COLUMBIA, Mo. | A new document meant to help Missouri law enforcement agencies identify militia members or domestic terrorists has drawn criticism for some of the warning signs mentioned.
The Feb. 20 report called “The Modern Militia Movement” mentions such red flags as political bumper stickers for third-party candidates, such as U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, who ran for president last year; talk of conspiracy theories, such as the plan for a superhighway linking Canada to Mexico; and possession of subversive literature.
“It seems like they want to stifle political thought,” said Roger Webb, president of the University of Missouri campus Libertarians. “There are a lot of third parties out there, and none of them express any violence. In fact, if you join the Libertarian Party, one of the things you sign in your membership application is that you don’t support violence as a means to any ends.”
But state law enforcement officials said the report is being misinterpreted.
Lt. John Hotz of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said the report comes from publicly available, trend data on militias. It was compiled by the Missouri Information Analysis Center, a “fusion center” in Jefferson City that combines resources from the federal Department of Homeland Security and other agencies. The center, which opened in 2005, was set up to collect local intelligence to better combat terrorism and other criminal activity, he said.
“All this is an educational thing,” Hotz said of the report. “Troopers have been shot by members of groups, so it’s our job to let law enforcement officers know what the trends are in the modern militia movement.”
But Tim Neal, a military veteran and delegate to last year’s state GOP convention, was shocked by the report’s contents.
“I was going down the list and thinking, ‘Check, that’s me,'” he said. “I’m a Ron Paul supporter, check. I talk about the North American union, check. I’ve got the ‘America: Freedom to Fascism’ video loaned out to somebody right now. So that means I’m a domestic terrorist? Because I’ve got a video about the Federal Reserve?”
Neal, who has a Ron Paul bumper sticker on his car, said the next time he is pulled over by a police officer, he won’t know whether it’s because he was speeding or because of his political views.
“If a police officer is pulling me over with my family in the car and he sees a bumper sticker on my vehicle that has been specifically identified as one that an extremist would have in their vehicle, the guy is probably going to be pretty apprehensive and not thinking in a rational manner,” Neal said. “And this guy’s walking up to my vehicle with a gun.”
But Hotz said using factors in the report to determine whether someone could be a terrorist is not profiling. He said people who display signs or bumper stickers from third-party groups are not in danger of harassment from police.
“It’s giving the makeup of militia members and their political beliefs,” Hotz said of the report. “It’s not saying that everybody who supports these candidates is involved in a militia. It’s not even saying that all militias are bad.”