State senator proposes crackdown on militia groups

Friday, February 13, 1998

DENVER (AP) – A state senator wants to crack down on militia groups in Colorado by outlawing unauthorized military activity.

Senate Minority Leader Mike Feeley, D-Lakewood, said militia groups promote “hate and intolerance and bigotry” that sometimes lead to terrorism.

“We should be outraged, outraged and disgusted when militias take that step from hateful speech to actual violence,” Feeley said Thursday at a Capitol news conference. “Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols took that step.”

McVeigh and Nichols were convicted in the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995. Prosecutors said the two had anti-government views; however, they did not link the pair to any militia groups.

Feeley’s bill, introduced Thursday, would make it a misdemeanor for anyone to join unauthorized military groups or demonstrate with weapons in public. The measure defines the group as a unit “with arms, command structure, training and discipline designed to function as a combat or combat support unit” not authorized by state or federal law.

He said it would work in tandem with a 1984 state law that bans training with firearms or incendiary devices to foment civil disorder.

Feeley said seven other states have laws banning militia groups and weapons training for the purpose of civil disorder.

But an attorney with a private, conservative think tank doesn’t believe the bill would stand up in court. David Kopel of the Independence Institute in Golden also said the 1984 law addressed the issue more effectively.

Kopel called the bill by Feeley, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, “political grandstanding at its worst.”

Kopel said the proposal would make it illegal for people to choose how they interact, which could violate the First Amendment right of freedom of association.

Nancy Lord, a Nevada-based attorney who has represented several militia groups, agreed that the measure “is plainly unconstitutional and it wouldn’t hold up in court.”

Lord and her husband, James “J.J.” Johnson, told the First Amendment Center that the militia movement has largely subsided and gone in different directions.

Feeley “might come up with something more relevant,” said Johnson, a radio talk-show host and former militia leader. “This bill is not necessary, let alone blatantly unconstitutional.”

Johnson said: “This legislation will not produce his desired result. It will produce the exact opposite. By banning the public display of such activity he will, by default, endorse the private gathering of these people thus hampering the efforts of law enforcement and hampering the efforts to make sure that such groups are kept in the public eye.”

Kopel contends Feeley’s proposal is “introducing a law to solve a problem that doesn’t exist in Colorado.”

But Feeley said the Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that 37 militia groups operate in Colorado. The center in Montgomery, Ala., monitors the Ku Klux Klan, militia, hate groups and anti-government movement leaders.

Feeley mentioned three self-proclaimed militia members who recently pleaded guilty to possession of illegal weapons. Police said they found machine guns, ammunition and explosives in their Aurora home.

A couple in Creede in southwest Colorado had links to a multistate militia group that planned attacks on military bases, authorities said. Kevin Leroy Hobeck, 39, and his wife, Terry Lou Hobeck, 45, were sent to federal prison last year for possession of a machine gun.

— FAC staff contributed to this report.