Location: Noxon, Montana
Leaders: John Trochmann, David Trochmann, Randy Trochmann
Publications: Taking Aim newsletter, MOM product catalog
Associations: Aryan Nations, Freemen, Liberty Lobby
Militia of Montana is one of the best known of the paramilitary "patriot" militias that formed in the mid-to-late 1990s. John Trochmann, along with his brother David and nephew Randy, formed the group in January 1994 in Noxon, Montana. All three have been involved with the Idaho-based Aryan Nations -- John as a featured speaker at the 1990 Aryan Nations Congress. AN founder Richard Butler has said that John helped write AN's code of conduct; he has also been interviewed by The Spotlight, the conspiratorially anti-government and anti-Semitic journal, and was a featured guest at the Liberty Lobby's 40th anniversary celebration.
Militia of Montana's Origins
The Militia of Montana was the creation of two brothers, John and David Trochmann, and David's son, Randy. It evolved from the remnants of an earlier organization, United Citizens for Justice, formed in late 1992 in response to the government's handling of the siege at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, during which the wife and son of white supremacist Randy Weaver were killed in a standoff with federal agents. Though its stated purpose was to gather support for and increase public awareness of Weaver's plight, UCJ soon expanded its mission statement to include goals that became the raison d'etre of the Militia of Montana. Foremost among these was an ostensibly benign push to "return our government to a position of service to the people and to defender of individual rights as our forefathers had intended." While UCJ tried to portray itself as a human rights group, nearly all of its leaders and chief supporters were white supremacists, including Louis Beam, former ambassador at large for Aryan Nations, and Paul Hall, editor of the Jubilee, a Christian Identity journal that was promoted heavily in UCJ newsletters.
John Trochmann of the Militia of Montana, left, Bob Fletcher of MOM, center, and Leroy Crenshaw of the Massachusetts Militia during a Capitol Hill news conference on
May 25,1995. A Senate Judiciary subcommittee cancelled a hearing on the militia movement where the three were to testify earlier in the day.
Officially formed by the Trochmanns in January 1994, MOM was greatly aided by the early addition of Robert Fletcher, a self-styled research analyst who toured the Pacific Northwest extensively to promote the group's message. Fletcher's lack of polish, down-at-the-mouth appearance and fevered conspiracy theories seemed to personify a public perception of the fringe right, and he became a minor media star. Although MOM consisted for the most part of the Trochmanns, Fletcher and a small group of allies, it quickly became one of the most influential militias of the 1990s. Owing both to the group's temperament and to restrictive Montana laws, MOM did not engage in paramilitary training and was able to avoid the wave of arrests -- stemming largely from violent, weapons-related crimes -- that swept the movement later in the decade. Oriented instead toward informing, encouraging and supplying other groups, MOM was able to maintain a high public profile even as other militia organizations proliferated and declined across the country.
In their initial period of activism, the Trochmann brothers considered themselves sovereign citizens; they believed that individuals were not subject to the authority of either state or federal government unless they formally chose to enter into a "contract" with the government -- for example, by having a driver's license or Social Security number or by paying property or income taxes. John went so far as to declare his "sovereignty" in a series of documents he filed with a Montana court in January 1992. The brothers were familiar figures at town meetings, often arguing that "common law" (as opposed to the illegitimate law that had replaced it) rendered property taxes invalid and that the government's jurisdiction was limited to the literal wording of the Constitution.
The Trochmanns' variant of sovereign citizenship also included a white supremacist dimension. They racialized standard sovereign notions, arguing that citizenship requirements in force at the country's founding were still operative. Therefore, only white males could be sovereigns, and all nonwhites and non-Christians were second class, "14th Amendment Citizens."1 But their dalliance with sovereign ideas -- and by extension that of their militia -- was short-lived; by mid-1995 John and his group had distanced themselves from the sovereign movement.
Initially at least, MOM organized among ardent opponents of the proposed Brady Bill and the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban. The potency of these issues helped the Trochmanns attract impressive numbers to some of the group's earliest gatherings (precise figures are difficult to ascertain, but attendance in the hundreds was not uncommon). Within a short time, however, the group incorporated "threats" to the Second Amendment into visions of a global conspiracy orchestrated by financial and corporate elites. Militia members believed that these unseen powers were using the United Nations to overturn the Constitution and invoke martial law as they absorbed the United States into an international totalitarian state. Resisting this New World Order became the core ideological and rhetorical theme for MOM and much of the patriot movement. As it grew more conspiratorial, MOM was increasingly courted by open racists, including The Spotlight, which invited John Trochmann to be a featured speaker at its 40th anniversary celebration.
