Be Wary of SPLC’s Claims About the Militia Movement

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is an organization that, among other things, monitors hate groups in the USA.  For years, the SPLC has provided training and material support to law enforcement agencies that investigate crimes related to bigotry.  In fact, I pass one of their posters that shows hate group tattoos every day when I walk into the muster room for roll call.

However, I have recently concluded that the SPLC is as much a political special interest group as it is an educational resource for anyone studying or investigating bias-based crimes.  Don’t believe me?  Read their latest hack job on the “resurgance” of militia groups in the United States.

The report attempts to connect “white suppremicists,” “anti-Semites” and “domestic terrorists” with citizens wanting lower taxes, those who have attended the Tea Parties, citizens protesting the socializing of US businesses and industries, and citizens who spoke out regarding the National Guard training exercise in which troops would search peoples homes for a ficticious “arms dealer.”

The SPLC report even goes as far as claiming militia-related terrorism is bolstered by elected officials including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Minnesota US Rep. Michele Bachmann and Alabama US Rep. Spencer Bachus because they support things like the 10th Amendment and oppose socialism.  The SPLC report also blames commentators at Fox, CNN, and MSNBC.

And, lest they be forgot, the SPLC also blames the organization that provides more law enforcement training every year than any other organization, the National Rifle Association, as being “back at it.”  The “it” is implied to mean the NRA is out inciting terrorism.

Though the SPLC offers no evidence of any rise in militia-related terrorism, they do make some outrageous connections and claims.

According to the report, the 1990’s were the most active time for militia-related terrorism, and according to them, since November 2008, militia-related terrorism is on the rise:

It’s not 1996 all over again, or 1997 or 1998. Although there has been a remarkable rash of domestic terrorist incidents since Obama’s election in November, it has not reached the level of criminal violence, attempted terrorist attacks and white-hot language that marked the militia movement at its peak.

Without listing any specific numbers, the SPLC wants you to think domestic terrorism via the militia movement is happening.  Well, let’s take a look at that claim.

FBI Director Louis Freeh testified before the US Senate in 2001.  He stated:

Over the past five years, the level of acts committed in the United States have increased steadily. There were two known or suspected terrorist acts recorded in the United States in 1995, three in 1996, four in 1997, five in 1998, and 12 in 1999. The 12 known or suspected acts in 1999 included two separate acts committed by lone domestic extremists in California and Indiana/Illinois, eight acts attributed to animal rights and environmental extremists, one bombing incident believed carried out by separatists in Puerto Rico, and one arson incident possibly committed by animal rights extremists or anarchists in Washington State.

So, in the three years (1996-1998) that the SPLC identified as being rife with militia-related terrorism, there were only 12 incidents of domestic terrorism.  So the current “rash” of terrorist incidents they are worked up about must be pretty small indeed.

But, look a little closer at Director Freeh’s statement.  Breaking down the highest total year (1999), 10 of the 12 incidents are clearly left-wing, not right-wing, terrorism acts.

Yet, acts of terrorism by far-left groups like the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) go largely unreported in the media.  In 2002, Dale L. Watson, Executive Assistant Director, Counterterrorism/Counterintelligence Division at the FBI testified before the US Senate “…that ALF/ELF have committed approximately 600 criminal acts in the United States since 1996, resulting in damages in excess of 42 million dollars.”  And that was just 1996-2001!

In 2004,  John E. Lewis, Deputy Assistant Director Counterterrorism Division of the FBI testified before the US Senate that “ALF/ELF and related groups have committed more than 1,100 criminal acts in the United States since 1976, resulting in damages conservatively estimated at approximately $110 million.”

Here’s something you may have missed: the only domestic terrorist on the FBI’s Most Wanted list is a left-wing, animal rights nut who is wanted for building and detonating bombs at office buildings.  Based on the SPLC’s description, I would have been sure some far-right, tea party goer would have been right next to Bin Laden himself.


The SPLC report tries to provide an example of the rising threat of militia-related terrorism, stating “At the Jacksonville, Fla., July tea party, some protesters carried signs that compared President Obama to Adolf Hitler.”

Really?  That’s evidence of militia-related terrorism?  Where the hell was the SPLC during the former President’s term?  During President George Bush’s term, there were many vocal protestors claiming Bush was a Nazi, and that he was committing war crimes.  Yet, I did not see any SPLC reports claiming the “far-left” radicals were a rising movement that was a danger to the country.

If suggesting the president is a Nazi makes you a right-wing, militia terrorist, then I guess Sean Penn, Rosie O’Donnel, and Woody Harrelson need to be on a FBI watch list.

I’ve dealt with militia group members, and those members which are willing to do violence to the citizens of this country are dangerous.  Folks like Timothy McVeigh and the Kehoe brothers are obviously who we are talking about.  People involved in peaceful protest of their government during any administration are not.

Violent militia group members are dangerous, and successful law enforcement investigations into these groups have prevented many terrorist incidents.  A dangerous problem exists, though, when the information that we rely on comes from a politically motivated group.

Using the SPLC information on militia groups may serve to increase the distrust between law enforcement and the citizens we serve.  Peaceful protest against the government is neither racist, nor cause for concern.  It is, in fact, a right.  I encourage every law enforcement officer to clearly distinguish between peaceful protest and what a real terrorist is.  The SPLC “report” is a politically motivated piece designed to blur law enforcement’s understanding of what a domestic terrorist is.  Fortunately, we are smarter than that.

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Richard Johnson is a gun writer, police trainer and really bad joke teller. Check out his other writing on sites like Human Events, The Firearm Blog and Police & Security News.

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