Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rurality and home-grown militias

I've often pondered the link between rurality and so-called home grown militias such as the one recently in the news following the arrests of nine of its members this week-end. Eight men and one woman involved in Hutaree, a "Christian" militia group that planned to kill a police officer and then use explosive devices along the funeral procession to kill more law enforcement officials. Ultimately, they hoped to spur a widespread uprising against the government. Read the New York Times initial coverage of the arrests and the plot here.

This morning's New York Times provides further details of Hutaree, which was apparently based in Lenawee County, Michigan, population 101,153. While Lenawee County is less than 100 miles from Detroit, Ann Arbor and Toledo, a photo of one of the Lenawee County homes related to this week-end's arrests looks pretty rural. It's in Clayton, population 326.

In addition to the David Stone and his wife, Tina Mae Stone, and their sons, who resided in Lenawee County (presumably at the Clayton home shown in the photo), others arrested resided in Blissfield, Michigan, population 3,223; Manchester, Michigan, population 2,160; Whiting, Indiana, population 5,137; Sandusky, Ohio, population 27,844; and Huron, Ohio, population 7,958.

Some of these places are clearly more rural (or remote or nonmetropolitan) than others. So, does rural locale have any significance with respect to these militia groups, either in suggesting the type of folks who are involved in groups like Hutaree--or in helping them go undetected? I recall, for example, that posse comitatus, another anti-federal militia group, tends to be associated with rural locales.

Here's an excerpt from today's NYTimes story by Nick Bunkley and Charlie Savage which mentions the rural locale of the apparent ringleader of Hutaree:
David B. Stone Sr. and his wife, Tina, made no secret about the fact that they were part of a militia, neighbors say. The couple frequently let visitors in military fatigues erect tents in front of their trailer home at the intersection of rural dirt roads, and the sound of gunfire was routine.

“In Michigan, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal to be in a militia,” said Tom McDormett, a neighbor. “They would practice shooting, but that’s not a big deal. People do that all the time out here.”

But last Saturday night, Mr. McDormett watched through binoculars as the police raided the Stones’ home, tearing off plywood from the base of their two connected single-wide trailers to search under the floors.
This anecdote indicates that Hutaree's rural locale provided insufficient spatial isolation or privacy to "protect" the Stones from detection--by either their neighbors or the FBI. So why do these groups tend to seek rural locales? I suppose they are less expensive places to live--and also tend to be places where people can own a piece of land large enough to store equipment and practice military drills. But the cover previously provided by rurality (and perhaps still provided, at least from neighbors, in less densely populated places in the West) may be diminished in this age of enhanced technology. Such technology no doubt facilitated law enforcement detection of Hutaree, even as it facilitated Hutaree's promotion of its goals and its members' contract with one another.

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