I published a version of the following article on this page on April 3, 2010. In light of the recent terrorist attacks on Norway by the conservative, Christian fundamentalist, anti-Muslim, and xenophobic Norwegian by the name of Anders Behring Breivik and the reluctance of the Western media to label the perpetrator a "terrorist," much less a "Christian terrorist" Ã la "Islamic terrorist," the piece reminds us of the invidious politics of naming that is at the heart of the conceptions of "terrorism." Replace "Hataree" with "Anders Behring Breivik," "American" with "Western," and you will see that few things have changed.The conceptions and manifestations of terrorism are getting murkier and messier by the day. Two weeks ago, I wrote about the unusual arrest of two blue-eyed, blond-haired white American women terrorists and pontificated about how this fact would complicate the simplistic, stereotypical profile of potential terrorists that the American intelligence community and right-wing zealots had cherished for years.
Well, it turns out that the complication is even more profound than I had prognosticated. It is no longer just Muslims and Muslim converts that can be terrorists; fundamentalist white American Christians can be terrorists, too.
The story that has dominated the American news media throughout this week has been the pre-emptive arrest of nine potential "Christian" terrorists (a woman is among the nine arrested) in the midwestern state of Michigan. They are members of a group called "Hutaree" which, according to the group's website, means "Christian warrior." (Don't they remind you of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army?).
Members of the group were planning to launch a series of deadly attacks against the United States government using "weapons of mass destruction." They were stopped in their tracks by federal law enforcement agents on March 29. And what's the group's inspiration for this campaign of terror? The Bible! Can you beat that?
The group believes the Antichrist (that is, the adversary of Christ or Christianity mentioned in the New Testament that will, according to Christian teachings, rule the world until overthrown by the Second Coming of Jesus Christ) is here - and he is Barack Obama! In fact, according to a new Harris poll made public on March 23, an astonishing 24 percent of white conservative Republicans believe that Obama "may be the Antichrist."
"We believe that one day, as prophecy says, there will be an Anti-Christ. ... Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment," the group says on its website. In fulfillment of this scriptural commandment, it says it is "preparing for the end time battles to keep the testimony of Jesus Christ alive." The site has many violent images, such as the picture of 18 gun-wielding camouflaged men and YouTube videos of their gun-shooting training exercises.
Hutaree had been planning, for more than a year, to launch terrorist attacks against the U.S. government by first brutally murdering a slew of police officers. "It is believed by the Hutaree that this engagement would then serve as a catalyst for a more wide-spread uprising against the government," according to federal indictment charges against the group.
The leader of the group is called David Brian Stone. He is also known as "Captain Hutaree." "It started out as a Christian thing," Donna Stone, Mr. Stone's 44-year-old wife told the Associated Press. "You go to church. You pray. You take care of your family. I think David started to take it a little too far. He dragged a lot of people with him."
Interestingly, the word "terrorist" hasn't officially been used to describe the group. It's simply called a "Christian militia," and its activities are described merely as "domestic militancy." Earlier, the crime of an anti-government Texas man who crashed his plane into a federal government building killing two workers and himself wasn't called terrorism or "suicide bombing." In rejecting the notion that the act qualified as suicide bombing or terrorism, one TV commentator said it should more appropriately be classified as a "high-spectacle crime." Intriguing choice of words, not so?
So terrorism is simply any politically motivated violence committed against innocents and governments by people who have been rhetorically constructed by the Western power structure as the "enemy." That used to be "communists." Now it is "Muslims."
Naturally, a lot of Christians here are rightly offended by the labeling of the terrorists as "Christians." An angry commenter on a website wrote: "Why does the media keeping emphasizing this is a CHRISTIAN militia group since this little group doesn't represent millions of Christians in America or around the world? All day long, the radio announcers kept saying a CHRISTIAN militia group, blah blah blah.....We are a Judeo Christian nation founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs and how many Christians have ever been connected to a militia group?"
I sincerely sympathize with the commenter. Hutaree's justification for embracing a philosophy of mass murder is clearly a grotesque perversion of the basic doctrinal pillars of Christianity just like al-Qaida's deployment of violence as a political tool is a reprehensible distortion of the core teachings of Islam, but I couldn't help saying "welcome to the club" when I read the commenter's fulmination. Millions of Muslims all over the world also detest terrorism, are embarrassed by it, and wish the world would know that the despicable acts of a few homicidal "Muslims" don't represent them.
A more empathetic conservative Christian commenter protested thus: "What makes them â€˜Christian'? Real Christians don't do this sort of thing just like real Muslims don't blow themselves up for 72 virginsâ€¦."
The truth, however, is that any body of thought that is as vast and as variegated as Christianity and Islam are lends itself to all kinds of interpretive manipulations, including cynical, murderous interpretive manipulations. But people who have bothered to read the scriptures thoughtfully know that Christianity and Islam don't condone violence against innocents. The heart and soul of Christianity's teaching is love while the kernel of Islam's teaching is peace; every other doctrinal teaching builds upon or supports these fundaments.
In an ironic twist of fate, observant, conservative, church-going white American Christians are now as concerned about blanket stereotyping as Muslims - and Nigerians of all faiths - have been.