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Inequalities in Coverage of Terror Groups in US Media

Updated on September 14, 2011

Of Militias, Terrorists & the Duplicitous Use of Terms & Imagery

A news broadcast item earlier this week provided cause to re-visit an issue that I have always found disturbingly enthralling. And it was striking not so much for the facts of the event itself but, perhaps more importantly, for the amount of airtime that it elicited and the duplicitous media coverage.

Nine members of a Michigan based so-called “militia” outfit that had reportedly been actively preparing for a showdown with the “antichrist” since 2008 in sequenced military-style communications and reconnaissance training routines, were arrested on Monday for plotting to hunt down law enforcement officials.

The official indictment alleged that members of the group, led by a certain David Brian Stone, affectionately known by the rank and file as "Captain Hutaree," conspired to "levy war against the United States, (and) to oppose by force the authority of the government of the United States."

The indictment further revealed an elaborate plan to not just kill police officers but to extract mass murder by either targeting the funeral processions of the deceased officers with improvised explosive devices or detonating trip-wired versions of these IEDs from several carefully selected, coordinated “rally points.” There also were other plots to kill law enforcement officials as well as their family members in their homes or lure them out to their deaths with false 911 calls.

The group was hoping to coalesce with other militia groups in a way that allows these seemingly individual and disparate acts of mayhem to actually culminate in a general atmosphere of fear and terror---“intimidate and demoralize law enforcement diminishing their ranks and rendering them ineffective.”

A recent manifesto post on the militia group’s web site went to great lengths to articulate the following chilling ideological foundation for its charge:

"Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment. The only thing on earth to save the testimony and those who follow it, are the members of the testimony, till the return of Christ in the clouds. We, the Hutaree, are prepared to defend all those who belong to Christ and save those who aren't. We will still spread the word, and fight to keep it, up to the time of the great coming."

Conspicously and irritatingly absent in the coverage of this group’s nefarious activities was any reference to the all too-familiar terms “terrorism” or “terrorrist.”

If terrorism is substantively the systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population so as to advance an identified political objective, why did the media establishment choose to brand this home-bred terror group a militia?

In terms of both ideology and modus operandi, what, if anything, is different between this Michigan band of outlaws and the Al Qaeda cell that perpetrated the 911 attacks? One seeks justification for its brand of terror in the Quran while the other favors the Bible. But the enemy, goal, methods and objects of trade are identical.

I would like to submit that by calling groups like these militias, the opinion-molders do intentionally force a public reaction that is subdued, apathetic and even lackadaisical.

As a term, “militia group” does not have the urgency, panic, foreboding and overarching demonic sting that “terrorist group” immediately conveys. If anything, the term “militia” has an interesting, charming, nostalgic ring about it. It surreptitiously evokes kind thoughts and fuzzy feelings about a dominated, downtrodden band of flamboyant rebels organizing to cast off the yoke of their oppression; as was in fact the case during the American war of independence.

Just as interesting is the fact that the news story itself actually fizzled before it broke; it did not even last beyond a 24-hour news cycle! Ramzi Ahmed Yousef did not receive the same courtesy. Neither did Richard Reid, the shoe-bomber; nor Farouk Umar Abdulmutallab, the underwear-bomber; nor Rev. Jeremiah Wright, President Obama’s erstwhile pastor, in the heat of the 2008 presidential campaign.

The mainstream media did not seem the least interested, as would certainly have been the case had they been of middle-eastern descent, in publicly unraveling the labyrinths of the Michigan militia group members’ lives. There were no circuitous in-depth exposes of their familial and academic backgrounds; no investigative analysis of what kinds of schools or life experiences possibly shaped their wanton disregard for the sanctity of human life and overall proclivity for violence.

Terrorism and/or terrorists have regrettably become exclusive pejorative terms that now parallel or approximate existing racial constructs in a way that is arbitrary, capricious and extraordinarily destructive. As a society, we have become as uncomfortable calling white extremist groups terrorists as we are loathsome thinking of Al Qaeda cells as militias. It’s almost like we are totally accepting of the view of non-white groups as having the patent on the commission of terrorist acts. For a lot of people, white extremist groups have no innate capacities for terrorism and imagining otherwise causes a considerable degree of psychological dissonance.


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