|Leader||Michael "Mike" Brian Vanderboegh|
The group advocates gun ownership rights and resistance to U.S. federal government. The group's name derives from the erroneous claim that only three percent of American colonists were actively fighting in the field against British forces at any given time during the American Revolution.
The group is American-based but also has a presence in Canada. One Canadian expert, Maxime Fiset, a former neo-Nazi who works with the Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence, created in 2015 by the City of Montréal with the support of the Quebec Government, considers the group the "most dangerous extremist group" in Canada.
Foundation and membership
The movement has been characterized as part of the broader patriot movement. Founded in 2008, it was given impetus by the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States. Members believed that Obama's presidency would lead to increased government interference in the lives of individuals, and particularly stricter gun-control laws. Many members are former and current members of the military, police and other law-enforcement agencies, as well as anti-government groups such as the Oath Keepers.
The movement was co-founded by Michael "Mike" Brian Vanderboegh from Alabama, a member of the Oath Keepers, a group with whom the Three Percenters remain loosely allied and are often compared. Vanderboegh claims to have formerly been a member of Students for a Democratic Society and the Socialist Workers Party, but abandoned left-wing politics and politics in general in 1977 after being introduced to libertarianism. Vanderboegh says the book The Road to Serfdom pushed him to the right. He became a Second Amendment activist and by the 1990s was involved with the militia movement.
The ADL reports that in the mid-1990s, Vanderboegh claimed to be commander of an Alabama militia group, the First Alabama Cavalry Regiment, though he appeared to be its sole member. After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, Vanderboegh became better known for popularizing anti-government conspiracy theories.
The group's website states that it does not discriminate against anyone; however, in response to Black Lives Matter protests following the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the Three Percenters' Facebook page featured numerous racist comments made by its supporters. In response to events at the 2017 Unite the Right rally, the group issued a statement that they "strongly reject and denounce anyone who calls themselves a patriot or a Three Percenter that has attended or is planning on attending any type of protest or counter protest related to these white supremacist and Nazi groups".
The group's website states it is "not a militia" and "not anti-government". According to the ADL, Three Percenters constitute a major part of the broader anti-government militia movement, whose ideology they share. Three Percenters believe that ordinary citizens must take a stand against perceived abuses by the U.S. federal government, which they characterize as overstepping its Constitutional limits. Its stated goals include protecting the right to keep and bear arms, and to "push back against tyranny". The group opposes federal involvement in what they consider local affairs, and states in its bylaws that county sheriffs are "the supreme law of the land".
Like other American militia movements, Three Percenters believe in the ability of citizen volunteers with ordinary weapons to successfully resist the United States military. They support this belief by claiming that only around 3% of American colonists fought the British during the American Revolution, a claim which underestimates the number of people who resisted British rule, and which does not take into account the concentration of British forces in coastal cities, the similarity of weapons used by American and British forces, and French support for the colonists.
Organization and activities
The group's local chapters are structured hierarchically according to its National Bylaws. As well as political activism, chapters also engage in paramilitary activities such as marksmanship training. Membership requires voting and opposing laws the group sees as unconstitutional. Members take an oath similar to that of the U.S. armed forces. Three Percenters who are also active military members are asked to swear an additional oath promising to disobey certain official orders, such as orders to disarm U.S. citizens. The group's Facebook page mostly features posts supporting gun rights.
Vanderboegh self-published a serial novel online, Absolved, in 2008, which he called "a cautionary tale for the out-of-control gun cops of the ATF". On its website, the movement claims that it is not a militia group, but rather a "national organization made up of patriotic citizens who love their country, their freedoms, and their liberty."
Vanderboegh and his novel Absolved first received wider media attention in 2011, when four suspected militia members in Georgia were arrested for a plan for a biological attack that had supposedly been inspired by the novel. Vanderboegh distanced himself from the alleged plot. In 2013, Christian Allen Kerodin and associates were working on construction of a walled compound in Benewah County, Idaho, "for Three Percenters", designed to house 7,000 people following a major disaster, an initiative which local law enforcement has described as a "scam".
