Acosta didn’t use any specific ideological labels to classify the militias during his report, which aired just before the bottom of the 7 am Eastern hour, but it was clear that the featured militia, the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia, held right-of-center views, as its members expressed concern about gun rights, anti-Obama sentiment, and even flew the yellow Gadsden flag (with its “Don’t Tread on Me” slogan) featured at Tea Party protests. The Gadsden flag showed up in many of the clips of the militia during the CNN correspondent’s report, which was the first in a series titled “Patriots or Extremists.” The Tea Party tie was reenforced with a shot of a truck of one of the militia members, which had a sticker of the famous “Obama as the Joker” image on it.
Midway through the report, Acosta cited how “[e]arlier this year, Mark Potok, with the Southern Poverty Law Center, put out a report warning of a surge in militia activity that came with the election of President Obama. Since that report was issued, Potok says his staff has counted 100 new militia groups across the country.” The correspondent played two clips from Potok, and in the second, the SPLC “expert” made sure to tie the militias to the wider sentiment against President Obama’s agenda: “There really is this kind of terrible fear, mixed with fury, about the idea that President Obama is somehow leading a kind of socialistic- you know, takeover of America.” Potok appeared with CNN’s Rick Sanchez in August 2009, the month his militia report was first released, and the two touted the apparent militia connection to the anti-ObamaCare town hall protests.
The CNN correspondent twice claimed near the end of the segment that “[b]esides the Second Amendment, those militia members could not specify which of their constitutional rights are being peeled away.” Anchor Kiran Chetry followed her colleague’s lead in not using any labels, but hinted that she suspected the Michigan militia group of bigotry: “When you take a look at least the group you profiled there, there’s no women and there’s no minorities.” Acosta corrected her that there were at least two women present, and continued that “the gun control issue specifically is really unrealistic in many ways, because the Obama administration knows...that it will be political suicide for them to go after gun control measures. In fact, the attorney general has indicated just recently that he’s not even going to go back to the assault weapons ban that was enacted during the Clinton administration.”
Actually, Attorney General Eric Holder did give a statement earlier in 2009 expressing the Obama administration’s desire to reinstate the Clinton-era assault weapons ban. According to a November 15, 2009 piece by Sam Youngman of The Hill, Holder “adopted a much different tone” recently in response to questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committe: “His response to a reporter in February, Holder claims, is not akin to ‘call[ing] for a new assault weapons ban, but rather restating the previously expressed campaign position on this issue.’” Even with this shift in “tone,” Acosta is misleading in his claim that the attorney general is “not even going to go back to the assault weapons ban,” and it appears that he and his CNN colleagues are definitely leaning towards the “extremist” label in their series’s title.
The full transcript of Acosta’s report from Monday’s American Morning:
KIRAN CHETRY: Since President Obama’s election, legal experts have been tracking a huge increase, they say, in militia activity here in the U.S., with at least 100 new groups cropping up since January.
JOHN ROBERTS: We spoke with one group, and while some members will not show their faces, they are not afraid to talk about their mistrust of the government, and they are even more suspicious of the President.
Our Jim Acosta is with us live for part one of an A.M. original series, ‘Patriots or Extremists.’ So do these groups have a right to form, first of all?
JIM ACOSTA: They absolutely- even their critics will admit that. And we did contact nearly a dozen different militia groups across the country, and only one, the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia, allowed us to take our cameras to one of its training exercises. Armed with a small arsenal of semi-automatic weapons, the militia’s leader say they are simply defending their rights.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Once a month in the woods 30 miles outside the nearest city.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1: We’re practicing target acquisition.
ACOSTA: Members of the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia meet for training.
ACOSTA (on-camera): Is it getting bigger?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1: Oh, absolutely.
MILITIA MEMBERS: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Training for what depends on who you ask, but this militia member, who didn’t want to give his last name, worries the government will eventually take away his gun rights.
‘BRIAN,’ SOUTHEAST MICHIGAN VOLUNTEER MILITIA: Well, any time we get a Democratic president in the office, people become concerned, including myself, and we get a resurgence out here.
ACOSTA: Others just don’t like President Obama.
ACOSTA (off-camera): So, you don’t trust him?
MICHAEL LACKOMAR, SOUTHEAST MICHIGAN VOLUNTERR MILITIA: In short, I think he could be dangerous for the nation.
ACOSTA: Michael Lackomar sees the militia as a check against government overreach.
