It's hard to be a part of a misunderstood or marginalized group. It's even harder to be a part of that group and try and maintain a positive image. However, the Missouri Militia works to do just that.
I've said it before - when I first started this project, I expected a lot of different things. One big thing was the angle of my
story (which I previously wanted to focus on the now-defunct MIAC report), but I also had different expectations.
I had different expectations about the men in the Missouri Militia. I had different expectations about their goals, what their purpose was, and what kind of people they were. I expected what most other people expect when they hear the world 'militia' - radicals, conservatives, maybe racists, people forming together because they think America is too liberal, etc.
But, as far as I can tell, that's not what this group is all about. From my experiences with them, these typical assumptions are just not in their core purpose. Perhaps some individuals are conservative, maybe some are radicals or even racists, but the entire group does not promote these ideals in practice, when they get together or in their goals as an organization.
From my reporting and from what I have seen, this group of the Missouri Militia really focuses on community. They give blood, put together food drives and their primary goal is to serve the state in cases of natural disasters. That's it.
And I feel as though this is accurate. That's what I chose to focus on in my story.
This angle came about for many reasons. Some of it was becasuse of all the stories I've seen in the past - sensationalism. But also because these men are just genuine.
I didn't just go out and photograph this group for an hour or two. I did my research, made my phone calls, talked to different men, conducted interviews, took pictures, edited audio and recorded video over three months. I'm not going to say that's a
long time, but it's long enough to become suspicious that a group isn't giving you the real deal.
As I was finishing up this project, I was really worried about being biased. I think any time you spend 3 months with a group, they grow on you. From what I saw, these men were sincere. I know if I had a flat tire or if I got lost on my way home (which is not a farfetched idea), any of these men would be there in a second to fix me up.
Because of this, I worked really hard not to omit questionable quotes. I worked hard not to make everything look peachy. I feel that I did the best that I could while being contextual. Sure, the men talked about politics between trainings. Of course religion came up - the men prayed before every training and every meal. But was this important? Perhaps. That's why some of it is included. Is it the entire story, however? Not to me.
To me, this is what the militia is and it is my story. I came in with one expectation and left with a completely different outlook and I think, through that, my project is as objective as it can be.
I'm not going to make excuses and say being objective is impossible; of course it is, but that doesn't mean you don't try. What's important is to ask yourself tough questions and to make sure you're hard on yourself, and in turn, hard on your subject.
Lots of people belonged to marginalized groups. The men of the Missouri Militia are an example. However, I am, too. As a journalist, I had one hard time getting these guys to trust me. Just like I did to them, they assumed things about me - that I
was a liberal, sensationalist reporter who loves taking things out of context. Maybe I am liberal. Maybe I'm not. I'll never tell, but I hope that I showed them that there are decent reporters out there just like they showed me that not all militias are what people expect them to be.
I encourage you all to read my past blog posts about this group and watch the Flash project, the actual story, that I put together. This Flash project was a part of a class I am in at MU called Electronic Photojournalism.
I am incredibly pleased with my project, my images, design, editing and the overall story. I look to improve this in the future, however, and will be spending more time with the militia over the summer. If you enjoyed my work so far, feel free to continually check back here.
I learned this Saturday when I travelled to Odessa, Mo. for my second session with the third brigade of the Missouri Militia. Today, the militia was having a medical class and covered CPR, the Heimlich maneuver and other simple medical procedures that could help someone in the case of the absence of a medic. The militia also invited their children and wives to come and observe what they were all about and taught them the same medical techniques they were learning.
As I've been exploring the story of the Missouri Militia, my story angle has changed some. Initially, I wanted to focus on the Missouri Initiative Analysis Center (MIAC) document that had come out, addressing all militias as terrorist organizations. However, that document has since become discredited and is no longer an issue. Now, I am mostly focusing on what the Missouri Militia's mission statement is and their goal to become state recognized.
When I initially came into this project, I thought the Missouri Militia was an organization that would act as a watchdog of the government in case it got too powerful. Although militia members have stated that they support limited government, that is not their main goal.
The militia's main concern is to act as a volunteer force in cases of natural disaster, especially when the government has limited resources, like the National Guard. They also focus on acting immediately in these cases, as oftentimes the government will have a slow response time. They also talked about helping with search parties in cases of lost children. Missouri Militia member Randy, who is an ex-U.S. military officer and served in Rhodesia, has stated that he wants to train every militia member to the equivalent status of a sergeant to assist the U.S. military and lead civilians in these cases such as these.
Sumpter is also working with the state to become recognized as an organization that can be utilized in cases of great need for the state. The militia has talked with state representatives and is working to talk to the governor to make this happen. However, in an interview with Sumpter, he expressed concerns, such as funding. Sumpter stressed the idea of no political affiliation as an organization, because he worried that if their political views did not align with those of a state official, they would be forced to disband if they were state recognized. He also stressed not wanting to be government funded, worrying that their equipment could be taken away with a politician disagreed with their mission.
State Rep. Mike McGhee also showed up to the militia training Saturday. McGhee is a republican politician and a Tea Party supporter. Apparently, McGhee is the neighbor of Bill, who hosts the militia trainings. McGhee dropped by to visit the militia members and to thank them for what they were doing. I luckily nabbed an interview with him and gained a really great voice on the political perspective of the militia.
I will be going back out to join the Missouri Militia in early May. I'm worried because the training day is two days before my final project for the class is due, but I think if I'm thorough, I can edit the audio and put together some multimedia within that time frame. At least, I hope so!
Working with the militia has been great so far. Regardless of how I feel about the premise of the organization (this is me nixing conflicts of interest), the men involved are really great, down home kind of guys that would do anything for you, whether you're a stranger, family member or even a journalist.