Following the 2015 Chattanooga shootings at a strip mall, a military recruitment center and a United States Navy Operational Support Center in Tennessee, Three Percenters, Oath Keepers, and other militia groups began organizing armed gatherings outside of recruiting centers in several states, with the stated objective of providing protection to service members, who were barred from carrying weapons while on duty in civilian recruitment centers. In response, the Army Command Operations Center Security Division issued a letter ordering soldiers not to interact with or acknowledge armed civilians outside of recruitment centers, and that "If questioned by these alleged concerned citizens, be polite, professional and terminate the conversation immediately and report the incident to local law enforcement", noting that the issuing officer is "sure the citizens mean well, but we cannot assume this in every case and we do not want to advocate this behavior".
In 2016, the "3 Percenters of Idaho" group announced it was sending some of its members in support of the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, allegedly in order to "secure the perimeter" and to prevent a "Waco-style situation". They left several hours later after being told their assistance was not needed. Two days previously, Vanderboegh had described the occupiers as "a collection of fruits and nuts". "What Bundy and this collection of fruits and nuts has done is give the feds the perfect opportunity to advance their agenda to discredit us", he said.
The group provided security for a 2017 event held by Patriot Prayer called "Rally for Trump and Freedom". Several Three Percenters were also present and providing security for the Unite the Right rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017; along with members of the Redneck Revolt, a left-leaning militia group. After the events at Charlottesville, the group's "National Council" issued a "stand down order", stating, "we will not align ourselves with any type of racist group".
In 2017, a 23-year-old Oklahoma man, Jerry Drake Varnell, was arrested on federal charges of plotting a vehicle bomb attack on a bank in downtown Oklahoma City, modeled after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. During a meeting in 2017 with undercover FBI agents, Varnell identified with the Three Percenters movement, saying that he subscribed to "III% ideology" and intended "to start the next revolution." In March 2020, Varnell was sentenced to 25 years in prison, for the crimes of conspiracy to use an explosive device to damage a building used in interstate commerce, and to plan to use a weapon of mass destruction against property used in interstate commerce.
In 2018, three men were arrested in connection with the bombing of the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota. The bombing was non-lethal. One of men involved, former sheriff's deputy Michael B. Hari, had connections to the group.
In June 2019, Oregon Governor Kate Brown sent the Oregon State Police to bring 11 absent Republican state senators back to the Oregon State Capitol. The Republican state senators had gone into hiding to prevent a vote on a cap-and-trade proposal with a goal of lowering greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 in order to combat climate change. The Three Percenters offered support for the Republican senators, declaring they would be "doing whatever it takes to keep these senators safe". On June 22, 2019, a session of the Oregon Senate was cancelled when the Oregon State Capitol was closed due to a warning from the state police of a "possible militia threat".
In May 2020, during a Second Amendment rally on Memorial Day weekend in Frankfort, Kentucky, Three Percenters and other protesters breached several off-limit barriers to access the front porch of the Governor's Mansion, Governor Andy Beshear's primary residence, and began heckling the Mansion's occupants in response to the Governor's restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Soon afterward, members of the group moved several hundred yards away and raised an effigy bearing the Governor's face and a sign reading sic semper tyrannis ("thus always to tyrants") from a tree. The event drew condemnation from Beshear and from across the political spectrum. Some state officials had joined the Three Percenters at earlier events, including Kentucky State Representatives Savannah Maddox and Stan Lee, and Kentucky State Senator John Schickel. Beshear labeled the group as "radical", that their actions were "aimed at creating fear and terror", and declared that officials who appeared at previous Three Percenter events "cannot fan the flames and then condemn the fire."
During the investigation of a kidnapping plot targeting Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, one of the suspects arrested was identified as the second-in-command of the Wisconsin branch of the Three Percenters.
2021 storming of the United States Capitol
Supporters of the Three Percenters, among others, were reportedly present and wore emblematic gear or symbols during the riots and storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. After breaching or being let through multiple police perimeters, these groups occupied, vandalized, and ransacked parts of the building for several hours. At least one man tied to the Three Percenter movement was arrested and charged with involvement of the attack; the man was also reportedly tied to two other extremist groups, the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers.
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It is a rough estimate that only 3% of the colonists were actively fighting in the field against British forces at any given time.
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Absolved is fiction. I hope it is a 'useful dire warning.' However, I am as much to blame for the Georgia Geriatric Terrorist Gang as Tom Clancy is for Nine Eleven.
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But there's no sign that the latest fantastic plans from antigovernment extremists will ever come to much. Dave Resser, the sheriff of sparsely populated Benewah County, calls the whole thing a 'scam'.
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