Missouri State Highway Patrol orders militia report shelved

Thursday, March 26, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Uproar over a law enforcement document linking various right-wing organizations with the modern militia movement prompted the Missouri State Highway Patrol on Wednesday to cease distribution of the report.

Outrage over the report had been brewing for weeks among conservatives who say they're unfairly singled out as possible criminals. On Wednesday morning, that anger spilled into the Capitol when Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder called on Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon to place the head of the Department of Public Safety on administrative leave pending an investigation of the report.

The Feb. 20 document provides a history of the militia movement and a description of its members. It was intended only for law enforcement officers but has been leaked to the public.

The report says many militia members subscribe to fundamentalist Christian, anti-abortion or anti-immigration movements. It also says members are usually supporters of third-party presidential candidates, such as U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.

"It's really, really disturbing to see yourself" in a report like this, said Mike Ferguson, spokesman for the Missouri Libertarian Party. "Half the state of Missouri is lumped in with these violent, dangerous people."

The outcry prompted James Keathley, the superintendent of the highway patrol, to stop distributing the document to law enforcement officers. In a letter released Wednesday afternoon, Keathley also said he will create a process that ensures he and Department of Public Safety director John Britt will read all future reports before they are released.

"Had that report been reviewed by either my office or by leaders of the Department of Public Safety, it would never have been released to law enforcement agencies," Keathley said.

A Nixon spokesman said the governor supports the new procedures.

Kinder's office said that letter does not go far enough.

"This is about policy and procedure going forward," said Kinder spokesman Gary McElyea. "That answers no questions about what has been done thus far."

At a news conference Wednesday morning, Kinder said the report's damage had been done: "You cannot unring the bell."

Later Wednesday, the Republican-led House adopted an amendment to the Department of Public Safety's budget bill stating the agency "shall not spend state or federal funds for political profiling."

Describing the need for the budget restriction, Rep. Jim Guest, R-King City, said: "An attack on one's freedom is an attack on everyone's freedom."

Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, ridiculed the uproar over the report as "an 'aha' moment for the black helicopter squad."

"This is a classic case of much to-do about nothing," Roorda said.

The document was compiled by the Missouri Information Analysis Center, a "fusion" center in Jefferson City that combines resources from various federal and state agencies to collect intelligence to combat terrorism or criminal activity.

Elsewhere, fusion centers have come under fire from privacy advocates for what critics call domestic spying.

A congressional hearing on the issue by the House Homeland Security Intelligence Subcommittee is set for Wednesday.

The Missouri report says militia leaders exploit world events to increase membership. Among other topics, it mentions the theory that a North American Union will be formed to link Mexico, the U.S. and Canada to a common currency. The report says the Kansas City "smart port," a hub for trade to Mexico, is at risk for attack.

The report also reads: "It is not uncommon for militia members to display Constitutional Party, Campaign for Liberty, or Libertarian material."

Britt wrote a letter Monday to Paul and former presidential candidates Bob Barr and Chuck Baldwin, saying the report would be reissued without their names.

Kinder said the report is unfair because it mentions anti-abortion and anti-illegal immigration groups but does not include domestic terror groups associated with fundamentalist Muslims or extreme environmentalists.

Groups such as the Earth Liberation Front have burned sport utility vehicles and large homes or condos.

"Apparently it's more important to focus on pro-lifers," Kinder said. "Conservatives are part of the backbone of our country. We are not a threat."

Ferguson, with the Libertarian Party, said profiling either liberal or conservative groups has a chilling effect on political expression.

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