The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

New SPLC Report: Return of the Militias

By Mark Potok on August 12, 2009 - 7:27 am, Posted in Militias

The 1990s saw the rise and fall of the virulently antigovernment “Patriot” movement, made up of paramilitary militias, tax defiers and so-called “sovereign citizens.” Sparked by a combination of anger at the federal government and the deaths of political dissenters at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas, the movement took off in the middle of the decade and continued to grow even after 168 people were left dead by the 1995 bombing of Oklahoma City’s federal building — an attack, the deadliest ever by domestic U.S. terrorists, carried out by men steeped in the rhetoric and conspiracy theories of the militias.

In the years that followed, a truly remarkable number of criminal plots came out of the movement. But by early this century, the Patriots had largely faded, weakened by systematic prosecutions, aversion to growing violence, and a new, highly conservative president.

As we report today (see complete report here), they’re back. Almost a decade after largely disappearing from public view, right-wing militias, ideologically driven tax defiers and sovereign citizens are appearing in large numbers around the country. “Paper terrorism” — the use of property liens and citizens’ “courts” to harass enemies — is on the rise. And once-popular militia conspiracy theories are making the rounds again, this time accompanied by nativist theories about secret Mexican plans to “reconquer” the American Southwest.

One federal law enforcement agency has found 50 new militia training groups — one of them made up of present and former police officers and soldiers. Authorities around the country are reporting a worrying uptick in Patriot activities and propaganda. “This is the most significant growth we’ve seen in 10 to 12 years,” says one. “All it’s lacking is a spark. I think it’s only a matter of time before you see threats and violence.”

A key difference this time is that the federal government — the entity that almost the entire radical right views as its primary enemy — is headed by a black man. That, coupled with high levels of non-white immigration and a decline in the percentage of whites overall in America, has helped to racialize the Patriot movement, which in the past was not primarily motivated by race hate. One result has been a remarkable rash of domestic terror incidents since the presidential campaign, most of them related to anger over the election of Barack Obama.

At the same time, ostensibly mainstream politicians and media pundits have helped to spread Patriot and related propaganda, from conspiracy theories about a secret network of U.S. concentration camps to wholly unsubstantiated claims about the president’s country of birth.

The latter claims from the so-called “birthers” first gained traction when far-right hard-liners like writer Jerome Corsi, politician Alan Keyes and Watergate felon and radio show host G. Gordon Liddy questioned the validity of the president’s birth certificate. But they have picked up speed thanks to the likes of Lou Dobbs, the CNN and radio host who has repeatedly demanded that Obama “show the documents” proving his citizenship — this despite the fact that the birther claims had been thoroughly debunked by a guest host of Dobbs’ own CNN show and by many others.

As Chip Berlet, an analyst of the radical right at Political Research Associates, said in a recent report: “The current political environment is awash with seemingly absurd but nonetheless influential conspiracy theories, hyperbolic claims and demonized targets. And this creates a milieu where violence is a likely outcome.”

Fifteen years ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote then-Attorney General Janet Reno to warn about extremists in the militia movement, saying that the “mixture of armed groups and those who hate” was “a recipe for disaster.” Just six months later, Oklahoma City’s federal building was bombed.

Today, the Patriot movement may not have reached the level of white-hot fury that it did in the 1990s. But the movement clearly is growing again, and Americans, in particular law enforcement officers, need to take the dangers it presents seriously. That is equally true for the politicians, pundits and preachers who, through pandering or ignorance, abet the growth of a movement marked by a proven predilection for violence.

  • Kate De Braose

    Miles, people are concerned that what you call citizen militias are simply casual groups of men who show up with guns at large public gatherings. They seem to have no authority and no organization. Anyone and everyone in the crowd would be a target for their “authority” if they are the only persons who are armed.

    I think that local police would be on their necks in a minute. Nobody in this nation has agreed, or will ever agree, that they are bound to obey even well-meaning gangs of unknown men.

    I know that small groups of frustrated Nazi sympathizers and KKK members would be glad to join such groups to get their kind of sexist and racist messages into the mainstream. If that happened, then freedom in America, and everywhere else, would be dead for centuries and we would all be catapulted backward in time to the “Dark Ages.”

    Be careful of what you wish for!

