7 November 2013, 18:17

The Endless Fringe: Militia madness and the LAX shooter

By Justin Mitchell

WASHINGTON (VOR)— Paul Ciancia, the suspect in the LAX shooting, has drawn attention for his interest in some of the conspiracy theories enjoyed by America's burgeoning far right militia movement.


For our continuing series, The Endless Fringe, VOR's Justin Mitchell examines whether these groups are concerned citizens or potentially dangerous extremists.

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"We're in the middle right now of -- unfortunately -- a cold civil war." --Lou Vondette, Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia

Since the election of Barack Obama, the number of militias or so-called "patriot" groups has skyrocketed. Some experts say these groups are dangerous breeding grounds for violence, while members attempt to present themselves as merely concerned citizens.

On November 1, LAX airport was the site of an all-too-common event.

"An individual came into terminal 3 of this airport, pulled an assault rifle out of a bag and began to open fire," said LAX police chief Patrick Gannon.

The shooter was twenty-three year old Paul Ciancia. Ciancia killed an officer with the Transportation Safety Administration and shot four more people before being wounded by police.

Weaponry was not the only thing Ciancia carried. In his bag he had a note saying he planned to target TSA agents. It also referenced the "New World Order."

These facts could mean Ciancia represents the upsurge in anti-government resentment some experts say is sweeping the country.

Mark Potok is a Senior Fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremist and hate groups. He says the New World Order is a critical component of these groups' ideology.

"The unifying ideology of militia groups or so-called patriot organizations is that they believe in a variety of conspiracy theories about the federal government and global elites imposing some kind of a crushing of America freedom," Potok told VOR.

And this point of view has been getting exposure lately.

That is radio host Alex Jones appearing earlier this year on CNN. The New World Order is one of the central themes of his popular radio show and website, Infowars.

What attracts people to this worldview, you may ask?

To find out, VOR spoke to Lou Vondette. He is a member of the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia. For him, it started in the nineties.

"Waco and Ruby Ridge have occurred, where we actually seen [sic] branches of government crushing American citizens," Vondette told VOR. "If that wasn't a wake- up call, I don't know what was."

In late 1992, federal agents in Ruby Ridge, Idaho fired upon a family of white separatists, killing a child and woman while trying to track down the father, Randy Weaver, after he refused to appear in court on illegal gun sale charges.

In 1993, an attempt by federal agents to execute a search warrant at the compound of a religious sect in Waco, Texas resulted in the compound burning and dozens of deaths.

These two events sparked a surge in so-called militias, intended to protect citizens from what some saw as an out of control federal government.

But in 1995, Timothy McVeigh -- who had militia ties -- bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City. This caused the militia movement to wane.

On the Southern Poverty Law Center's website, a graph tracks the number of such groups operating between 1995 and 2011. After 2008, the number increases by a factor of ten.

Lou Vondette of the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia sees the United States changing before his eyes, and he doesn't like it.

"We're in the middle, right now, unfortunately, of a cold civil war," he said. "where you have two sides dividing up and neither side agreeing with the other."

Vondette and his militia believe the federal government is overreaching. But, he's quick to separate himself from Alex Jones.

"Alex Jones is a moron," Vondette said. "If Alex Jones said the sun rose at noon, I would not believe him."

Indeed, Vondette and other members of his militia take serious issue with the way they are perceived --that is, as part of the same milieu as racists, conspiracy theorists, and violent insurrectionaries.

Here is Southeast Michigan Militia's Lee Miracle calling out SPLC's Mark Potok on YouTube:

Miracle tries to point out the differences between his group and white supremacists.

"The very thought of lumping us in with Nazis and white supremacists represents a total conflict of ideologies," Miracle said in the video. "Nazis are socialists, and by their nature they crave a supreme leader to follow. While we, as freedom-loving constitutionalists, uphold the right of individuals to live free and for themselves."

Mark Potok takes strong exception to those remarks.

"The accusation that the Southern Poverty Law Center conflates white supremacist groups with so-called patriot groups or militia groups is complete and utter hogwash," he told VOR.

He says the Militia is misunderstanding what the SPLC is saying.

"We're simply pointing out that various sectors of the radical right are reacting in a variety of ways to the election of Barack Obama and to the demographic change in America that he represents," he said.

Amy Cooter is a lecturer in sociology at Vanderbilt University. She wrote her thesis on the militia movement. According to her, the fact that people like Paul Ciancia espouse some of the movement’s beliefs does not mean these groups are inherently dangerous. Militia members consider themselves “super-citizens,” while outliers like Ciancia are rarely integral.

"A lot of the time, those people are kind of what we would really refer to as lone wolves," Cooter told VOR.

And for so-called lone wolves, a militia can be a potent breeding ground for dangerous ideas.

"It can create an environment for people to sort of misinterpret things or fall into a groupthink pattern," she said.

Still, Lou Vondette of the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia insists there is nothing to fear from the militia movement.

"The militia is defensive. It always has been defensive in nature," Vondette said. "We will do nothing unless something is done upon us as a people."

Still, Paul Ciancia showed us it is hard to know if everyone agrees on exactly where that line gets crossed.


justin mitchell, Mark Potok, Lou Vondette , Amy Cooter, militia movement, The Endless Fringe: Extremism in America, Politics
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