Between militia and terrorism

Two weeks ago, the story of an attempted abducting of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer by people who have both been called a “militia” of sorts, but also terrorists. But which is it, and where are lines between the two drawn?

There are three understandings of “militia” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

1a: “a part of the organized armed forces of a country liable to call only in emergency.

1b: “a body of citizens organized for military service.

2: “The whole body of able-bodied male citizens declared by law as being subject to call to military service.

3: “a private group of armed individuals that operates as a paramilitary force and is typically motivated by a political or religious ideology, specifically such a group that aims to defend individual rights against government authority that is perceived as oppressive.”

Before jumping to conclusions and pointing various sized fingers, the definition of terrorism should be identified.

According to fib.gov, domestic terrorism is defined as “Violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.”

Comparatively, militia definition three and the domestic terrorism definition are very similar. So where is the line drawn between militia group and a domestic terrorist group?

“Domestic Terrorism: An Overview” by Specialist in Organized Crime and Terrorism, Jerome P. Bjelopera for the Congressional Research Service in 2017, pointed out that, “The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) do not officially designate domestic terrorist organizations, but they have openly delineated domestic terrorist ‘threats.’ These include individuals who commit crimes in the name of ideologies supporting animal rights, environmental rights, anarchism, white supremacy, anti-government ideals, black separatism, and beliefs about abortions.”

The way in which a militia and a domestic terrorist group conduct themselves can play into which definition they fall under.

Bjelopera continued, “A large number of domestic terrorists do not necessarily use tactics such as suicide bombings or airplane hijackings. They have been known to engage in activities such as vandalism, trespassing, and tax fraud for example.”

A bigger tipping point for separation here is the exploitation of the internet used by domestic terrorists. Bjelopera said, “Domestic terrorists–much like their jihadist analogues–are often Internet and social-media savvy and use such platforms to share ideas and as resources for their operations.”

The group that planned to abduct Gov. Whitmer were organizing through social media groups and used coded messages, which the FBI had to infiltrate and crack.

In an article, “Opposition to COVID Restrictions Motivates Militia Extremists” by the State of New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, the author(s) said, “Militia extremists arrested between Oct. 7 and 15 for violent plots targeting government officials were primarily motivated by their opposition to government-mandated COVID-19 restrictions.”

The article continued, The FBI charged six individuals with plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The state’s attorney general charged seven others with threatening public officials and supporting plans for terrorist acts.”

The subjects involved in the kidnapping plot had been planning since June, one plan involving some “200 militia members who would storm the state capitol, attack law enforcement, and take the governor hostage,” the NJOHSP intelligence note said.

In the same note by a Homeland Security office, the actors are referred to as militia, but have been charged with intentions of terrorist acts. So is a group a militia until they engage in unlawful, terrorist activity? Is it no more than a perspective or point of view?

On fbi.gov, “Domestic Terrorism: Focus on Militia Extremism” from Sept. 22, 2011, “Last March, nine members of an extremist militia group were charged in Michigan with seditious conspiracy and attempted use of mass destruction in connection with an alleged plot to attack law enforcement and spark an uprising against the government,” a situation similar to the current case.

The article explained, “It’s just one example of the dangers posed by so-called militia extremists–the latest topic in our series to educate the nation on domestic terror threats that the FBI investigates today.

The FBI reported that, “Like many domestic terrorist groups, militia extremists are anti-government. They usually go after the government itself–including law enforcement personnel, representatives of the courts, and other public officials, along with government buildings.

In this particular FBI article, “militia extremism” and domestic terrorism are indeed the same thing.

Danny Davis, a Texas A&M professor and Homeland Security specialist explained that the current militia movement began with the American Revolution, but those community-based, well-trained and purposed militias are now reflected in the National Guard of each state, of which Michigan has.

Michigan has a well-regulated, professionally trained National Guard that work and function as citizens as well, but aren’t militia extremist shadow groups like the Michigan Wolverines, the group that planned to abduct Gov. Whitmer and storm the state capitol.

Professor Davis differentiates the two by saying, “The difference today in these private militia groups are just that, a group of civilians banning together on their own recognizance. They are not controlled by their communities or local government.” Davis continued, “Some groups, like the Wolverine Watchen are bent on the overthrow of the U.S. Government.”

In the interview with “Texas A&M Today, when asked about his thoughts on violence after the 2020 election, Professor Davis said, “There’s a great a divide. What both sides need to do is work in the political process, within the law.” He continued, “When people cross the line and break the law–and it happens on both sides of the spectrum–they need to be prosecuted.”

In Michigan, the check and balances system again proved to still be there. The Michigan Supreme Court overturned Gov. Whitmer’s orders, calling them unconstitutional. The processes of the government are still in play.

If you want to avoid being in a potential domestic terrorist organization, get in with the real militia by signing up with the National Guard. The symbol for the National Guard is a Colonial Minute Man.


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