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God, Guns, Graphics: Pentagram’s Michael Bierut on Busted Christian Militia’s Branding

What was the militia–now infamous after nine members were just arrested–trying to communicate about itself in its logo?

Last week, the
feds arrested nine members of the Hutaree,
a right-wing Christian
militia accused of plotting to assassinate law enforcement officers in
Michigan. It was a frightening flashback to Oklahoma City,
proof that the crazies are alive, well, and heavily armed, and though
the Hutaree failed where Timothy McVeigh clearly succeeded, they have
one thing he didn’t: branding.

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Their logo combines crossed
spears, a sword of some sort, and the letters “CCR” (for Christian
Colonial Republic) against an Army-green backdrop. It’s a curious thing.
But we can’t really tell if it’s a medieval crest updated for the End
Times (we asked a coat-of-arms
specialist
, and she didn’t know) or an album cover for Creedence
Clearwater Revival, so we consulted Michael
Bierut, a graphic designer and senior partner a the design firm Pentagram. Here, he discusses the logo’s origins, its martial messaging,
and why Arial Bold Italic doesn’t exactly scream “right-wing,
anti-government, plotting-to-kill-cops-in-the-name-of-Jesus militia:”

FastCompany.com: What are we looking at exactly?
Break down the various elements of the design for us.

Michael Bierut: This is a fairly skillful piece of design. The
shape, vaguely medieval, suggests a shield. The central form combines,
most successfully, the initial H, a cross, and a spike. The crossed pair
of spears beneath are space fillers but add to the general warlike and
aggressive tone.

Any clues as to the origin of the
design?

Whoever designed this was clearly inspired by
both medieval heraldry — the language of the Crusades — and military
insignia.

Talk about the colors. What are
they doing for the logo?

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The colors are basically camouflage colors in
support of the overall military tone. And camouflage is for guerrillas.
It’s probably no accident that the only accent color is the blood red of
the spears.

What kind of type are we looking
at?

This is the least successful part of the design.
It looks like CCR is something like Arial Bold Italic. Too modern for
this kind of design.

What does the logo tell us about
the people it represents?

The coded messages here seem pretty accurate to
their ambitions. For groups like this, image is reality, and the
insignia gave their activities the trappings of the kind of crack
paramilitary squad they no doubt hoped to be.

Rate the overall design. How
successful is it?

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I have to concede that except for that Arial
Italic, the design is successful, but I’ve learned a long time ago that a
good package can’t sell a bad product.

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About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.

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