Kelley studies social issues, including crime, punishment, the Drug War, and America's criminal justice system.
Hundreds of militia groups have formed in the United States and many of them are probably unknown to most people
This article pays particular attention to those militia groups that have nothing to do with federal or state militias, and have adopted an extreme, anti-government dogma, or even envision the destruction of the federal government of the United States. These groups may also advocate bigotry, supremacist philosophy and/or a conspiracy oriented ideology and, generally right-wing, may constitute a threat to the security of the country.
Of course, members of these various paramilitary groups may think they have the constitutional right to resist what they perceive as the tyranny of the federal government, or some may think they have the God-given duty to pursue what’s right or just, while others may simply want to arm and train themselves to deal with civil strife or some apocalyptic event. Yet how can private citizens make distinctions between such groups? And if people choose to do so, should they join such a group? At any rate, educating people about these important issues seems a wise option.
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Rise of Militia Groups in America
Militias have existed in the United States since colonial times; they’ve helped keep the peace and fought in civil conflicts or wars throughout history. For the most part, these militias are comprised of either the Organized Militia or the Unorganized Militia (aka the reserve militia), which includes able-bodied men between the ages of 17 and 45, as described in the Militia Act of 1903.
In recent times, militia groups in America comprise armed units of men and women who wear combat attire, carry assault rifles, semiautomatic pistols and other weaponry, while practicing military tactics on weekends or whenever. Only their beliefs, ethics, style and goals differ from one group to another.
In the early 1990s, when tragic events erupted at such places as Ruby Ridge and the Waco Siege, anti-government militia groups spread to nearly every state and were often ignored by the public, the media and law enforcement. Many people also joined militia group because of passage of the Brady Bill in 1994, which seemed to prove that the US government wanted to disarm the populace. Nevertheless, anti-government fanaticism diminished greatly after April 19, 1995, when domestic terrorists bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring 680 others. Thereafter, membership in militia groups plunged throughout the US.
Though membership in militia groups declined during the late 1990s and into the 2000s, there were many incidents involving militia groups such as the Michigan Militia, most of these dealing with weapons charges and/or threats to private property, government buildings or military installations. But these were minor incidents or simply idle threats and none approached the destruction and loss of life at Ruby Ridge, the Waco Siege or the Oklahoma City bombing.
Once Again Extremist Militias Spread Across the Country
According to the article “Meet Your Local Anti-Government Extremist Groups” on the website for High Country News, dated 9/27/17, the author stated that since the presidential election of Donald Trump in 2016, extremist military groups have increased in numbers and influence in the US, suggesting that Trump’s political stance encourages the formation of such groups. The story lists two such groups and summarized their activities.
In 2014, The Oath Keepers, a right-wing militia group, showed up in support of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher, who had a dispute with the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service. The Oath Keepers also came to Burns, Oregon in 2016, showing their support for the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
The article went on to say that The Oath Keepers are fixated on apocalyptic scenarios that claim the US government is trying to destroy the liberties of US citizens. Fortunately, the group has tried to disassociate itself with white supremacist organizations attending right-wing rallies across the country, hoping this will avoid violent confrontations. Interestingly, the group includes numerous members involved in law enforcement and the US military and claims a membership of 35,000 members.
Another group, the 3 Percenters, is a fierce supporter of the Second Amendment to the Constitution. The name of the group pertains to their claim that only three per cent of the populace fought against the British in the American Revolution, though the Wikipedia story linked to its name states that 15 per cent of the colonists participated in America’s war of independence. Notably, after the Newtown massacre of schoolchildren in 2012, the group sent emails to over 1,000 law enforcement officials in Connecticut, warning that hostilities could be initiated if the state passed a tough new gun control law.
The leader of 3 Percenters, Mike Vanderboegh, says, “The Three Percent of today declare: We will not disarm. You cannot convince us. You cannot intimidate us. You can kill us if you think you can but remember, we will shoot back.”
