The conceptions and manifestations of terrorism are getting murkier and messier by the day. Two weeks ago, I wrote about the unusual arrest of two blue-eyed, blond-haired white American women terrorists and pontificated about how this fact would complicate the simplistic, stereotypical profile of potential terrorists that the American intelligence community and right-wing zealots had cherished for years.
Well, it turns out that the complication is even more profound than I had prognosticated. It is no longer just Muslims and Muslim converts that can be terrorists. Fundamentalist white American Christians can be terrorists, too.
The story that has dominated the American news media throughout this week has been the pre-emptive arrest of nine potential Christian terrorists (a woman is among the nine arrested) in the midwestern state of Michigan. They are members of a group called “Hutaree,” which according to the group’s Web site means “Christian warrior.” (Don’t they remind you of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army?).
Members of the group were planning to launch a series of deadly attacks against the United States government using “weapons of mass destruction” this April. They were stopped in their tracks by federal law enforcement agents on March 29. And what’s the group’s inspiration for this campaign of terror? The Bible! Can you beat that?
The group believes the Antichrist (that is, the adversary of Christ or Christianity mentioned in the New Testament that will, according to Christian teachings, rule the world until overthrown by the Second Coming of Jesus Christ) is here—and he is Barack Obama! In fact, according to a new Harris poll made public on March 23, an astonishing 24 percent of conservative Republicans believe that Obama “may be the Antichrist.”
“We believe that one day, as prophecy says, there will be an Anti-Christ. ... Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment,” the group says on its Web site. In fulfillment of this scriptural commandment, it says it is "Preparing for the end time battles to keep the testimony of Jesus Christ alive." The site has many violent images, such as the picture of 18 gun-wielding camouflaged men and YouTube videos of their gun-shooting training exercises.
Hutaree had been planning, for more than a year, to launch terrorist attacks against the U.S. government by first brutally murdering a slew of police officers. "It is believed by the Hutaree that this engagement would then serve as a catalyst for a more wide-spread uprising against the government,” according to federal indictment charges against the group.
The leader of the group is called David Brian Stone. He is also known as "Captain Hutaree." His 44-year-old wife, Donna Stone, told the Associated Press that he brainwashed all their children into joining the terrorist group. “It started out as a Christian thing,” she said. "You go to church. You pray. You take care of your family. I think David started to take it a little too far. He dragged a lot of people with him.”
Not surprisingly, the group is composed of people who fit the description of what Americans derisively call “white trash”—dirt poor white people who live in mobile homes or trailers, that is, wheeled vehicles equipped for occupancy that can be pulled by a car or a truck. And they are all conspiracy theorists who believe Obama’s government is part of the New World Order—a favorite bogeyman for conspiracy theorists of different stripes.
Interestingly, the word “terrorist” hasn’t officially been used to describe the group. It’s simply called a “Christian militia,” and its activities are described merely as “domestic militancy.” Earlier, the crime of an anti-government Texas man who crashed his plane into a federal government building killing two workers and himself wasn’t called terrorism or “suicide bombing.” In rejecting the idea that the act qualified as suicide bombing or terrorism, one TV commentator said it should more appropriately be classified as a “high-spectacle crime.” Intriguing choice of words, not so?
So terrorism is simply any politically motivated violence committed against innocents and governments by people who have been rhetorically constructed by the power structure as the “enemy.” That used to be “communists.” Now it is “Muslims.”
Naturally, a lot of Christians here are offended by the labeling of the terrorists as “Christians.” An angry commenter on a Web site wrote: “Why does the media keeping emphasizing this is a CHRISTIAN militia group since this little group doesn't represent millions of Christians in America or around the world? All day long, the radio announcers kept saying a CHRISTIAN militia group, blah blah blah.....We are a Judeo Christian nation founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs and how many Christians have ever been connected to a militia group?”
I sincerely sympathize with the commenter. Hutaree’s justification for embracing a philosophy of mass murder is clearly a grotesque perversion of the basic doctrinal pillars of Christianity just like al-Qaida’s deployment of violence as a political tool is a reprehensible distortion of the core teachings of Islam, but I couldn’t help saying “welcome to the club” when I read the commenter’s fulmination. Millions of Muslims all over the world also detest terrorism and wish the world would know that the despicable acts of a few homicidal Muslims don’t represent them.
A more empathetic conservative Christian commenter protested thus: “What makes them ‘Christian’? Real Christians don't do this sort of thing just like real Muslims don't blow themselves up for 72 virgins... Gotta love the liberal media.”
The truth, however, is that any body of thought that is as vast and as variegated as Christianity and Islam are lends itself to all kinds of interpretive manipulations, including cynical, murderous interpretive manipulations. But people who have bothered to read the scriptures carefully know that they don’t condone violence against innocents. Nothing can attenuate the murder of innocents.
Now, in an ironic twist of fate, observant, church-going white American Christians are now as concerned about blanket stereotyping as Muslims—and Nigerians of all faiths— have been.