STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Prosecutors say nine members of the group were plotting to kill police. The story of the militia movement is a little more complicated than it might seem from that one case. Other militia groups are big on gun rights and very wary of Washington, but have grown less violent in recent years. NPR's Dina Temple Raston spent a day with a group of Southeast Michigan militia members as they trained.
M: What I carry is part of my battle gear, my level-one gear - is I have a FRS radio, LED flashlight...
DINA TEMPLE RASTON: On a recent Saturday, the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia gathered in the woods less than an hour from Detroit for one of their monthly training sessions. One of the men inventoried his gear.
M: Four magazines for my rifle, 30 rounds each; one Zanuck(ph) compass, a military-style knife, my 9 millimeter sidearm, two magazines for the 9 millimeter.
TEMPLE RASTON: There are a couple dozen men at the makeshift campsite, all with the same kind of gear, all dressed in camis. Mike Lackomar speaks for the group. He says people have got the modern militia movement all wrong.
M: The first thing that's always thrown at us is that we are a racist group. That's most definitely not the fact. The second one is that militias in general are paranoid, or prepared to fight if things don't go their way. And the truth of that matter is, the militia is a defensive organization and always needs to be structured that way.
U: Before you go over to the well...
U: ...going to be poison ivy...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
U: I don't know. Regular vines you see out in the woods.
TEMPLE RASTON: Today's training has to do with compass reading, and building a fire.
(SOUNDBITE OF BOW DRILL)
TEMPLE RASTON: That's the sound of a bow drill. It basically looks like the bow part of a bow and arrow. And along with a spindle, it's used to create enough friction to make a spark. The men are all leaning in, looking for a small ember where the spindle has been rubbing up against the wood.
JAIME: That's the ember right there that will catch a fire for you. You did it. Now you're in the 2 percenters. Only 2 percent of the population can make a bow drill fire.
JAIME: You're a 2 percenter.
TEMPLE RASTON: Not anymore, according to Jack Kay. He's the provost and vice president of Eastern Michigan University, and he's been studying militias for decades.
TEMPLE RASTON: Most of the folks that I talked to in the Michigan militia were very much distancing themselves. They were saying that - we don't have an agenda of overthrowing the government. We're simply concerned about our own protection, living off the land, survivalism, gun practice, those sorts of things.
TEMPLE RASTON: Which is why the Hutaree group, the heavily armed Christian militia arrested last month just outside of Adrian, Michigan, worried other militia members so much.
M: Yeah, I'm Jim Gulliksen from Adrian, Michigan, nice little small town that used to be off the map - and now is very much in the spotlight.
TEMPLE RASTON: Gulliksen hands me his card. It reads Lenawee Volunteer Michigan Militia: The Original Homeland Security. A former Navy corpsman now in charge of the paint and hardware section of a nearby Wal-Mart, he's the militia group's CEO.
M: I'm one of those people that was very anti-militia and all this. I thought they were a bad thing until my wife talked me into actually sitting and listening to my son explain what it was all about. And I learned a lot.
TEMPLE RASTON: As Gulliksen sees it, the militias in Michigan aren't out to destroy the government. They are out to maintain it. They can lend a hand to authorities. He said the group has a good relationship with the local sheriff.
M: I honestly feel that if there was an emergency like a natural disaster or a missing person, I don't think they'd have a problem calling on us to help. You know, if it was more of a law enforcement-type thing, rioting or something like that, he may be a little hesitant.
TEMPLE RASTON: Now, this isn't to suggest that Gulliksen and the people who regularly show up to train with his militia are happy with the way things are in this country. They aren't.
M: But we're not - violence is a very last resort. It's more, we want people to wake up, realize what's happening, how many of their liberties they are losing and...
TEMPLE RASTON: This is where in the past, the apocalyptic talk might have crept in.
M: ...and get out to the ballot box and vote people in that are going to support the liberties and bring them back.
TEMPLE RASTON: Local militias are trying hard to change their image. Lenawee's militia has adopted part of a highway. They're trying to work with Habitat for Humanity, have collected coats for needy kids. That's a far cry from how the Hutaree militia, the group arrested last month, allegedly operated.
M: In this nation, we think we are free, but you need a certificate to be born, a license to drive or permit to build, a number to get a job, and even a paper after you die.
TEMPLE RASTON: That's a portion of an FBI recording of Hutaree leader David Stone, obtained by NPR. This was taped secretly while Stone and other members of his group were driving to Kentucky for a militia rally. Stone was practicing a speech he planned to give there.
M: People in this nation, as well as some around this world, are waiting for those individuals, like you see sitting in this room - they're supposed to be down there - to actually make the decision to go to war against this evil, greedy new world order.
TEMPLE RASTON: Some of the Hutaree members used to train in the woods with other regional militias, militias like Mike Lackomar's group.
U: Stand by...
TEMPLE RASTON: Back in the woods, Lackomar walks over to his gear and begins to pack it up. He says the Hutarees were a little odd, training for ambushes, concealment, fire team movements - all the skills that might be needed in a firefight.
M: They trained at Level 10 all the time. They focused more on the military aspect than on the civil aspect, which we try to balance out.
TEMPLE RASTON: Dina Temple Raston, NPR News.
INSKEEP: This report was part of an NPR investigation which also examined the Hutaree militia, whose members are accused of plotting to kill police. You can find that report, and see some of the militia members' bullet-riddled trailers, at npr.org.
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