying about.  There are towns not far from here that I find downright scary, and a handful of those my friends who are people of color will not drive through.  Hate groups and militias are not synonymous, but they do intersect.

I had never, however, heard of the Hutaree until late last week, when our local news outlet reported about a local township calling upon militia members to help with missing person searches.  In that article, the Hutaree were put right next to the Michigan Militia, seemingly as the next county over's equivalent organization.  Today the press coverage is very different, with the head of the Michigan Militia disavowing connection between the two groups and calling the Hutaree a "cult."

Why does this matter?  Probably it doesn't.  There are people out there who resort to violence to support their political and religious views, and we knew that already.  What has changed is simply the emphasis.  Now these people "out there" are pretty much right here.  If I were a purely rational being, this would change nothing in my outlook on the world.  But humans are not purely rational.  When we imagine "out there" we actually mean "out there in lots of places that aren't here."  So news like this actually shifts our world view and raises our mental estimation of the likelihood of these people affecting our own lives.

There's a house not too far from mine which, if you look at a satelite picture, looks for all the world like an armed compound.  I happen to know it's a local farmer with some junked trucks, but I didn't always.  We used to joke that the area was the militia headquarters for our little neighborhood.  It was funny before.  Today, it doesn't feel so funny anymore.


Alan said...

If you really want to be frightened, read the reader comments in the story. All of them are simply barking mad.

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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
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