The article also states that currently there are 623 right-wing, anti-government militia groups in the US, down from a total of 1,360 in 2012. But they’re particularly active in western states, notably the Washington Light Foot Militia and the Arizona State Militia, among many others.
Law Enforcement Fears Extremist Militia Groups
According to a TV program produced by Frontline entitled “A Guide to the New Militia Movement,” dated 5/17/17, 74 per cent of law enforcement in 2015 considered anti-government militia groups to be a major threat to the communities in which they worked. In fact, between 1990 and 2014, there were more deadly attacks by radical right-wing militias than attacks by Islamic terrorists in the US, per a government-funded database.
The FBI, which investigates domestic terrorism and militia groups, began doing so in a major way in 1969. The agency’s first target was Posse Comitatus (Latin for “power of the country”), a far-right social movement that espouses an anti-government, anti-Semitic, anti-African American stance, as well as white Christian supremacist rhetoric. The group urges vigilante groups in the US to resist federal officials who support laws they consider unconstitutional, particularly ones involving desegregation, taxation or gun control.
Posse Comitatus, which considers itself to be separate from federal law, has heavily influenced American right-wing militias ever since.
Rise of the Patriot Movement
Interest in militia groups gained momentum with the election of Barack Obama in 2008. President Obama, it seemed, favored gun control legislation and other liberal causes considered anathema to many militia groups. Militia groups also began using social media to a much greater extent, facilitating the spread of radical, anti-government viewpoints across the country. Such viewpoints proliferated with the use of propaganda and paramilitary training videos, particularly as seen on websites such as YouTube. Tragically, the rise of social media could make it easier to influence and incite lone wolves, who might cause mass killings at schools, concerts or nightclubs.
Nevertheless, many of the new militia groups have avoided usage of a racist agenda, thereby encouraging minorities to enter their ranks; they also stress the importance of disaster preparation and community service. This tactic has drawn many law enforcement members into these groups, namely The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), which is an excellent example of a militia group with many members from law enforcement who espouse an ideology that’s more palatable to the populace as a whole. Interestingly, the names of members in this organization are no longer made public.
Patriot Militia Prevalent in America’s South
Per an article entitled “ ‘I’m Prepared for Civil War’: In America’s South, Militias Are Preparing for Battle,” published on Business Insider.com, dated 8/17/17, the author stated that militia groups are proliferating throughout America’s South, including the so-called Georgia Security Force (GSF), of which Chris Hill is a member and the founder. Hill, whose nickname is General Bloodagent, says “I'm prepared for civil war, civil unrest, EMP attack from North Korea, Russia, invasion from a foreign government, or my own government turning its guns against the people in an effort to disarm."
Members of the GSF, who consider it part of the so-called Patriot Militia, say they are emboldened by the words of President Donald Trump, as well as events such as the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017, when a protestor and two state troopers were killed and 38 people injured. Not surprisingly, the activities of ultra-conservatives and radical groups such as Neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and the Alt Right, have given the FBI and other law enforcement agencies great cause for concern. In fact, agents of the FBI have infiltrated many militia groups in the US.
Perhaps this concern is warranted because many militia groups such as the Georgia Security Force share the ideology of some hate groups, particularly anti-Islamic and homophobic stances. Moreover, members of the GSF say that a call to arms will happen someday; it’s not a matter of if, but when.
What exactly are these anti-government militia groups? Are they simply groups of men and women playing soldier? Do we have anything to fear from them? Should we disband them as soon as possible? Should we make their very existence illegal? In the coming years American citizens may have to answer these questions and act accordingly. At any rate, as long as the Oath Seekers or 3 Percenters don’t take the offensive and attack the government, military, police or privates citizens, we may have little to fear from them; in fact, we may be glad they exist if the social structure of America collapses in some cataclysmic event.
If there’s one thing we know for certain about these militia groups, it’s that they claim the right to bear arms, and if the government tries to disarm them, the results could be unpleasant indeed.
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© 2018 Kelley Marks
Gerry Glenn Jones from Somerville, Tennessee on June 27, 2018: