MILITIA - HISTORY AND LAW FAQ
Web Version 2.0
Part 1. -
Introduction & Summary Material
Part 6. - Afterword
by Mark Pitcavage
If you've braved the entire FAQ to reach this point, then you deserve considerable congratulations: here's a pat on the back. While you catch your breath, you might stay with us just a moment or two longer and reflect upon the purpose and intent of this FAQ. Compiled by a Canadian lawyer with the aid of an American historian, it bears the heavy imprint of both. And missing entirely are such questions as, "What is the nature of the new militia movement?", "How many people are in it?", "How would I join a group were I so inclined?", and"Do these groups represent some sort of danger?", among others.
But the purpose of this FAQ was not to provide information about the new militia movement per se--a simple search of literature published since November 1994 by both the movement and the media will provide more information (and some misinformation) than most people will want to know--but rather to place the new militia movement in its proper context. In short, we wanted to answer two questions: 1) What is the relationship between the new militia movement and the historical militia? and 2) What is the legal standing of the new militia movement?
These are important questions. The ideology of the new militia movement--stripped of the racial and/or theological overtones that color it heavily in some areas--can be characterized as a backwards-looking right/libertarian ideology. In other words, the belief system of the new militiaman believes that 1) less government is better, 2) strong government tends to interfere with concerns more properly belonging to the province of the private citizen, 3) strong government tends to be socialistic in nature, and 4) individual liberties are best protected by individuals. These concerns all interlock firmly with each other, but by themselves are not particularly different from other libertarian or right/libertarian philosophies.
Two additional glues cement these concerns together. The first is probably psychological as much as philosophical: a strong desire to own firearms. The political beliefs provide a foundation which suggests that firearms arenecessary to protect individual liberties, the most important of which is the right to own firearms. Somewhat circular, perhaps, but it is nonetheless a strongly held conviction. The second glue is a strong sense of paranoia coupled with pessimism. Members of the new militia movement sincerely believe that society is disintegrating rapidly. The causes are various: socialism, one-worldism, a too-powerful media, a liberal intellectual establishment, and more. Religious militia members sometimes cite a turning away from God, or even the coming apocalypse. White supremacist militia members will suggest that race plays a strong role. It is this sense of paranoia that can cause militia members to take seriously such notions as U.N. troops being sent to occupy the country, or special secret prisons being built to house militia members.
What fuels these convictions is the sense that new militia members have that they represent a last defense against such forces. I mentioned earlier that they were backward-looking. The movement looks to an imagined past in which sturdy individuals, unfettered by any chains of government, grabbed their firearms in defense of their natural rights. The idealized past--dimly perceived as consisting of the American Revolution (in particular, Lexington and Concord) and the Founding Fathers (in particular anti-federalists and/or Jeffersonians)--became through a long path of declining liberties the all-too-real present.
As they look back to this utopian past, members of the new militia movement draw upon it for justification for what they do. Their actions are legal--indeed, worthy of estimation--because they merely continue this long (perceived) tradition. What they do is true to the spirit of the Founders, unlike the perverted or corrupted actions of government agencies like the FBI or the BATF. They are merely guardians of their own (and our) liberties.
And yet, when the rose-colored glasses are taken off, it appears that their claims to a political/philosophical inheritance are not particularly strong. Service in the historical militia was a burden rather than a right through much of its early history. As Radical Whig Ideology gained adherents in the colonies in the eighteenth century, many colonists became convinced that a strong militia did in fact guarantee liberty. But the strong militia they conceived of was not an anarchic, individually-based collection of arms-bearing volunteers, but rather the community in arms, hierarchical in nature, subservient to authority and to the law.
The Founding Fathers took this virtuous citizen militia and did something revolutionary with it, placing it (partially) in the hands of the federal government, in the hopes that the militia could better guarantee thesecurity of the nation than could a strong standing army. Since then, the history of the militia has been one of federalism; that is, sharing power between the federal and state governments. Individuals composed the militia and owed military service to the community in the form of militia duty, but this was a burden rather than a right.
As the country grew more populous, its security could be guaranteed by forces smaller than the men provided by compulsory militia service; as a result, first the states then finally the federal government released from the burdens of service all those who chose not to participate. Henceforth, the militia would be voluntary, in what would become the National Guard.
What members of the new militia movement desire is the right to form voluntary militia units, but units without the responsibilities, duties, or safeguards by which the National Guard is governed. Though the history of the militia/National Guard in our country has largely been one of subservience to proper authorities, members of the new militia movement seek and/or claim to be answerable to no one but themselves. American society has traditionally looked askance at such groups, particularly when they are heavily armed.
The new militia movement thus has no claim to history, no claim to legality, and no claim to public support. That it is so alienated from the rest of society is both a cause of its radical opinions and a result of them. Whether the new militia movement has a propensity to violence is difficult to say. Perhaps it is enough to say that they have the tools for violence coupled with an ideology in which violence is not only permissable but if used for the right ends, admirable. That both these means and ends are not necessarily the ones desired by the majority of Americans hardly needs to be said; this is why the new militia movement is a fringe movement.