It’s hard to know how worked up to get about the Hutaree, the Antichrist-obsessed militia group arrested by the FBI this weekend for allegedly plotting to kill a police officer, blow up members of law enforcement at the resulting funeral, and thus set in motion the annihilation of the federal government. When the Tea Party kicks you out of its massive tent, and neighboring militias dismiss you as a cult, you might just be out there on the fringiest fringe in Fringeville.
On the other hand, the Hutaree’s plots sound vagely familiar — like a garbled outtake from the popular post-apocalyptic video game, Left Behind: Eternal Forces, a hands-on companion to Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ bestselling End Times novels. The object is to “wage a violent war against United Nations-like peacekeepers who, according to LaHaye’s interpretation of Revelation, represent the armies of the Antichrist. Each time a Left Behind player kills a UN soldier, their virtual character exclaims, ‘Praise the Lord!’”
Eternal Forces was shipped, with the blessing of Bush’s Defense Department, in “Freedom Packets” to soldiers serving in Iraq.
Remember the ’90s? The Okahoma City bombing seemed to come out of nowhere. Two generations after Pearl Harbor, we gaped at our televisions. It was the first time most of us watched people emerge from smoking wreckage because of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Over the months and years that followed, we and the media became conversant in militia-speak: black helicopters, Ruby Ridge, and the coming One World Government.
When my fundamentalist mother started using this language, I got nervous: exactly how far did these anti-government conspiracy theories reach in Pentecostal circles? By the end of the millennium, far enough that there was a Christian Patriot Movement, and my mother could have been a member. She was receiving faxes from militia groups, anyway. I know because, when I visited once, I slept in the room with the machine. Early every morning, the thing would start up; I’d jolt awake as it switched on and the pages tumbled to the floor. To be fair, she might not have given them the number; every right-wing group in Western North Carolina seemed to have it. Their bulletins ran the conspiracy gamut: the dangers of contrails, antiperspirant, and fluoride; the approaching New World Order and reign of the Antichrist; some sort of militia propaganda that I was too anxious to read in detail. On a different visit, my sister was subjected to a video about how the government was controlling the weather.
While I can’t remember the name of faxing militia(s), likely suspects include Citizens for the Reinstatement of Constitutional Government, whose mantra is “Bibles, bullets, beans and bandages,” and whose members seek to “make the Holy Bible and the United States Constitution the law of the land.”
Most of these groups started to peter out when Bush took office. His call, after September 11, 2001, to “rid the world of evil-doers” really seemed to resonate with the take-up-arms crowd. Suddenly, rather than planning to attack the U.S. government, they were eager to avenge it.
For some fundamentalist Christians, including the former president, the fight was a holy battle. “I am driven with a mission from God,” he reportedly said. “God would tell me, ‘George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan’. And I did. And then God would tell me ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq’. And I did.” Late Great Planet Earth types were galvanized and exhilarated, ready to incite the Rapture.
Now Obama is deescalating in the Middle East. If the polls are to be believed, a quarter of Republicans believe he’s the Antichrist. A larger number believe he’s a Muslim. For these people, the enemy is literally in the White House, putting our paramount ally, Israel, in jeopardy, and pandering to terrorists.
Elsewhere, fundamentalists are mapping the ungodly and preparing for Spiritual Warfare. And armed “patriot” groups are growing. One, the Oath Keepers, “consists of men and women in uniform, including soldiers, police, and veterans. At regular ceremonies in every state, members reaffirm their official oaths of service, pledging to protect the Constitution—but then they go a step further, vowing to disobey ‘unconstitutional orders from what they view as an increasingly tyrannical government.” Former Alabama Militia boss Mike Vanderboegh, of break-their-windows fame, is one of the speakers at a massive Restore the Constitution gun rally set for April 19, the fifteenth anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, or, as Rachel Maddow puts it, Christmas Day for the militia movement.
Let’s just hope the Hutaree, in marrying weapons with End Times zealotry, are an aberration.