Militias air battlecries on wilder shores of Internet

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In the shock and confusion following the Oklahoma bombing, few outsiders sounded more shocked and confused than "General" Norm Olson, the 47-year- old Baptist minister who commands the Michigan Militia.

Dial 001-616-526-9878, press 7, then pounds , wait, then press 9. You can hear his message to the troops, recorded on Friday.

"Good afternoon. This is the commander of the Michigan Militia. This has been a very difficult day concerning the tragedy in Oklahama City," he starts,feeling his way for an idea. "The media has connected in some loose and undetermined way the atrocity on Oklahoma City with the Michigan Militia."

The connection seems to puzzle him. He may lead a group which believes that the US government is a regime comparable to Nazi Germany, and which trains in uniform, with guns, in public places. But the idea that anyone might be killed as a result of all this posturing seems to have come as a tremendous shock.

Mr Olson denies responsibility and then continues: "We are still on track and doing what we have always determined to do. We will not be turned away. These are indeed the times of trial. There will be those who will turn away, but ...there are others who have called and want to join with us. They see that what we are trying to do is right. With God's power and by his grace, we will continue.

"I want to extend deepest sympathy for all those killed in Oklahoma,'' he concludes.

The combination of primitive ideology with the most modern technology is characteristic of the libertarian movement in the United States. As well as voice mail and fax, the Internet offers small groups the ability to reach an audience of millions for an investment of virtually nothing.

There has always been a strong libertarian and anarchistic streak in the culture of the computer industry. But out on the Internet's wilder shores they are carried to shocking extremes. The libertarian battlecries published over the Internet harness a long tradition of populist resentment against Washington. There are at least two draft declarations of independence for states that wish to declare themselves free of the federal government. One starts with the Pilgrim Fathers and goes on to provide a long list of crimes against the people, chief among them the establishment of the state of West Virginia in the middle of the Civil War, and the use of paper money.

In quarters like this it is commonplace to believe that gun control laws represent an attempt by the federal government - and behind it the United Nations - to impose a police state. At one Internet site devoted to frustrating the efforts of the One World Government, the editor writes: "We must be doing something right; the Feds are getting worried about our militias. Wait until they find out there is at least another 20 million plus unregistered militia. It does not look like they understand we are the government and we intend to prove it to them.''