The Militia MenaceRoundup
tags: far right, militias, domestic terrorism
Tom Mockaitis is a professor of history at DePaul University and the author of Violent Extremism: Understanding the Domestic and International Terrorist Threat.
The events of the past few weeks have, once again, drawn attention to the growing threat posed by far-right extremist groups, particularly self-styled “patriot” militias. In late August, Armed white vigilantes claiming to be the “Kenosha Guard Militia” showed up uninvited to “assist” law enforcement in combatting unrest following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in the Wisconsin city. Tragedy ensured when one of the vigilantes, Kyle Rittenhouse, allegedly shot three people, one of whom died. He has been charged with murder and is awaiting an extradition hearing in Illinois.
Rittenhouse’s lawyer describes him as “a minuteman protecting his community when the government would not.” Apparently, the attorney does not realize that his defendant lives in Antioch, Ill., and is a 17-year — he cannot legally own a firearm in either state. Furthermore, Wisconsin law prohibits individuals without training or authority performing an official function, such as policing.
Last week a Department of Homeland Security staffer claimed he had been pressured by the administration to play down the threat posed by far-right extremists and to emphasize that posed by Antifa. On September 17, however, FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress that “racially motivated violence” primarily by White supremacists posed the most significant domestic terrorist threat. While he also condemned violence by those on the left, Wray described Antifa as an ideological movement rather than a group. His testimony contradicts the repeated assertions of President Trump and Attorney General Barr that Antifa bears responsibility for most of the unrest in American cities.
“What are these militias, and where did they come from?” Many Americans wonder. Although they claim to be spiritual descendants of the Minutemen who faced the British at Lexington and Concord, contemporary militia groups bear no real relationship to colonial or state militias of the past. Fearing a large standing army in peacetime, Congress passed the Militia Act of 1792, which set standards for organizing state militias and required the enrollment of able-bodied men between 18-45 as reservists. In case of invasion or civil unrest, state militias could be federalized and placed under the command of the regular army, as Abraham Lincoln did at the outbreak of the Civil War.
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