GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The man considered the father of the modern-day militia in Michigan told News 8 he denounces the plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer but understands what motivated it.
Norm Olson, who co-founded the Michigan Militia nearly 30 years ago, said he didn’t recognize any of the 14 men charged in the plot.
“In fact, those kids weren’t even born when I started the militia,” Olson, now 74, said in a phone interview from his home outside Anchorage, Alaska.
“I condemn that kind of action,” he said.
But, he said, he understands their frustration with what he calls the governor’s overreach in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Goodnight, she shouldn’t be anywhere close to a capitol building,” he said. “That woman needs to be voted out, or needs to be impeached, or needs to be recalled, but the Michigan people are the ones who make the final decision in this democracy.”
THE HISTORY OF THE MICHIGAN MILITIA
Olson, a Baptist minister, gun shop owner and retired Air Force master sergeant, founded the Michigan Militia in 1994 with Ray Southwell while living in Alanson, near Petoskey.
“We indeed are guardians to prevent the government from going too far,” Olson said.
He said it was in response to standoffs with federal agents at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992 and Waco, Texas, in 1993.
“It was a prime time for the militia to stand up,” Olson said.
At its peak, the Michigan Militia boasted it had thousands of members.
It got national attention in 1995 after the Oklahoma City bombing, an attack that killed 168. The bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building is still considered the deadliest domestic terror attack in U.S. history. The men behind the attack, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, had attended a couple Michigan Militia meetings but were not invited back.
That year, Olson defended the militia before U.S. senators.
In 1999, while still in Michigan, he told The Washington Post the militia was “itching for a standoff someplace.”
Amy Cooter, a militia expert from Vanderbilt University, said Olson lost credibility among followers after he blamed the bombing on a conspiracy between Japan and the U.S.
“He continues to be an icon for a lot of these folks in terms of what they see as being an ideal leader,” she added.
Olson and his family, along with Michigan Militia co-founder Ray Southwell, moved to Alaska 15 years ago, forming a militia that he says no longer exists in a town four hours outside of Anchorage.
In 2016, the Anchorage Daily News called him Alaska’s most notorious militiaman. He told the newspaper he was a patriot who stands for the Constitution and that the federal government was the enemy of the Constitution.
Olson said the original Michigan Militia no longer exists.
“It’s a symbol, a title, a legend,” he said.
EXPERT: SPLINTER MILITIAS OFTEN MORE EXTREME
Olson said he has followed the Whitmer kidnapping plot arrests from home.
“There have always been those rogues or those splinter groups that go astray and pull something that brings a lot of unfavorable press to our entire organization,” he said.
The expert from Vanderbilt said militias are not nearly as extreme as they were in the 1990s.
“I found that the vast majority of militia groups and militia members are pretty normal people,” she said. “They do see this as their personal responsibility. They have a strong loyalty to the Constitution and to their understanding of what the nation should be.”
The problem, she said, is when extremists join and then break off, “taking lessons about firearms and other things from the group they tried to join and then making their own organizations.”
That appears to be what happened with the kidnapping plot.
Adam Fox, the accused leader of the kidnapping plot, who lived in the basement of a Grand Rapids vacuum shop, is a former member of the militia group known as the Michigan Home Guard.
Home Guard co-founder and commanding officer Rick Foreman told Target 8 the group kicked him out early this year because of his “lack of self-control” and threatening behavior.
Fox, the feds said, then worked on the plot with members of two militia groups, the Wolverine Watchmen and Michigan Liberty.
“There are different ways without going to the cartridge box,” Olson said. “We have the money box, the taxes; we have the ballot box, the voting system; we have the soap box to get out there and preach the word under the freedom tree.
“History is not going to forgive us if we do it offensively, if we strike first. Even though that may seem like a possible solution, it’s not.”