The U.S. militia movement sees itself as a bulwark against encroaching government powers — a way to maintain individual liberty in an era of what they see as ever-growing state control over people’s lives.
But for at least one of these groups — the 21st Battalion of the LightFoot Militia in northern Idaho — government money appears to be crucial. Government money in the form of unemployment checks, that is.
ABC News’ Ryan Owens reported on Tuesday’s Nightline that most of the LightFoot members he talked to during a weekend training session “don’t have a job, and most do take unemployment from the state. They argue it’s insurance, not welfare.”
Owens reports that Jeff Stankewicz, the group’s leader, is unemployed and formed the group a year ago, after attending a Tax Day Tea Party event.
And the militia members themselves seem aware of this reality. In arguing against profligate government spending, one militia member told ABC News that he was worried about the government’s ability to pay out welfare checks if it were to become insolvent.
“What happens if the federal government goes bankrupt and the millions of people who were brought up on welfare all of a sudden don’t get their checks? What are they going to do?” the militia member asked.
ABC’s Owens notes that the group’s attitude may have to do with the dire economic situation in northern Idaho. “North Idaho’s largest industry, logging, has been decimated, and unemployment here hovers near 20 percent. Economic uncertainty about themselves and their country is a driving force” of the group, Owens explains.
He notes that — unlike the militia movement of the 1990s, which was in many ways a reaction to the deadly standoffs with law enforcement at Ruby Ridge and Waco — the newly revitalized movement is worried more “about the federal takeover of the health care system or the collapse of the economy than black helicopters and armed agents.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center reported last week that it has recorded a 244 percent increase in the number of “Patriot” groups in the U.S. in 2009, many of which it said were militia groups.
“Their numbers have exploded in the past year, some say due to the recession,” ABC’s Owens reported. “Others say their surge is largely due to the election of the first black president.”
Militia groups entered the spotlight again earlier this week, when nine members of Michigan’s Hutaree militia were arrested and charged with plotting to kill law enforcement officials and use weapons of mass destruction.
Eight of the Hutaree accused pleaded not guilty in a Michigan court on Wednesday. News reports indicate the FBI had an informant inside the group, which would suggest that the federal government is taking potential threats from these groups seriously.
This video is from ABC’s Nightline, broadcast March 30, 2010.