The militia movement is a United States subculture consisting primarily of disaffected, rural, white, right-wing Christians who believe that the federal government's authority is either broadly abused or outright null and void, and that the American people must form armed paramilitary groups in order to stand up to Washington and make their voice heard. The movement was mostly active in the early-mid 1990s, and appears to be making a comeback in recent years following the election of a
colored fella socialist as President, though it is not as powerful as it was at its peak.
 Well regulated?
They draw their name from the "well-regulated militia" clause of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, and are ideologically rooted on the right wing of the political spectrum, usually libertarianism, paleolibertarianism, and/or paleoconservatism. The movement is heavily associated and infused with survivalist rhetoric about impending economic collapse and societal breakdown, along with conspiracy theories about the federal government, big business, gun control, and international institutions like the United Nations and the Roman Catholic Church, all wrapped up into a message of reclaiming the "real" America from these nefarious forces. While the militia movement does experience plenty of cross-pollination with white nationalists, anti-Semites, and other elements of the radical right, most observers view this as secondary to the movement's chief ideology — indeed, during the movement's height in the '90s a number of black separatist groups took up the ethos of militias, and today it attracts a large number of pro-Israel Christian Zionists who see the Jews as allies against the "coming global jihad".
Many of these groups conversely view themselves (or frame themselves to the public) as groups of citizens organized and ready to be called on by local government when needed, and that private citizens' militias such as theirs were the "original intent" of the Founders for national defense and assistance with local law enforcement. This is a half-truth. While it is true that, historically, government agencies (from the local sheriff to the state) have called upon private citizens during times of emergency or temporarily deputized private citizens, and most state constitutions include definitions of the "unorganized militia" as all adult males (usually between a certain age range, 18 to 45) for this purpose, it is a leap of logic to conclude this sanctions the formation of private paramilitary organizations not organized by nor recognized by the government. The concept is "all adult males", not a private group of people holding decidedly fringe views proclaiming themselves "the" militia.
The movement is most heavily concentrated in rural areas, suburbia, and old Rust Belt cities in "red state" America, where it is buffeted by traditions of rural populism and (in the southern US) Confederate apologia. The politics of the movement tend to appeal most to those people who have been uprooted by the economic changes brought by globalization — family farmers, small business owners, blue-collar workers, and others at the lower-middle class end of the spectrum — while at the same time masking the real causes of these changes, instead blaming their problems on liberals, foreigners, and shadowy cabals of "globalists" and "international bankers" seeking to destroy the American way of life. These same politics also serve to repel those in the big cities, where cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism are facts of life rather than "creeping outside forces", where the economies are driven by white-collar professional occupations (like finance, health care, and high technology), and where even conservatives tend to be more Catholic, Jewish, or libertarian than evangelical.
Besides conspiracy theorists and survivalists, the movement also attracted a heavy admixture of whackers and mall ninjas during its heyday in the '90s, although most of them left once it became clear the movement was also a magnet for dangerous anti-government paranoids like Timothy McVeigh.
 Legality of militias
Most militia groups claim direct lineage from Revolutionary War groups such as the Minutemen, and at least a few claim to be available to their states for defense purposes. However, many, if not most, states have laws against private armies such as these or any sort of paramilitary organization not directly authorized by state or federal government.
Legally speaking, the National Guard (which is not any sort of citizen militia), is considered the "organized militia" under US federal law (state laws generally include the State Defense Force as well, if they have one), while the "unorganized militia" is all males of a certain age according to the same law.. The Civil Air Patrol[wp] also serves as a civilian auxiliary of the US Air Force. Twenty-two states plus Puerto Rico also have their own "state militias" or "state defense forces"[wp] separate from the National Guard and under the sole command of the Governor, though training standards vary wildly. Most state defense forces are very lightly armed, if at all, and work primarily to augment the National Guard for peacetime duties, such as combating wildfires and providing aid to disaster areas. Community emergency response teams (CERTs)[wp] and neighborhood watches[wp] serve a similar purpose at the local level. In addition, during the Cold War there existed various civil defense[wp] and continuity of government[wp] programs at the federal, state, and municipal levels, though much of this infrastructure has since fallen into disuse.
