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Eric was raised by a Protestant family that moved to Phoenix from Nebraska in 1959, when he was 4 years old. He says he had little contact with Jewish people growing up. But in college, he and his wife both felt they were missing something in their lives, and they converted to Judaism. Later they learned that her family had been Jewish when it immigrated to the United States several generations earlier.
The Andreasens say they've been on a path of increased Jewish religious observance since their conversion 15 years ago.
Joel Breshin, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, says he's surprised to hear about ethnic minorities in the militia movement. "Militia people probably aren't bigots," Breshin says. "But for minorities to be in militias, that's a weird combination and you wouldn't expect that. Do they hear the racist statements? Because there is a taint. It just sounds inconsistent to me. These militia groups get so paranoid. I would think that minority members get uncomfortable."
"Joel Breshin is an ostrich with his head stuck in the sand and a Magen David [six-pointed star] stuck on his backside," Liz Andreasen says. She and her husband have little patience for modern Jewish leadership, which appears to them hopelessly statist.
Breshin acknowledges that Jewish organizations generally support gun control, but that's because they believe the proliferation of guns puts weapons into the hands of extremists who target Jews. He says he objects to the paranoia of organizations such as Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, a Wisconsin-based group which urges Jews to arm themselves and which recently came to the defense of Larry Pratt, the head of the Gun Owners of America and Pat Buchanan campaign aide who was accused of consorting with white supremacists. "You don't have to talk about rebellion to change the government," Breshin says. "You can talk about going into politics and changing things the more accepted way."
Only the government can call out a militia, he argues, and private citizens shouldn't be meeting and drilling in paramilitary settings. "You only antagonize people that way," he adds.
The Andreasens, both members of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, say they don't want to antagonize anybody. And if the members of B'nai B'rith don't understand what they're doing in the militia movement, that's their problem.
"There is a large degree of Christian triumphalism in the militia movement," Eric acknowledges. But that hasn't made it uncomfortable for the yarmulke-wearing construction estimator. In fact, he says his political convictions match his religious beliefs exactly.
Eric Andreasen says God gives him certain rights, and he has an obligation to cherish them. The best way he can do that, he says, is to stay alive.
Defending oneself, then, becomes the highest virtue. When assault weapons are banned, Eric doesn't see a concerned electorate working together to make society safer. Instead, he sees a government drunk with power taking away rights that God gave him. And his only recourse is to resist.
"Right now we're our own worst enemies," Mike Johnson says of militias. "I try to stomp down on disinformation, and I complain when people are spreading crap about black helicopters."
Despite his best efforts, the men at the roadside militia meeting start doing just that.
A tall, bespectacled man with an Old Testament beard and a deep, gravelly voice explains the connection between the Bill of Rights and a cataclysmic theory of the formation of Arizona's landscape. It's a difficult argument to follow, so the others start lobbing alarmisms from all over the place, and the discussion spirals downward. Some of them get strangely paranoid and maudlin at the same time.
"I don't want Arizona to secede," Steve Porak says sadly, as if that were imminent.
Johnson reins them in again, nervous about what kind of impression they're making. And this time they stay focused, more or less, on recruiting militia members to run for local elective offices. Several are on ballots in rural areas, and they try to recruit each other to run for county posts.
Then they threaten to get weird again--Old Testament wades into speculations about the planet's coming "pole shift"--and Johnson cuts things short. He closes the meeting by passing around mail-order catalogues for military-style weapons, and the men disperse.
Johnson acknowledges that polishing the militia's tarnished image is going to take alot of work. After half of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was blown to oblivion last April, news organizations scrambled to define the militia movement and its possible involvement for acurious public, sending a steady stream ofimages from Michigan's dairyland, Montana's backcountry, Kingman's trailer parks.
The militias of central Arizona, however, say they've been misunderstood. They're patriots, not terrorists, and connections to white supremacist groups have been overblown.
"I haven't run into any who I would consider racists in Arizona's militias," Johnson says. His presence in the movement should put that to rest, he says. "Now I'm sure that there are racists out there, but I run into more in government.