  • Miles

    Why all the misinformation against Citizen Militias? Most of them truly aren’t racist. Contrary to popular belief, not everybody in a Citizen Militia is Caucasian either. I see a lot of people going off-topic and mentioning how the “Right-Wing” and Republicans worshipped G-Dub as well. If you’ve ever heard of Ron Paul (and oh so many others) you know that a lot of folks involved in this didn’t like Bush much either. The point is that these groups generally may be “Right-Wing” and take a Libertarian approach, but they aren’t generally racist (I haven’t run into any racist member of this stuff so far), and are by far, some of the most average people out there.

  • J. Campbell

    Donna said,

    on August 12th, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    If the hatred of the government is not racially motivated by the black president, then where were you and why were you not complaining when Bush was flushing your money down the toilet and lying to the American people. You bloggers that claim there is no racial motivation are flat out liars! You have done nothing but whine and complain since I helped elect him. It is so much fun to listen to your white noise i will gladly vote for him again. I am ashamed of the lack of vision that these writers have! Long live a diverse America and many of us caucasians will be fighting on the side of our brothers and sisters of color! You are not fooling anyone!

    I got NEWS for you lady, these people WERE complaining about Bush’s policys and actions and STILL are. Get down off the race card its NOT a factor. I could care less what color someones skin is, I judge actions, agendas, policys, and I disagree with the actions as far back as 1964. How dare you accuse someone who doesnt agree with your opinions a racist. And THIS organization is a joke, crystal clear they are instigators and as far as militia goes I’m glad there are people who will stand for our rights when the government only seems to trample on them. Go back and read your history, the militias were the reason we won our freedom, the same freedom that gives your right to say the disgusting things you say. I am so sick of all the ignorance coming out of the mouths of the uninformed. Next time KNOW what you’re talking about before inserting your foot.

  • GrannyofWhites

    Easy victims? Cartels are victims? (The brainwashed are among us…..)

  • Kate De Braose

    Unemployment has been very high for a number of years because corporations have closed their operations in the USA and built their plants in foreign nations where they can pay starvation wages to workers.

    I daresay that the angry posters here saw that happening, yet have said nothing about their distress over the great numbers of Americans whose jobs were suddenly moved offshore. There have been many thousands of jobs lost every month for years, but suddenly Fox “news” viewers have just noticed that was happening?

    I want to tell you that in the 1990s salespeople were having business conferences where they instructed their audiences in the ways they could be free of taxation on their profits, namely by moving their operations offshore. Those same techniques are often called money laundering and they are major crimes.

    You can blame immigrants as Americans’ traditional fall guys, but we all know that the real thieves are wealthy businessmen who claim to be red-blooded patriots.

    How we do pull the wool over our own eyes in our eagerness to blame a group of easy victims for the crimes of the powerful!

  • Martha

    Dr. Kurtin, that was the most eloquent and yet, simple answer to all the racist justifications I’ve ever seen on this, or any, discussion board. I love the SPLC because it’s reports bring out the best and worst of us.
    I couldn’t agree with Dr. Kurtin more. I’m also an older lady and white and live in the Southwest where I’ve seen the truth of her statements every day. There are no anglo youngsters standing at the day labor places. There are no anglo people of any age picking the fruit and vegetables in the whole large county where I live, yet every time I talk to someone who is out of work, they invariably complain about the “illegals” who are “taking their jobs.”
    There ARE jobs. They are just not the ones most white people want. The Latino people around here, mostly Mexican people, are hardworking farm workers, mechanics, restaurant workers, skilled craftsmen, housekeepers and many other low-paying positions.
    I think some of the whiners and complainers out there should evaluate their SKILLS and get busy.
    If you think you’re too good to work, then maybe you’re too good to eat.

  • GrannyofWhites

    In my state, laws were passed to PREVENT teens from going into the fields to do stoop labor – which they had been doing for eons. I worked alongside my high school friends – as did my brother. We worked all summer in the 60’s – picking strawberries, raspberries and beans. The town kids were picked up by busses and taken to the fields. Still, in my state young white girls go to pick cherries and work for 10 to 12 hours during harvest. It may be you who won’t do stoop labor. Obviously, you are part of the ivory tower crowd. How funny for you to tell others that they won’t get dirty. Apparently, over 50% of agricultural work is still done by whites. It is they who are always taken for granted.
    And, as for those of us who have known Hispanic criminals or Hispanics who try to date 13-year-olds….please don’t be condescending or hint that we must not have ever known a good Hispanic. It still is about behavior, not ethnicity and there are differences in ethnic behaviors and practices. Obviously, if 19,000 have died in Mexico since Calderon cracked down on the cartels….get a clue.

