Questions remain over rumored militia takeover of Michigan gun club

The Black Creek Conservation Club, an environmentally- friendly outdoor recreation facility in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, will begin the New Year with fresh leadership after a court-ordered vote by its membership last week.

The vote, which re-elected its Chairman as well as appointed new board members, resulted from a lawsuit filed on August 18, 2017, pitting club members against each other.

 

Long-time members and officers were reportedly forced to file a lawsuit against their own club because they feared that Black Creek Volunteer militia members had infiltrated the organization and pushed its ideas on the membership. A temporary restraining order had been granted by the court in September, halting efforts to kick out the rumored militia members.

From 2013 to 2015, allegations surfaced that the Isabella County-based outdoor recreation club was slowly being taken over after members affiliated with the militia began recruiting their fellow militiamen. Some alleged militia members then took on leadership roles and reportedly began changing the club’s policies, initiatives, and activities. Plaintiffs in the case said that the Black Creek Volunteer militia had turned the club into a paramilitary organization by sponsoring military-style training activity which included tactical and submachine gun training. These activities also included extended hours of operation and increased noise from more shooting and target practice. The plaintiffs argued the military-style activities were contrary to the organization’s purpose, bylaws, and family-oriented activities which had been put in place nearly 50 years earlier.

The club had been involved with supporting charitable organizations, such as the Wounded Warrior project, 4-H, hospice groups, New Hope Youth and Family services and Women’s Aid programs. More recently, the club’s gun range has been expanded and improved which made it a popular destination for major shooting competitions.

As a result of growing concerns about the militia, on May 11, 2015, the Board of Directors sent a notice to its membership regarding the matter. Speaking of the tactical and submachine gun training, the Board said, “this club never authorized any such use and this use is totally unacceptable.” The notice further stated that the militia’s activities violated a long-standing policy and the club’s bylaws which prohibit militia membership, paramilitary training, and other similar activities. The notice also warned that any further violations could result in membership revocation as well as criminal charges being filed against potential violators for trespassing on club property. In response to this notice, various Michigan militia groups aligned themselves with the Black Creek Volunteers and organized a statewide boycott of Black Creek.

On their website, the Black Creek Volunteers refer to themselves as a “constitutional militia.” They proudly claim to “provide information, training, and basic organization to ‘We the People’ to ensure a timely and effective response to community emergencies, and to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.” They also unequivocally proclaim their organization is not anti-government or anti-law enforcement. They also say they are neither a private army nor a vigilante group.

As the militia issue at the gun club continued to grow, the Chippewa Township Board held a town hall meeting to address the community’s concerns about the persistent nonstop shooting, elevated noise levels, and extended hours of operation, including after dark. In response to these concerns, Isabella County Sheriff Michael Main recommended the need for creating a noise ordinance. Then more concerns began to surface.

Former officers alleged that club members affiliated with the militia were intimidating others in the hope of silencing them. Acts of harassment allegedly included militia members “open carrying” their firearms in the clubhouse, forcing an 87-year-old treasurer to resign (no further details provided), and holding live fire exercises alongside of weddings and open houses for the general public. Longtime members also claimed that the traditional uses of the club — such as swimming, conservation awareness, and other forms of outdoor recreation — were deemphasized in comparison to the increased attention for shooting-related activities and tactical training.

These issues finally culminated on January 9, 2018, when club members held a court-ordered vote for new officers. An outside company was contracted to oversee the election of new club leadership. They mailed election notices, as well as proxy voter forms, to over 200 club members. When the election was finally held, the defendants in the suit were resoundingly backed by the membership in direct opposition of the plaintiff’s allegations and subsequent lawsuit. This result came as a complete surprise and called into question the original allegations made about the militia infiltration.

Bruce Eggers, the current president of the club for the past year, was re-elected. Eggers, who is listed as a defendant in the lawsuit, said the recent allegations about the militia infiltrating the club are simply untrue. He acknowledged that several years ago “a group called the ‘Black Creek Volunteers’ formed and its leader joined the Black Creek Conservation Club.” Eggers said, “That leader was dismissed from the conservation club in May 2015.” He claims, “From that time on, there has been no activity at the range (from the Black Creek Volunteers).”

To refute the militia rumors, Eggers emphatically proclaimed that he has neither joined nor been a member of the militia. He believes the renewed militia concerns and the resulting lawsuit emanated from poor communication, misconceptions, rumors and raw emotion among the membership stemming from the May 2015 incident. However, other Board Members, such as Mike Koster (range director) and Ruth Ayris (treasurer), are reportedly affiliated with the Black Creek Volunteers, according to open source research.   Furthermore, Koster espouses antigovernment and anti-Muslim views on his Facebook page.

At the end of this month, a local judge will decide the fate of the lawsuit and whether any further action is needed concerning the plaintiffs’ claims.

 

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