If Militias Are On Time's Cover, Does That Mean They're Over?


Aficionados of militia-panic articles will enjoy Time's cover story "The Secret World of Extreme Militias." Here's a typical passage:

This is a rare secondary definition of "secret," in which the word means "you've seen most of this stuff in a hundred other articles over the last year."

A small but growing number of these extremist groups, according to the FBI, ATF and state investigators, are subjects of active criminal investigations. They include militias and other promoters of armed confrontation with government, among them "common-law jurors," who try to make their own arrests and convene their own trials, and "sovereign citizens," who respond with lethal force to routine encounters with the law. In April, for example, Navy veteran Walter Fitzpatrick, acting on behalf of a group called American Grand Jury, barged into a Tennessee courthouse and tried to arrest the real grand-jury foreman on the grounds that he refused to indict Obama for treason.

Over at Cliopatria, Chris Bray comments:

Members of these groups "respond with lethal force to routine encounters with the law," regularly gunning down cops on the street! For example, uh, some guy yelled at a grand jury. 1.) Lethal force, 2.) Routine encounters, 3.) For example (thing that isn't lethal force in routine encounters.) Yes, I see that he also talked about people who "try to make their own arrests." But it's awfully clever to drop in that "who respond with lethal force to routine encounters with the law" along the way, and to follow it with "for example" when you don't have any.

They harvest fruit, bake pies, and engage in mass murder. For example, cherries.

Bray has fun with several other passages in his post, including the priceless sentence "In a reversal of casting, the armed antigovernment movement describes itself as heir to the founders." (Bray's response: "A coalition of armed militias that express a desire to resist government power claims, in a 'reversal,' that it's the heir to the revolutionaries who waged war against British sovereignty for eight years.") Here's one sleight of hand that Bray missed:

Threats against Obama's life brought him Secret Service protection in May 2007, by far the earliest on record for a presidential candidate. At least four alleged assassination plots between June and December—by militiamen in Pennsylvania, white supremacists in Denver, skinheads in Tennessee and an active-duty Marine lance corporal at North Carolina's Camp Lejeune—led to arrests and criminal charges before Obama was even sworn in.

If there were already four conspiracies "before Obama was even sworn in," the number of threats must have become abnormally high once he was in office, right? Well, no. In the spring I had a conversation about that with Malcolm Wiley, a spokesman for the Secret Service. I was trying to confirm the claim, first made by Ronald Kessler in his 2009 book In the President's Secret Service and repeated since then in much of the press, that the Obama era had seen "a 400 percent increase in the number of threats against the president, in comparison with President Bush." Wiley wouldn't give me the actual figures, but he denied that Kessler's number was correct. According to Wiley, there was a period while Obama was still a candidate when he received more threats than the sitting president. "But since he became president that has leveled off," he continued. "The number of threats he has received has been consistent with the number received by Bush, Clinton, Reagan, and others."

Bonus reading: "The Top 10 Most Absurd Time Covers of The Past 40 Years."