Are the Members of the Michigan Militia Terrorists?

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Photo: U.S. Marshals Service, Getty Images

We've been scanning through the news coverage of the Hutaree militia, nine of whose members were arrested by federal officials this week, and we've noticed an almost complete absence of the use of the words "terrorism" or "terrorist." With the exception of opinion pieces and quotes from sources speculating on the matter, the only mention of the term is when it's explained that the group was cracked down upon by the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Joint Terrorism Task Force. You might think that if the latter was involved, it would give the all-clear to describe the plot, in which the militia allegedly planned to kill a law-enforcement officer and then kill more people by detonating an explosive device during his or her funeral, as "terrorism." But apparently not.

For whatever reason — be it preconceived notions of what "terrorists" are supposed to look like, or the fact that the term "militia" in America means something particularly unique — there's been an avoidance by both the press and officials of using the word "terrorist" to describe the Hutaree. Writing for Time from Detroit, Michigan, Darrell Dawsey wonders about this. "I'm not saying that the Hutaree members who were arrested are terrorists or that they should be called terrorists. They haven't been convicted of anything," he notes. "I'm talking about how what the FBI is alleging fits the term quite snugly and yet there seems to be a deliberate effort to sidestep the very word: terror." Terror, he says, "is exactly what these allegations sound like." From the Detroit News account of the arrests:

Their goal was to "intimidate and demoralize law enforcement, diminishing their ranks and rendering them ineffective," according to the indictment. The group then intended to use the incident to spark a "war" against law enforcement, using bombs, ambushes and prepared fighting positions.


Dawsey notes that "back in December, Northwest flight 253 had barely landed at Detroit Metro, reports about the attempted bombing had barely come out, before we were inundated with 'round-the-clock cries of an attempted 'terror attack' on our city." What, he wonders exactly, is the difference?

Juan Cole, writing for Salon, thinks he knows. "I am struck that Hutaree has a great deal in common with the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq," he writes in an essay called "Terrorists are terrorists, Christian or Muslim." From Salon:

The Hutaree militia seems to recruit from the poor or lower middle class. Michigan's real unemployment rate is said to be 17%, and for many Michigan workers there have been years of hopelessness and joblessness, inducing despair and anger. The Mahdi Army likewise drew on Iraqi unemployed and angry youth. Many Sadrists believe that the Mahdi or Muslim messiah will soon come, perhaps accompanied by the return of Christ. The Mahdi Army has sometimes targeted Christian video or liquor shops, as a symbol of the oppressive other ... The Hutaree, a mirror image, target Muslims. The Mahdi Army considered Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld the Dajjal or anti-Christ. Both have an unhealthy interest in firearms for political intimidation of others. The Hutaree fear the United Nations, as the Mahdi Army fears the US occupation. (Muslim radical groups often also hate the UN.)


Cole writes that "the U.S. press is saying the Hutaree people are a Christian 'militia' but is avoiding calling them 'alleged Christian terrorists.' Apparently only organized Muslim radicals can now be called terrorists."

Militia Charged With Plotting to Murder Officers [NYT]