Originally published in The Akron Beacon Journal
Sunday, April 14, 1996
MEMBERS IN OHIO SAY THEY ARE PEACEFUL, OPPOSE STEREOTYPE OF GUN-TOTING, ANGRY MEN
By DAVID KNOX
MEMBERS IN OHIO SAY THEY ARE PEACEFUL, OPPOSE STEREOTYPE OF GUN-TOTING, ANGRY MEN
By DAVID KNOX
This is a story about militiamen -- and women -- who don't make headlines. It's about a half-dozen members of the Stark County unit of the Ohio Unorganized Militia who agreed to be interviewed because they were upset by the stereotype of militia members as a bunch of angry white males shooting off guns in the woods.
It's about people whose needs aren't being addressed by the American political system.
What they say about how and why they joined the unit contradicts many civil libertarians and academic experts, who have condemned and dismissed the militia movement of the 1990s as the latest paramilitary incarnation of racism and bigotry in America.
That view doesn't jibe with the reasons Stark County militia members give for joining.
While the militia movement began outside Ohio, its most basic belief -- a profound distrust of government -- was readily accepted here by many.
Exactly how many is unknown, even to militia members fearful that the government is keeping count. That distrust extends to the news media. For every member of the Stark County militia unit who agreed to be interviewed, at least two others declined. And the Ohio Unorganized Militia, which locally has units in Stark, Medina and Wayne counties, is not the only militia organization in Ohio.
Ed Havran, commander of the Stark County unit, said he knew of at least two other groups in his county. Other groups are rumored in Summit and Portage counties.
Ed and his wife, Cathy, said they were willing to talk about their involvement in hopes of convincing people that their activities are legitimate responses to real threats to liberty.
Freedom to bear arms
The Havrans formed the Stark County unit in late 1994, along with Mick Taylor, a Canton welder who now is regional militia commander.
The Havrans said the months-long road to the decision began with questions about gun control, specifically the Brady Bill that took effect in February 1994 and mandated a five-day waiting period and criminal background check for handgun buyers.
"When they passed the Brady Bill, it got me wondering, why are they restricting the ability of good citizens to purchase handguns?" Ed Havran said.
He didn't buy the argument that gun control is aimed at crime.
"Criminals don't pay any attention to the law," he said. "You make laws for law-abiding people."
Fear that the Brady Bill was just the first step toward a full ban prompted Ed Havran to buy a .357 Magnum revolver.
It was the first weapon he had handled in nearly two decades since he was an Army helicopter mechanic in Germany.
"I've always believed a dog is the best home protection you can have," he said. "But I thought, if I didn't buy a gun now, I wouldn't be able to buy one years from now."
The Havrans found that they weren't the only people who had doubts about the motives of gun-control advocates. And the more they read and talked to like-minded people, the more they became convinced that gun control was part of a wider threat to their rights.
That struck a deep chord in the Havrans.
Married for 19 years -- they met in high school in Lakewood -- and parents of a 17-year-old daughter, the Havrans could be a poster couple for traditional American values.
Ed, 38, writes technical service manuals for computer-controlled equipment.
Cathy, 35, chooses to be a housewife. "I just felt it was really important for kids to have someone there," she said. "My mom was a waitress. My parents were divorced, and she wasn't in the home a lot because she had to work long hours just to feed us and give us the basics. So I grew up with this deep feeling that I should be there for my kid.
"I think it does make a difference. I think that's why there are so many street gangs. Why are kids getting into drugs and all this stuff? Because there is no one there at home anymore to care."
Drugs, gangs and crime were the reasons the Havrans moved to a modest home in Canal Fulton in 1992, after living for a decade in a large house on the northeast side of Canton.
"Burglaries were everywhere," Ed Havran said. "One day somebody stopped my daughter on the street and asked if she wanted to buy cocaine."
The most chilling incident was the 1992 shooting death of one of their daughter's schoolmates at a neighborhood festival.
Ed said there also were economic reasons for moving. As the neighborhood declined, the value of their property stagnated.
Prompted by their questions about gun control, the Havrans began taking a more active interest in politics. They attended several meetings of Take Action People, a local group that sponsors discussions on hot-button conservative issues ranging from outcome-based education to U.S. involvement in the United Nations. The Havrans also tied into the network of books, magazines, video tapes, radio stations and Internet computer sites that make up the patriots movement, of which the militia is only a part.
But it was reading the Constitution and other documents of the American Revolution that convinced the Havrans that a militia was the only way to combat what they had come to believe was a sinister plot to subjugate the United States to a world government.
"Our forefathers told us the only way to prevent tyranny is to have an armed citizenry," he said.
For the Havrans and other militia members, a conspiracy to bring about a New World Order was seen as a logical explanation to the turmoil they saw in American society.
"We think there is a long-range plan for a one world nation," said Darrell, who asked that his last name not be used. Darrell, 40, a foundry worker and licensed gun dealer from Norton, joined the Stark County militia unit about a year ago.
As with the Havrans, it was the Brady Bill that sparked his interest in the militia. During his nine years in the Navy, he was stationed in the Philippines, where he met his wife. There, he said, he saw what happens when you combine authoritarian government with gun control.
