Thursday, March 20, 2003

Fresh militia spoor

Here's an interesting mutation on the domestic-terrorism front, from the Contra Costa Times:

California militias revive their rhetoric
Extremist paramilitary or militia groups have re-emerged in California and other western states, calling themselves a last line of defense but acting like camouflage-wearing vigilantes.

While experts who track such groups said they see little solid evidence of a surge, they agreed that the timing for a resurgence seems ripe.

"It just absolutely fits. From a strategic point of view it makes perfect sense," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

Militias in rural states have gone largely unnoticed since their apocalyptic predictions of a millennium disaster proved ridiculous. Now, the militias claim that the federal government has agitated a world situation it cannot control and that armed Americans must prepare to defend themselves, said Cooper and others.

The problem with this story is that it concludes that the activity has spiked on pretty thin evidence. The experts he quotes all agree that there's been an increase in militia rhetoric but not necessarily in organizing activity. The reporter gets that information from a source that is dubious at best: a self-proclaimed militia leader:
David Martin, a contact for the Militia of Northern California, claimed its ranks have swelled of late as its members learned to operate in small cells that don't attract attention.

He said the armed groups, including "a pretty good and a pretty big one" in Contra Costa and other East Bay counties, stand ready for local governments and law enforcement to mobilize them in coming times of unrest.

One thing I learned over many years of dealing with Patriots and their kin: Don't take their word for anything. Their might well be amorphous cells organizing in the woods out there. Or they might be figments of Dave Martin's self-aggrandizing imagination. If you're going to report that they are being more active, some non-verbal evidence is required. In this case, attending a mere organizing meeting might suffice.

In any case, the thought of such action cells organizing quietly is certainly unsettling, and genuine cause for concern. Moreover, Martin could well be telling the truth. After all, it would be consistent with what we have seen so far elsewhere in the Southwest, with militia vigilantes taking border security into their own hands.

The problem with the northern California militias is that they may find the greatest threat to "national security" in their neck of the woods is not Al Qaeda, nor even border crossers, but rather the gathering storm of antiwar protesters in the Bay Area.

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