Militia organizations in the United States

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Not to be confused with State defense force.

Militia organizations in the United States are private organizations that include paramilitary or similar elements. These groups may 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 1990s. By the mid-1990s, groups were active in all 50 US states, with membership estimated at between 20,000 and 60,000.[4][5]


Although the far-right patriot movement had long been marginalized,[citation needed] cultural factors paved the way for the wide-scale growth of the libertarian or ideological militia movement. 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.[6][7][8] Critic 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, anti government 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. 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.

During the 1990s public attention to the militia movement began to grow.[citation needed] The Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995, the second anniversary of the Waco fire, drew nationwide attention to the militia movement as Timothy McVeigh was erroneously associated with the Michigan Militia.[citation needed] This increased public scrutiny and law enforcement pressure, and brought in more recruits due to the heightened awareness of the movement.[9]

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.[10] A break finally came when far right leaders abandoned the group to their fate.[11] 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.[10] 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) in the U.S. Department of Justice in 1994.[12]

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.[13] The Hutaree militia of Michigan was in fact prevented from killing a police officer and bombing his funeral by the FBI in cooperation with another local militia.[14] By 2001, the militia movement seemed to be in decline, having peaked in 1996 with 858 groups.[15] With the post-2007 global financial crisis and the election of Barack Obama to the United States presidency in 2008, militia activity has experienced a resurgence.[14][16][17] Militia groups have recently been involved in several high-profile standoffs, including the Bundy Standoff in 2014 and the Occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016 amid a renewed rise in anti-government militia movements.


Legal legitimacy[edit]

Most militia organizations envisage themselves as legally legitimate organizations authorized under constitutional and statute law, specifically references in state and federal law to an "unorganized militia". Others subscribe to the "insurrection theory" which describes the right of the body politic to rebel against the established government in the face of tyranny. (In the 1951 case Dennis v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the insurrection theory, stating that as long as the government provides for free elections and trials by jury, "political self-defense" cannot be undertaken.)[18]

Opposition to government[edit]

While militia organizations have a variety of ideologies and objectives including anti-tax, anti-immigration, survivalist, sovereign citizen, libertarian, land rights and southern restoration tendencies, they generally share a common belief in the imminent or actual rise of a tyrannical government in the United States that, they believe, must be confronted through armed force.[19][20]

Active militia groups[edit]

United States militia groups[21]
Militia group name State, county or locale
3 Percenters[22] nationwide
Hutaree[23] Michigan, southern
Idaho Light Foot Militia[24] Idaho, statewide
Michigan Militia[25] Michigan, Redford
Militia of Montana[26] Montana, Noxon
Missouri Militia[27] Missouri, Kansas City
Pennsylvania Military Reserve[28] Pennsylvania
Texas Light Foot Militia[29] Texas, statewide

The Southern Poverty Law Center identified 334 militia groups at their peak in 2011. It identified 276 in 2015, up from 202 in 2014.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mulloy, Darren (2004) American Extremism: History, Politics and the Militia Movement, Routledge.
  2. ^ Williams, David C. (2003) The mythic meanings of the Second Amendment: taming political violence in a constitutional republic. Yale University Press. p. 363. ISBN 0-300-09562-7
  3. ^ a b 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 Berlet, Chip & Lyons, Matthew (2000). Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort, Guilford. ISBN 1-57230-562-2
  5. ^ "F.E.A.R. Militia Wanted To Bomb Georgia Park". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2015-09-14. 
  6. ^ Rise Of Citizen Militias: Angry White Guys With Guns Daniel Junas CovertAction Quarterly April 24, 1995
  7. ^ Morris Dees, Gathering Storm: America's Militia Threat. Harper Perennial (April 23, 1997) ISBN 0-06-092789-5
  8. ^ 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
  9. ^ Militia Nation Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons Progressive Magazine
  10. ^ a b Freemen surrender peacefully to FBI Cable News Network June 14, 1996
  11. ^ Freemen Were Alone New York Times June 15, 1996
  12. ^ Christopher Whitcomb, Cold Zero: Inside the FBI Hostage Rescue Team. ISBN 0-552-14788-5. (Covers Ruby Ridge, Waco Siege and creation of CIRG.)
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ a b Carter, Gregg Lee, ed. (2012). "Militias". Guns in American Society: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, Culture, and the Law, Volume 1. pp. 575–6. 
  15. ^ "Militias 'in retreat'". BBC News. May 11, 2001. 
  16. ^ Stephanie Schendel (2012-03-07). "Election, economy spark explosive growth of militias". NBC News. 
  17. ^ Nicholas Kimbrell. "America's militiamen resurgent since Obama election". The National. 
  18. ^ Hardaway, Robert (2002). "The Inconvenient Militia Clause of the Second Amendment: Why the Supreme Court Declines to Resolve the Debate over the Right to Bear Arms". St. John's Journal of Legal Commentary (16). 
  19. ^ Hannaford, Alex (19 August 2010). "The truth behind America's 'civilian militias'". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 4 January 2016. 
  20. ^ "Militia History and Law FAQ". Anti-Defamation League. Retrieved 4 January 2016. 
  21. ^ "Active 'Patriot' Groups in the United States in 2009 | Southern Poverty Law Center". Retrieved 2010-04-01. 
  22. ^ Sunshine, Spencer (January 5, 2016). "Profiles on the Right: Three Percenters". Political Research Associates. Retrieved February 11, 2016. 
  23. ^ "US 'Christian militants' charged after FBI raids" BBC, 30 March 2010. Retrieved 11 January 2016.
  24. ^ "Militia Standards and Principles of the Light Foot" (PDF). Idaho Light Foot Militia Official Website. Retrieved 11 January 2016. 
  25. ^ "Michigan Militia". Michigan Militia Official Website. Retrieved 11 January 2016. 
  26. ^ Kelly, Michael (June 19, 1995). "THE ROAD TO PARANOIA". The New Yorker. Retrieved 11 January 2016. 
  27. ^ "Missouri Militia". Missouri Militia Official Website. Retrieved 11 January 2016. 
  28. ^ "Pennsylvania Military Reserve". Pennsylvania State Military Reserve Official Website. Retrieved 11 January 2016. 
  29. ^ "Texas Town Has Citizen Militia Standing Guard at Recruiters Office". Retrieved 14 January 2016. 
  30. ^ "Antigovernment militia groups grew by more than one-third in last year". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved 2016-02-28. 

Further reading[edit]