LACKOMAR: Just the simple fact that we are out here and we are doing this will give somebody pause, will make them think twice.
ACOSTA: Because you’re ready to defend your rights?
LACKOMAR: Ultimately, yes. Down this fire.
ACOSTA (on-camera): Right.
ACOSTA (voice-over): And they’re prepared to teach anyone, even this reporter, how to fire a semi-automatic weapon, like this Russian assault rifle.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2: There you go.
ACOSTA (on-camera): The members of this militia insist they are not enemies of the government. They say they just want to be prepared in case the government becomes the enemy.
MARK POTOK, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: The truth is, is that these groups are popping up like mushrooms after a spring rain.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Earlier this year, Mark Potok, with the Southern Poverty Law Center, put out a report warning of a surge in militia activity that came with the election of President Obama. Since that report was issued, Potok says his staff has counted 100 new militia groups across the country.
POTOK: There really is this kind of terrible fear, mixed with fury, about the idea that President Obama is somehow leading a kind of socialistic- you know, takeover of America.
LEE MIRACLE: This is not an Obama-centered organization. So we put this across his wound-
ACOSTA: But militia leader Lee Miracle says his group is different, teaching survival skills that might be needed after a natural disaster.
MIRACLE: Two at one, put your rifle back down.
ACOSTA: As a military veteran who’s now a postal worker, Miracle urges respect for the President.
MIRACLE: As a postal worker, that’s my boss. He’s (unintelligble) my boss, but-
ACOSTA (off-camera): He’s your boss?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He’s my boss, yeah. He’s my boss. He should come out and have some barbecue with us.
ACOSTA (voice-over): If he did, he’d find a movement that’s not just gaining new members-
ACOSTA (on-camera): How many of you are new to the militia?
ACOSTA (voice-over): It’s getting more worried.
ACOSTA (on-camera): How many of you are worried about the Constitution right now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 3: Worried as in the sense that it’s not being followed.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1: It's going away.
ACOSTA (live): Besides the Second Amendment, those militia members could not specify which of their constitutional rights are being peeled away, and the Obama administration, we should mention, has not proposed any new gun control measures. It is unclear just how closely militias are being watched by federal authorities. The FBI and ATF both declined our request for interviews- John and Kiran?
CHETRY: And when you take a look at least the group you profiled there, there’s no women.
ACOSTA: That’s right.
CHETRY: And there’s no minorities.
ACOSTA: Well, there’s one woman there.
CHETRY: There was one woman?
CHETRY: Okay- one woman and no minorities.
CHETRY: So who are the people joining these groups?
ACOSTA: And I should mention more than just one woman. There was the 13-year-old daughter there and the reason why I mentioned that. The gentleman that you saw towards the end of that piece, Lee Miracle, the leader of that militia- we’re going to go home with him and his family to figure out just who is joining these militias, who are these folks. He includes his children in these activities, including his 13-year-old daughter who was firing a shotgun, I should mention, better than myself out there on militia day.
CHETRY: You weren’t too bad.
ACOSTA: And we’ll have more of that tomorrow.
ROBERTS: All right. Is it all about gun rights then?
ACOSTA: A lot of it is about gun rights. A lot of it is about distrust. They just don’t trust this president. They think he is out to peel back rights and the gun issue is their big one.
ROBERTS: But they don’t know which ones- exactly which ones, other than gun ones-
ACOSTA: They do not, and- you know, we should mention that the gun control issue specifically is really unrealistic in many ways, because the Obama administration knows and Democrats know that it will be political suicide for them to go after gun control measures. In fact, the attorney general has indicated just recently that he’s not even going to go back to the assault weapons ban that was enacted during the Clinton administration.
ROBERTS: There’s no support for that in the Senate.
CHETRY: It’s interesting though that one of guys in your piece said, we’re doing this perhaps so that we’re a deterrent-
CHETRY: To having anything happen.
ACOSTA: They want to give people pause.
CHETRY: Right. I’m very interested to meet the family tomorrow.
ACOSTA: You will.
CHETRY: Thanks, Jim.
ROBERTS: Great story, Jim.
ACOSTA: You got it.
CHETRY: We also want to know what you think about it. Are militia members patriots or are they extremists? And do you think that your rights are slipping away or do you think that these militias go too far? Join us tomorrow and we're going to have part two of Jim's piece, and also head to our blog, CNN.com/amfix.