Militia movement

Militia movement

The militia movement is a political movement of paramilitary groups in the United States. Members of the movement typically refer to themselves as militia, "unorganized militia",[1] and "constitutional militia".[2] While groups such as the Posse Comitatus existed as early as the 1980s,[3] the movement gained momentum after controversial standoffs with government agents in the early nineties, and by the mid-nineties, groups were active in all 50 states with membership estimated at between 20,000 and 60,000.[4] Although in unconnected groups, they may be united in their beliefs of the federal government's threat to their freedom, and in particular the movement's opposition to any limit of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.



The militia movement is a paramilitary outgrowth of the independent survivalist, anti-tax and other causes in the patriot movement subculture in the United States. The formation of the militias was influenced by the historical precedent of existing paramilitary movements such as the Posse Comitatus, and groups associated with protecting liberties of governed people.

Although the far-right Patriot movement had long been marginalized, certain cultural factors paved the way for the wide scale growth of the libertarian or ideological Militia movement. This attitude grew with the federal government's own expansions of powers.

Precursor groups existed in the form of small militias that had organized during the 1970s and 1980s, but the movement underwent a wave of growth and rose to prominence in American culture in the 1990s. Events such as the killing of Gordon Kahl by government agents, the controversies of the Presidency of Bill Clinton, and the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement angered those on the right and left. The catalysts came in the form of the FBI's 1992 shootout with Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge, and the government's 1993 siege and eventual destruction of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas.[5][6][7] Historian Mark Pitcavage described the militia movement of the 1990s:[3]

The militia movement is a right-wing movement that arose following controversial standoffs in the 1990s. It inherited paramilitary traditions of earlier groups, especially the conspiratorial, antigovernment Posse Comitatus. The militia movement claims that militia groups are sanctioned by law but uncontrolled by government; in fact, they are designed to oppose a tyrannical government. Adherents believe that behind the "tyranny" is a left-wing, globalist conspiracy known as the New World Order. The movement's ideology has led some adherents to commit criminal acts, including stockpiling illegal weapons and explosives and plotting to destroy buildings or assassinate public officials, as well as lesser confrontations.

Some Militia groups saw the Davidians and the Weaver family as martyrs,[4] and used Ruby Ridge and Waco as examples of the federal government's threat to people who refused to conform, and additionally those two events became a rallying cry to form militias to defend the people against the forces of a government perceived as hostile. Both incidents involved weapons alleged to be illegal and federal agents' efforts to confiscate them. In both incidents, the government failed to produce evidence of illegal activity. Government agencies responsible for the deaths of the Branch Davidians, and members of the Weaver family at Ruby Ridge, were later exonerated and exempted from further investigation. This heightened tensions in militias, as many leaders were gun rights advocates and firm believers in the right to bear arms.

Resentment of the federal government only heightened with the passage of the Brady Act in 1993 and the Assault Weapons Ban a year later. Those laws also helped to drive more moderate gun owners into sympathy with some of the militia movement's positions. The USMS and FBI shootings of Sam and Vicki Weaver at Ruby Ridge also alienated many in the gun rights movement.[7] Some members of the militia movement viewed this as an attempt by the government to disarm the American people, a preliminary step to clear the way for an invasion of United Nations troops and the establishment of a New World Order.[5] Many people joined militias in order to protect themselves, their families, and their rights from perceived government intrusion.

The growth of movement had not gone unnoticed. During the 1990s public attention to the militia movement began to grow. The Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995, the second anniversary of the Waco fire, drew nation-wide attention to the militia movement with the revelation that Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols had links to armed right wing groups. This increased public scrutiny and law enforcement pressure, and brought in more recruits due to the heightened awareness of the movement.[8]

In March 1996, agents of the FBI and other law enforcement organizations surrounded the 960-acre (390 ha) eastern Montana "Justus Township" compound of the Montana Freemen. The Freemen were a Sovereign Citizen group that included elements of the Christian Identity ideology, espoused common law legal theories, and rejected the legitimacy of the Federal Reserve.[4] Montana legislator Carl Ohs mediated through the standoff. Both Randy Weaver (one of the besieged at Ruby Ridge) and Bo Gritz (a civilian negotiator at Ruby Ridge) had attempted to talk to the group but had given up in frustration, as did Colorado Senator Charlie Duke when he had attempted negotiations.[9] A break finally came when far right leaders abandoned the group to their fate.[10] The group surrendered peacefully after an 81 day standoff and 14 of the Freemen faced criminal charges relating to circulating millions of dollars in bogus checks and threatening the life of a federal judge.[9] The peaceful resolution of this and other standoffs after Ruby Ridge and Waco have been credited by some to the creation of the Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) within the U.S. Department of Justice in 1994.[11]

Another incident occurred in Fort Davis, Texas a year later in March 1997 when a faction of the self-styled "Republic of Texas" militia group seized hostages. The Republic of Texas group believed that the annexation of Texas as a state in 1845 was illegal, that Texas should remain an independent nation, and that the legitimate government of Texas was the group's leadership.[12] Joe and Margaret Ann Rowe were taken at gunpoint in retaliation for the arrest of member Robert J. Scheidt, who had been arrested on weapons charges. Leader Richard McLaren then declared that the group was in a state of war with the federal government.[13] The property was then surrounded by the entire Jeff Davis County sheriff's department, state troopers, Texas Rangers, and agents of the FBI.[12] McLaren's wife, Evelyn, convinced him to surrender peacefully after a week-long standoff. The McLarens and four other Republic of Texas members were sent to prison.[13]

A 1999 US Department of Justice analysis of the potential militia threat at the Millennium conceded that the vast majority of militias were reactive (not proactive) and posed no threat.[14] In January 2000, the FBI Project Megiddo report stated:

Most militias engage in a variety of anti-government rhetoric. This discourse can range from the protesting of government policies to the advocating of violence and/or the overthrow of the federal government. However, the majority of militia groups are non-violent and only a small segment of the militias actually commit acts of violence to advance their political goals and beliefs. A number of militia leaders, such as Lynn Van Huizen of the Michigan Militia Corps -Wolverines, have gone to some effort to actively rid their ranks of radical members who are inclined to carry out acts of violence and/or terrorism. Officials at the FBI Academy classify militia groups within four categories, ranging from moderate groups who do not engage in criminal activity to radical cells which commit violent acts of terrorism. It should be clearly stated that the FBI only focuses on radical elements of the militia movement capable and willing to commit violence against government, law enforcement, civilian, military and international targets.[15]

As of 2001, the militia movement seemed to be in decline, having peaked in 1996 with 858 groups.[16] Even the Michigan Militia (with which McVeigh and the Nichols brothers had grown frustrated due to its seeming preference for talk over action)[17] disbanded. Prior to that, it had kicked out its most radical members in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing; they formed the North American Militia, whose leaders, Brad Metcalf and Randy Graham, later received 40- and 55-year sentences, respectively, for terrorist plots against the IRS and federal officials.

Militias' primary forms of outreach are gun shows, shortwave radio, newsletters, and the Internet.[18]


The ideologies of various Militia movements can be described as political, constitutional, conspiratorial, or community based. Militia groups claim legitimacy based on colonial writings, particularly the Declaration of Independence; Article 1, section 8 and the 2nd Amendment of the United States Constitution; the Militia Act of 1792; Title 10, Section 311 of the United States Code; and the concept of an independent wing of the citizenry that enacts its own governmental beliefs.[8] Watchdog groups, such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center have portrayed militias as racist, though only some militias have white supremacist ideologies. (For example, The Gadsden Alabama Minutemen who exposed the racist "Good'O'Boys Roundup" held by ATF agent Eugene Rightmyer had black members.) Robert Churchill sees a white supremacist "resistance wing" of the movement and a radical libertarian "constitutionalist wing" motivated by various, at times over lapping, concerns.[7] The beliefs of the latter group center around opposition to the power of federal or local governments and limitations imposed by governing parties or erosions of liberties by governing parties.[19] Some Militias are also formed in order to protect a community from outside intervention or perceived negative influence by outside parties. Some Militias have also formed around a particular ideology without all members agreeing on every particular issue. Power struggles, politics, and disagreements persist as in any organization; hence internal ideologies can change from time to time.

Some of the movement sees power of a government as a form of tyranny.[3] Their beliefs focus on limited-government, on taxes, regulations, and gun control efforts as perceived threats to constitutional liberties. Many of their views are similar to those of the John Birch Society, tax protester movement, county supremacy movement, state sovereignty movement, and the states’ rights movement.[4] Gun control is considered unconstitutional, and a move toward fascism by the government. The controversial novel Unintended Consequences by John Ross in 1996 is an example of these beliefs. However, not all Militias are armed, or support the use of violence in political change.

The ideologies most commonly associated with the militia movement are the Christian Patriot movement, the Constitutional militia movement, and opposition to the creation of a one world government. Most militias are derived from a local populace who come to common belief, and so ideologies tend to differ by region. Most agree upon local regulation opposed to global, federal or state regulation.

Active militia movement groups, 2010

United States militia groups, 2010[20]
Milita group name State, county or locale
2nd Alabama Militia Alabama, Mobile
Alabama Shoals Badgers Alabama, Tuscumbia
Alaska Citizens Militia Alaska, Nikiski
Arizona Citizens Militia Arizona, Douglas
Arizona Militia Arizona, Glendale
Cochise County Militia Arizona, Tombstone
Northern Arizona Militia Arizona, Flagstaff
Militia of Washington County Arkansas, Fayetteville
American Resistance Movement All States, USA/Nation-Wide area
Northern California State Militia California, Falcon Creek
State of California Unorganized Militia California, Monrovia
Minutemen Militia Colorado, Fort Collins
Florida Free Alliance Florida, Nokomis
Florida Free Militia Florida, Palm Coast
Georgia Militia Georgia, Chatham County
Militia of Georgia Georgia, Lawrenceville
Idaho Citizens Constitutional Militia Idaho, statewide
North Idaho Light Foot Militia Idaho, Bonner County
135th Illinois Volunteer Cavalry Illinois, statewide
Illinois State Militia (Unorganized) 167th Battalion, 21st FF Illinois, statewide
Indiana Citizens Volunteer Militia, 3rd Brigade Indiana, Tippecanoe County
Indiana Constitutional Militia Indiana, statewide
Indiana Militia Corps Indiana, Statewide
Indiana Sedentary Militia Indiana, Hendricks County
Indiana Sons of Liberty Indiana, Statewide
Indiana's Greene County Militia Indiana, Greene County
Indiana State Militia 14th Regiment Indiana, Owen County
Kansas State Militia Kansas, Wichita
1st Joint Public Militia Kentucky, Bowling Green
Kentucky State Militia - Ohio Valley Command Kentucky, Louisville
Northern Kentucky Militia 105th "Blue Guard" Kentucky, Bracken,Mason,Pendleton,Countys
Louisiana Militia Louisiana, statewide
Louisiana Unorganized Militia Louisiana, Abbeville
Maine Constitutional Militia Maine, statewide
Southern Sons of Liberty Maryland, statewide
Delta 5 Mobile Light Infantry Militia Michigan, Eaton County
East-Central Volunteer Militia of Michigan Michigan, Lapeer County
Hutaree Militia Michigan, Southern
Jackson County Volunteers Michigan, Jackson County
Lenawee County Free and Independent Militia Michigan, Adrian
Michigan Militia Michigan, Redford
Michigan Militia Corps Wolverines 8th Division Michigan, South Central
Michigan Patriot Alliance Michigan, 20 counties
Northern Michigan Backyard Protection Militia Michigan, Northern
Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia Michigan, 13 counties
West Michigan Volunteer Militia Michigan, Muskegon County
Capitol City Militia Michigan, Eaton County and Ingham County
Mid Michigan Militia Michigan,7 Counties,centered around Ingham County
Ocqueoc Militia Michigan, Presque Isle County, Montmorency County, Alpena County, Cheboygan County
Minnesota Militia/Army of Mississippi Minnesota, St. Cloud
Minnesota Minutemen militia Minnesota
Constitution Defense Militia of Attala County (CDMAC) Mississippi, Attala County
East Central Mississippi Militia Mississippi, East Central
Missouri Militia Missouri, Kansas City
Militia of Montana Montana, Noxon
New Hampshire Patriot Militia New Hampshire, statewide
United States Constitution Rangers New Hampshire, West Lebanon
New Jersey Militia New Jersey, Trenton
New Jersey Guardian Angels New Jersey, Jackson
Wolfpack Militia New Jersey, statewide
Empire State Militia 11th Field Force New York, Northwestern
North Carolina Citizens Militia North Carolina, Charlotte
Constitutional Militia of Clark County Ohio, Clark County
Northeastern Ohio Defense Force 3BN Ohio, Lisbon
Northwestern Ohio Defense Force 4BN Ohio, Kenton
Ohio Defense Force State Headquarters Ohio, Zanesville
Ohio Militia Ohio, statewide
Southeastern Ohio Defense Force 3rd Platoon Ohio, Belmont County
Southwestern Ohio Defense Force 5BN Ohio, Lebanon
Unorganized Militia of Champaign County Ohio, St. Paris
Oregon Militia Corps Oregon, statewide
Southern Oregon Militia Oregon, Eagle Point
Keystone Freedom Fighters Pennsylvania, Gettysburg
East Tennessee Militia Tennessee, East


American Patriots for Freedom Foundation Texas, Spring
Central Texas Militia Texas, Central
Texas Well Regulated Militia Texas, Edwards County
Militia of Northeastern Utah[21] Utah, Vernal
Virginia Citizens Militia Virginia, Roanoke
King County Volunteer Militia Washington, King County
Kitsap County WA Militia Washington, Kitsap County
Washington State Militia Washington, statewide

See also


  1. ^ Mulloy, Darren. American Extremism: History, Politics and the Militia Movement Routledge, 2004.
  2. ^ The mythic meanings of the Second Amendment: taming political violence in a constitutional republic David C Williams. Yale University Press. Page 363. ISBN 0-300-09562-7
  3. ^ a b c Pitcavage, Mark; Institute for Intergovernmental Research: Camouflage and Conspiracy. The Militia Movement From Ruby Ridge to Y2K. American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. 44, No. 6, Pages 957-981, SAGE Publications, 2001.
  4. ^ a b c d Berlet, Chip & Lyons, Matthew. Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort, Guilford, 2000. ISBN 1-57230-562-2
  5. ^ a b Rise Of Citizen Militias: Angry White Guys With Guns Daniel Junas CovertAction Quarterly April 24, 1995
  6. ^ Morris Dees, Gathering Storm: America's Militia Threat. Harper Perennial (April 23, 1997) ISBN 0-06-092789-5
  7. ^ a b c Robert H. Churchill, "Arming for the Last Battle: Secular and Religious Millennial Impulses within the Militia Movement", 1999 Annual Conference of the Center for Millennial Studies, Boston University, Boston, MA, November 9, 1999. Online copy
  8. ^ a b Militia Nation Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons Progressive Magazine
  9. ^ a b Freemen surrender peacefully to FBI Cable News Network June 14, 1996
  10. ^ Freemen Were Alone New York Times June 15, 1996
  11. ^ Christopher Whitcomb, Cold Zero: Inside the FBI Hostage Rescue Team. ISBN 0-552-14788-5. (Covers Ruby Ridge, Waco Siege and creation of CIRG.)
  12. ^ a b One injured in separatist standoff CNN News April 27, 1997
  13. ^ a b Separatists End Texas Standoff As 5 Surrender Sam Howe Verhovek New York Times May 4, 1997
  14. ^ United States Department of Justice, “Operation Megiddo”, November 2, 1999, page 22; cited in Robert H. Churchill, "Arming for the Last Battle: Secular and Religious Millennial Impulses within the Militia Movement", 1999 Annual Conference of the Center for Millennial Studies, Boston University, Boston, MA, November 9, 1999.
  15. ^ FBI Project Megiddo Report
  16. ^ "Militias 'in retreat'". BBC News. May 11, 2001. 
  17. ^ Domestic Terrorism 101 - Timothy James McVeigh Nicole Nichols, Eye On Hate
  18. ^ The Militia Movement Anti-Defamation League
  19. ^ Crothers, Lane: The Cultural Foundations of the Modern Militia Movement. New Political Science, Volume 24, Issue 2 June 2002, pages 221 - 234
  20. ^ "Active 'Patriot' Groups in the United States in 2009 | Southern Poverty Law Center". Retrieved 2010-04-01. 
  21. ^ "Reports of Hutaree militia in Utah appear overblown - Salt Lake Tribune". Retrieved 2010-04-02. "The Militia of Northeastern Utah has 37 active members and about 50 other supporters, mostly living in the Vernal area" 

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