To the extent that there is a citizen (or "unorganized") militia, it is a concept found in state constitutions used to bridge a gap in federal law declaring all able-bodied males between 18 and 45 to be part of the "militia". Should the "unorganized militia" need to be called to service at the federal level, one might presume that the proper way to do so would be to enact a draft using the Selective Service infrastructure. Things in the US would probably have to be quite bad for it to get to this point, as conscription had been discontinued in 1973. Historically, private citizens have been "drafted" (or "deputized") at the state or local level under the "militia" clause on a temporary basis, usually to help with emergency services, but while this was common in the 1800s it is very rare today. For example (and to show why this isn't that popular anymore), firefighters used to be "drafted" from the local tavern in places where there was no regular fire department, but this inevitably led to problems with arson by unemployed people needing a quick job.
While the modern militia movement first took shape in the 1990s, they appear to have taken at least some of their ideology and organizational tactics from two earlier movements: the Minutemen of the 1960s, and the Posse Comitatus of the '70s and '80s. The former was originally intended as a "stay-behind" militia meant to resist a Communist invasion of the United States, before turning into a more militant version of the John Birch Society that proclaimed the Reds to have already taken over the US government. The latter, meanwhile, introduced a radically anti-federalist doctrine that, through a bizarre reading of the common law, denied the legitimacy of the federal and state governments, and also incorporated Christian Identity beliefs.
Going back further, arguments have also be made that the Ku Klux Klan was the first militia group as we would recognize it today, in the sense that they declared war on the US government in order to end Reconstruction and preserve their idealized way of life. This applies only to the first wave of the Klan, however; later incarnations, while certainly violent, were primarily engaged in political activism rather than armed insurrection.
 The first wave: the 1990s
The first wave of the modern movement began at a 1992 meeting initiated by fringe preacher Peter J. Peters in Estes Park, Colorado. Peters' meeting was initiated in the wake of the Ruby Ridge fiasco and he invited a large number of leaders from both mainstream evangelical Christian and political extreme right circles; most mainstream Christians blew him off, so the attendance wound up reading like a who's who of the extreme right. Among those in attendance were Richard Butler, leader of the Aryan Nations, Louis Beam, leader of the Texas Ku Klux Klan, Chris Temple, who published the Christian Identity newspaper The Jubilee, and Kirk Lyons, an attorney who has headed an assortment of white supremacist and neo-Confederate legal defense funds. Last but certainly not least, there was Larry Pratt, founder of the Gun Owners of America and English First, who in 1990 had written a book calling for Americans to form "citizen defense patrols" along the lines of the right-wing fighters in Guatemala and the Philippines — conveniently leaving out that such groups were also known as "death squads" for their brutality. The purpose of the meeting was to figure out what to do to make sure a Ruby Ridge didn't happen again. Their solution: form citizens' militias.
However, the movement quickly spiraled out of control — and out of the control of the extreme right leaders who initiated it. As with many such movements, the founders talked up the militia concept but then stepped out of the way and went back to what they had been doing before once the ball got rolling. The movement quickly attracted a different set of far-right leaders as a vehicle for their own ends, as well as a smattering of unstables and unknowns who saw the militia movement as a way to make a name for themselves. The government's loosening of shortwave radio regulations in the mid '80s, permitting private religious broadcasters to operate shortwave radio stations, gave the movement a useful outreach tool and propaganda outlet as these broadcasters realized, sometime in the early '90s, that there was money to be made in leasing out airtime to extreme right pundits so crazy that even Rush Limbaugh wouldn't come anywhere near them. Many of these hosts emerged as major militia figures in their own right.
The militia movement's strongest period (as monitored by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center) was the mid-1990s during the administration of Bill Clinton, and much of its ideological motivation came from perceived injustices perpetuated by governmental authority in cases such as Ruby Ridge and the Waco siege. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 and the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, along with books like John Ross' Unintended Consequences, also motivated conservative gun owners to sign up with such groups, fearing that the government was moving towards the confiscation of personal firearms. In addition, the populist Presidential run of Ross Perot in 1992 and the passage of NAFTA in 1994 motivated angry workers who felt that the government had sold out the middle and working classes to business interests. Lastly, Clinton's sex scandals and the Whitewater investigation created the impression, in the minds of conservative hardliners, that the President was a crook, leading to the proliferation of conspiracy theories accusing Bill and Hillary Clinton of everything up to and including the murder of whistleblowers.
