The horse's mouth - Militia part 2 of 3

nurev at nurev at
Fri Jun 5 04:42:51 PDT 1998

The Michigan Militia:

Active Engagement of the Political System

There is a stark contrast between

the views of the present Michigan Militia leadership and Norm Olson on the

subject of political participation. Unlike their former commander, the

Michigan Militia leadership has shown itself to be interested and actively

involved in the mainstream political process. In fact, their paramilitary

activities notwithstanding, the Michigan Militia can be seen at times to

perform functions that are similar to those of mainstream pressure groups

or political parties.

Similar to mainstream pressure groups, the Michigan Militia closely follows

legislation and disseminates information on state and federal issues to

their membership through a variety of sources, including the Internet and

a rapid fax network. Their Internet site includes links to major

government web sites and lists the e-mail addresses for all U.S.

Congressional Representatives and Senators. It also includes a weekly

edition of news briefs called 'Heads Up', which summarizes stories of

interest to those with a militia worldview.

The Michigan Militia protest of

UN Day, which drew 500 in Lansing, also mirrored the efforts of more

traditional pressure groups. It is significant that the Michigan Militia

UN Day event took place at the state Capitol because it indicates that,

like traditional pressure groups, the Michigan Militia attempts to promote

their views to a target audience of state legislators through public


Members of the Michigan Militia are actively involved in political

campaigns as well, either as supporters for major party candidates in local

and national elections or as candidates themselves on the local level.

The Michigan Militia leadership also reports that their members have

utilized the recall process in an attempt to oust public officials who do

not share their views. In addition, the Michigan Militia leadership

further claims to be stepping up its level of engagement, noting increasing

campaign work by members of their group during the 1996 campaign.


views expressed by Tom Wayne, who serves as the Michigan Militia's

Executive Officer and second-in-command to Lynn VanHuizen, offer an

interesting contrast to those of Olson. Like Olson, Wayne believes the

present political system is corrupt and on the verge of collapse.

However, while Wayne views corruption as pervasive, he does not share

Olson's view that the political system is completely corrupt, nor does he

share Olson's view that the political system is completely corrupting.


Wayne, public officials have the potential to play a significant role in

last-ditch efforts to reverse the disastrous course of the political


... the militia groups, the patriot groups, the Congress and the President

is (sic) going to have to sit down and say OK, let's admit to the American

people that we've made mistakes, we're an American family and like any

family you have squabbles. Well, let's sit down and solve them.


Wayne's view, the collapse of the political system can be avoided, but it

can only be avoided if the militia movement and public officials work

together to save it from collapse. This view, that there is still

potential for meaningful reform of the political system, clearly

distinguishes Wayne's views from those of Olson. Because Olson sees a

future where government abuses 'will only get worse', he sees only one

course in front of him. But Wayne expresses a different view:

We have two courses. The one we are trying to pursue is a peaceful

solution to complex questions. But it is going to take some people with

(guts) to step out and say, 'OK, let's solve this problem. Let's sit down

with all the players and come to a general consensus and let's put a

transitional government together'.

Wayne does not believe that the

collapse of the system is inevitable. It can be saved, but only through

quick and decisive action on the part of government officials and militias.

While Olson looks forward to the collapse of the system as a necessary

and a positive step, Wayne articulates the hope that actions can be taken

to prevent the collapse of the system in order to avoid what he fears will

be a chaotic aftermath.

Now it is time for Congressmen and Senators - and

there are a few in there that are willing - to stand up and be counted.

Because the alternative is chaos. We are not interested in chaos.


Michigan Militia: Continued Challenges

Wayne and VanHuizen's leadership of

the Michigan Militia was challenged on February 15, 1998 when a breakaway

faction held a meeting and issued a press release claiming to have ousted

the group's leadership. Wayne and VanHuizen disputed the contention,

maintaining the breakaway group had no standing, insufficient support and

links to the Christian Identity movement. On March 15, the breakaway

faction elected Joe Pilchak, a mechanical engineer from Genesee County,

their state commander.

