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Who Are the Hutaree Militia, And Why Do They Want to Kill Cops?

Christian Soldiers of the Apocalypse have been running around the woods of Michigan planning attacks on federal law enforcement in their war against the Antichrist.

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Perhaps the most striking scene in the Left Behind series is the climax of book six, The Assassins [when] Carpathia is speaking at a mass rally in Jerusalem. Out in the crowd is [underground Christian resistance leader] Rayford Steele, armed with a high-tech handgun. He prays for God’s guidance, and finds himself firing what appears to be a fatal shot at Carpathia. Intentionally or not, this is an eerie rewrite of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination at a Tel Aviv peace rally in 1995—but the authors are on the side of the fanatic killer.

These types of conspiracy theories swirl through the Tea Party movement and into others on both the Christian and non-Christian Right. Before his novels, LaHaye wrote a series of books popular in the Christian Right in which he laid out the master plan of the conspiracy of liberal secular humanists. Big government and collectivism was part of the sinister plan. LaHaye claims it was Satan who arranged the “crafty election of Franklin D. Roosevelt as president for twelve years.” This was part of a secret conspiracy to turn the “American Constitution upside-down,” in order to “use our freedoms to promote pornography, homosexuality, immorality, and a host of evils characteristic of the last days.” LaHaye says the “Antichrist philosophy already controls America and Europe,” and that:

We are the only nation that can halt the socialist Marxist enthronement of the UN as THE GLOBAL GOVERNMENT of the world, but it will require a conservative administration and Supreme Court committed to judicially interpreting our nation’s laws that were originally based on moral biblical principles.

When the Tea Party activists warn that Obama’s big government policies will lead to totalitarian rule so that Obama is like both Hitler and Stalin, they’re likely drawing from the writings of free-market economic libertarian Friedrich August von Hayek or those theories as transmogrified by the conspiracist John Birch Society. When the Tea Party activists warn that Obama’s health care plan will pull the plug on grandma, they’re likely drawing from the anti-abortion and anti-euthanasia writings of conservative Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer or those theories as refracted through the lens of apocalyptic Christian conspiracy theorists such as Tim LaHaye and Pat Robertson. So while the Tea Party movement and the armed militia movement may not be exactly on the same page, they are torn from the same essay on right-wing populism.

‘Extreme’ Demonization

The government has a legitimate law enforcement role in stopping domestic terrorism, though most dissidents on the political right and left are not breaking any laws and are protected by the First Amendment. The current and volatile right-wing populist movement spans from reform-oriented conservative black Republicans to recruiters for insurgent white supremacist groups, with the Tea Party activists and members of citizens militias falling somewhere between these ideological and methodological poles. It would be sloppy to lump all of these folks into one undifferentiated mass of potential terrorists.

The word “extremism,” which is tossed back and forth by both Republicans and Democrats, is a delegitimizing buzz word used by to demonize dissidents across the political spectrum. It was used in the 1960s, for example, to imply that the white segregationists and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were two sides of the same problem of “extremism.” King addressed being framed in this way in his “ Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Today the government uses the tem “extremism” to suggest dissident ideas on the right or left place people on a slippery slope toward terrorism. It’s time to stop using the term altogether.

The dynamic of widespread political demonization and scapegoating is not a problem for the police to solve. Religious, political, business, and labor leaders have to find a backbone and demand an end to the demonization of political opponents as traitors out to destroy America. Republicans need to distance themselves from conspiracist demagoguery and accept some moral responsibility for the nasty polarization in our society while Democrats must stop dismissing the angry right-wing populists in the Tea Party movement as ignorant and crazy. All of us need to stand up and call for a vigorous, thoughtful, and even raucous national debate over public policy while opposing all forms of demonization and scapegoating as toxic to democracy.