Putting Out the Word
To awaken fellow citizens to the impending tyranny, John and David Trochmann spoke at gun shows and trade shows marketed to the survivalist and patriot communities. Robert Fletcher was able to spin new conspiracy theories from the nightly news -- all confirming and exacerbating patriot fears. Fletcher compiled his sinister findings in MOM's Blue Book, a binder of press clippings, fliers and articles. The Blue Book included a map reproduced from a KIX cereal box that purportedly denoted the occupational zones into which the United States was to be divided following the United Nations-sponsored takeover. Fletcher asserted that the same map was used in the 1986 television mini-series "Amerika," about a Soviet invasion of the United States. Fletcher remained with the group until mid-1996. Afterwards, he briefly hosted a radio show in Los Angeles before devoting all of his time to producing and selling various conspiracy books and videos.
Randy Trochmann edited MOM's journal, Taking Aim, which discussed the New World Order conspiracy and its encroachment on every aspect of daily life. The publication was widely read in militia circles, and its popularity solidified MOM's place in the vanguard of the movement. The group also published a catalog that stocked everything from caps and fatigue jackets to guides on improvising munitions and escaping from police custody. The abusive power of the government was explored in videotapes like "Surviving Martial Law" by John Trochmann, "Government Gone Mad " by conspiracy theorist Jeff Baker and "Pestilence," in which James Wickstrom, an outspoken anti-Semitic and former Posse Comitatus leader, asserted that the AIDS virus was a biological weapon released by the NWO powers to eliminate two billion people by the year 2000. The MOM catalog also offered more specific training materials, including weapons breakdown manuals; "Techniques for Harassment," a video presenting the latest refinements of that art; and "How to Disappear Completely," which provided would-be revolutionaries with the skills to craft new identities.
The success of MOM's catalog and newsletter triggered a small backlash within the militia movement. Some leaders -- particularly those who believed that government wrongdoing demanded active intervention -- derided MOM as the "Mail Order Militia," a criticism of the group's affinity for public appearances and marketing its merchandise. These critics felt that MOM should have given fewer interviews and, instead, emphasized target practice and field exercises.
But MOM flourished despite criticism. Along with its proficient salesmanship, two other reasons stand out. First, John Trochmann proved a formidable leader. With the thick gray beard and intense stare of an avenging prophet, his belligerency toward the government was in fact leavened by a relatively soft manner and speaking style -- qualities that made him especially attractive to mainstream media. His influence undoubtedly contributed to the second reason for MOM's success, namely its ability to cultivate and promote a paranoid-style world view without descending into racism or anti-Semitism.
Although bigots were associated with the group from its start, Trochmann went to great lengths to emphasize that the militia's concern was with the threat posed by conspiratorial powers against the rights of all Americans. In his way, he pioneered a militia "don't ask, don't tell policy" toward the racists in his group, while downplaying (at least publicly) aspects of MOM's views that bolstered intolerance.
Part of Trochmann's cautiousness, certainly with regard to sovereign citizen activity if not racism, stemmed from his 1995 involvement with Montana Freemen (some of whom later held off federal authorities for 81 days at their compound in Jordan, Montana). Following Freeman rancher William Stanton's February 1995 conviction for criminal syndicalism, authorities learned that Stanton's colleagues might be planning to retaliate against --- perhaps kidnap -- the judge or prosecutor. On March 3, 1995, the day after Stanton was sentenced, two Freemen were stopped in Montana's Musselshell County for driving without license plates. While searching the men, deputies discovered a map with the prosecutor's home circled. A cache of guns, ammunition and other matériel was found in the car. A few hours later, local lawmen were astonished when three Freemen walked into the jail where their two associates were being held and demanded the items seized from the car. One of these men carried a weapon, and the three were arrested. When deputies went outside, two more men waiting in a car locked their doors and refused to exit. One of these men was John Trochmann. Determining that Trochmann and the other passenger were also armed, police broke through a window and arrested them.
Randy Trochmann quickly issued a press release denying any links between MOM and the Freemen, saying that John Trochmann had traveled across the state to Musselshell County to help negotiate between the Freemen and local law enforcement. In the end, most of the charges against the Freemen could not be sustained because of procedural errors. Charges against Trochmann of felony intimidation and carrying a concealed weapon were dropped, and he later won $300 for damage done to his handgun by a deputy (the officer had etched his initials into the gun before cataloguing it into evidence). After this brush with serious legal trouble, however, Trochmann and his group were reluctant to criticize law enforcement treatment of the Freemen -- notably so during the Jordan standoff.
