By Gordon Duff STAFF WRITER/Senior Editor

One in ten militia members in the US live in Michigan, almost all “out-state.”  My family has spent over 200 years in Michigan and I have been around for almost all of it, or so it seems.  Passing time in Michigan is that painful, maybe this is why some are so very angry, angry and awfully confused.  Still, I can’t help but love the place, maybe not for what it is today, a post-apocalyptic hell hole, but for what it had been, a pristine wilderness of pure sand beaches, gleaming cities and the part of America where European settlers brought their best and accomplished their greatest tasks.

Back when Michigan had industry, it still has some, mind you, but nothing compared to the pre-NAFTA period, union jobs were the norm and good wages, eventually “OK’ working conditions and full insurance covered most workers, in the past anyway.  Not many survived a life working in automobile or steel plants.  Filthy air, heat, noise combined with cigarette smoke killed off many in their 40s and few survived to retire.  Many of those that did moved north, taking with them their union affiliations, loyalty to the Democratic party and a strong desire to get away from Detroit.

“Outstate” was different.  Schools were poor, general levels of education were almost non-existent and, the further from Detroit you got, the more German and, eventually Scandinavian the ethnicity became.  Joining them was a massive post-war influx from the south, there to take advantage of Michigan’s liberal “welfare state” economy with generous payments for ADC, (Aid to Dependent Children) and welfare paid to single adults.  None of this was available in the south.  Michigan was seen as the “gravy-train” for unemployed share-croppers, itinerant “preachers” and anyone else who could make a life out of a hundred dollar used trailer, wood stove , deer shot “out of season” and a welfare check. 

“Out-state” Michigan, the area of “conservative values” and militia extremism existed on guns for sure, fishing and hunting, but also SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) and welfare of every kind from food stamps to free government commodities.  When the forests had been cleared in the late 19th century and the foundries in the lake front cities of Muskegon, Manistee, Traverse City, Alpena and others had closed, the copper and iron mines had petered out, little was left but struggling farmers dealing with a short growing season and  a dwindling population of misplaced “hill billies” left behind by time.

At first, younger generations moved down to Detroit for union jobs but with the collapse of the auto industry in Detroit and the furniture industry in Grand Rapids, all that was left was petty crime, drugs and, by the 90s, “militias.”  The vacation land of America, Northern Michigan, a land with thousands of lakes stocked with fish, and cottages and summer homes became the land of street crime, not published like that in Detroit, but any door unguarded, any chicken coop left unattended would be ransacked the moment the owner left.  Areas that filled with tourists each summer, with the lifestyle change that traded the fishing boat for the cruise ship, left the state with dwindling tourist revenues.  Resorts that booked a year in advance stood empty, lakes that, at one time filled with boats, were barren. 

The “post apocalyptic” world arrived early in Michigan and survival became a struggle.  In the 1990s, with the elimination of the State’s welfare system, things became even worse.  Without a military retirement or a nursing job taking care of a local population almost entirely on Medicaid and Medicare with a lifestyle built around cigarettes, alcohol and methamphetamine, minimum wage employment in the few surviving businesses was all that was left.  This supplied the breeding ground for political and religious extremism America is seeing today, an extremism based on decades of isolation, ignorance and being “left behind” long before the rapture.

The battle had always been union against non-union  or “scab” labor, down state against up state.  During the yearly strikes, starting in the 1930s, up state workers would be bussed in to run the gauntlet of those fighting for fair wages and working conditions.  There was a natural hatred between workers from the north who generally made 10 cents an hour and auto workers making 5 dollars a day.  The wage differentiation was this much.  With half the workers in Detroit of Hungarian or Polish descent and, worse of all, Catholic, ethnic hatred of everything Detroit began to reflect European prejudices.  As the Jewish population began to swell into one of the largest in the United States and African Americans began to flock into the inner city to take advantage of factory work, two totally separate worlds emerged.

