Back in my own days playing guns, we had the coolest hideout ever: a hut we'd built on a wooded half-acre out of lumber liberated from a subdivision under construction. The way we looked at it, they owed us: a fair exchange for converting the woods and ponds where we hiked, fished and ice-skated into a suburban subdivision. Rolling Hills, they called it.

OK, so the fireplace didn't draw, the roof leaked, and the secret compartment under the floor where we'd stashed our prized collection of naughty magazines got nibbled into the world's naughtiest mouse nest. It was a perfect hideout. No girls allowed. (Not that any of us knew an actual female person who'd willingly crawl into that dank interior.)

It was our secret refuge. We were 12 years old. We called ourselves "The Royal Majestic Order of the Quince," after a nearby flowering bush. We weren't trying to scare people, but not just anybody could be a Quince. Our weapons of war were BB guns, slingshots and acorns. Sometimes we took our little brothers prisoner and locked them up until they cried. Then a little while longer. We fancied ourselves merciless and bold.

Anyway, I couldn't help but think of all that pre-adolescent playacting when I read about the "Wolverine Watchmen" and their hidden basement hideout behind a trap door under a vacuum cleaner store in rural Michigan.

We soon grew out of it. The Wolverines, apparently not.

See, that's the thing about these self-styled militiamen and wannabe terrorists. Their view of the world is essentially juvenile. Which doesn't mean they can't be dangerous. Quite the opposite.

To underline the point, here's a classic militia rant: "I believe we are slowly turning into a socialist government. The government is continually growing bigger and more powerful, and the people need to prepare to defend themselves against government control."

Sound familiar? It's Timothy McVeigh, terrorist murderer of 168 people in the 1995 Oklahoma City truck bombing.

Show me somebody who becomes obsessed with government "tyranny," who poses for photos carrying an AR-15 and staring grimly in camouflage fatigues, and who hangs out Confederate flags, and I'll show you a bearded child. In contemporary America, there are few things more dangerous.

Only a child could possibly imagine that kidnapping and murdering Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer could lead to anything but disaster. "Grab the f---in' governor," Wolverine honcho Adam Fox allegedly told an FBI informant. "Just grab the bitch. Because at that point, we do that, dude — it's over."

Now their lives are essentially over, all 13 of them facing state and federal charges after months of accumulating weapons and night-vision scopes, building bombs, communicating in coded messages and even conducting post-midnight surveillance of the governor's lakeside vacation home.

Playing guns. One guy was going to paint his fishing boat black to facilitate a late-night kidnapping; others planned to bomb a nearby highway overpass to distract law enforcement. They first attracted police attention by trying to learn the home addresses of local cops. That will get you busted every time.

Everything came apart after a couple of Wolverines got cold feet and went to the law. The feds had informants wired for sound during meetings in the basement hideout — two of them, who didn't know about each other.

Gov. Whitmer, see, had provoked the outrage of bearded children across Michigan with a series of stringent lockdown orders meant to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. "LIBERATE MICHIGAN," the honorary head Wolverine in the White House tweeted on April 17 amid his deadly campaign to "reopen" the economy before public health officials thought it wise.

Two weeks later, armed militiamen occupied the statehouse in Lansing. At least two of the Wolverines participated. I kept wondering what would happen if some fool pulled the trigger. No way and no how should such conduct be legal. The U.S. Constitution is not a suicide pact.

Trump urged surrender: "The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire," he wrote. "These are very good people, but they are angry."

Down in the basement, meanwhile, Wolverine chieftain Fox vented: "Everything's gonna have to be annihilated, man. We're gonna topple it all, dude. It's what great frickin' conquerors (do), man, we're just gonna conquer every f---in' thing, man."

Evidently, Fox's girlfriend had left him. I can't imagine why.

Then after Gov. Whitmer chided Boss Trump for his refusal to condemn right-wing extremists and white supremacists, he complained that she hadn't thanked him for protecting her. Trump cited "My Justice Department and Federal Law Enforcement" quite as if he'd played some role in the bust, which he surely did not.

The thing is, all the guns, camouflage fatigues and subterranean hideouts in the world can't give these bearded children what they need — decent jobs and good women to help them keep their heads on straight.

Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of "The Hunting of the President" (St. Martin's Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at eugenelyons2@yahoo.com.