  • Beverly Kurtin, Ph.D.

    Lowell, I believe that is your name, Glenn Beck has called President Obama a fascist, a socialist, someone who wants to destroy all whites, despite that fact that half of his family is white, and had made all kind of disparaging negative remarks about Mr. Obama. Yes, I heard that disgusting thing SAY those things. What is worse, is I believe that he is a sick person who is still angry that his parents never decided to marry.
    I’m nudging 70 and have never seen nor heard of such disrespect towards any president while in office. The problem that Beck has with Obama is clear and simple: Beck is a racist who loathes the fact that a black man holds the top position in the country.
    Personally, I am repulsed by the complete lack of respect, if not for the person for the office of president.
    I wish to avoid an ad hominem attack on you as I’ve no idea of who or what you are. I’ll just presume that you do not listen to Beck or listen to what he says when you turn him off mentally.
    Now for those morons among us, you are griping that immigrants are stealing your jobs. WHAT? Are you going to tell me with a straight face that you are willing to do stoop labor? You are willing to climb shaky ladders picking fruit from trees? YOU ARE LYING WITH BOTH SIDES OF YOUR MOUTHS. Your objection to immigrant labor is your racism, pure and simple racism. You have your pet names for Latinos, none of which I will rehearse here. I LIKE Latinos, they make great neighbors, they keep their homes and property in better shape than many of my Anglo neighbors. They are, once they discover you have no prejudice against them, some of the best friends you can have. Spanish was being spoken in what is now the Southern United States LONG before English came in. Try learning some Spanish and you’ll be amazed at how much you can learn. A simple smile and wave with an “Allo” goes a long way towards pulling down the artificial walls Anglos erect.

  • http://none Walter Price

    I moved to my farm in Jackson County, WV two years ago, which brings me now in contact with the people here on a daily basis. This whole county is hiding behind a cross with a cocked gun…. In a conversation in a checkout line at the local farm store I was actually threatened with death because I said… “I have great hope that President Obama can bring health care to all of us, I could use it myself”
    I am a former state legislator, and was just amazed at this level of crackpot ideological violence contemplation.

  • Kate De Braose

    Dr. Kurtin

    I think the only way to improve for the selection of a president and people’s representatives is to train every school child in our nation’s history. And I don’t mean the kind of history that the Texas textbook people promote!

    But to solve your problem we need to hire a couple of brawny guards to accompany everyone in a wheelchair when they are in public places. We might also find ways to protect schoolchildren and the elderly and feeble wherever they are too.

  • james Bertanni

    SOME members of the “constitution party” Bill Lussenheide and Chelene Nightingale seek very aggresive ways to make their views get noticed. They stand on street corners with known militant minded goons to push their agenda. They are touting themselves as “Patriots” but read online how they are accusing the AMERICAN GOVERNMENT of planning 9-11!!!!! These people also seek to become politicians…ie: Bill Lussenheide for congress ca-45 and Chelene Nightingale for Governor of ca. They seek to cloak themselves in the “teaparty”, but, make no mistake…these people are nuts…and have made outrageous claims against our goverment. Beware!!

  • Beverly Kurtin, Ph.D.

    Kate De Braose, I agree with you that, “What makes me very angry is that carrying guns is now seen as the only way to keep any sort of order among this rowdy group of elderly teenagers.” But it IS necessary. I’m cross-eyed angry that I have to arm myself and my home, but I’m seen as a target for the scum that would have zero compunction about “capping” me for the pure fun of it. EVERY GANG MEMBER IS GUILTY OF MURDER OR ATTEMPTED MURDER because that is the only way they can join a gang: Kill an innocent person to prove what a man you are.
    I’m disabled and ride around in a wheelchair when I’m out of my home, therefor I have a large target pained on me that some punk sees as someone who is a target and ripe for either killing or robbing or both.
    Hate to tell them this: My Glock purse gun is faster than they are.
    A few months ago an acquaintance had his hair pulled back and his throat cut from ear-to-ear for a lousy $10.00…he was in a wheelchair IN PUBLIC and nobody lifted a hand to help him. Since nobody will ever react in time to save me from being a victim, I choose to make damned good and sure that I will make a victim out of any attacker.
    Yes, I have taken shooting courses and know what I’m doing; I’m licensed to carry.
    So carrying a LOADED weapon isn’t my first choice, it is my ONLY choice.
    If I had my way (moving to another subject) I would make it mandatory for ALL persons seeking public office to take a college level course in the Constitution of the United States and pass a tests on it BEFORE being permitted to file. It is absurd that we have as many idiots in the Senate and House that want to “repeal the health care reform bill.” DAMMIT, it isn’t a BILL, it is a law and as such is covered by the Constitution; the laws passed by Congress is the supreme law of the land and cannot be reversed at the whim of a vocal, hate-filled bunch of angry Republicans.


