Paramilitaries? Terrorists? What should militia groups be called?

LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who last week escaped an alleged militia-backed kidnapping plot when federal and state officials arrested and charged 13 men, says such groups are domestic terrorists. State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey says militias are “getting a bad rap,” and composed of people “not uniquely different” from you and me. “They have a real purpose, and I think a sincere purpose,” Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said in a May TV interview, months before Thursday’s charges. Both Whitmer and Shirkey were speaking broadly about private, armed paramilitary organizations, often self-described as militias, that have proliferated in Michigan for decades. “They’re not ’militias,’” Whitmer said in a Friday morning tweet that did not appear limited to the Wolverine Watchmen, a group whose members are accused of plotting against her. “They’re domestic terrorists endangering and intimidating their fellow Americans. Words matter.” Indeed. How such groups are described is important — affecting their members’ abilities to gather with guns in public places, provide “security” at public events, appear on platforms with state lawmakers or county sheriffs, and carry rifles into public galleries that overlook the Senate floor. Do they “bleed red, white and blue,” as Shirkey describes them, or are they “hate groups,” as Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said the governor sees them? The truth is somewhere in between Whitmer’s and Shirkey’s characterizations, experts say. Private paramilitary groups, which often call themselves militias, should not be all lumped together and must be judged and labeled based on their actions and […]

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