Terrorists are terrorists, Christian or Muslim

The Hutaree militia extremists might be Christians, but what they were (allegedly) doing was still jihad

Published March 29, 2010 3:30PM (EDT)

For more Juan Cole, please visit his blog

FBI raids on the Hutaree Christian militia have brought to light this formerly little-known group based in Adrian, Michigan.

Unlike the generally secular white supremacist organizations, Hutaree are explicitly Christians. Many seem to be millenarians, expecting the end of time to come soon. Like the so-called Patriot Movement, they are gun nuts. They are said to be organized to kill the Antichrist, and some reports say that they planned violence against American Muslims.

Polling shows that about 1/4 of members of the Republican Party believe that President Obama is the Antichrist, and one fears that Hutaree may agree.

Irregular Times has a good overview of their beliefs, which include secession from the US and return to colonial times, perhaps in preparation for another revolution. (Will they have to register in South Carolina?)  Some are antinomians, rejecting U.S. laws. They fear a liberal 'new world order.'

Fox News and Rupert Murdoch bear some responsibility for such groups. When Glenn Beck tosses around a charge like 'anti-Christ' at a prominent liberal, he knows that term is an incitement for militant Christians. And the years of rabid Fox promotion of hatred of US Muslims is bound to get someone among them killed-- and is therefore murder by television.

I am struck that Hutaree has a great deal in common with the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq. The Hutaree militia seems to recruit from the poor or lower middle class. Michigan's real unemployment rate is said to be 17%, and for many Michigan workers there have been years of hopelessness and joblessness, inducing despair and anger. The Mahdi Army likewise drew on Iraqi unemployed and angry youth. Many Sadrists believe that the Mahdi or Muslim messiah will soon come, perhaps accompanied by the return of Christ. The Mahdi Army has sometimes targeted Christian video or liquor shops, as a symbol of the oppressive other (yes, that is unfair to Iraqi Christians but they had the misfortune to be W.'s co-religionists.).

The Hutaree, a mirror image, target Muslims. The Mahdi Army considered Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld the Dajjal or anti-Christ. Both have an unhealthy interest in firearms for political intimidation of others. The Hutaree fear the United Nations, as the Mahdi Army fears the US occupation. (Muslim radical groups often also hate the UN.)

Both groups are victims of a neoliberal world order that uses and discards working people, while protecting and cushioning the super-wealthy. Instead of a rational analysis of exploitatation, however, they are responding with emotion and symbol, projecting their economic and political alienation on other religious or ethnic groups (the Mahdi Army ethnically cleansed tens of thousands of Sunni Muslims from Baghdad in the name of anti-imperialism. They resort to irrational conspiracy theories, to religion and guns. Admitedly, the Mahdi Army is somewhat more rational, since they really do face foreign occupation, though their targeting of Sunnis instead of forming a nationalist front was highly dysfunctional.

The U.S. press is saying the Hutaree people are a Christian "militia" but is avoiding calling them 'alleged Christian terrorists." Apparently only organized Muslim radicals can now be called terrorists.

By Juan Cole

Juan Cole is collegiate professor of history at the University of Michigan. He runs a news and commentary webzine on U.S. foreign policy and progressive politics, Informed Comment. His new book, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires (Nation Books), has just been published.


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