By Courtland Milloy
Wednesday, June 23, 2010; B01
Imagine that the inauguration of President George W. Bush had sparked an explosive rise in African American militia groups. Suppose thousands of heavily armed black men began gathering at training camps in wooded areas throughout the country, devising military tactics for "taking back their country" after what they believed was an electoral coup.
Do you think Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney would have reacted to a black militaristic buildup as coolly as President Obama has to the phenomenal growth of white militias?
Since Obama took office last year, the number of white militias has shot up from about 170 to more than 500, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremist groups in the United States. Armed with enough firepower to take on a police department, some of these groups are honing their sniper skills using photographs of Obama for target practice.
They cling to the delusion that the nation's first black president is somehow a subversive working for Muslim extremists, and they aim to bring him down.
"If the people we saw running around armed to the teeth were black, I think their organizations would be destroyed in a matter of hours," Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, told me. "If people saw on their TV screens photos of black militia members shooting at images of a white president, I don't think they would last."
This racial disparity comes to mind whenever I see militia leaders carping about government "tyranny" while enjoying the special privileges that come with being white. One such group, the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia, was featured in a documentary, "The Rise of the New Right," that aired last week on MSNBC and was narrated by Chris Matthews, the host of "Hardball."
"Five areas that we focus on are crime, disaster, invasion, tyranny and terrorism," said Michael Lackomar, a spokesman for the militia group. "All five of those cover threats that would interrupt our ways of life."
He's worried about terrorism? It's terrifying just to see his militia lurking behind trees, dressed in camouflage and wielding who-knows-what military armament picked up at some gun and ammo show.
What's even more astounding is that Lackomar's group has links to the Hutaree militia, another Michigan-based group, whose members were arrested by the FBI in March and charged with plotting to kill a police officer and then slaughter scores more by setting off a bomb at the funeral.
The Hutaree's intent, according to federal law enforcement officials, was to trigger an uprising against the federal government. Lackomar's militia was among the groups that helped Hutaree members, unwittingly or not, hone their shooting skills in preparation for the assault.
And yet the southeastern Michigan militia continues to operate with impunity, as if it were some latter-day Army of the Potomac.
Let's say then-Vice President Cheney found out that a black militia group had ties to a terrorist organization seeking to levy war against the United States. Say hello to Guantanamo.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in effect, that you can go to prison for trying to hold a peace talk with groups deemed to be foreign terrorist organizations. But if the group is a home-grown white terrorist organization, it's apparently okay not just to associate with them but also to offer them military training as they plot against the country.
Maybe Obama is just being savvy by not coming down hard on the militia. As Potok said, "There's a huge amount of anger, and what we are really lacking at this moment is a kind of spark." In an apparent attempt to defuse the tension, Obama does such things as supporting a U.S. Supreme Court decision crippling D.C.'s gun control law and then signs a bill that allows visitors to national parks to carry guns.
Still, gun advocates keep him in their sights. They show up outside presidential town hall meetings brandishing firearms. When a young black man, identified only as Chris, showed up at one such event with a rifle strapped to his back, white protesters cited him as proof that race had nothing to do with their contempt for Obama.
But they missed the point.
Had the black rifleman showed for, say, Ronald Reagan's "states' rights" speech in Philadelphia, Miss., back in 1980, they might still be dredging the Pearl River for his remains.