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Militia Movement

Militia groups are characterized by their obsession with FTX’s (field training exercises), guns, uniforms typically resembling those worn in the armed forces and a warped interpretation of the Second Amendment. Antigovernment militia groups engage in firearm training and maintain internal hierarchical command structures.

Top takeaways

The militia movement is rooted in the Posse Comitatus of the 1970s, but it formed much more recently as the paramilitary wing of the antigovernment movement. Current militia members believe they are true patriots, with many holding onto the notion that they are modern day versions of 18th-century colonists who banded together to fight off the British. The idea of the “unorganized militia,” standing up to a tyrannical government, helps shape their interpretation of the Second Amendment and cements their view that every American has a right to own firearms to keep the government in check.

As a result, the militia movement is primarily driven by fear of gun confiscation, globalization and antigovernment conspiracy theories; though these are perennial fears, the urgency to organize outside legitimate channels increases during liberal administrations.

Over time, conspiratorial ways of thinking have evolved, and today many militia members peddle such narratives as the idea that nefarious actors within the federal government are working alongside foreign powers to chip away the United States’ sovereignty. Members typically hurl these accusations at members of the Democratic Party, although recent conspiracy theories around voter fraud have resulted in militia members also targeting Republican elected officials. 


The militia movement began in the early 1990s following Ruby Ridge and Waco. These deadly standoffs, and opposition to Clinton-era firearms laws, led many gun-rights radicals to form paramilitary groups. Their ranks declined following the Oklahoma City bombing and throughout the Bush administration, but Barack Obama’s election as president ushered in a second wave behind new groups like Oath Keepers and Three Percenters.

Recently, anxieties and misinformation around the COVID-19 virus have helped fuel beliefs of an impending takeover of the everyday lives of American citizens by the federal government. Chants and slogans decrying the loss of civil liberties, eroding freedom and increasing censorship have become core beliefs in antigovernment circles. These beliefs around the loss of civil liberties, combined with fears of impending gun confiscations, conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 general election and nativist fears, served as the bedrock for the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection.

Amid the chaos, antigovernment militia adherents with ties to such groups as the Oath Keepers, Three Percenters and the This is Texas Freedom Force were later identified as Capitol insurrectionists. Several members of the Oath Keepers appear to have coordinated their activities in preparation for the events of Jan. 6.

The movement employs both legitimate (political activism, protests, community service) and illegitimate (paramilitary training and organization, armed standoffs, criminal and/or terroristic violence) tactics. Though its antecedent is the Christian Identity-inspired Posse Comitatus, the militia movement is not inherently racist. However, against the backdrop of the “War on Terror,” fear of border security and the prevalence of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant narratives, the movement has staunchly embraced nativist beliefs under a thin veil of national security. 

Key Moments

  • Oklahoma City Bombing, April 19, 1995: Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, OK. The bombing killed at least 168 people and injured at least 680 additional individuals.
  • Cliven Bundy’s Battle at Bunkerville, July 10, 2014: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department engaged in a four-day standoff against Cliven Bundy and his antigovernment followers, including several militia members. The dispute, which originated over cattle grazing fees, ended when the BLM withdrew to avoid a violent clash with antigovernment supporters.
  • Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Occupation, Jan. 2, 2016 – Antigovernment adherents and militia members descended onto the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for a 41-day standoff with law enforcement. The move, led by Ammon Bundy, was an attempt to get the federal government to hand over public lands to states.
  • White Rabbit Three Percenters Illinois Patriot Freedom Fighters Militia, March 2018: Members of the White Rabbit group operated a criminal network that planned to bomb and Islamic Center as well as vandalize a women’s health clinic.
  • Arivaca murders, May 30, 2018: Shawna Forde, leader of the militant group Minutemen American Defense (MAD), coordinated an attempted home invasion turned double homicide when members of the group killed Raul Flores and his 9-year-old daughter Brisenia. The group, which operated on nativist fears, was hoping to find cash or drugs to help maintain their border vigilante operations. Forde and one other member were sentenced to death while a third member was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the killings.
  • UCP Illegal detainment of migrants, April 20, 2019: The militia group United Constitutional Patriots gained national attention after the group documented their activities outside Flora Vista, NM, while searching for and detaining migrants crossing the U.S. – Mexico border. Group leader Larry Mitchell Hopkins was eventually sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for illegal owning a firearm as a felon.
  • Michigan Kidnapping Plot, Oct. 8, 2020 – Members of the Wolverine Watchmen, along with members of the Michigan Militia, were arrested by the FBI and Michigan State Police after plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The group was motivated by wild conspiracy theories that aimed to overthrow the state government and murder the governor.
  • Jan. 6 Insurrection, Jan. 6, 2021– Violent domestic extremists, including antigovernment militias like the Oath Keepers, stormed the Capitol building in an attempt to stop the certification of the results from the 2020 general election. Members of the group face multiple federal charges. At least five people died in connection with the attack.