  • GrannyofWhites

    What about the managers of government who have let $90 BILLION a year in Medicare fraud and $60 BILLION a year in Medicaid fraud happen?
    This was on ABC news a few months ago.

  • Kate De Braose

    Sorry Granny, the hate and lies have come exclusively from those crooks and liars in the party of Resentment.

    Because they actually want their slaves back, they will ruin their “businesses” and put their profits offshore raather than pay fair wages.

    Al Capone couldn’t have done more damage to our economy and our nation than these unprincipled crybabies!

  • GrannyofWhites

    I am a long time “employee”. However, a few years ago we decided to try building a spec home. The work and worry, the risk we took – (this was a vacation home) did teach us a lesson alright. I could have worked at some drone type of job – and it would have been more secure.
    We wouldn’t have the nice neighborhoods we have today – or many good products (including “green” products) if there were not risk-takers.
    Yes, they try to make profits. For one thing, they have to make a profit to help tide them over for the lean times. Not everyone can be a government bureaucrat, you know. The whole world cannot work for the US government. That is where it is really safe, because thousands of government employees vote in candidates who will continue the ever-increasing taxes – even taxes on the poor. And they HATE the private sector. I know, I’ve been there, done that.

  • Kate De Braose

    Granny, you are falling into the trap laid for you and all the rest of us. Everyone who has a JOB works overtime, and why? Because that is what is demanded of all of us poor working stiffs. And most of us got no overtime pay in our lives, because some private business owners have refused to follow any laws, local state or federal.

    Here is a fundamental truth about America. The errant business owners have got rich by bending and breaking all the rules. So why would anyone look up to people who are crooks at heart?

    It is a time-honored rule of every business interest to pay the least possible to their workers and to pay no taxes on their profits, if at all possible. Every other business rule has been trodden into the dirt by people who take the wages of the poor to support their businesses.

    You would do well and get an education free, by listening to what Elizabeth Warren and other whistleblowers have to say about our current economic crisis and its causes.

  • GrannyofWhites

    It is fine when a capitalist BLACK professional basketball player makes MILLIONS, for doing WHAT?

    But, a CEO – oh dear. He CANNOT be allowed to make more money than others. My uncle made MORE for a silicon valley company – why? Because he went to work at 6:00 AM and came home at 8:00. He was a genius who won many awards. And on top of that, he had been very poor as a child. No help from his immigrant parents.
    Yes, they WANTED him – the top companies. He was a genius. He took risks and advanced the computer industry.

  • mark miller

    The opportunist politician slick cons are trying their best to gain support from this “supposed” tyranny..of the Democrats.
    Don’t be fooled by these Facist extremist grifters. They are banking on your fear….Hitler got a following by fear. Chelene Nightingale for governor bunch are an excellent example. They use scare tactics..and fear mongering to “rally the troops”,
    when in reality all they want is a narcisstic fix and MONEY!!! from YOU! this cabal of vultures and vampires could care less about their fellow Americans. They want to turn this country into a bunch of robotic Conspiracy theororist who will bow down to them and rapture them. Think ‘RASPUTIN!”

  • Kate De Braose

    Thank you, Dr. Kurtin, for taking time to teach some of our political history to persons who didn’t understand it in elementary school and now seem to believe that anything seen on television is divine truth.

    I think this nation is still in its rowdy teenager stage and I sometimes despair that its leaders will ever mature into adulthood. I am glad that our current president is an adult, but we all know that he may be one of very few we’ve seen in office presently.

    What makes me very angry is that carrying guns is now seen as the only way to keep any sort of order among this rowdy group of elderly teenagers.

  • http://Pending Beverly Kurtin, Ph.D.

    I wonder if any of the people above have bothered to read a little document called the CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

    Article 6 says the United States is the SUPREME LAW of the land, not the states. Those who would secede from the Union had better go back in history and find out what happened at Appomattox. It was there that it was proven that no state had the right to secede from the Union.

