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US Militia Arrests Spark Fears of Upsurge in Anti-Government Violence

U.S. prosecutors say nine members of a right-wing militia based in the Midwestern state of Michigan have been accused of conspiring to kill law enforcement officers to trigger a war against the U.S. government.  The arrests come amid an upsurge in activity by anti-government extremists in the United States.

Those arrested face seditious conspiracy charges after weekend raids in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.  Eight of the accused appeared in court on Monday.  One suspect, 21-year-old Joshua Matthew Stone, was arraigned on Tuesday and was ordered held without bond until a hearing scheduled for Wednesday.

Videos from the group's Web site show training sessions.  Masked fighters dressed in military fatigues and carrying automatic weapons prepare for combat in the woods.

The indictment charges members of the group with plotting war against the United States and attempting to use weapons of mass destruction.

"The goal was to attack law enforcement.  They saw law enforcement as their enemy and wanted to take them down," said Barbara McQuade, a federal prosecutor.

Authorities say the group's plan was to attack a gathering of local law enforcement officers in the hopes of igniting a wider uprising.

The group, which calls itself the Hutaree, is one of many radical groups in the United States that are steeped the belief that the world is facing doomsday, or "end times," as prophesized in the Bible.

Chip Berlet, who studies such groups for Political Research Associates in Massachusetts said "the United States is relatively unique in that a large number of people believe in these prophesies, and some 20 to 30 percent of the population tell pollsters they think the 'end times' is an actual upcoming event."

Berlet says most of these people do not believe in committing acts of violence to help bring about the end of the world.

But he says the fringe groups are becoming radicalized by populist anger over the U.S. economic crisis, the election of a black president, Barack Obama, and by health care reform.

Berlet says they are also galvanized by the increasing verbal attacks on President Obama by conservative media and political figures. "When they say that Obama is out to destroy America that some people out in America think that we have to stop Obama and the Democrats using any means necessary.  And this is clearly the case with the Hutaree militia, who actually thought not only was Obama going to impose tyranny, but that he was in league with Satan himself," he said.

Law enforcement authorities are bracing for the possibility of more trouble.

A report released by the Southern Poverty Law Center this month says there are more than 500 radical, anti-government groups across America - more than three times last year's count.


Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

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