The Presentation of the Militia Movement in the Media

Steven Chermak, Indiana University

One of the most celebrated cases of the 1990s was the bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City in October 1995. The mass media played an important role in both defining this particular event as well as searching for policy issues that needed attention. An issue that received significant attention following the bombing was domestic terrorism. In particular, the militia movement was discovered as a significant threat. The militia movement was relatively unknown until McVeigh was loosely linked to the Michigan Militia. The media played an important role by discovering this relatively unknown militia movement, describing it as a threat, and making specific recommendations for a response. This paper will focus on two issues regarding the presentation of the militia movement in the news. First, it will examine the key claimsmakers cited within news stories. Second, it will explore the major frames used by the news media to define this newly discovered threat. Data include a sample of nearly 300 newspaper stories as well as interviews with militia leaders and members, reporters, and key policymakers. Implications for the role of the media in defining domestic terrorism will be discussed.

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Updated 05/20/2006