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Hard-Core Gun Activists Ready for Day When Arms Are Needed : Militias: It's unclear how many such groups exist nationwide. Some simply lobby and pressure local governments. But others believe the only way to take back the government is through armed resistance.

November 13, 1994|JOHN FLESHER | ASSOCIATED PRESS

PETOSKEY, Mich. — For members of the Northern Michigan Regional Militia, the signs are everywhere.

They have reports of helicopters hovering over houses, stickers on the backs of highway signs with indecipherable codes that just might be messages for foreign troops, U.N. military vehicles spotted in Western states.

Maybe it's all harmless, they say. But maybe not--maybe the tentacles of a foreign-dominated police state are already spreading throughout the continent.

The militiamen are taking no chances.

They and other hard-core gun activists around the nation are organizing, planning, training for the day when their guns will be weapons of war.

"We're not here playing soldier, we're not foolishly looking for trouble. . . . But tyrants should know that they will be met with force," said Norm Olson, commander of the Northern Michigan militia.

It's unclear how many self-styled militias exist nationwide. The FBI keeps no list and would monitor them only if they were suspected of violating federal law or planning to do so, said agency spokesman Hank Glaspie.

But mainstream groups on both sides of the gun-control debate agree that the militia movement is for real.

"In some cases, they're setting up what I'd call legitimate groups to lobby and pressure local governments," said Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens' Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

"But you're also seeing the more extreme elements . . . who feel the only way to take back the government is through armed resistance."

The militias, said Ray Southwell of the Northern Michigan group, are led by spiritual heirs of the Revolutionary-era citizens who took up arms against British tyranny. Only now, he said, the U.S. government is the tyrant.

His evidence: the crime bill, which bans some assault-type weapons; the Brady Law's national waiting period for handgun purchases; the "murder" of David Koresh and his Branch Davidian followers in Waco, Tex., said to be proof that the government will do anything to take guns from civilians.

"We need to take a stand . . . before all our liberties are gone," he said.

Some see gun control as part of a broader conspiracy to bring about world government. If that day comes, they say, Americans will be ruled by a socialist United Nations, which will abolish freedom of religion and speech. Foreign troops will occupy U.S. soil, confiscating private weapons and property.

"Am I nuts? Am I paranoid? Maybe, but I'm seeing things that scare me and I want to find out what's going on," Southwell said.

He's not alone. Randy Trochman of Noxon, Mont., believes in the world-dictatorship conspiracy. He is a member of the Militia of Montana, which has been forming local chapters since February and is assisting similar efforts in Idaho and Washington state.

"Our objective is to get organizations similar to ours in every county in the country," he said. "People are getting together to defend themselves."

In Florida, the militia movement is picking up "like a snowball rolling down a mountain," said Robert Pummer, a member from Stuart.

This summer, commissioners in four Panhandle counties authorized citizens to form militias. Commissioners said their resolutions were symbolic messages to Washington to get off gun owners' backs.

Northern Michigan's "First Brigade" formed last April and has inspired spinoff groups in 11 counties, Southwell said.

The First Brigade meets once a month. Olson, the commander, owns a gun shop in Alanson. He's also pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church.

During assemblies, First Brigade members (65, at a recent meeting) discuss ways to mount guerrilla-style resistance, if necessary. They have "field exercises," such as building fires and reading a compass.

Each is required to own a rifle, at least 100 rounds of ammunition and a knapsack containing a mess kit, sleeping bag and first-aid supplies.

Members take an oath to defend the Constitution against enemies "foreign and domestic." Their conduct code demands a willingness to die for their liberty and a promise never to surrender or divulge information about the militia if taken "prisoner of war."

To outsiders, this might seem the stuff of a B-grade movie farce: gun-toting men in military fatigues, some with faces blackened for combat, preparing for doomsday in rural northern Michigan.

But it's no joke to Mary Hessel, mayor of Pellston, population 580. She feuded with the militia this summer because members were bringing unloaded rifles to meetings in local parks.

"We don't need this kind of thing. We're just a quiet, peaceful little community," Hessel said. "I had one person ask me, 'What's next, the KKK? The neo-Nazis?' "

Olson said ordinary citizens have nothing to fear from the militia. "We are here to protect their liberties and ours," he said.

The militiamen say the nation's founders believed citizens should arm themselves to keep government in line. They cite the Second Amendment reference to a "well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state."

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