The breakaway movement was spurred by a conflict

over VanHuizen and Wayne's proposal to revise the Michigan Militia manual,

which would have given more power to the state command. As the revised

manual states, 'the only way to be truly well-regulated is to operate in a

military manner, having clear cut rules and regulations, which is the

purpose of this re-structuring . The lack of rules and guidelines has

resulted in an undisciplined mob with as many different interpretations as

there are members'. Reports indicate that the revised manual was a key

focus of attendees at the breakaway faction's reorganization meeting on

March 15. Joe Pilchak, state commander of the breakaway faction,

complained that the new manual 'takes the power from the county level and

takes it up to the command staff and they end up being absolute dictators'.

In its most controversial step, the new manual allowed the Michigan

Militia state command to remove members and conduct a background check on

new members 'to eliminate the dissention and destructive influences that

are currently threatening to destroy the Michigan Militia Corps'. These

provisions were necessary, argued VanHuizen, because they 'found many

(militia divisions) highly infiltrated or influenced by (Christian

Identity) people'.  Olson, who generally stands in opposition to

VanHuizen's leadership, supported Wayne's claim, noting that individuals

associated with 'fringe groups', 'leaderless resistance cells', and

'Christian Identity' were now 'causing disturbances inside the corps'.

Pilchak, for his part, dismissed concerns about Christian Identity as 'a

cliché that they are attempting to use', and notes that he is not a

Christian Identity believer. However, both Pilchak and Bruce Soloway, a

spokesman for the breakaway group, acknowledged that some members of the

group are associated with Christian Identity. Unlike Wayne, and even Olson

to a lesser extent, Pilchak was reluctant to distance himself from

Christian Identity adherents and portrays the movement as misunderstood.

In contrast to the Michigan Militia under VanHuizen and Wayne, the

breakaway faction under Pilchak seems more willing to work with more

radical elements in the militia movement. Pilchak notes that he would work

closely with Mark Koernke (a.k.a. Mark from Michigan) and his group and

acknowledges that he has appeared several times on his short-wave radio

show. In addition, he does not dismiss leaderless resistance groups,

saying he respects their views despite his own belief in visibility.

At the same time that Pilchak is open to more radical segments of the

movement, from Christian Identity to Mark Koernke to leaderless resistance,

he also argues that efforts to educate political leaders should remain an

important function of the militia. Pilchak argues that the militia can

serve as both an active threat and a political force, saying, 'I think we

are having an effect both ways'.

Unlike the ouster of Norm Olson nearly

three years earlier, the success of the breakaway movement on the Michigan

Militia is not entirely clear-cut. The effect that the breakaway movement

will have on the Michigan Militia is not yet clear. Tom Wayne and Lynn

VanHuizen maintain that they remain in control of the Michigan Militia.

Initial reports indicate that they do continue leadership over a

substantial proportion of the group's brigades. The ongoing arguments about

who controls the 'Michigan Militia' aside, the breakaway faction is not

inconsiderable and appears large enough to maintain a separate existence.

In Norm Olson's words, 'we multiply by dividing'.

Although the Michigan

Militia leadership under Wayne was challenged, they have retained their

focus on political engagement. The moderating positions of Wayne and

VanHuizen were an issue in the further fragmentation of the group, at least

in terms of their reluctance to work with Mark Koernke and their rejection

of Christian Identity adherents. However, the breakaway faction under

Pilchak has not directly challenged VanHuizen and Wayne's views on

political participation.

Ultimately, the balance Pilchak promotes in his rhetoric - acceptance of

more radical elements and continued political engagement - may be

incompatible. Thus far, however, challenges of the Michigan Militia

leadership's attitudes toward political participation, have not occurred.

Regardless of whether such a challenge occurs, Wayne and VanHuizen remain

in control of one of the largest militia groups in the nation. Despite the

challenge from the breakaway faction, Wayne continues to articulate a

desire to actively engage the political system. The latest challenge may

actually have strengthened their commitment to such a strategy by removing

their most vocal critics from the organization.

While Olson and Wayne's views of the political system and their role

within it remain distinct, it is not yet clear whether Pilchak's uneasy

balance of radicalism and political activity can be maintained for any

length of time. In some respects, Pilchak's position might be considered

an uneasy amalgam of Olson and Wayne's views. Ultimately, a choice may

have to be made between the more radical strategies supported by Olson and

the political engagement advocated by VanHuizen and Wayne. Unless it

becomes clear that Pilchak's view of the political process evolves into a

thoroughly distinct alternative, the different directions of the Michigan

Militia are best understood in light of the contrasting strategies of Olson

and Wayne.