On the more apolitical side, the movement also attracted whackers who took "emergency preparedness" a little too seriously, as well as grown-up little boys and girls who read magazines about mercenaries and needed an excuse to run around in the woods in camo shouting "oo-rah!" without actually having to meet the physical fitness requirements to join the military, or get yelled at by an angry drill instructor on Parris Island. (Couldn't they have just gone hunting instead?) There were also plenty of people caught up in Y2K hysteria who felt that, if they were going to survive the end of industrial civilization, they needed a strong group at their side. However, many of these people quickly left the movement, partly because they had been in it as a fad and had little ideological commitment to its ideals, and partly for reasons that will be described thus.
 After Oklahoma City
In the mid-late '90s, the militia movement was at the center of a series of events that caused a wave of publicity both good and bad, bringing the movement to its height but also leading to its undoing. In 1995, Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 165 people, and in the ensuing years militia groups experienced a number of clashes with federal law enforcement, most notably the confrontation with the Montana Freemen in 1996 and the Republic of Texas secessionist group in 1997.
This had two effects. On one hand, right-wingers who hadn't heard of militias before but were sympathetic to the movement's goals joined existing groups or started up their own after hearing that there were folks like them who
hated (*ahem*) disfavored a tyrannical Washington and were willing to put their money where their mouth was. On the other hand, many of the casual hangers-on left the movement in droves, perhaps realizing it was a haven for potentially violent, and possibly mentally unstable, political extremists and deciding that they had cold feet and didn't want to be associated with it after all. Moderates poured out of the movement and radicals poured in, producing a self-reinforcing cycle of political extremism that alienated all but the most dedicated. After peaking in 1996 with 858 active groups, the movement went into a steep decline from which it took more than a decade to recover.
 Major (and minor) figures
- Mark Koernke, a janitor at the University of Michigan who called himself "Mark from Michigan". Starting in the early '90s, Mr. from Michigan was giving public speeches, making a series of videos titled America in Peril, and hosting a shortwave radio program called The Intelligence Report spinning outlandish tales of fleets of mysterious black helicopters being prepared for blue-helmeted United Nations troops to invade the US. He maintained close ties with the leaders of the Michigan Militia, then one of the country's largest and most high-profile militia groups, and also started up several groups of his own (though many were little more than talk). He became a focus of public and media attention when a fax he had sent to Texas Congressman Steve Stockman an hour before the Oklahoma City bombing seemed to indicate that he had knowledge of the plan; this later died down once it turned out that the fax's timestamp didn't account for Daylight Savings Time, meaning that he had sent it just after the bombing occurred and was describing current events. In the early '00s, he served a few years in prison for resisting arrest, assaulting police officers, and leading police on a car chase, but not without claiming that his former boss at the Republic Radio Network had set him up. More fun than being a mere janitor, I guess. (Hey, is this guy an example of the same thing?)
- John Trochmann, who had been at the Peters meeting. Trochmann founded the Militia of Montana, one of the first and most high-profile major militia groups. Small in number (largely composed of Trochmann and his family and friends), the MOM sought to promote the militia concept through the magazine Taking Aim and through a mail-order packet of information. The packet included a handbook for how to organize a militia (amusing because, among other things, every page of the booklet had the words TREASON TREASON TREASON TREASON TREASON across the top and bottom margins), a book catalog of the usual conspiracy books and far-right material, and a bunch of photocopies of tanks and military equipment being carried on railroad cars, supposed "evidence" that the United Nations was about to invade the US in the name of the New World Order. The MOM didn't engage in paramilitary training like most militias, leading some in the movement to deride them as the "Mail-Order Militia" for being unwilling to take real action; however, this meant that they were able to cultivate a friendly media image and avoid getting caught up in the terrorist plots that dragged down so many other groups. Late in the '90s, the MOM was heavily involved in Y2K hysteria, which brought the group to its peak but later wound up crippling their membership and image once it turned out to be nothing. They're still around today, though, peddling conspiracy theories about 9/11 and the financial crisis.
