Law Enforcement and the Millennialist Vision: A Behavioral Approach

Article excerpt

Law enforcement professionals face more challenges today than ever before. Not since the advent of modern policing have agencies sought so arduously to examine and refine their missions, goals, and strategies to deal with increasingly ill-defined purposes. To make matters more difficult, this examination comes during a time of decreasing budgets, increasing legal and media scrutiny, and often-uncertain public relations.

The millennialist, apocalyptic view of the world, which many groups and individuals hold, likely will become an area of increasing concern to law enforcement, especially as the year 2000 approaches. By examining the behavioral dynamics occurring in groups that adhere to millenialist philosophies, law enforcement agencies can identify potential dangers in order to appropriately respond to and interact with these groups.


Generally, millennialism refers to any movement that anticipates the "total transformation and purification of society."(1) In Western society, the most well-known religious version of millennialism occurs in the biblical account of the apocalypse as recorded in the Book of Revelation, where John, who had been exiled to the island of Patmos, relates a vision in which the Messiah returns to engage in a battle with Satan.(2) While numerous interpretations of the events portrayed in the Book of Revelation exist, one of the most popular Christian interpretations maintains that following numerous tribulations and battles, God vanquishes Satan, and the "chosen people" come to dwell with the Messiah for 1,000 years of bliss (e.g., the millennium). Millennialism, however, does not belong exclusively to Christianity. Many other religions, secular groups, and societies have their own versions of apocalyptic battles in which the forces of good triumph over evil following a cataclysmic and often-supernatural period of battle.(3)

While the Bible does not provide a date for the apocalypse, many groups(4) and individuals have concluded that they are currently living in the "end times." To some individuals, the year 2000, with its numerical symmetry and obvious millennial correlation, represents the date of the great battle between good and evil. Many others do not adhere to a specific belief involving supernatural battles, but they fear that a general state of chaos may result. These beliefs and perceptions may cause greater involvement between law enforcement agencies and those groups that adhere to a millennial or apocalyptic philosophy. Due to the dynamics and beliefs of several groups, more episodes involving suicides may occur by those who believe they follow God's will. Perhaps on a more sinister note, police officers may find themselves the targets of apocalyptic groups that feel justified in violently resisting legitimate acts by law enforcement agencies.

Millennialism and Extremist Groups

For law enforcement purposes, extremism relates to groups and individuals engaged in criminal activity for the purpose of advancing or attempting to advance a political, religious, or social agenda. Unfortunately, many individuals unfamiliar with the distinction use the terms "extremist group" and "militia" interchangeably. For example, in the wake of the Oklahoma City tragedy, some members of the media portrayed militia group members as wild-eyed, violent, and uneducated. This caricature seriously misstates the reality that many militia group members represent intelligent, law-abiding citizens who care deeply about their country but may question political and constitutional issues. Indeed, many militias condemned the Oklahoma City bombing.(5) However, some militia, paramilitary, and extremist groups, as well as unaffiliated individuals, will engage in criminal activity to support their religious, social, and political philosophies.

For many individuals and groups, apocalyptic themes play a central role in their belief systems. According to some, the government(6) has aligned itself with evil forces. …