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Militia movement

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A not-so-well-regulated militia

The militia movement is a largely American subculture consisting primarily of disaffected, rural, white, far-right 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 Washin'tun and make their voice heard. At times, elements of it are a domestic terror threat. The movement was mostly active in the early-mid 1990s, later having made a comeback following the election of Barack Obama and becoming even stronger with the rise of Donald Trump, reaching its zenith when various militias were involved with the 2021 U.S. Capitol riot.

Well regulated?[edit]

The militia movement draws their name from the "well-regulated militiaWikipedia" clause of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.[note 1] While they are ideologically rooted on the far-right wing of the political spectrum, they are often distrustful of the Republican Party mainstream (especially the neoconservative and neoliberal wings of the party), and often base their beliefs in paleoconservatism, libertarianism, or some mixture thereof instead. The growth of the militia movement in the 1990s was heavily intertwined with that of the "Christian Patriot" movement, a radical right-wing subculture infused with survivalist rhetoric about impending economic collapse and societal breakdown, along with conspiracy theories about the federal government, big business, gun control, the United Nations, the Roman Catholic Church, and other nefarious forces that the "real" America had to be reclaimed from.[1][2]

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 anti-government, conspiratorial ideology.[2] Indeed, during the movement's height in the 1990s, a number of black separatist groups took up the ethos of militias,[note 2] using arguments about "Fourteenth Amendment citizenship" to claim that Black people constituted a legally separate nation.[3] It also attracts a large number of pro-Israel Christian Zionists who see Jews as allies against the "coming global jihad"; in this, they share the sentiment of the Jewish Defense League, a domestic terrorist group that was closely ideologically associated with the deceased Meir Kahane's defunct and outlawed Kach party. Such sentiments are hardly universal, however, with the more racist elements of the movement seeing militias as protection for white Americans in the event of a race war.[4][5] From the other side, parts of the alt-right, which openly embraces racism, have come to see "Patriot" groups like the Oath Keepers as not extreme enough for their liking due to their rejection of explicit white supremacy.[6]

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 neither organized, 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 buttressed by traditions of rural populism and (in the southern US) Confederate apologia. The politics and message of the movement tend to appeal most to those people who have been uprooted by the economic changes brought by neoliberal globalization — family farmers, small business owners, blue-collar workers, "Reagan Democrats", and others in the working class and 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, urban elites, and shadowy cabals of "globalists" and "international bankers" seeking to destroy the American way of life.[7] These same politics also serve to repel those in the big cities, where cosmopolitanism, feminism, 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, mainline Protestant, or even non-religious than evangelical or fundamentalist.[8]

Besides conspiracy theorists and survivalists, the movement also attracted a heavy admixture of whackers and mall ninjas during its heyday in the 1990s, although most of them left once it became clear that the movement was also a magnet for dangerous anti-government paranoids like Timothy McVeigh.

Legality of militias[edit]

Many militia groups claim to be a modern incarnation of the Minutemen, the guerrilla fighters, colonial militia, and backwoodsmen who fought and harassed British soldiers during the American Revolution. One group within the militia subculture, the Three Percenters, places a special emphasis on this connection, rooted in the myth that only 3% of America's able-bodied men actually fought the British during the Revolution (the real number was closer to 15% over the full course of the war) and that a similarly small, dedicated movement could do the same to "liberate" the US from home-grown tyranny. Ironically enough, this idea is not too dissimilar from Marxist vanguardism, which makes a lot more sense once you realize that Mike Vanderboegh, founder of the Three Percenters, was once a New Left activist in the 1960s and 1970s before he converted to libertarianism.[9]

At least a few militias 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. Fortunately for militias, these laws often stipulate that a "private army" involves, among other things, being paid (which effectively every militia lacks), making the average militia not a private army according to a strict reading of the law. As such, they are, by and large, allowed to exist nearly entirely unmolested instead of being shut down by the hundreds.

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 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" separate from the National Guard and under the sole command of their respective governors, 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) and neighborhood watches serve a similar purpose at the local level. In addition, during the Cold War, there existed various civil defense and continuity-of-government 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: Robert DePugh's Minutemen of the 1960s, and the Posse Comitatus of the 1970s and 1980s. 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 been made that the Ku Klux Klan was the first militia group as we would recognize it today,[10] 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 James-Younger gang (of Jesse James fame), which robbed trains and banks in the Midwest and upper South after the American Civil War, also originated with pro-Confederate "bushwhackers" in Missouri before turning to crime after the war ended, mirroring the antics of more recent gangs like The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord.[11]

The first wave: the 1990s[edit]

The Waco siege was one of several primary motivators of the militia movement in 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.[12] Last but certainly not least, there was Larry Pratt, founder of both English First and the Gun Owners of America, 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.[13] 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 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-1980s, 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 1990s, 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.[note 3] 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[14] and the Southern Poverty Law Center[7]) was the mid-1990s during the presidency 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 Unintended ConsequencesWikipedia by John Ross, 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, had little ideological commitment to its ideals, and partly for reasons that will be described thus.

After Oklahoma City[edit]

Aftermath of McVeigh's bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building

In the mid-late 1990s, 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 168 people and injuring over 600. In the ensuing years, militia groups and "lone wolves" with similar ideologies 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, as well as the bombing of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics by Eric Robert Rudolph, an anti-abortion and homophobic extremist who viewed the Olympics as part of the New World Order's plot.

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, especially now that law enforcement was paying much closer heed to what they were doing. Moderates poured out of the movement and militants poured in, producing a feedback loop of radicalization that alienated all but the most dedicated.[2][7] 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.[15]

Major (and minor) figures[edit]

  • Mark Koernke,[16] a janitor at the University of Michigan who called himself "Mark from Michigan". Starting in the early 1990s, Mark 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 that 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 2000s, 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.
  • "What did you think before TV news did your thinking for you?"
    John Trochmann, who had been at the Peters meeting, founded the Militia of Montana,[17] 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.[18] 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.[note 4] 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;[7] however, this meant that they were able to cultivate a friendlier media image and avoid getting caught up in the terrorist plots that dragged down so many other groups. Late in the 1990s, 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 next-to-nothing. They persisted into the 2010s, peddling conspiracy theories about 9/11 and the financial crisis.[19]
  • Indiana attorney Linda Thompson was 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 with the schlockumentary America Under Siege
    • Claiming the bar-coded stickers on the backs of highway signs were to guide United Nations tanks after they invaded the U.S. and the Amtrak heavy repair shop at Beech Grove, Indiana is one of the FEMA concentration camps
    • 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 United States 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 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 CityWikipedia 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 1990s, 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[edit]

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.[7]

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 not only took away the Clintons as easy bogeymen, but it meant that most of the movement's causes, such as illegal immigration, had a more respectable outlet in the form of political activism. This caused the more mainstream (or at least less militant) members to leave and take up support of political efforts to implement their goals, which only further shrank the movement's support to a small hard-core fringe of true believers. By around 2004, the militia movement had completely petered out as an organized political force. A handful of groups and hangers-on kept the idea alive, but for all intents and purposes, they were about as effectual in the 2000s as the remaining hippie communes and Black Panthers were in the 1980s — a relic of the decade of flannel and the Chicago Bulls that was best left where it belonged.

The Minuteman Project, a right wing militia group, fought illegal immigration, but faded away in the 2010s.[20]

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 Robert DePugh's Minutemen of the 1960s), 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".[21][22][note 5]

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. Some found common cause with anti-war liberals and left-leaning civil libertarians. Pat Buchanan, for instance, found a new home and a plum job on the left-leaning cable news network MSNBC for several years, where his opposition to the War on Terror and support for a pro-labor, producerist economic policy was, for a time, enough to balance out his reactionary social views, while Ron Paul drew a good chunk of his support in 2008 and, to a lesser extent, 2012 from young liberals who weighed his positions in support of civil liberties, an end to the Wars on Terror and Drugs, and criminal justice reform more heavily than his right-libertarian views on most everything else. However, others went off the deep end and delved into the conspiratorial world of the far-right. 9/11 conspiracy theories, while commonly associated with the far left during this time, also counted unquestionable right-wingers like Alex Jones among their greatest proponents, who eagerly updated their New World Order theories to claim that this was the event that would bring about the end of freedom in America.

The second wave, starting in 2008[edit]

Oath Keepers billboard in Minnesota, 2015.

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.[23] 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, though the Oath Keepers in particular advocate bare noncompliance rather than direct resistance to such orders.[24] Meanwhile, many of the old anti-government plots are once again coming out of the woodwork.[25][26]

Becoming a domestic terrorist threat[edit]

The militia movement was turbocharged in 2015-16 by the rise of Donald Trump as a major political figure and eventual President. Both traditional militias and far-right street-fighting groups like the Proud Boys arose, as did the loose, radically libertarian movement known as the Boogaloo boys. Militia rhetoric also took on a very different tone from before; whereas militias in the past were fiercely anti-government, militias in the Trump era were just as fervently supportive of a federal government that they now saw as aligned with their goals, and instead directed their hatred at state and local leaders and left-wing activists who opposed the government. During the Black Lives Matter protests and COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, they led some of the most militant opposition, organizing armed anti-lockdown and anti-mask protests as well as counter-protests against Black Lives Matter supporters. A group was even arrested for plotting to kidnap a state governor! Embrace of the QAnon conspiracy theory also stretched far and wide.[27]

Militia movements such as the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys played an outsized role in the 2021 U.S. Capitol riot.[28] The incident (which FBI director Christopher A. WrayWikipedia called an act of "domestic terrorism")[29] highlighted the increased dangers of domestic far-right violent extremism, including militia extremists, during this time period.[30] Canada even labeled the Proud Boys as a "terrorist entity" due to this incident.[31] Analysts noted that the dangers of right-wing domestic extremism had heavily increased over the last several years, in large part due to the rhetoric of Donald Trump, particularly his bullshit lies regarding his loss being due to "fraud" in the 2020 presidential election.[32][33]

Analogues outside the US[edit]

Central Europe[edit]

Freikorps in 1919 confronting the Spartakusbund

In the aftermath of World War I, the Freikorps 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) 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 was more similar to the original article in Italy. So-called "Austrofascism" was more rooted in Catholicism and not explicitly anti-Semitic (even sponsoring Jewish artists and welcoming Jewish refugees from the German Nazis). More importantly, they staunchly opposed joining Germany and engaged in cultural posturing regarding Austria being the "true" or "better" Germany, and they often got into violent fights with the Austrian Nazi Party as a result. 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[edit]

Flag of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging

In the 19th century, the Boer republics, unable to afford standing armies, relied on a militia system as their means of national defense. Adult male citizens were organized into "commando" units that were attached to the town they were raised from (e.g. the Bloemfontein Commando), and were structured democratically, with all officers appointed by the commando as opposed to the government. The soldiers' training was informal and came mostly from their experience as farmers and especially hunters, favoring stealth, cover, marksmanship, and long-range attacks as opposed to the traditional army formations and tactics of the late 19th century.[34]

While this system was effective at holding off tribal raids, it was of limited use when it was put up against an organized, imperial invader in the form of the British Empire. The First Boer War in 1880-81 showed off the commando system's strengths, as it was basically a series of skirmishes that the Boers won handily (albeit mostly due to British incompetence). However, the Second Boer War, which ran from 1899 to 1902, was a far greater engagement. Even though the 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. Their battlefield prowess was no match for either the vast resources of the Empire or the brutality that the British employed against the Boer civilian population that supported them, which included scorched-earth tactics against Boer farms and herding the dispossessed Boer families into concentration camps (the war helped to popularize the term, even).[35]

Later on, in the 1980s and early 1990s, groups like the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) and the Afrikaner Volksfront (AVF) 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, where the negotiations were being held.


A gaisensha, one of the uyoku dantai's (rather little) weapons of mass irritation.

Due to their strict firearms laws, Japan's closest analogue to the militia movement would be the ultra-nationalist uyoku dantai groups. Like the German Freikorps, the uyoku dantai engaged in right-wing terrorism, directed mainly against socialists, labor unions, Koreans, 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 1970s 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, the uyoku dantai are 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,[note 6] 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).

In a separate but related instance, there was the case of the Tatenokai (Shield Society), a right-wing militia formed in 1968 by celebrated author, playwright, model, and actor Yukio Mishima, composed of his young male acolytes. In 1970, Mishima and four members of the Tatenokai were able to enter the Tokyo headquarters of the Japanese Self-Defense Force's Eastern Command and take the regional commandant hostage. The Tatenokai barricaded themselves in the commandant's office, allowing Mishima to use the balcony to read his manifesto to the soldiers gathered below, hoping to inspire a coup d'état that would restore the Emperor's power and re-establish the imperial cult (both de-legitimized by Japan's WWII surrender treaty). The soldiers, more irritated than anything, simply laughed and shouted insults. Following his speech, Mishima and one of his followers (believed to be Mishima's lover) committed seppuku. The coup attempt is known as the Mishima jiken (Mishima incident).[note 7]


Despite Canada having strict laws banning unsanctioned paramilitary groups, American-style militias have cropped up in Canada (Alberta especially), animated largely by hatred of Antifa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and, above all else, Muslims. Ironically, the largest militia in Canada is the local branch of the Three Percenter movement, which is, as noted above, rooted in American nationalist mythmaking surrounding the Revolution — a war in which the territories that later became Canada remained loyal to Britain and afterwards became a refuge for pro-British loyalists fleeing the newly-formed United States. Canadian gun laws mean that, while they do show up at protests dressed in camo and tactical gear, they do so carrying stun rods, billy clubs, and even canes instead of the guns that they have to keep locked up at home.[37][38]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. "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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. A tradition that they conveniently forget goes back to Ronald Reagan, who signed the first "amnesty" bill in 1986 and remarked during his 1980 campaign that "Latinos are Republicans… [who] just don't know it yet."
  6. Much to the dismay of many non-right-wing Japanese, who apparently find this more annoying than anything,[36] though few are actually willing to tell them to cut it out.
  7. The excellent 1985 film Mishima: A Life in Four ChaptersWikipedia dramatizes autobiographical excerpts from his novels and accurately recreates the coup attempt.


