Setback for The New Brown Scare
Two years ago, members of the Michigan “Hutaree” militia were jailed and charged with conspiracy to violently overthrow the government. As is the case in most of these incidents, the feds had planted an informant among the group. The arrests made a splash in the news, especially among progressive journalists who, beginning at the dawn of the Obama presidency, began weaving together a narrative involving the new threat coming from rightwing extremists. Of course, this nebulous group—rightwing extremists—included all the usual suspects we were told to fear during the Clinton era: anti-government groups, tax resisters, self-proclaimed patriots, reactionary populists, armed Americans, white separatists, anti-Semites, and various militia. This was the motley crew opposed to the center-left managerial state, the group associated with hate crimes, anti-government atrocities, the Oklahoma City Bombing of 1995, and much more.
Well, a federal judge has acquitted the Hutaree militia members of the conspiracy charge. A few remain on the hook for firearms violations. These are no small matter—they face up to ten years in prison for keeping and bearing the wrong kind of arms.
As a USA Today writer put it: “Assistant U.S. Attorney Sheldon Light had conceded on Monday there was no proof of a ‘specific plan’ to attack the government.” This is presumably the same U.S. Attorney’s office that had planted an informant and secretly recorded this group. Yet after an elaborate scheme lasting months to compile enough evidence to nail these folks, the prosecutors failed.
This story, vindicating the Hutaree folks, does not seem to be getting nearly as much play as the initial arrests. It does seem telling, however, that one of the most menacing examples of the rightwing extremist conspiracy—armed militia members, sharing dangerous thoughts about the government and practicing with weapons in the woods—has been determined, by the government itself, not to have been the threat it was made out to be.
At the time of the arrests, good friends of mine were a little confused by my outrage. All of civilized opinion seemed to run in favor of locking these people up, the danger they posed too obvious to articulate. If even a federal judge rules in their favor, what does that tell you about the media?
One final point: These people had two years stolen from them. Will they be compensated a fraction of what they deserve? Very doubtful. This is not a case of a victimless crime. There are victims here: Those who were jailed by the federal government and escaped with their liberty after years of humiliation and abuse, and those who are still facing years in a cage over the peaceful and constitutional activity of owning politically incorrect weapons.