UF Researcher: Militias Are Armed, Dangerous — And Educated
GAINESVILLE — Militia groups have the weapons, explosives — and a surprising degree of education — to back up their threats of increased violence as the new millennium approaches, says a University of Florida researcher who infiltrated the movement.
J. Keith Akins said his study defies the common belief that members of violent extremist groups are uneducated and poor. The UF graduate student in anthropology said he found that statistically, militia members are better educated than the general population and their membership cuts across traditional class boundaries.
Census data show about 27 percent of American adults are high school dropouts, compared with less than 10 percent of militia members throughout Florida, as Akins’ study found. “There are faculty members, business owners, corporate executives, lawyers and doctors intermingled with rednecks, the unemployed and menial labor,” he said.
A disabled veteran curious about how decorated war hero Timothy McVeigh became involved in the Oklahoma City bombing, Akins joined a Jacksonville militia in March 1996 to research the movement for his dissertation. He spent three years organizing the group’s rallies and planning meetings and training sessions with other militias throughout Florida, in the process joining a skinhead’ militia and a Ku Klux Klan chapter.
“The militia movement is far more heavily armed than most people realize, and the danger of innocent people being caught in a random bombing is a lot higher than the general population is aware,” said Akins. “As the millennium approaches, members of these groups are making more and more threats that may lead to violence similar to the bombings in Olympic Park and Oklahoma City.”
The millennium’s significance is based on most militias’ interpretation of prophecies in the Bible’s book of Revelation about the battle of Armageddon, as well as persistent talk by evangelists such as Pat Robertson about an approaching end to the world, he said.
“They keep talking about when the war starts, but no one makes any solid predictions about how it will start or who is going to start it,” Akins said. “Among the many individual threats, one member said, Americans had better get used to World Trade Center bombings and Oklahoma City. People are fighting back. Like in all wars, innocents get killed.’ Another warned that people like Janet Reno will end up hanging from telephone poles or trees.’”
An estimated 440 militia groups exist nationwide, with Florida having one of the largest concentrations of them and white supremacy groups, Akins said. He identified 77 militias in the state, ranging in size from five to 30 members, along with 21 Ku Klux Klan and eight Nazi or skinhead’ groups.
“I found that nearly everyone in the militia groups owns multiple firearms, at least one member owns automatic assault weapons and the amount of explosives each organization has access to is far beyond what most people could imagine,” Akins said. “They also have a lot more ties to violent groups in Europe and Australia than most people think, using the Internet to exchange information about how to make weapons and manufacture explosives.”
Despite their violent rhetoric, Akins said, most members are active in their church, some are local politicians and nearly all are married with children.
Most militia members came out of New Right movements, gradually growing disillusioned with these organizations as they perceive them failing at their mission to institute Christian law, Akins said. “They are much more heavily influenced by people like Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh than most people are comfortable admitting,” he said.
Akins, incidentally, told militia members his time with them was for research, which Brian du Toit, the professor supervising his work, said was the right thing to do. Du Toit said he thinks the “ethics of our discipline require us to tell people what we’re doing. You do not infiltrate, keep quiet and then spill the beans.”
“I hated what these people stood for and were trying to accomplish,” Akins said. “But as I got to know them on a personal level, I found most to be hardworking and decent. They simply got caught up in cultural changes that were beyond their ability to understand, and in a desperate search for answers, bought into the movement’s conspiracy theories.”
- Cathy Keen
- Keith Akins