SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The radical right is exploding across the United States and here in Missouri according to a study just released by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC says membership in patriot groups has grown by 750% in the last three years.
There are 28 groups in Missouri. We want to clarify, these are not categorized as hate groups. But that is the stigma members of the Ozarks' branch of the Missouri Militia say they are constantly fighting.
Guns, guerilla-like warfare, and plots to overthrow the government. Ed Taylor knows that's what you think of when you hear the word "militia."
"They think what the national news media tells them, that militias are nut jobs, radical, and that's the furthest from the truth," Taylor says that.
From inside Anderson Gun Repair in Springfeidl Taylor, store-owner Rocket Anderson, and other members of the Missouri Militia's 4th battalion, 8th brigade are hesitant to talk to us for that exact reason.
"I'm sure there are a few bad eggs out there like with any group or community but for the most part all we are is just your friends, your neighbors and people you work with," says Taylor.
That's despite a Southern Poverty Law Study that labels groups like this one dangerous. "Patriot groups have all kinds of theories that boil down basically to that the government has a secret plan to impose all types of gun control," explains Mark Potok with the SPLC Intelligence Project. And despite other militias claiming an affiliation with the radical right wing; the Missouri 4/8th says it's a safety-conscious, bi-partisan organization of like-minded volunteers ready to assist emergency officials in the event of a disaster.
"One of the FEMA estimates we were told when Ed and I were taking the classes is if something major like New Madrid happened it would take 600,000 workers to go into the affected area," says Anderson.
Taylor says they have the support of local law enforcement to do so.
"Matter of fact some of the first meetings we had the Greene County Sheriff and Christian County Sheriff spoke at our meetings and were positive about what we were trying to do."
But not everyone is.
"Just in the last year we've seen three major militia plots, plots by the Hutaree in the midwest, plots by the Alaska Peace Makers Militia and members of the Georgia Militia," Potok continues.
So the Missouri Militia is fighting for something Taylor says they shouldn't have to protect- their image.
"We're trying to get rid of that negative connotation," he concludes.
Taylor says membership in the 4/8th hasn't grown as significantly as the Missouri Militia in Kansas City. The whole group has about 200 members. They train twice a month on everything from map-reading to HAM radio operation.
The trials for members of the Michigan-based Hutaree, accused of plotting to kill mass numbers of police officers, began in February.
The Southern Poverty Law Center says militia groups can be blamed for the murder of at least six police officers since 2000.