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13 Ohio groups on the same list of militias as the Michigan-based Hutaree

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 If the United States government collapses, Michael Craft and his Unorganized Militia of Champaign County are ready. 

“One day, if we have a complete collapse ... if one day we are no longer a constitutional form of government, we’re going to need people who are willing to defend the neighbors in the community and your family,” Craft said.


The Southern Poverty Law Center last month placed Craft’s militia and 12 other Ohio groups on the same list of militias as the Michigan-based Hutaree, nine members of which were arrested last weekend on charges they plotted to kill police, then set off bombs at the funeral, as part of an uprising against the government. 


Craft said his militia, founded in 2000, is “defensive, not offensive,” and doesn’t deserve to be lumped in with the Hutaree, an apocalyptic Christian group with Ohio members whose Web site includes the slogan, “Preparing for the end time battles to keep the testimony of Jesus Christ alive.” 


“Now it’s going to be an upward battle to convince people that we’re not that way,” he said. “We support law enforcement, we’re not out to overthrow anybody.” 


Extremist “patriot groups” and armed militias have grown exponentially since the November 2008 election of President Obama, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Many of them have extreme anti-government doctrines, engage in unfounded conspiracy theories and believe a “new world order” of totalitarian world government is looming. 


“Over the last several years, we have seen this explosive growth of organizations on the radical right,” said center spokesman Booth Gunter. Militia groups have grown from 42 in 2008 to 127 in 2009, the center reported last month. 


Law enforcement officials in Dayton, Lebanon and Springfield said no local militias are under investigation. Along with Craft’s militia, the Southern Poverty Law Center listed the statewide Ohio Militia, the Southwestern Ohio Defense Force of Lebanon and the Constitutional Militia of Clark County as patriot groups. 


A message on the Constitutional Militia of Clark County’s Web site states that the pages have been intentionally left blank, but anyone wishing to contact them should send an e-mail. However, a message sent to the e-mail address by a reporter bounced back. 


Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly said he isn’t aware of any active militias in the area. 


“That’s not to say that they’re not here, because many of them are running covert operations and don’t want to be found,” he said. 

The Hutaree militia put a link to the Web site of the Ohio Militia on its own site. The link leads to a domain name that’s not in service. 


Kenneth Goldsmith of Zanesville, who heads the Ohio Defense Force which includes a Lebanon “battalion,” said the Ohio Militia is probably the remnants of an extremist group that has been operating in the state for years. A man identifying himself as the Ohio Militia’s leader last April issued a YouTube video, since removed from the site, calling for an armed million-man march on Washington. 


Goldsmith said the Ohio Defense Force has no connections with militant militias. He said his group, which has about 200 members statewide, chose the name “defense force” to avoid the stigma associated with the militant groups. 


The Southern Poverty Law Center said militias began springing up in the early 1990s as a reaction to the election of President Bill Clinton and the deadly standoffs between federal agents and the Randy Weaver family at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992, and the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas, in 1993. Michigan became a militant hotbed, but the Midwest generally, including Ohio and Indiana, has been home to many militias, Gunter said. 


“After Oklahoma City, that whole movement started dying off,” he said, referring to the April 19, 1995, federal building bombing masterminded by anti-government zealot Timothy McVeigh, who was executed in 2001. 


Militia membership has surged since Obama’s election, Gunter said. “Obama is president. The economic problems have played a big role. Also (contributing), we think, are the changing demographics of the country. There’s a feeling white people are losing control.” 


These days, he said, militias and patriot groups can organize more easily with technological developments like the Internet. “We have a lot of mainstream figures in the media and politics who are willing to promote their conspiracy theories,” Gunter said. “People think, ‘Maybe I should be concerned that Obamacare is going to kill my grandma.’” 


Craft said his militia has seen some increase in membership since Obama’s election. Of the growth of such groups nationally, he said, “maybe it could be the political climate. Generally, people who are in a militia tend to be Libertarian or conservative. When you have a federal administration that is Democrat or liberal, they’re going to be a little more nervous.” 


Gunter said it’s militia groups that make him nervous. He said officials of the Southern Poverty Law Center support everyone’s right to free speech, but “you worry about people coming unhinged and taking some kind of action like the Hutarees.” 


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