The last major anti-government movement came in the 1990s and led to the Oklahoma City bombing.
Nella Van Dyke, now a sociologist at UC Merced, co-authored a 2002 paper that showed a decline in manufacturing jobs and family farms influenced the mobilization of militias. Now she's working on finding the causes for a new anti-government movement.
Van Dyke said a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center shows that more than 350 militias were established last year, a "hugely disturbing increase." She said evidence suggests the economic downturn or a Democratic president could both be part of the cause.
"When people are facing economic hard times, they're looking for people to blame," Van Dyke said, "and they look to the federal government."
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Van Dyke's research focuses on hate crimes on college campuses, anti-government militias and what leads people into activist careers. Her research offers insight into some of society's most challenging problems and could be influential in future policy decisions.
In the case of the Oklahoma City bombing, there was a struggling economy in the Midwest and Democratic President Bill Clinton in the White House. Van Dyke wants to know if the recent surge is fueled by the economy or by President Barack Obama. There also may be racist underpinnings as well, she noted.
Some people have become paranoid that the government is betraying citizens and ignoring the Constitution by taking away rights, such as bearing arms. Most Democrats, while favoring gun control, are not opposed to ownership, she noted.
Some lawmakers, Van Dyke said, have stoked the anti-government sentiment, which only increases the likelihood of rhetoric turning to violence.
"I'm seriously worried," she said. "It's really irresponsible for elected officials to encourage it."
Van Dyke joined UC Merced in the fall of 2008 to help grow the new campus. She said UC Merced's student body is among the best she's taught.
Celebrating students at Yosemite
Dozens of undergraduate students spend their summers at Yosemite National Park each year, taking advantage of UC Merced's unique partnership with the park by way of programs offered by the university's Sierra Nevada Research Institute and Yosemite Field Station.
Friday was the culmination of this year's summer programs, as students gave presentations about their experiences during the SNRI Student Symposium.
The morning was filled with presentations from students in the Yosemite Leadership Program, led by Yosemite Education Branch chief Shauna Potocky. Topics ranged from search and rescue along the Half Dome corridor to environmental stewardship and care of the park.
In the afternoon, students from the Research Experience for Undergraduates program -- whose home campuses ranged from UC Merced and Merced College to Harvard and MIT -- presented their summer research projects on Yosemite's ecosystems under the guidance of UC Merced professor Benoit Dayrat.
UC Merced Connect is a collection of news items written by the university's Office of Communications. To contact the communications team, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.