Recently, someone put up a post at Internet Infidels saying the poster would embrace the term "militant atheist," partly on the grounds that it's just not worth fighting.
I thought I'd go and do a Google search to see how the term is being used, along with similar searches for Militant Christians and Militant Muslims. The results? 10 out of the top 10 hits for Muslims deal with actual violence. 3 of the top 10 for Christians deal with violence that has in fact been committed, and another 2 deal with end times nuts who want to see the Dome of the Rock. For atheists, all there is is 1 reference to a group from the early days of the Soviet Union--no modern atheists using actual violence.
This is, I think, clear evidence of a ridiculous disparity in how the term is being used. We'd best get back to using "militant" only in the literal sense, and dispense with the current nonsensical usage that lumps Sam Harris with Osama bin Laden.
The "militant atheist" phrase is, in a way, not as bad as "fundamentalist atheists." There is some precedent for using "militant" to mean "hard core," in spite of the inconsistencies. But outside slamming atheists, fundamentalism has always mainly applied to people who believe their given holy book is infallible. Sometimes, this is taken to the point of people becoming convinced that "God exists because the Bible says so" is a good argument. Generally, people who are called fundamentalists are hard core about doctrines that at least seem to be taught in the Bible, such as Young-Earth Creationism and the belief that everyone who disagrees with their religious opinions goes to Hell. Now, where are the atheists saying, "God does not exist because Le Systeme de la nature says so"? Where are the atheists who insist, as a matter of principle, that Carl Sagan was right about everything he ever said even when the scientific evidence is against it? Where are the atheists who stand on street corners shouting "All who do not accept Giordano Bruno as their personal Lord and Savior deserve to suffer the worst fate possible"?
I feel I ought to end by saying we should do something about such nonsense, though most of the people who spout it aren't the type to listen to reason.