To the comfortable and well-educated, the Hutaree must seem like something out of a bad hillbilly movie. Indeed, they operated out of a double-wide trailer near a town called Clayton.
They ran around in camouflage clothing, with a cross labeled “Colonial Christian Republic.” They were all white, undereducated and underemployed. They spouted Bible verses while posting videos on YouTube of themselves playing soldier in the woods.
But it wasn’t just play. Federal and state authorities say they were planning to kill a policeman and then blow up more policemen with a series of homemade bombs along the funeral route.
Then they intended to turn that into a widespread uprising against the U.S. government. Instead, thanks to what looks like admirable detective work, nine of the Hutaree are locked up and facing charges. But that, and they, aren’t the real story here.
The real story is that groups like this are on the rise, and that there are a lot of desperate people who are trying to make sense of a difficult and changing world.
They’ve lost jobs; they are trying to cope with bewildering economic hardship and cultural changes, and lack the background and the education to help them do so.
And they also lack responsible leaders who reach out to make them feel part of America.
Instead, they have the House Minority Leader saying that health care reform was “Armageddon,“ a term designed to press extremist buttons.
Frankly, a lot of these folks are uneasy that we have a black president. They are exposed to a torrent of propaganda claiming Barack Obama is a socialist who was born in Kenya and is most likely a secret Muslim. Some of us know how to sort out most of this nonsense. But a lot of people don’t. They turn to churches for consolation, and many of them preach that sooner or later, there will be a cataclysm that brings the world to an end, after a historic and violent struggle between good and evil.
Some so-called mainstream Christian churches in places like Ann Arbor treat these prophecies as myth and metaphor. But others don’t. The Hutaree evidently thought they could prime the pump a little bit, and be a catalyst for the great conflict that would usher in the reign of Christ on earth and end our worries about globalization.
They were caught before they could kill anybody. But their Facebook page alone indicates they were in touch with a lot of similar groups, some of which may be much smarter.
The national expert on this phenomenon is Morris Dees, the guiding spirit of the Southern Poverty Law Center. He says the number of anti-government extremist groups tripled in the year after President Obama was elected. He happens to be speaking tomorrow night at Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids, and I recommend listening to him if you can. It’s very easy in America to tune out groups whose language and culture are not like ours.
It’s now clear that we do so at our peril.