"If you saw somebody with a gun down there, they were either a cop or a criminal, and either one you should be afraid of because both are threats to you," he said.
Darrell now believes in the larger conspiracy. For that, he credits the publications and video tapes of the patriots movement, especially those purporting to prove federal lawlessness in the fiery destruction of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, in 1993 and the 1992 killing of the wife and son of Randy Weaver, a white separatist in Idaho.
"When I started seeing these tapes and heard different people speak about what's coming, it's almost like two-plus-two come together," he said. "The aim of the financial leaders of the world is ... to set up a controlled society where everybody would make the same amount of money, everybody have the same kind of house."
Drawn to militia movement
Thomas J. Edmunds, an electrical engineer from Canton, didn't need convincing.
"When I got out of the service in 1974, I became involved with the John Birch Society," he said. "Back then, they were selling bumper stickers that said we should get out of the United Nations and support your local police.
"Those are the signature statements of the militia movement."
Edmunds agreed with Darrell that the ultimate aim of the conspiracy was economic control.
"It all boils down to money," he said. "If you have total control over a large number of people, you can force them to work for little or nothing."
Edmunds, a squad leader in the Stark County unit, bristles at the emphasis by the news media -- and some militia members -- on guns.
When he talks with people who want to join the unit, "I always start out ... telling them it's not about guns."
"It's about being a patriot, believing in your country and wanting to live in the kind of a country your Founding Fathers had envisioned," he said.
But if the goals of the militia are political, why not work through the ballot box?
Militia members said they don't agree with either major party.
"I have always voted Republican," Edmunds said. "But I think that is, at best, the lesser of two evils."
Several members noted that Pat Buchanan, the only presidential candidate who appealed to them, has no chance of being nominated.
Finding a spot on the spectrum
In truth, the world view of the militia and the broader patriots movement doesn't fit the narrow spectrum of American politics. On some civil-liberty and economic issues, such as limiting police search and seizure and opposition to the NAFTA and GATT trade treaties, militia members are well to the left of the Democratic Party.
Several militia members said they are very suspicious of the war on drugs, fearing the problem has been exaggerated -- or even fostered by the government -- as an excuse to enlarge police powers.
"You ever watch (the TV drama) Cops where they use a battering ram?" Edmunds asked.
Militia members hardly sound right-wing on the subject of race, quickly pointing out that one of the founders of the Ohio Unorganized Militia, J.J. Johnson, is black.
Havran said a member of the Ku Klux Klan tried to join the Stark unit but was shown the door. But he acknowledged there are few blacks in his group. He would welcome more.
"I think blacks are affected by loss of their rights, intrusion of the government and by control of the federal government a lot more than the average population," he said.
Havran said the news media have falsely portrayed the militia movement as racist.
"We'd very much like to overcome that, because black people in general are getting hammered the worst. But I'm afraid that will take time."
But there is another reason the militia remains isolated from the political left no matter how much they agree on economic and constitutional issues: The militia is solidly conservative on social and cultural questions.
"I don't believe in abortion," Ed Havran said.
On such issues as prayer in school and homosexuality, Cathy Havran said she can't separate politics from morality and religion.
"It's not a matter of left or right; it's a matter of right and wrong," she said.
No home politically
John Green, a political science professor at the University of Akron and director of its Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, agreed that the militia has "no home politically."
"Some of their economic interests don't fit in very well with the Republicans," he said. "The big problem with working with the Democratic Party is cultural liberalism.
"This is the curse of having a two-party system -- there are all kinds of points of view that don't fit in."
If the militia members can't turn to conventional politics for redress of their grievances, is there a danger they might turn to violence? Green doesn't think so.
"I never have gotten the impression these people are very aggressive," he said.
The militia members consistently have stressed that their weapons and training were strictly for defense. And they say they have taken steps to minimize the possibility of clashes with authorities.
In addition to their weekend military training, which is held outside Stark County, the unit studies firearms laws.
"You have to be more careful if you're a member of the militia," Havran told the unit at a meeting in his home in January. "We want to abide by the law."
Police are not welcome
But what happens if someone -- in the militia or law enforcement -- makes a mistake?
Asked what he would do if a police officer insisted on being allowed into a training exercise, Edmunds said that happened last year.
"The neighbors ... heard gunshots and called the police."
A state trooper showed up.
"He came up to our perimeter and said, 'Who are you?' We told him. He said, 'Let me in.' We said no way in hell. We told him to leave. He left."
What if the trooper hadn't left? What if a disgruntled neighbor had falsely reported a life-threatening situation and the police officer demanded to be allowed in?
"I hope and pray to God that never happens," Edmunds said. "But I am never going to back down, ever. If I die, I die. ... I am not going to expose anybody in my unit to any level of danger."
Havran said later that Edmunds was upset about the interview because he thought the reporter had "goaded him."
But Havran added, "We're glad that happened, because we see the need in our group to do more of what the police do and that is have actual scenarios to run by the people and say, 'What would you do in this situation?'
"We didn't realize some of our members are as protective as they are."
For some members, that protective attitude is the most important benefit of the militia.
"You got people you can count on," said Dave, a 43-year-old self-employed truck driver from Massillon who asked not to be identified further. "You got people that care, people you can trust. You can call them, they're there.
"That's hard to find."
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