Civilian Militias’ Gospel of Desperation


Gauging civilian militancy in America is a murky undertaking. For every run of the mill, fifteen-minutes-of-fame survivalist blogger there are scores of kindred zealots – some armed to the teeth, pining for the day when the ATF comes to pry the guns out of their cold, dead hands.

While it’s impossible to measure the true rabidity of today’s organized civilian militias, hate-group monitors such as the Southern Poverty Law Center report a steady rise in the number of “cells” and overall militia membership since President Obama took office in 2008. (The SPLC has identified 784 such groups currently in operation. On the high end, other sources give up to 1340.)

This uptick in militia involvement grew even steeper in the wake of the president’s (mostly rebuffed) 2013 common sense effort to overhaul gun laws via stiffer background checks, greater police presence and bans on the sales of military-style assault weapons.

But the rising numbers do not by themselves capture the narrow worldview that binds the more radicalized branches of the civilian militia movement – a military-style, fear-based, pseudo-religious paradigm of a government gone awry and themselves as the last true patriots.

Equally troubling is the increasing mainstream presence of these most ideological of militia cells. The latest example came last month when in response to the fatal shootings of five armed forces recruiters in Chattanooga, members of civilian militia organizations across the nation set up armed garrisons at their local recruiting offices.

Self-appointed militia “guards” here in Ohio used the occasion to draw attention to their particular groups, among them the loosely constituted bloc known as the Three Percenters – so named in reference to the three percent of the colonial population who (as claimed by the groups themselves) actually raised arms against the British.

But what sounds like a council for middle-aged Revolutionary war reenactors is in fact a grassroots confederation of paramilitary paranoiacs.

Ranging from weekend wannabees to borderline anarchists, Three Percenters cohese around broad themes such as Second Amendment rights and the Founders’ true vision of government. But judging from an online passage taken from the website/blog of Three Percent-based militia group The Sipsey Street Irregulars, at least some civilian militants are spoiling for something more than a spirited debate over what Jefferson had in mind for the new nation:

“The Three Percent today are gun owners who will not disarm, will not compromise and will no longer back up at the passage of the next gun control act. Three Percenters say quite explicitly that we will not obey any further circumscription of our traditional liberties and will defend ourselves if attacked. We intend to maintain our God-given natural rights to liberty and property, and that means most especially the right to keep and bear arms. Thus, we are committed to the restoration of the Founders’ Republic, and are willing to fight, die and, if forced by any would-be oppressor, to kill in the defense of ourselves and the Constitution that we all took an oath to uphold against enemies foreign and domestic.”

History tells us that sweeping progressive change begets obstructionism in many forms. Should liberal politicians, fair-minded judges and their moderate conservative allies continue to reshape major national narratives (see equal marriage and the reaffirmation of Obamacare) we should expect more serious foment and push back from right-wing extremists.

But while the very public positioning of civilian militia in strip malls serves as a recruiting strategy for the few, it also shines a light on a decidedly treasonous gospel of desperation.

Don Rollins is a juvenile court program coordinator and Unitarian Universalist minister living in Jackson, Ohio. Email

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2015

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