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I've Investigated Armed Militias for Too Many Years. Here's What I've Learned.

United States Student Work Activism
by Jerry Nelson Feb 18, 2016

You don’t sweat in the desert. That’s a strange thought when you’re in the Sonoran Desert, 50 yards from illegal immigrants being smuggled across the American border, guided by men ready to kill you if you sneeze. It was the first time I had been handed an AR15 to protect myself in case the firing started. It wouldn’t be the last.

I had become rooted with militia just outside Sasabe, Arizona. I had already been embedded with militia in other places including some of the infamous ones in Idaho, Montana, Oklahoma, and Texas. I would look into a few more. Later. If I made it out of the desert.

My time in southern Arizona’s desolation still roams the back roads of my mind and I smell the wind and feel the sand when I wake at 2am in tropical Buenos Aires where I live now.

Memories of my time with militias flooded back with the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Oregon. I know Bundy’s philosophy. I know what secrets their supporters were holding in their heart and I understand, first-hand, the depth of conviction that led to their operation. I also know what it is like to be on government property as the FBI, ICE, DOJ, ATF and other alphabet-soup agencies stare across a fence line watching you as you watch them.

Modern militia organizations in America, such as Posse Comitatus, have existed as early as the 1980s. The movement gained momentum following controversial standoffs with government agents in the beginning of the 1990s, and by the mid-90s groups were active in all 50 states. Membership was estimated between 20,000 and 60,000 according to Chip Berlet in Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort and then started falling off as participants began to see through the dangerous rhetoric of the more militant members.

Although rebounding some in the early part of the new century, the membership has never again reached its previous heights. While each group has its “pet project” — stopping drug smuggling, illegal immigration, human trafficking — they all have one common them: They believe the government is involved in a massive conspiracy to repaint the American government as a totalitarian regime in the hue of Hitler or Stalin, and disarm American citizens in preparation for Step 1.

Militias look at any disaster such as Sandy Hook or San Bernadino as a false-flag to justify federal efforts to take American’s guns. Blanketed in conspiratorial paranoia, militias have followed a consistent progress from their inception and are now paramilitary groups, better armed than the military of some small countries.

A leading militia website, North Caucus, offers this suggestion to potential recruits:

“Go to the range and get very good with a handgun. Read books like, TACTICAL PISTOL Advanced Gunfighting Concepts and Techniques by Gabriel Suarez.”

The militia movement, primarily an American invention, is a subculture made up of disaffected, rural, (mostly) white, right-wing Christians who feel the government’s authority is either abused or null and void. The militia responds by believing that Americans should form armed paramilitary groups in order to resist the federal government and be heard. While active in the early to mid-90s, the militia is making a comeback after a season of near hibernation.

Militias take their name from the “well-regulated militia” clause of the Constitution’s 2nd Amendment. Rooted in right-wing politics, they often distrust the Republican mainstream and ground their justification in paleoconservatism, libertarianism, or some mixture of the two.

Infused with survivalist rhetoric, militias buy into conspiracy theories about big business, the federal government, gun control, the United Nations, the Roman Catholic Church, and so on.

They wrap their beliefs up in a blanket of paranoia, reclaiming the “real” America from these forces which, militia members believe, are poised, at any moment, to steal the country.

Found concentrated in rural areas, suburbia and the Rust Belt, the militia’s message appeals most to those uprooted by the economic changes caused by globalization — family farmers, small business owners, under-educated, blue collar workers, and the lower-middle income.

As long as there is an American government, there will be militias. As long as there are persons willing to gather, there will be federal agencies ready to stand against them. In places like Waco, Ruby Ridge and Burns, the struggle between a government “of the people” and the people themselves will continue.

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