- Indiana attorney Linda Thompson. Formerly a liberal who had done some work for the ACLU, Thompson made a video called Waco, the Big Lie right after the 1993 Waco siege. While not the first significant criticism of the government's mishandling of the events, it made a splash because it was then the most sensational. Thompson soon moved far to the right and went crazy, proclaiming herself "Acting Adjutant General of the Unorganized Militias of the United States", jumping on the "black helicopter" bandwagon, claiming the bar-coded stickers on the backs of highway signs were to guide U.N. tanks after they invaded the U.S. and the Amtrak heavy repair shop at Beech Grove, Indiana is one of the FEMA concentration camps, and proclaiming an armed march on Washington, D.C. scheduled for September 19, 1994 during which "all militia units" were to assemble and arrest the entire U.S. Congress for "treason". She later called off the march (after just about every other militia group balked at her insane proposal) and claimed it had only been to drum up publicity.
- Ron Cole, who was so moved by the Branch Davidian siege in 1993 he converted to Branch Davidianism on the spot, and also started two militia groups, the Colorado Light Infantry and the North American Liberation Army. He soon got involved in the feud among surviving Branch Davidians as to who would take over leadership after Koresh's untimely demise. He and the three other members of his Colorado militia were arrested in 1997 over allegations of possession of machine guns.
- Robert G. Millar, a Canadian immigrant who had founded a 400-acre compound known as Elohim City in the mountains of eastern Oklahoma in 1973. Elohim City was a popular destination for Christian Identity adherents and other white supremacists, as well as (in one case in 1986) a Canadian woman trying to evade a custody battle. During the '90s, four members of the white supremacist bank robbery gang the Aryan Republican Army lived in Elohim City, and Timothy McVeigh also had some connections to the compound — he had been issued a speeding ticket in the area, and Richard Snell, an Elohim City resident and convicted murderer on death row, threatened that something drastic would happen on the day of his execution. Hours before Snell was executed, the Oklahoma City bombing was carried out.
 Decline and dormancy in the early-mid 2000s
Many militia groups and leaders got involved in the hype surrounding the Y2K problem, using the fear surrounding it as a recruiting tool and pushing it as the date of the end times, the New World Order's ultimate takeover, or whatever their big issue was. When Y2K went out with a fizzle rather than a bang, many of the people hyping it up were left with egg on their faces, and those moderate-but-scared followers that hadn't already left the movement over its propensity for violence now saw no reason why they should stay on.
9/11 was the final nail in the movement's coffin. It split the militias into two camps; while some militia leaders claimed that 9/11 was an inside job, others affirmed their patriotism and offered their support in the war against the "Islamofascists". Furthermore, the presidency of George W. Bush and the political dominance of the conservative wing of the Republican Party meant that most of the movement's causes, such as illegal immigration, had a more respectable outlet in the form of political activism, causing the more mainstream (or at least less militant) members to leave and take up support of political efforts to implement their goals. This only further shrank the movement's support to a small hard-core fringe of true believers. By around 2004, while there were still a handful of groups keeping the concept alive, the militia movement had completely petered out as an organized political force.
However, while down for the time being, the embers on the far-right were still very warm. The middle of the decade saw the rise of anti-immigrant "citizen border patrol" groups like the Minuteman Project (no relation to the Minutemen of the '60s), Ranch Rescue and their many copycats, which grabbed media attention with their armed patrols of the US-Mexico border. The Bush administration's policy in support of immigration reform and Latino outreach, along with 2008 Presidential candidate John McCain's moderate positions on immigration, alienated much of the anti-immigrant right, causing them to grow more radicalized and claim that mainstream conservative politicians had betrayed them in favor of "pandering to the Mexican vote". In addition, the War on Terror and the expansion of the government's police powers in the name of combating terrorism caused many libertarians and paleoconservatives to turn against the Republican Party. While some found common cause with anti-war liberals and left-leaning civil libertarians, others went off the deep end and delved into the conspiratorial world of the far-right.