Even within rural and urban differences, a second tier of urban and sub-urban divisions arose.  The new suburbs were divided themselves with some being former “Hoovervilles,” communities of shacks for the homeless of the Depression Era becoming “unprestigious”  and the “Pointes, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills” communities that were some of the wealthiest in the nation.  As auto companies increasingly “outsourced” much of their work to non-union “job shops,” small businesses that paid factory workers minimum wage with no benefits for the same work the union plants paid 400% more, divisions and hatreds flourished.  Divisions that previously existed between rural and urban working, and too often non-working” poor took on a more sinister aspect when race was added into the mix.

During the 1930s, the Michigan Republican Party represented factory owners against the unions.  The first “militias” grew up behind the blending of veterans organizations and the KKK, a powerful group that had a tremendous resurgence in rural Michigan and Ohio.  Both the American Legion and VFW had policies to disenfranchise posts that had union members, leading to dozens of new, smaller veterans organizations springing up in the cities, some based on ethnicity, some on religion.  In general, Poles, Hungarians or other Catholic groups formed their own organizations while the Legion and VFW tied themselves to the Republican party and opposed, by policy, unionization and the influx of African Americans into Detroit.

Some extremist groups of “outstate” veterans turned to race violence leading to the Black Legion trials and news stories involving a number of sex scandals, reminiscent to things we are seeing today.  The issue of part affiliation became clear, the Democrats represented union workers, Jews, Catholics and African Americans and the Republicans the factory owners, rural farmers and the unemployed rural poor.  Today’s “militia movement” retains the political beliefs of the factory owners of old, their hatred of unions, the racism, the rhetoric tying social justice to “socialism” or “communism” along with a hatred of education and culture.

The basic theme, however, had been and continues to be hatred of African Americans and Jews.  Hatred of Jews has taken on a new dimension with the advent of Christian Zionism, an offshoot of Evangelical Christianity which allowed hatred of Jews but support of the State of Israel.  Thus, the same terminology used during the 30s, through the 90s, the “mud people” being any “non-Aryan” whites of people of color, including Hispanics and now the massive Muslim population of the Detroit/Dearborn area, have exacerbated feelings of hatred.

Seeing Muslims move into Michigan, buy businesses and build wealth and power while out-state “whites” suffer some of the highest unemployment in the nation has made things even worse.  In the post 9/11 atmosphere, race resentments have, with some organizations, taken on a guise of “patriotism.”  Increasingly, with the radicalization of the media, nothing new for Michigan, hatred and violence are becoming a real threat.  The best known radio commentator, the “Glen Beck” and “Rush Limbaugh” of his day was Father Caughlin of Detroit.  His daily broadcasts, carried nationwide, blamed “liberals” and Jews for the Depression. 

The basis for current militia groups is much the same as it had been under their earlier name, the KKK.  Hatred of Jews, Cathoics and African Americans and now Muslims are the only real policy, now hidden behind Fox News/Sarah Palin “bumper sticker” politics.  The real story is being “left behind,” disenfranchised and angry.  Since the “trickle down” economic theories of the Reagan years, America’s standard of living has steadily diminished while wealth has accumulated in the hands of the few, wealth and control of the press.  Thus, the ignorant and angry have become the “Storm Troopers” diffusing any reexamination of failed policies that have resulted in what many call “neo-Feudalism” by attacking those who would oppose the radical deregulations of America’s financial system that brought about the Bush era collapse. 

The militia movement has, unknowingly, become “dupes,” the most economically and socially deprived of the nation, yet at war with those whose restruturing of economic checks and balances might rebuild the collapsed economies that have driven them to “Talibanization.”


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Gordon Duff posted articles on VT from 2008 to 2022. He is a Marine combat veteran of the Vietnam War. A disabled veteran, he worked on veterans and POW issues for decades. Gordon is an accredited diplomat and is generally accepted as one of the top global intelligence specialists. He manages the world's largest private intelligence organization and regularly consults with governments challenged by security issues. Duff has traveled extensively, is published around the world, and is a regular guest on TV and radio in more than "several" countries. He is also a trained chef, wine enthusiast, avid motorcyclist, and gunsmith specializing in historical weapons and restoration. Business experience and interests are in energy and defense technology.