When it really hits the fan – when society breaks down, the government is helpless and there's nowhere to turn – Will Flatt and his buddies say they've got our backs.
Flatt is the senior brigade commander for the Indiana Militia Corps, a group of Hoosiers who see themselves as not only homeland security in the truest sense of the word, but also as the final backstop when everything goes wrong. Flatt claims membership statewide is in the hundreds.
"We repel invasions, suppress insurrections and uphold the laws of the Union," said Flatt, who lives in Ingalls, near Pendleton. "What we're really about is upholding the Constitution."
What they are not about, many militia members say, is hatred, violence or anything illegal. That message has become even more important, they said, in the wake of the arrests of nine members of the Hutaree, a self-proclaimed Christian militia in southeast Michigan that planned to kill a police officer, bomb the funeral to kill more officers, then begin a civil war against the government.
All nine face federal charges of seditious conspiracy, attempt to use weapons of mass destruction and possession of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. David Stone Sr. and David Stone Jr. also are charged with teaching the use of explosive materials. The group believed they were going to defend Christians against the Antichrist and a coming Armageddon.
Flatt said groups such as the Hutaree (rhymes with "Atari") are much worse than bad press for other militia groups – they are dangerous and need to be watched and arrested when necessary. "What some groups are doing is espousing a rhetoric that clearly indicates insurrection," Flatt said. "They're not just diverging philosophies – they're diametrically opposed."
‘Turn yourself in'
The Michigan Militia is especially careful to distance itself from the Hutaree as the first reports about the March 27 arrests confused the two.
"What terrified me at the very beginning was news went out over the wires that 'the Michigan Militia is under attack by the FBI,' " said Mike Lackomar, spokesman for the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia. "So I contact my leaders and find out everything is cool, then the panic turns into, 'This is gonna suck.' "
But the connections weren't finished yet: One of the Hutaree showed up at a Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia member's door, asking for help hiding from the FBI. He was not only sent away, but also sent away with advice that most might not expect from the militia.
"It went beyond 'No, thanks, and have a nice day.' It was, 'We don't want anyone to get hurt. Turn yourself in,' " Lackomar said. "For God's sake, he had his wife and child with him. That wasn't a good situation."
And although many may imagine militia members reacting to any kind of law enforcement actions with violence, many groups saw the arrests the opposite way.
"We are pleased that the arrests were made without incident or injury; the difference can now be settled reasonably in a court of law, instead of a bloody battlefield," the Michigan Militia posted on its Web site.
Still, even among militia members, the Hutaree were seen as wackos. One Web site called them "wannabe John Browns with a persecution complex."
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks patriot groups, lists six different militias in Indiana, not including the Indiana Sons of Liberty, which has a brigade in Allen County. The New York Times recently reported the Michigan Militia has an estimated 500 members.
Some go beyond a distrust of government motives and into a belief that the government is looking for an excuse to take away Americans' civil rights.
Mike Vanderboegh, who used to head a militia in Alabama, warned on his blog that although the Hutaree were "low-hanging fruit" for the feds, the FBI might have been looking for a violent showdown like the 1993 Branch Davidian raid in Waco, Texas, that left 74 dead.
Vanderboegh recently gained notoriety for encouraging conservative activists to protest the federal health care law by breaking windows at congressional offices.
"If, God forbid, shots had been exchanged, people killed, or buildings burned down a la Waco, we would be looking at a nationwide mobilization and civil war," Vanderboegh wrote. "There are analysts deep in the Hoover Building who understand that there are no more free Wacos. Yet the Feds, prodded by the Dems in Congress were willing to risk it. They were willing to risk it – OR THEY WANTED IT."
That tipping point, between being suspicious of government and taking action, experts say, is where a movement that sees itself as a legitimate part of the constitutional republic in the United States can become dangerous.
"These are not the tea parties who say the budget is too big, these are people who say the government is the enemy," said Heidi Beirich, director of research for the Southern Poverty Law Center. "They're opposed to the 'New World Order,' they believe groundless conspiracy theories and have anti-government doctrines."
Beirich said that rather than filling an important constitutional role, militias are simply using that as a shield for their extremist beliefs.
"These are not people who just like to shoot at the range. These are people who think a civil war is coming," she said. "The whole movement is really animated by some bizarre ideas about the government that are not based in fact. I think these guys really are afraid, they're just afraid of something that's not real."
The Indiana Militia Corps' Flatt says those fears are real.
"It's not really paranoia if they're actually out to get you," Flatt said. "They're drawing up plans to round up Americans using foreign troops and put them in detention facilities. This is not paranoid conspiracy theory. I've got photographs and documents."