***Editor’s note: This report originally aired on July 2, 2020. News 8 updated this report at 11:15 p.m. July 3, 2020 to include new information.***
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan Attorney General’s Office is sharing concerns about militia groups across the state.
Speaking generally about the often heavily armed groups, Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud offered a warning about the militia.
“Many militia groups are often anti-government, anti-law enforcement (and) they have these extreme ideologies,” Hammoud said. “History has taught us that extreme ideologies like that often lead to mass violence.”
Amy Cooter, a senior lecturer in sociology at Vanderbilt University, is considered an expert on Michigan militias.
Cooter said the militia groups are not new to the area.
“Militias have always been very active in Michigan, they’re usually just a little more quiet than they’ve been in recent months,” Cooter said. “So, this is not really a new thing, it’s more the publicity and the attention that they’re getting that is new.”
One of the newest groups to emerge on the scene is the Barry County-based Michigan Liberty Militia (MLM), which was founded in 2015.
MLM members have been among several militia groups seen center stage at recent rallies, while also attending several other protests claiming to be there as security.
Hammoud condemned this idea.
“It is not a good idea to go to somebody with a weapon of war and say, ‘protect me,’” Hammoud said. “Having a weapon does not give you the same authority to enforce the law, to protect others or to stand in the position of law enforcement. That’s not the way the law works.”
While militia groups can vary in a number of ways and ideologies, Cooter understands why law enforcement would encourage the public to play it safe.
“From an outside perspective, it can be difficult to tell the difference,” Hammoud said about the different types of militia groups. “So, it’s probably just more efficient from a law enforcement perspective to take a conservative approach and just say, ‘Be careful about approaching them.’”
Hammoud also warned that militias might use protests as a platform to recruit vulnerable people.
“They often turn to the media or protests,” Hammoud said. “We know people from the boogaloo movements were at the Black Lives Matter protests, so the fear of recruitment is definitely there, and people should be vigilant.”
While Michigan Liberty Militia claims they’re at gatherings to keep the peace, one of the founder’s Facebook pages is filled with inflammatory comments about Black Lives Matter protesters.
***Editor’s note: Below is the original story that aired on July 2, 2020. This report was updated at 11:15 p.m. July 3, 2020.***
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Armed militia members continue make a statement by attending protests across Michigan, and members of one group are trying to explain their mission, which they say is often misunderstood.
The Michigan Liberty Militia (MLM) was founded in 2015 by three Barry County residents who are passionate about standing up for their constitutional rights.
Like many private militia groups, MLM co-founder Phil Robinson said the overreach of the government infringes on their constitutional rights, especially when it comes to their right to bear arms.
Robinson and his fellow MLM members began making national headlines in the spring as they were among the heavily-armed protesters that rallied against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order.
Strapped with their guns, the group attended anti-shutdown protests in Lansing and Grand Rapids, where demonstrators claimed the governor’s orders violated their rights.
Recently, the MLM members have been making a new name for themselves by attending different demonstrations, often serving as security at the request of protest organizers.
“It’s to keep the peace,” Robinson said. “It’s to keep everyone safe.”
From attending Black Lives Matter marches in Grand Rapids to pro-militia rallies in Lansing, the group says its goal is to preserve everyone’s rights to peacefully protest.
“Some of the events we’re at we don’t actually agree with, but as constitutionalists, you have the right to protest as long as you’re peaceful,” MLM co-founder Bill Null said.
At the demonstrations, MLM members are often seen diffusing tense situations. When asked what makes them effective at keeping things peaceful, Robinson said their presence alone often deters people from getting violent.
“They see us and they don’t want to act stupid,” Robinson said. “It’s like a bully. A bully is never going to stop until they’re faced, until they’re confronted.”
Whether they’re at a demonstration as protesters or serving as security, they say each one has remained peaceful. The only event that came close to turning violent was a protest held last weekend where demonstrators debated whether to keep or remove a Confederate soldier statue in Allendale.
“The closest thing we had to a heated moment was in Allendale when that man un-holstered his weapon and we kicked him out as soon as it happened,” Robinson said.
No matter the movement or protest, MLM members say they show up not only to keep the peace, but to educate others on the mission of their militia.
Feeling misunderstood, Robinson wants people to be comfortable approaching him or other members at demonstrations.
“If you don’t understand what we’re doing, come ask us questions, come talk to us,” Robinson said. “Don’t judge us by the way we look, or the weapons we’re wearing. Come talk to us, get to know us and I guarantee you’ll change your mind about us.”
There are a number of different militia groups in Michigan. It’s important to note that the members of the Michigan Liberty Militia can only speak about the actions and mission of their individual group.