 The second wave: today
The radicalization of nativists and the anti-war right provided the kindling for a rebirth of the militia movement. The sparks came in 2008-09, when the economic crisis, the election of a black Democrat as President, the Tea Party movement, and the proliferation of "red meat" from right-wing blogs, talk radio, and cable news kicked the "Patriot" movement and its rhetoric back into high gear, leading to a second wave of "traditional" anti-government militias. Two groups at the forefront of the new movement, the Oath Keepers and the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, specifically recruit law enforcement and (in the Oath Keepers' case) military personnel in the interests of "upholding the Constitution", with the Oath Keepers' list of ten "orders we will not obey" including two references to concentration/detention camps, one to the seizure of civilians' personal firearms, and one to foreign troops on US soil, all major bogeymen of the "Patriot" right. Meanwhile, many of the old anti-government plots are once again coming out of the woodwork.
 Analogues outside the US
 Central Europe
In the aftermath of World War I, the Freikorps[wp] paramilitary groups in Germany and German-speaking lands can be seen as having been a European analogue/antecedent to the American militia movement in both actions and ideology. They engaged in violence against communists and Slavic peoples who they saw as having stabbed Germany in the back, the latter in particular in those areas of the Baltic states and Poland with large German minorities. In addition, just like American militias that claim descent from the "minutemen" of the Revolutionary War, the Freikorps had a founding myth in the militias that waged guerrilla war against the French during the Napoleonic Wars. Many Freikorps leaders went on to become high-ranking members of the notorious Schutzstaffel, or SS, though many also opposed the Nazis and were purged in the Night of the Long Knives.
The Heimwehr (Home Guard)[wp] in Austria were a similar movement, but instead of the pan-German ideology of the Nazis, they espoused a uniquely Austrian brand of fascism that opposed joining Germany. As a result, they often got into violent fights with the Austrian Nazi Party. The Heimwehr were incorporated into the Fatherland Front's paramilitary arm in 1934 after the party rose to power in Austria.
Interestingly, the Nazis themselves tried to create one of these once they knew their rule over Germany was doomed, in the form of a "stay-behind" militia known as Werwolf that was meant to oppose Allied occupation. However, they seem to have been a very poorly organized group indeed, as their only significant activity seemed to be right-wing graffiti.
 South Africa
In the 19th century, the Boer republics relied on a militia system as their means of national defense. Adult male citizens were organized into "commando" units[wp] that were attached to the town they were raised from (e.g. the Bloemfontein Commando), with all officers appointed by the commando as opposed to the government. While this system was effective at holding off tribal raids, it notably failed when it was put up against an organized, imperial invader in the form of the British Empire. Even though the Second Boer War exposed critical weaknesses in the British Army (and caused the word "commando" to enter the English language to describe an all-around badass, lone-wolf fighter), the Boer commandos were still only able to hold out for two and a half years, and failed to stop the total conquest of the Boer republics as British colonies.
Later on, in the '80s and early '90s, groups like the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB)[wp] and the Afrikaner Volksfront (AVF)[wp] engaged in violence against anti-apartheid politicians as the apartheid system began to lose popular support and international pressure mounted against South Africa. The AWB declared war on the government once it entered negotiations to end the apartheid system, and on June 25, 1993, they led an attempt to storm the World Trade Centre in Kempton Park near Johannesburg[wp], where the negotiations were being held.
Japan's closest analogue to the militia movement would be the ultra-nationalist uyoku dantai[wp] groups. Like the German Freikorps, the uyoku dantai engaged in right-wing terrorism, directed mainly against socialists, labor unions and other perceived threats to the Emperor's authority. Unlike the Freikorps, however, such groups did not disappear after World War II; instead, the US co-opted them in the fight against socialism in post-war Japan. This began to change in the '70s and especially at the end of the Cold War, with growing numbers of nationalists viewing the US as an occupying force that was as great a threat to Japanese sovereignty and culture as the Red Menace.
Nowadays, they're best known for their gaisensha, vans and trucks plastered with propaganda and armed with loudspeakers blaring "patriotic" slogans and speeches/rants to anyone within earshot, as well as their denial of Japanese war crimes during WWII and their support for historical revisionism in school textbooks. Due to Japan's strict gun control laws, they aren't armed to nearly the same degree as their American counterparts, leaving them with their gaisensha as weapons of mass irritation. Ironically, many ethnic Koreans are affiliated with uyoku dantai groups, mainly because of the links that many such groups have with yakuza crime syndicates (which include disproportionate numbers of Koreans).
