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“The militia of this country must be considered as the Palladium of our security … it is essential, therefore, that the same system should pervade the whole; that the formation and discipline of the Militia of the Continent should be absolutely uniform …and that the same species of arms, accouterments and military apparatus, should be introduced …”

General George Washington’s “Circular Letter of Farewell to the Army“,  June 8, 1783.

The bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995 was the deadliest act of homegrown terrorism in U.S. history, Image courtesy FBI.

The difficulties Washington faced when employing a multitude of militias during The Revolutionary War was the primary reason for this recommendation to Congress in his “Circular Letter of Farewell to the Army” as he resigned his commission at the conclusion of the war. (Note that at the formation of this country, the term “militia” meant “the Militia of the Continent”.)  General Washington understood, like so many other military commanders both past and present, that professionalism along with uniform training and discipline is essential for an effective fighting force.

Today, this type of training and discipline is even more important as humans have developed innumerable weapons and tactics to maim and kill other humans.

The modern militia movement was not born of the same necessary discipline, standardized training, or professionalism.

Many researchers and social scientists believe the movement’s roots began with the Posse Comitatus movement in the 1970s and 1980s. Posse Comitatus ideology “purports that the highest level of authority is the county government.” 

Former Army Colonel William Gale, a white supremacist and one of its most prominent leaders, fused the term ‘militia’ with Posse Comitatus proclaiming himself as the “Chief of Staff” of this “unorganized militia”.

In his book, The FBI and the KKK: A Critical History, Michael Newton identified Gale and others, including the head of the Aryan Nation, were part of Gale’s “Declaration of Alteration and Reform.”

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) greets Norman Olson of the Michigan Militia at a 1995 congressional hearing on the militia movement. AP Photo/Joe Marquette

Posse Comitatus and many other militia groups quietly began to grow across the west and midwest until 1990 when a Posse member, Gordon Kahl, murdered two federal marshals attempting to arrest him in North Dakota.

Kahl’s actions along with high profile bungled federal law enforcement incidents continued to fuel and expand the militia movement in the United States throughout the ensuing decade. Some groups even gained political recognition when they testified before Congress on June 15, 1995.

During his testimony in 1995, Norman Olson, commander of the large Michigan Militia, denounced any notion of racism. Yet Olson said of the Oklahoma City bombing, “I understand the dynamic of retribution…when justice is removed from the equation.”

Law enforcement awareness and actions along with a more palatable presidential administration tamped down militia organizations during the early 2000s. However, with the historic 2008 presidential election and bitter partisan political battles centered around gun rights and immigration issues, conditions were again ripe for a resurgence of militia groups.

A 2009 Department of Homeland Security intelligence assessment of “Rightwing Extremism” warned of their expansion and the potential threat these groups pose to America. The assessment placed additional concern on swelling militia membership from returning Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans with combat experience.

Three Percenter insignia.

Since 2008, partisan divisiveness centered around immigration and gun rights continued to increase in combination with and fueling the expansion of militias. Most militia groups today ascribe to more of a populist “patriot” movement. These groups disavow any relation to white supremacists and encourage “American patriots” of all races to join.

Currently, there are dozens of social media subgroups, chapters, vanguards, and parties throughout the nation devoted to the patriot movement. Nearly all of these groups are related to, or modeled after, the Three Percenters and the Oath Keepers. While both parent groups espouse a high moral code, their founders’ tragic flaws are seeded in bigotry and violent conspiracies.

That, along with compounding criminal acts by members of each of the groups, severely undercut any credible moral footing for these inheritors of the “unorganized militia.”

Oath Keepers insignia. Courtesy SPLC.

In the greatest of ironies, our current Constitutional crisis (in which President Donald Trump has threatened to send active-duty soldiers into states)  shows that the original balance struck by the states between a strong central government and the states continues to remain strong.

In acts that should be applauded by today’s “unorganized militia”, Governors directly challenged the federal government’s threatened use of active-duty military forces to quell the peaceful protests that have sprung up nation-wide in response to the death pf George Floyd at the hands of police.

What’s more, those Governors’ challenges are in spite of knowing that Trump has thin legal ground to use what he has threatened to use: the early 1800s Insurrection Act. This foreshadows a possible bitter battle over control of the National Guard.  Moreover, all of these extremist groups in this modern movement operate under the guise of an, as yet undefined, “unorganized militia”.

Neither Congress nor the Supreme Court has attempted to clearly define the role an “unorganized militia” might play in our democracy.

As shown in the current crisis and the previous Ark Valley Voice Part I Modern Militia Movement article, all of the historical necessities for a “well-regulated militia” have been met through modern professional police forces and the National Guard.  The question becomes: what might be the purpose of the modern militia movement?

There are deep and profound flaws in the modern militia movement. Coming up, Part III will expand on those flaws, outline the current climate of the patriot movement in Colorado, and identify alarming trends.