By Jenny Neyman
Alaskans should be afraid, but not of the formation of a militia.
That was the message of Norm Olson, co-founder of the Michigan Militia, who moved to Nikiski about five years ago and now is attempting to recruit citizen soldiers to expand the fledgling Alaska Militia founded on the Kenai Peninsula. Olson and Michigan Militia co-founder Ray Southwell, who also now lives in Nikiski, headed an informational meeting Thursday night at the Nikiski Recreation Center to explain the history, purpose and function of the militia, and what they see as the pressing need for it today.
“We’re looking at catastrophe just a couple months away — economic collapse, food shortages around the world, prices in stores are gonna go skyrocketing with this inflation — so there are people right now that are very uneasy. They may not want to admit it, but they have no place to turn,” Olson said.
He laid out an array of increasing threats to Americans’ liberty, freedoms and way of life: The government encroaching on individuals’ rights and perpetrating psychological warfare — largely carried out through the media — to create fear and quell an informed public; and a national economy poised on the brink of ruin, which will drag commerce and social order down with it. A collapse could well result in the declaration of martial law and a further trampling of individuals’ rights, Olson said.
“I’m convinced that times are coming when we are going to have to repel federal aggression, tyrannical oppressive federal aggression. They’re going to want to quell any kind of uprising, because it’s bad for politics,” Olson said.
In a national economic crisis, chaos will ensue, beyond what the already-spread-too-thin Alaska State Troopers or National Guard, stationed overseas, could contain, Olson said.
“During that time there’s going to be marauding gangs. Nikiski is rife with criminality up here. I mean, I’ve never seen so many break-ins and so much crime up here. Small crime, but that’s only going to get worse as shortages come along. There’s going to be more and more crime. Well, how are we going to deal with that?” Olson said.
That’s where a trained, armed, well-regulated collective of local private citizens — an unorganized militia (the Armed Forces being an organized militia) — could come into service to provide order, he said.
“So, as a community, how are we going to survive? … Are we gonna hire mercenaries, or are we going to deal with the problem ourselves?” Olson said. “The militia can be like a grandiose neighborhood watch, when you think about it, helping each other.”
Olson and Southwell were motivated by similar concerns of government encroachment and abuse of power when they founded the Michigan Militia in 1993. At the time, Goals 2000 was on the horizon, which was an attempt at federal, standards-based education reform, often seen as a predecessor to the federal No Child Left Behind Act. And the bloody standoffs involving federal forces and the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, in 1993 and the Weaver family in Idaho in 1992 were fresh in their minds.
“The education system was going to be taken over by the federal government. We were frightened of that. We were frightened by (then-President Bill) Clinton and (Attorney General Janet) Reno, and we were frightened of the Waco thing and the debacle there at Ruby Ridge when Randy Weaver was under fire. So the militia rose very dramatically, very quickly, spontaneously almost,” Olson said. “It was a natural emergence by people doing what was necessary when they’re frightened, you stand up and directly face what frightened you.”
Fear is a great motivator, Olson told the crowd of about 20. Attendees included people active in the Second Amendment Task Force meetings this spring, which culminated in an open carry firearms walk through Soldotna on April 28. The meeting also drew Schaeffer Cox, of Fairbanks, who ran for a state House seat in 2008 and began the Second Amendment Task Force in Fairbanks.
“Fear is a great thing, and it can motivate you, but it will also get you to run into the shadows,” Olson said.
At first, fear motivated people across Michigan, the U.S. and in five other countries to form militias, Olson said. But after the Oklahoma City Bombing, it motivated many in militia groups to go underground, he said.
Olson and Southwell resigned their command posts with the Michigan Militia in 1995 and the militia movement fizzled. He said that the decline of Michigan’s economy and politics led him, his wife, Mary, Southwell and others that had been part of the Michigan Militia to move to Nikiski in the mid-2000s. Olson owns a 20-acre parcel of land on Island Lake Road, serving as a base for their newly formed Alaska Militia, and also is a member of the Central Peninsula Hospital Service Area Board.
During the Bush administration, the need for a militia didn’t seem as great, Olson said. But current times have made the need more urgent. Too many people are taken in by rumors, cowed by fear or swayed by propaganda delivered by the controlled media, as Olson termed it, which seeks to advance the aims of government and discredit patriots who try to stand up against authority, he said.
“It is doubtful that the militia will ever be socially acceptable,” Olson said. “The central government and the controlled media will paint you as criminals, terrorists, extremists, radicals, anti-government, wing nuts. Are you willing to pay the price?”
He praised U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., as an example of someone willing to stand up to authority. Wilson garnered national press attention by shouting at President Barack Obama during his Sept. 9 speech to Congress on health care reform.
“He said, ‘You’re a liar.’ He was willing to question the facts, bless his heart. I hope he runs for president. He had the guts to question the rumor,” Olson said.
In today’s world, like-minded individuals need to come forward, coordinate and be visible, Southwell said.
“Back in October, when the economic situation developed, Norm and I were quite concerned because we knew that there’s militias all over the place in Alaska and all over the country, and part of our fear is if you do not stand in the open and do not network with each other, you’re going to end up, I believe, in anarchy,” Southwell said.
The presentation was part political science lesson, part how-to guide and part motivational rally. Southwell was every bit the poly-sci professor, delivering a lesson on the history and lawful basis of militias, state and federal law regarding them, Supreme Court rulings and the interpretation that the Second Amendment recognizes, not grants, the pre-existing right to bear arms, all sprinkled with quotes from founding fathers.
Olson made full use of his background in the military and as a pastor in describing the purpose and function of a militia, delivered with the forceful conviction of a commander sending troops off on a mission, or a fiery preacher at the pulpit. Militia representatives wore full camouflage uniforms, with the coiled snake “Don’t tread on me” patch and an Alaska Militia insignia on their left arms. The presentation was peppered with patriotic lexicon and quotable turns of phrase.
“We’re not talking about hunting. It’s not about duck hunting, folks, it’s about protecting yourselves and your family and your property and our way of life and our liberty,” Olson said.
“You know you’re right. You know you got the right. You know your cause is right. So why not stand up and announce it?” he said.
There were moments of levity, as well, like when computer problems interrupted the PowerPoint presentation and prompted a comment from the crowd: “It’s a little more complicated than an M-16, huh?”
Olson said he was disappointed that more people didn’t come to the meeting, and that the culture of Alaskans has dampened the response to a local militia.
“They are mostly independent and self-reliant, which is a fatal flaw in times of hardship and difficulty. It’s nice to be independent and self-reliant, but it’s also important to realize there’s strength in numbers. If we had a larger community of people that had that solidarity and recognized the coming threat and were willing to join together — and call it a militia, call it a co-op, call it whatever you want,” Olson said.
He and Southwell plan to press on with growth of the Alaska Militia, encouraging people to hold meetings, elect leaders, organize command structures and initiate training in their areas, and network throughout the state.
Olson said he is not running in October’s municipal election to keep his seat on the hospital service area board, in order to avoid a conflict of interest.
“My venture into the militia may disturb people, if people feel that I’m armed and, of course, the way they paint us is that we’re unbalanced and right-wing extremists and I wouldn’t want that to jeopardize the work of the board,” he said. “The board needs to gain control right now. They don’t need to be in a panic about Norm Olson being on the board.”
He and Southwell are willing to travel throughout the state to give similar presentations on the militia.
“Because we’re trying to shout the alarm, shout the danger that something very evil this way comes,” Olson said. “Something very dangerous is coming and it’s not Mount Redoubt and it’s not the earthquakes. There’s something else that’s coming down the pike and we’ve got to prepare ourselves for it.”