Political Alienation and the Michigan Militia

Many scholarly efforts already provide an excellent overview of the views,

activities and development of the 'citizen-militia' or 'patriot' movement

in the United States. In an effort to provide insight into the movement in

general, it has been necessary for these scholars to emphasize those

activities and ideas that are shared by participants within the movement.

While these broad perspectives are essential to understanding the movement,

it may also prove useful to distinguish important differences between

them. A close look at the rhetoric and the activities of Norm Olson and

Tom Wayne highlights their differing views toward political participation.

These different views are particularly significant given that these militia

leaders share a very strong distrust of government officials as well as a

negative and conspiratorial view of the political process. How might we

better understand this discontinuity?

The concept of political alienation might be useful in this regard.

Political alienation, described generally in one account as 'a person's

sense of estrangement from the politics and government of his society,' is

believed to have a significant effect on an individual's political

behavior. As Bas Denters and Peter Geurts point out,

Aspects of political

alienation, like political powerlessness or distrust in government, are

often conceived as theoretically important intervening variables in the

'funnel of causality', leading from the citizen's personal conditions (e.g.

social backgrounds) to his political behavior (e.g. electoral

participation). Empirical research has extensively confirmed the relevance

of aspects of alienation for our understanding of political


It seems clear that Olson and Wayne both express a general

sense of political alienation. Both Olson and Wayne cite similarly

conspiratorial worldviews and distrusting attitudes towards government and

government officials as the driving force behind their militia activities.

This might help to explain why both are similarly driven to participate in

the militia movement. But can the concept of political alienation also

account for the differences in their views on participation in the

political process?

Ada Finifter's conception of political alienation may provide the most

effective framework from which to understand these differing views towards

political participation. In a 1970 article in the American Political

Science Review, Finifter put forward the idea that political alienation has

multiple dimensions. The view of political alienation as multidimensional

remains predominant today, articulated, for example, by Denters and Geurts

in 1994 and Southwell in 1995. For several reasons, Finifter's classic

conception remains most useful for the purposes of this study. First,

Finifter explicitly addresses the two modes of political alienation that

directly relate to the similarities and the differences of Olson and Wayne.

Second, Finifter does not view each mode of alienation as independent, but

considers the effect that the interaction of two different modes of

alienation might have on one individual. Finally, Finifter directly ties

the different modes of alienation to different types of participation,

including radical and revolutionary behavior, which seems of particular

value to this study.

Finifter viewed political alienation as having numerous dimensions, and

described at least four possible dimensions. In his article, however, he

went on to focus on two particular modes of political alienation:

'perceived political normlessness' and 'political powerlessness'. Finifter

describes 'perceived political normlessness' as 'the individual's

perception that the norms or rules intended to govern political relations

have broken down, and that departures from prescribed behavior are common.

A belief that officials violate legal procedures in dealing with the public

or in arriving at policy decisions exemplifies this mode of alienation'.

This aspect of political alienation seems to be shared by both Olson and

Wayne, and is evident in their shared view that the Constitution has been

undermined and that American liberties are imperiled by tyrannical forces

'threatening to undermine our form of government'.

Finifter describes

'political powerlessness' as 'an individual's feeling that he cannot affect

the actions of the government'. It is on this aspect of political

alienation that Olson and Wayne appear to differ. Olson believes that

efforts to fix a system he sees as corrupt will be fruitless. While Wayne

shares a general view that the political system is corrupt, he continues to

see value in his efforts to change the system by working with legislators

and engaging in the political process.

Finifter uses these dimensions of political alienation to create a

hypothetical typology of powerlessness and normlessness (see Figure 1).

Finifter's typology considers the effect of the interaction of these two

modes alienation on political behavior. He places those with high levels

of powerlessness and normlessness into the category of 'extreme

disengagement'. He notes that 'those engaging in activities suggested in

the upper left quadrant have probably given up hope that the political

system will ever be responsive to their demands. The combination of high

perceived normlessness and high levels of political powerlessness seems

likely to lead to fundamental, radical rejection of established methods of

accomplishing political goals.' Finifter places those with low levels of

perceived normlessness and high levels of powerlessness into the 'reform

orientation' category. In the reform block, the 'goals of these groups are

directed at correcting specific social conditions . Individuals who

participate in these types of groups feel that the system is at least

potentially responsive to their efforts'.

