Bands of armed right-wing militants. most calling themselves “militias,” are cropping up across America. They have no centralized structure, but there are linkages among some of them, consisting largely of the sharing of propaganda material and speakers. A survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League has found evidence of their activity in no fewer than 13 states.
The aims of these militias, often bellicosely stated, involve laying the groundwork for massive resistance to the federal government and its law enforcement agencies as well as opposition to gun control laws. In the view of many such extremists. numbering in the thousands. America’s government is the enemy, now widening its authoritarian control and planning warfare against the citizenry.
To the militia ideologues, gun control legislation — the Brady Law,(1) restrictions on assault weapons.(2) etc. — are major stratagems in a secret government conspiracy to disarm and control the American people and abolish their Constitutional “right to bear arms.”(3) They are also obsessed with the role of government in two recent events — the Branch Davidian confrontation in Waco(4) and the Randy Weaver siege in Idaho(5) — which they interpret as signs of impending tyranny. The answer, say these extremists, is ultimately, necessarily, paramilitary resistance. An armed and aroused citizenry must be mobilized and ready for a call to war.
For most, if not all, of the militias, the fear of government confiscation of their weapons is a paramount concern. Samuel Sherwood, head of the “U.S. Militia Association” in Idaho, states: “When they come around to collect weapons, we’ll have the legal and lawful structure to say ‘no’ to that.” Randy Trochmann of the “Militia of Montana” gets tougher: “If and when the federal government decides to confiscate weapons, people will band together to stop them. They are not going to give up their guns.” And the “enemy” easily becomes nightmarish: Robert Pummer, a leader of the “Florida State Militia,” says that his group is “capable of defending ourselves against chemical and biological agents.”
Although thwarting gun control is the chief aim of the militias, they seek to turn the clock back on federal involvement in a host of other issues as well, e.g., education, abortion, the environment.
Case in point: Norman Olson, a regional militia commander in northern Michigan, has envisioned violence erupting if present government policies continue. Olson, a Baptist minister who owns a gun shop, declared: “We’re talking about a situation where armed conflict may be inevitable if the country doesn’t turn around.” (Emphasis added.) Most often the central issue of the militants has been the legality of guns themselves. Clearly, their deeper suspicions and terrors should be of concern: Is their militant cause merely the alleged gun-toting “right” of citizens? — or is it the “turning around” of the U.S. itself from what the militants see as the “treasonous” direction of the federal government’s present policies? The question which no one can answer just yet is what, exactly, the “militias” intend to do with their guns.
Might they still, as many observers hope, limit themselves to the time-honored means provided by the Constitution — freedom of expression, the ballot, the courts, the right of petition –or do they intend to resort to lawlessness?
A recent episode in Virginia offers some partial but troubling evidence. Members of a militia group calling itself the Blue Ridge Hunt Club were arrested for possession of illegal weapons. The leader of the group, James Roy Mullins, and three others who were taken into custody, were found to be stockpiling weapons in their homes and storage facilities. Found on a computer disk in Mullins’ home was a draft of the group’s newsletter stating that it planned a series of terrorist actions in furtherance of its aims. According to an ATF official. the group intended to further arm itself by raiding the National Guard Armory in Pulaski. Virginia.
A further and vexing problem uncovered by investigation of the growing militias is the presence in some of them — even in leadership roles — of persons with histories of racial and religious bigotry and of political extremism. In the Northwest. for example, we find militia leaders with backgrounds in the Aryan Nations movement. and elsewhere other erstwhile neo Nazis and Ku Kluxers.
The militias are of concern and doubtless will remain so in the coming months: they are driven by a combustible issue in American life which remains unresolved — that of gun control, an issue of urgency and passion in a society beset by violent crime. Coming head to head: a cry for weapons restrictions and a perceived Constitutional right. Most of those siding with the latter are law-abiding citizens who feel that guns are desirable for personal defense or for sport. Many of them feel that the National Rifle Association (NRA) adequately represents their concerns: others who see the NRA as too moderate have sought out more extreme advocates such as the American Pistol and Rifle Association (APRA). Of late, however, still others are resorting to the mustering of a far more desperate and dangerous “resistance” — the militia movement that is the focus of this report.
There follows a state-by-state synopsis of militia activity.