    Many are the non-readers and non-thinkers who shout that Obama is a socialist along with most of the rest of his cabinet. So what IS Socialism? It’s simple, really, in the Capitalist form of economics (and this is all about economics, not politics) capital tents to go to the top 1 or 2% of the population and the rest of the people gets what’s left, if any. Capitalists (true capitalists, that is) generally do not actually PRODUCE anything but give themselves huge chunks of money as a “reward” for doing…for doing…WHAT?
    Originally, they produced the money that was required for building and manufacturing things; now they produce nothing and richly reward themselves for that while the actual workers, the people who produce everything, get a tiny fraction of any capital that is left.
    That is neither right nor wrong; it just is.
    Socialism, on the other hand, spreads out capital more evenly so there is a greater number of people who can buy what they want or need. Again, not right but not wrong; it just is.
    However, the countries that are starting to kick our posteriors are a combination of capitalism and socialism. And like it or not, so are we! We must catch up in the world’s economy.
    Talking heads who love to toss out words they don’t know splatter like so much fertilizer on the minds and hearts of the ignorant. Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, et. al. instantly come into mind. They are the Republican Fear Squad. Whatever you do, do it so that it is aimed at the uneducated, not those with higher degrees, after all, they’re just EXPERTS who have spent years and years studying and learning. Non-degreed, non-experts like Beck and Limbaugh like to hear themselves “sound” like experts, but don’t have the foggiest concept of what they are talking about.
    Some idiots do not believe that Hawaii can issue an American birth certificate because they do not understand that Hawaii IS A STATE and became one on August 21, 1959 so a birth certificate from Hawaii is a valid American birth certificate, no further proof is needed.
    The Supreme Court has ruled that the right to bear arms is a right left to the PEOPLE, not the states. In Texas, if someone breaks into my house, they will be shot, period. It is legal, no certificate of ownership is required.
    While I very seldom use my doctorate to wave in someone’s face, those initials represent over 30 years of study and work.
    Penultimate Item: I am a proud supporter of President Obama and would have voted for the man had he been purple with green and yellow polka dots: I vote for the MAN, not his color. He has done what no other president has been able to accomplish and I applaud him for so doing!
    Now go and read the Constitution and UNDERSTAND that anyone who is still grumping and groaning, grow up and become adults instead of “Rush Heads.”

  • Kate De Braose


    Apparently you believe that American presidents have the same powers as dictators? If your History education was that deficient, perhaps you could correct that situation by asking your public librarian for advice on ways to get a quick brush-up. Every person who has gained American citizenship after immigrating to America has taken just such a course in American history and government.

    It is true that presidents declare war. However, the wars are instigated by Pentagon officials, about whom the US Constitution says nothing.

  • beholder

    Bush caused the bloodbath, not Obama.

  • Evil White Person

    Kate, while only the House of Representatives can declare a war (which they never do anymore) the Constitution does give the President the role of Commander in Chief. He can in fact give any legal order to any general or admiral and they have to obey those orders — or face a court martial. If I were President I would order an immediate orderly withdrawal from Iraq, and any military man who tried to thwart that order would quickly find himself out of a job. In any case, a withdrawal from Iraq is hardly unpopular among the military. Do you want to know which candidate got the most support from members of the armed forces in the 2008 election? Ron Paul, the most antiwar candidate in either party. Saying that Obama is powerless to get us out of Iraq is tantamount to saying he is a wimp, unwilling to exercise the powers granted to him by the Constitution.

  • Kate De Braose

    Well, I disagree with you that the president is actually running the nation, at least, in regard to conducting or ending wars. He, and all of us, are the captives of what Dwight Eisenhower called “the military/industrial complex.” They and the Pentagon have the use of most of the nation’s wealth and they set the nation’s policy on wars. It is quite easy for them to persuade and control the votes of any member of congress and the president also.

    Money is what runs our nation’s capitol. That situation has existed long before most of us were born.

  • Evil White Person

    Kate, nobody wants the president to be a dictator (far from it). But the President is also Commander in Chief. He could, if he wanted to, have declared victory in Iraq and ordered the troops home. He can also veto legislation like the Patriot Act. Congress would need a two thirds majority to override the veto, and if Obama explained just why that act is so terrible there’s no way congress would try to override his veto.