Although not always able to escape being branded racist or unlawful, MOM was able to maintain a modicum of respectability throughout the 1990s. Whereas other anti-government groups like Aryan Nations and National Alliance were public pariahs, newspapers, universities and magazines generally treated Trochmann more favorably -- as a huckster or crank, perhaps, but rarely as a hater -- and he continued to be used as a spokesman for the militia cause. Moreover, toward the end of the decade, as fears surrounding Y2K grew, so too did the number of people who took MOM seriously.
By 1999, amid fears that a Y2K computer meltdown would provoke social collapse, interest broadened in the survivalism and apocalyptic scenarios once confined to the precincts of fundamentalists and the far right. MOM capitalized on these anxieties through its catalog and John Trochmann's frequent appearances at preparedness expos. (Part flea market, part trade show and part political rally, these conventions catered to the patriot community.) Trochmann explained that the New World Order would exploit the chaos created by Y2K to declare martial law and would then tighten its grip on everyday Americans through as yet unknown mind and weather control technology. He even asserted that the Columbine High shootings were part of a field test of this sinister technology.
MOM effectively used the Internet as Y2K loomed: the organization's Web site offered much of its product catalog for sale, along with works like "The Road Back," which was published and promoted by Liberty Lobby's Noontide Press. MOM's home page also proved helpful in promoting John's speaking engagements. Randy Trochmann, in addition to acting as editor of Taking Aim and handling most of MOM's day-to-day operations, also moderated an e-mail group in which patriots could exchange information, share tips on survival and debate the best responses to current threats.
The Morning After
The year 1999 proved to be a high point for MOM. Many militia members nationwide entered 2000 deflated after Y2K proved a dud. The movement had already been damaged by a number of arrests of groups and leaders in the mid-to-late 1990s. Moreover, several prominent activists defected to more militant groups after the militias failed to rally substantial support for the Freemen or the Republic of Texas during those groups' confrontations with law enforcement. Although a core of followers remained, MOM's survivalist offerings found fewer outlets and preparedness expos became smaller and less frequent. For many, the excitement of military exercises and drilling had begun to wane, and few were willing to move from talking about revolution to taking up arms against the government. MOM's bottom line suffered. Conditions further worsened when Randy Trochmann left the group in March 2000 because he needed more money to take care of his family; that fall, the previously free e-mail bulletin circulated by MOM began charging its subscribers, prompting most readers to leave.
MOM has continued to publish Taking Aim on a regular basis. It updates its catalog annually, and new items continue to appear. John Trochmann speaks mainly at regional gun shows now, seldom traveling outside the Pacific Northwest. The group's e-mail bulletin still circulates, but with far fewer subscribers. Both Trochmann brothers insist that the group remains vital; clearly, however, its significance in anti-government circles has diminished. Nonetheless, the group is not dead yet, and the bombings of the Pentagon and the World Trade Center have certainly provided an opportunity to inflame the same sorts of fears and anxieties that fueled the group's rise during the hysteria surrounding Y2K. Indeed, current public concerns regarding security differ in a very important respect from those of the late 1990s: today, the threat is no longer theoretical. Fear of terrorist attacks, expanded domestic surveillance and conspiracy theories generated by major social change could all impart new credibility to the group. The new climate could re-ignite interest among those who have fallen away as well as attracting newcomers concerned about both safety and individual liberties. For these reasons, it would be premature to discount MOM's potential future influence.
1Ratified in 1868, the 14th Amendment had several aims, including the guarantee of United States citizenship to ex-slaves. Sovereign citizens claim that before its ratification, virtually no one was a "citizen of the United States": one was a citizen of the republic of Ohio or some other state. The 14th Amendment created an entirely new class of citizen, they argue, one that anybody could join if willing to be subject to the complete authority of the federal and state government. Because people would not freely choose this, sovereigns, like the Trochmanns at this early stage, believed that the government tricked people into entering its jurisdiction by having them sign contracts with it. The trick was that people did not realize they were signing contracts, which included items like drivers and marriage licenses, social security cards and car registrations. The Trochmanns' bigotry relegated nonwhites and non-Christian Americans to this status whether these people signed contracts or not.