Armed & Dangerous: Michigan

The militia movement has gained a following in Michigan. The most visible such group in the state has sprung up in northern Michigan. Spokesmen there make the (probably exaggerated) claim that militias have 10,000 members and that brigades are operating or are currently forming in 66 of the state’s 83 counties. Meetings reportedly draw 50 to 100 attendees.

The issues animating Michigan’s militias are the same as those fueling the movement nationally. Chief among them is a belief that gun control legislation is but a prelude to a complete ban on firearms ownership in this country. An essential additional ingredient, though, is their conviction that the government intends to wage war on citizens who refuse to give up their weapons. They cite as evidence for this view the tragic assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. and the 1992 raid on the cabin of Randy Weaver in Idaho, in which Weaver’s wife and son and a federal marshal were killed. They also contend that this same federal government is acquiescing in the surrender of U.S. sovereignty to the United Nations and other international bodies. The militia’s aims are to “stand against tyranny, globalism, moral relativism, humanism and the New World Order threatening to undermine these United States of America.”

Norman E. Olson, 47, a Baptist minister and gun-shop owner in Alanson, is the Commander of the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, Northern Michigan Regional Militia. After a few months of discussion and recruitment, the group was established in April 1994. It conducts training exercises twice a month. At a recent session, weapons reportedly included Chinese SKS semi-automatic assault rifles, shotguns and deer rifles.

When residents complained about militia members clad in camouflage uniforms and painted faces gathering with their rifles at a village park and a public campground in Pellston, the village council banned firearms from those and other village sites. Militia commander Olson threatened to sue the village for allegedly violating his rights. He also announced that his group would no longer convene in the park or the campground, saying: “The people of Pellston have got to want the light of liberty.”

Olson strenuously denies that the Northern Michigan Regional Militia is racist or anti Semitic. He claims some Jewish ancestry, and professes admiration for Israel. But his militia’s rhetoric on occasion has been extreme and alarmist. In reference to the aborted march on Washington promoted by Indianapolis militia leader Linda Thompson, Olson has written: “Many thousands are prepared to go to Washington in uniform, carry their guns, prepared to present the ultimatum to the President and to Congress. This may be the beginning of a Concord-like confrontation.” A militia pamphlet distributed at a May meeting in Petoskey attended by some 55 people reportedly asked: “What force exists to prevent a state or federally orchestrated massacre like the one in Waco from occurring in Michigan?” Ray Southwell, a real estate agent who is the group’s information officer, has said: “I’d guess that within the next two years, you will see the Constitution suspended.” His further prediction: “Christian fundamentalists will be the first to go under fascism this time. Just like the Jews were the first last time.”

Southwell speaks as though he regards confrontation with law enforcement as inevitable. His militia is preparing for the day “when martial law is declared.” “We are taking a stand.” he says, “and are prepared to lose everything.”

Other militia activists in Michigan have had their own encounter with the law. Police in Fowlerville (Livingston County) arrested three militia members on September 8, 1994. Loaded rifles and handguns, as well as gas masks, night-vision binoculars and two-way radios, were found in their car. At the men’s scheduled September 14 hearing, at least two dozen uniformed supporters staged a protest in front of the courthouse and stomped on a United Nations flag. The suspects failed to appear and are considered fugitives. They were described by their supporters as security aides to Mark Koernke (a.k.a. “Mark from Michigan”), a former Army intelligence officer whose “America in Peril” video and speeches have helped to recruit members to militias around the country.

All the confrontational talk has caught the attention of law enforcement authorities. “Some of their material is disquieting because it defines the U.S. government as the enemy said a Michigan State Police commander. “It is disquieting if people think redress is in armed conflict with the U.S. government.” The head of the Detroit office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms expressed the hope “that the militia groups would use the power of the vote rather than the threat of armed violent confrontation to accomplish their goals.”