This framework seems to be particularly appropriate for understanding the

similarities and the differences in the views and behavior of Norm Olson

and Tom Wayne. Olson and Wayne's heightened sense of 'perceived political

normlessness' may facilitate their participation in non-traditional and

'anti-government' oriented activities like the militia movement. Their

different levels of political powerlessness, however, may explain their

differing views on their role in the political system. Olson's perception

of powerlessness may be significant due to in its interaction with his

extremely high political normlessness, while Wayne's relatively low sense

of political powerlessness may keep him focused on political engagement

despite high levels of normlessness.

Wayne and Olson might be placed at different points along the dimension of

political powerlessness. Olson views participation as completely useless

and the final stage of revolution as imminent. For Olson, the militia

fulfills the role of visible threat during the current period and at the

same time offers the military strength and organization believed necessary

for the revolution and its aftermath. Tom Wayne, expressing the Michigan

Militia leadership's view, continues to see the voting process as a useful

means of changing course and avoiding a collapse of the system.

It may be the case that Olson and Wayne will maintain their different

levels of political powerlessness. In this event, Olson may become more

radical and revolutionary while the Michigan Militia may continue to

moderate its message. This may occur if the Michigan Militia membership

and, most importantly, their leadership, maintains a sense of real or

potential political power. While this development is possible, it is also

possible that the differences between Olson and the Michigan Militia,

though significant, are part of a common path of political development.

To understand this path, it is necessary to first focus our attention on

the development of Norm Olson's views over time. It is important to

understand that Olson's complete rejection of political participation is a

development from his earlier views. Olson claims that he attempted in the

past to bring about change through the traditional political system, but

became progressively more alienated as the political system continually

rejected his efforts:

I have extended the opportunity several times. I've written and would be my pleasure to sit down to talk with Senators and

Congressmen if they were truly interested. But they haven't been...


rejection of Olson's attempts to engage the political system left him

feeling more and more powerless:

We were slowly building bridges. We had talked with several state senators

and Congresspeople here in Michigan...[but] we began to be rebuked and

rebuffed and mocked and laughed and scorned by those representatives...they

start to get this arrogance that they are indeed the principals that they

are indeed the masters and that we are nothing more than servants, lackeys,

peasants, subjects to be pushed around....

For Olson, the rejection of his

views by the political system and the refusal of political leaders to

pursue the course of action that he recommended was evidence the political

system had been completely corrupted. But not only did the rejection of

these views prove to him the system was corrupt, it also guaranteed that

the political system would never take the actions that Olson believes

necessary to avoid the coming crisis:

We're ready to sit down and talk with anybody if they're truly willing [to

listen]. For example, if the Senate wanted me to address it and say,

Commander Olson, 'how can we avoid the coming revolution'...if they're

really serious about the answers, which would mean a profound change in the

way America does business. But, if they want to avoid revolution, if they

were really serious, they would sit down and talk with me. But they're not

serous. They want to wish this thing away, that it's not going to happen.

But it's going to happen. Believe me, it's coming.

In Olson's view, total

rejection by the political system forces him to seek other alternatives to

control the government. He finds those alternatives in both his current

role as a 'threat' to the government and in a future role he sees for

himself in the 'revolution'.

As described above, very clear differences separate the current views of

Olson and the Michigan Militia. However, future events may draw the views

of the Michigan Militia closer to those of Norm Olson. Tom Wayne, the

Executive Officer of the Michigan Militia, continues to hold out some hope

for the political process but observes that the collapse of the system is

inevitable if the political system refuses to take the steps recommended by

the Michigan Militia:

...we thoroughly expect it to [collapse] if there are not some drastic

changes and some certain people in Congress and our state legislature that

say, 'let's take the bull by the horns'.

There is the real possibility

that the continued rejection of the militia worldview by the political

system will cause the Michigan Militia to become more alienated in much the

same way as Olson. Wayne describes the Michigan Militia's growing sense of

frustration with the political system and the potential consequences:

...we held a general assembly, which, under the first amendment we have the

right to do, to peaceably assemble and petition our government for the

redress of grievances. We did that. The state government has never

answered us formally. And what we are asking for is a formal hearing.

But, when the government continues to ignore the problem, they invariably

create the confrontation, don't they?