 See also
- Citizen's Rule Book — a pamphlet on jury nullification that shows much of the militia POV on legal issues such as common law.
- Gun — (probably) the real reason they do it: because they're obsessed with looking cool while carrying assault weaponry.
- Moral panic
- Paramilitary woo
- Posse Comitatus — the loosely-defined white supremacist/tax resistance group that provided much of militia ideology.
- Second Amendment — the thing that makes them, in their own special way, right.
- Secure the border — a major focus of the more xenophobic militias.
- Sovereign citizen — a less racist, but no less nutty, outgrowth of Posse Comitatus ideology that also fuels militia beliefs.
- Freeman on the land — a version of sovereign citizen ideology prevalent in Commonwealth countries.
- Survivalism — a heavily overlapping group of nutters.
- Tax protester — a similar and probably overlapping group of nutters.
- ADL militia watchdog archives (site put on ice in 2000)
- ADL paper on the revival of the militia movement
- The militias' YouTube strategy. Includes seven embedded videos.
- Domestic Sources of Terrorism, Michael J. Whidden
- Militias: Initiating Contact, an FBI guide to dealing with militia members (just in case).
- TV Tropes — Right Wing Militia Fanatic (pop culture representations of the militia movement)
- ↑ "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." Generally interpreted by others to mean bodies such as the National Guard and state police, assembled and regulated by the states or the Feds, and interpreted by them to mean an individual right to bear arms and form private paramilitary groups.
- ↑ Something that's not without precedent. After all, Huey Newton's original Black Panther Party for Self-Defense could be described as a "Black Power" version of the NRA due to their strong support for gun rights (especially with regards to defending against police brutality), and their actions against drug dealers and street gangs seem to imply that they took the "militia" part seriously.
- ↑ Kimmel, Michael. "America's angriest white men: Up close with racism, rage, and Southern supremacy." Salon, 17 November 2013.
- ↑ "What Is the Militia Movement?" PublicEye.org
- ↑ Southern Poverty Law Center's profile on Kirk Lyons
- ↑ "False Patriots." Southern Poverty Law Center, Summer 2001, Issue 201.
- ↑ Sean Hannity, on the other hand, was more than happy to cozy up with neo-Nazi ideologue Hal Turner until it became inconvenient to his rising career.
- ↑ http://www.adl.org/learn/ext_us/Militia_M.asp?xpicked=4&item=19
- ↑ "Militias 'in retreat'." BBC News, 11 May 2001.
- ↑ Anti-Defamation League profile: Mark Koernke
- ↑ Militia of Montana
- ↑ Rail is the default way to transport military cargo (especially tanks) overland, since they weigh far too much to transport by air or truck. However, it is a huge leap of logic to claim that this means that America is about to be invaded.
- ↑ Yes, they have a webshite.
- ↑ McCain frequently earned the nickname "Juan McCain" from anti-immigrant activists, as evidenced by this screed.
- ↑ Dwyer, Mark Andrew. "Election Year Sellout."
- ↑ A tradition that they apparently forget goes back to Ronald Reagan, who passed the first "amnesty" bill in 1986 and remarked during his 1980 campaign that "Latinos are Republicans... [who] just don't know it yet."
- ↑ Pat Buchanan, for instance, found a new home and a plum job on the left-leaning cable news network MSNBC for several years, while Ron Paul drew most of his support in 2008 and, to a lesser extent, 2012 from young liberals who weighed his anti-war and pro-First Amendment positions (and support for loosening drug laws, but that's for a different article) more heavily than his right-libertarian views on most everything else.
- ↑ http://crooksandliars.com/david-neiwert/willl-ex-military-patriots-form-more
- ↑ "The Second Wave: Return of the Militias." Southern Poverty Law Center, August 2009. (note: dead link)
- ↑ "US 'Christian militants' charged after FBI raids." BBC News, 30 March 2010.
- ↑ "Georgia men arrested over alleged US ricin plot." The Guardian, 2 November 2011.
- ↑ Much to the dismay of many non-right-wing Japanese, who apparently find this more annoying than anything, though few are actually willing to tell them to cut it out.