Latest militia threat coming into focus

LATEST MILITIA THREAT COMING INTO FOCUS…. Following weekend raids in Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio, federal officials now have nine suspected members of a Michigan-based Christian militia in custody. All have been indicted on sedition and weapons charges.

Barbara McQuade, the U.S. attorney leading the prosecution against the accused, explained to reporters today that the terrorist plot represented an imminent threat, prompting federal officials to take action. McQuade said the plot would have begun with a false 911 call, leading to the murder of the responding law enforcement officials. From there, the radicals intended to set off a bomb at the funeral, which they hoped would set off an “uprising.”

To clarify a point from yesterday, eight of the nine suspects were initially taken into custody on Sunday, and the ninth surrendered to authorities today.

And as long as we’re on the subject, 15 years ago, Paul Glastris, the Washington Monthly‘s editor-in-chief, spent some time with members of the Michigan militia and wrote a provocative piece for the magazine on his experience.

One June day two years ago, James Douglas Nichols was pushing 70 miles per hour down a country road not far from his Decker, Michigan farm when he was caught in the crosshairs of a sheriff deputy’s radar gun. The deputy pulled Nichols over and issued him tickets for speeding and for driving without a valid license.

Soon after, before a courthouse hearing in Sanilac County in eastern Michigan’s “thumb,” Nichols offered a bizarre defense of his actions. The government, Nichols insisted, does not have the constitutional power to regulate private citizens in their cars. “I have put everyone concerned here on notice of what is going on here,” declared Nichols with paranoid melodrama, “to violate my rights to free travel as cited in the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Michigan.”

Presiding District Court Judge James A. Marcus patiently explained to Nichols the long-accepted legal distinction between a private citizens’ constitutional right to travel freely and the government’s legitimate right to regulate the operation of a motor vehicle. But Nichols was not about to buy the judge’s fine distinction; he had done plenty of his own research. Nichols continued his losing protests, citing Supreme Court case after Supreme Court case. “He’d lift a sentence or phrase that he thought was applicable, but he’d do so out of context so that the meaning was completely incorrect or nonsensical,” recalls Judge Marcus.

The Sanilac County courthouse, a gracious brick edifice with a hideous concrete-block addition stuck on the back, is no stranger to twisted logic. Earlier that year, James’s brother Terry Nichols had tried his own hand at finding his salvation in do-it-yourself legal reasoning. He didn’t really owe that $31,000 in bank credit card debt, he announced to the court, because the banks had lent him “credit,” not “legal tender.” He offered to pay with what he called a “certified fractional reserve check” — a worthless piece of paper. “You can’t follow their arguments,” explains Judge Marcus, “because they’re listening to a different music no one else hears.”

Terry Nichols, of course, conspired with Timothy McVeigh to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City — at the time, the deadliest terrorist attack in American history.

It’s fascinating, 15 years later, to see how the militia extremists have changed, and how they haven’t.