Not only does Wayne acknowledge the

potential for the Michigan Militia to shift toward Olson's worldview as a

result of continued rejection by the political system, he acknowledges that

it is likely:

There are the Norm Olsons that want to start something. We

are working to hold them back. But someday, we aren't going to be able to

hold them back...If we don't see some changes, someone out there is going

to do something stupid.

Thus, the compounding effect of rejected militia demands by policy-makers,

the mass media and the public at large could eventually lead Wayne to

reject political participation entirely and more closely reflect the views

currently held by their former commander.

Discussion: Alienation, Violence and the Michigan Militia

Finifter noted that varying levels of powerlessness may not only be

associated with different degrees of participation, but with different

types of participation as well. Under his typology, as individuals with

high levels of normlessness face increasingly high levels of powerlessness,

they shift away from appropriate modes of political participation and

closer to open 'revolution'. Were Wayne to shift towards greater levels of

political powerlessness, he would be more likely to engage in the types of

behavior associated with the upper-left cell of Finifter's typology:

withdrawal and revolution. Such as shift would obviously make the

possibility for violent confrontation more likely. Finifter explicitly

recognized the danger of political violence that could result from such

shifts, warning:

we would expect that the type of threat to orderly system change

represented by revolutionary movements will be correspondingly rare, unless

large numbers of people are drawn from the lower left and upper right

quadrants into the upper left.

If the risks of violence increase as

political powerlessness is heightened, we may want to reconsider political

strategies specifically intended to stigmatize the Wayne/VanHuizen faction

of the Michigan Militia or other militia groups that share their worldview

and their desire to engage the political system through traditional means.

Strategies designed to shut out militia groups from the mainstream

political process may, in certain cases, heighten the perceived political

powerlessness of militia members and increase the likelihood of violent or

revolutionary behavior.

Efforts to alienate the militia movement from the mainstream were clearly

seen in the months following the Oklahoma City bombing and were notably

present in the 1996 election campaign. A number of Congressional

candidates were harshly criticized by both their political opponents and

the media for holding meetings, attending events or communicating with

members of militia groups. For example, one candidate in Montana was

criticized for attending the Freedom Rendezvous '96, an event attended by

militia members, while another Republican candidate in Colorado was accused

by his Republican primary opponent of being 'very strongly backed by the

militia movement'.

During the 1996 campaign, these criticisms from

opposing candidates, who had an obvious incentive to tie their opponents to

unpopular militia groups, were often bolstered by the efforts of non-profit

groups working in opposition to the militia movement. In the view of many

of these 'anti-militia' groups, any communication between political figures

and militia members gives militias 'credibility they don't deserve' and

strengthens the 'patriot' movement. In the words of the staff director

for one of the many groups outspoken in its opposition to the militia


These groups seek to enter the mainstream by attaching

themselves to legitimate political figures they create a false impression

of political support by using the political process to manufacture an image

of respectability. 

In the case of the Michigan Militia at least,

strategies of stigmatization reduce the effectiveness, or eliminate the

opportunity, for militia members to participate in traditional political

activities like voter organization or meeting with their elected

representatives. In such a climate of criticism, even written

communication in response to a militia group's concerns is potentially

politically damaging and, thus, likely to be avoided.

In the wake of the tragic events in Oklahoma City, these criticisms

undoubtedly had the effect of further stigmatizing militia views and

reducing the number of Members of Congress and state legislators who were

openly responsive to some of the militia members' concerns. While such a

reaction is understandable, we must recognize that in some cases the effort

to stigmatize militia members may come at a price.

With traditional forms

of participation closed-off, militia members may turn to other strategies

to control the government. These strategies fall under the 'threat' or

'revolution' phases articulated by Norm Olson and, in contrast to the

accepted and traditional forms of participation, are more likely to result

in violent activity or terrorism. Jeffrey Kaplan warns of the

consequences of 'mutual deligitimization', a process by which radical

groups are pushed to the fringes not only by their own loss of confidence

in the prevailing regime but by efforts 'to anathematize the discourse of

the radical right' by governmental and non-governmental groups. As Kaplan

writes, the 'marginalization of right wing discourse leaves the adherent

with only two options: to withdraw into the milieu of the radical right, or

to resort to the 'propaganda of the deed' to make his beliefs felt'. It

is exactly this 'propaganda of the deed' which we hope to avoid.


Director of the Washington Coalition Against Censorship, Barbara Dority,


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