2021 Militia Movement Groups

map of antigovernment militia groups

American Patriots Three Percent
New Jersey

Arizona Border Recon
Phoenix, AZ

Arizona State Militia
Sierra Vista, AZ*

Arkansas Defense Force

Bedford County Militia
Bedford, VA*

California State Militia
Southwest Grove, CA
Central, CA
Los Angeles, CA 

Carlisle Light Infantry
Carlisle, PA*

Civilian Defense Force
Phoenix, AZ

Fayette County, PA*

Cottonwood Militia
Cottonwood, CA* 

Emergency Non-Profit Assisting Communities
Dauphin, PA*

Frontiersmen, The
Ravenna, OH 

Genesee County Volunteer Militia
Genesee Twp, MI 

Georgia Three Percent Martyrs
Bremen, GA*

III% Security Force

III% United Patriots
Johnstown, CO*
North Carolina

Indiana Citizens Volunteer Militia

Iron City CRU (Citizens Response Unit)
Pittsburgh, PA

Irregulars of Ohio Reserve Militia

Last Militia, The
Hamilton County, OH*
Preble County, OH
Clark County, OH
Montgomery County, OH
Summit County, OH
Butler County, OH

Last Sons of Liberty

Light Foot Militia
Kootenai County, ID

Maine Militia
Belfast, ME*

Michigan Home Guard

Michigan Liberty Militia
Barry County, MI

Michigan Militia Corps Wolverines

Missouri Militia
St Joseph, MO
Kansas City, MO

New England Minutemen
New Hamphshire* 

New York Militia
Schaghticoke, NY*
Tillson, NY
Broadalbin, NY

North East Ohio Woodsmen
East Rochester, OH*

Northern Arizona Militia
Golden Valley, AZ

Oath Keepers
Las Vegas, NV*
Chino Valley, AZ
Westfield, IN
St. Louis, MO
Bergen County, NJ
Northvale, NJ
Cape May, NJ
Columbus County, NC
New Jersey
North Carolina

Ohio Defense Force Home Guard
Zanesville, OH*
New Lexington, OH

Ohio Militiamen

Ohio Minutemen Militia
Oak Harbor, OH*

Ohio State Regular Militia

Ohio Valley Minutemen Citizen’s Volunteer Militia
Charleston, WV

Patriots for America
Dallas, TX*

Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia

Pennsylvania Oath Keepers
Lake City, PA*

Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia
Duncansville, PA*

Proud American Patriots Network
Jamison, PA*

Real Three Percenters Idaho, The

Reapers Constitutional Militia of Ohio
Cortland, OH*

Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia

Southern Arizona Militia

Stokes County Militia
King, NC*

This Is Texas Freedom Force

Three Percent of Washington

Vermont State Militia
White River, VT 

Veterans on Patrol
Pima County, AZ 

Concord, NC*
Buffalo, NY

West Ohio Minutemen
Lima, OH