  1. Christian Research Institute — The Patriot Movement by Richard Abanes (Winter 1997) Christian Research Journal.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 The Militia Movement: For Law Enforcement Anti-Defamation League.
  3. "Moorish Sovereign Citizens" Southern Poverty Law Center.
  4. "The Boogaloo Movement is Not What You Think." by Robert Evans & Jason Wilson (May 27, 2020) Bellingcat.
  5. "Far-Right Extremists Are Hoping to Turn the George Floyd Protests Into a New Civil War." by Tess Owen (29 May 2020) Vice.
  6. "'Alt-Right' Declares Flame War On Oath Keepers." (June 15, 2017) Southern Poverty Law Center.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Once popular Patriot leader John Trochmann now leads 'Mail-Order Militia'. (Summer 2001) Intelligence Report, Southern Poverty Law Center.
  8. America's angriest white men: Up close with racism, rage, and Southern supremacy. by Michael Kimmel (17 November 2013) Salon.
  9. Meet the Former Militiaman Behind the Fast and Furious Scandal. by Stephanie Mencimer (14 December 2011) Mother Jones.
  10. What Is the Militia Movement?
  11. See the Wikipedia article on The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord.
  12. Kirk Lyons Southern Poverty Law Center.
  13. False Patriots (Summer 2001) Intelligence Report, Southern Poverty Law Center.
  14. The Militia Movement Anti-Defamation League (archived from May 10, 2012).
  15. Militias 'in retreat' (11 May, 2001, 16:44 GMT 17:44 UK) BBC News.
  16. Mark Koernke Anti-Defamation League (archived from 7 Jul 2013 13:34:37 UTC).
  17. Militia of Montana Anti-Defamation League (archived from January 28, 2013).
  18. The Road To Paranoia by Micheal Kelly (19 June 1995) The New Yorker.
  19. Militia of Montana (archived from 3 Jan 2013 18:59:57 UTC). Their webshite was active until about 2015, but has now disappeared.
  20. The influence of the Minutemen Project and similar groups has diminished (6 May 2014) Homeland Security News Wire.
  21. Let 'Juan' McCain Know How You Feel About His Meeting With La Raza (Updated) (May 6, 2008) Hyscience (archived from May 17, 2008). McCain frequently earned the nickname "Juan McCain" from anti-immigrant activists.
  22. Election Year Sellout by Mark Andrew Dwyer (March 14, 2004) American Patrol (archived from November 16, 2006).
  23. Will Ex-military 'Patriots' Form A More Dangerous Kind Of Militias? by David Neiwert (3/05/09 6:50pm) Crooks and Liars.
  24. The Second Wave: Return of the Militias (August 2009) Southern Poverty Law Center.
  25. US 'Christian militants' charged after FBI raids. (30 March 2010) BBC News.
  26. Georgia men arrested over alleged US ricin plot: Four suspects believed to be members of fringe domestic militia group that planned to target federal government buildings (2 November 2011 09.03 EDT) Reuters via The Guardian.
  27. Standing By: Right-Wing Militia Groups & the US Election (Updated 23 October 2020.) ACLED.
  28. A Small Group of Militants’ Outsize Role in the Capitol Attack by Jennifer Valentino DeVries et al. (2021 Februrary 21) The New York Times.
  29. FBI director says Capitol riot was ‘domestic terrorism’ by Del Quentin Wilber (2021 March 2) The Los Angeles Times
  30. DNI: Domestic Violent Extremism Poses ‘Elevated Threat’ in 2021 by Paul D. Shinkman (2021 March 17) US News & World Report.
  31. Proud Boys: Canada labels far-right group a terrorist entity (2021 February 3) BBC News.
  32. Is today’s violent right-wing-extremist threat more dangerous than in the 1990s? by Greg Sargent (2021 February 22) Washington Post.
  33. How Trump Unleashed a Domestic Terrorism Movement—And What Experts Say Must Be Done to Defeat It by Mark Follman (March/April 2021) Mother Jones.
  34. Boer Commandos Ladysmith History & the Boer War (archived from October 28, 2009).
  35. Concentration Camps The Anglo-Boer War Museum (archived from August 30, 2007).
  36. The 'Uyoku Rōnin Dō': Assessing the Lifestyles and Values of Japan's Contemporary Right Wing Radical Activists by Daiki Shibuichi (28 November 2007) Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies. Discussion Paper 6.
  37. Inside Canada's Armed, Anti-Islamic 'Patriot' Group. by Mack Lamoureux (14 June 2017) Vice.
  38. Three Percenters are Canada's 'most dangerous' extremist group, say some experts by Kristy Hutter (10 May 2018)