"Ready for dinner"
Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, who won the Republican Senate nomination just this week, is already on the defensive about a recently resurfaced letter he wrote praising a militia group in 1995. News of the letter, which came via an old St. Louis Post-Dispatch story and highlighted by BuzzFeed Wednesday, plays directly into Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill’s attempt to portray her Republican opponent as a radical.
Akin was quick to try to tamp down the charge, appearing on Laura Ingraham’s radio show yesterday to defend himself. “It was just a courtesy letter saying, hey, I think you ought to focus on natural disasters and stuff. I didn’t know who they were, I didn’t want to have anything to do with them,” Akin said of the letter. He added: “This is going back even before the bombing out at Oklahoma City.”
Indeed, Akin’s letter came about one month before militia sympathizer Timothy McVeigh blew up a truck outside a federal building in Oklahoma City. But the then-state lawmaker’s letter went a bit further than he lets on. “The local militia can bring a positive influence to our community … Your patriotism and concern for our state and nation is to be commended,” Akin wrote. The Post-Dispatch notes that Akin said the group could be helpful during natural disasters, as the congressman says today, though many critics of the right-wing groups may think even that goes too far. But the Dispatch also quotes Akin writing that militias have a right to organize in order to defend the country “against enemies both foreign and domestic.”
Reached by phone, John Moore, who led the now-defunct 1st Missouri Volunteers militia, recalled the letter and said, “I’ve known Todd a long time.” Moore said he met with Akin several times briefly in the late 1980s (before the militia was established) while promoting gun-rights legislation in the Missouri statehouse, but said he hasn’t had anything to do with Akin since then. McCaskill is “grasping at straws,” Moore said. “We’ve worked with a lot of public officials, Todd is one of many,” he explained.
The 1st Missouri Volunteers came under scrutiny in 1999 when the group’s chaplain, Tim Dreste, was convicted of racketeering in federal court in relation to apparent bodily threats made against abortion providers. The group was also mentioned in a 1995 Anti-Defamation League report that came out after the Oklahoma City bombing called, “Beyond the Bombing: The Militia Menace Grows.”
Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter. Email him at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.More Alex Seitz-Wald.