Mike Vanderboegh, a longtime leader and propagandist in the antigovernment “Patriot” movement, specializes in fiery rhetoric urging violent “self-defense” against a tyrannical, Constitution-flouting U.S. government determined to impose the Communist principles of gun control and universal health care. And it’s rhetoric that has apparently inspired a number of people to act, including a group of Georgia militiamen who plotted to attack several cities with the deadly ricin toxin and a number of unknown people who once targeted Democratic offices around the country. A veteran of the 1990s militia movement, when he headed a group called the Sons of Liberty, Vanderboegh in 2008 co-founded another Patriot group, the Three Percenters, who vow to resist gun control laws with force if necessary. In more recent years, Vanderboegh has remained just as inflammatory on his Sipsey Street Irregulars blog and in other Patriot forums. In 2013 and 2014, he E-mailed Connecticut State Police employees warning of bloody scenarios if they tried to enforce a new state gun control law, and also published the home addresses and phone numbers of the state senators who had voted for the measure.
In His Own Words
“[I]f you wish to send a message that [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and her party cannot fail to hear, break their windows. Break them NOW. Break them and run to break again. Break them under cover of night. Break them in broad daylight. … Break them with rocks. Break them with slingshots. Break them with baseball bats. But BREAK THEM. ”
—Reacting to the imminent passage of health care reform, Sipsey Street Irregulars blog, March 19, 2010
“The health care law carries … the hard steel fist of government violence at the center. If we refuse to obey, we will be fined. If we refuse to pay the fine, we will in time be jailed. If we refuse to report meekly to jail, we will be sent for by armed men. And if we refuse their violent invitation at the doorsteps of our own homes we will be killed — unless we kill them first.”
—After U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, Sipsey Street Irregulars blog, June 29, 2012
“The recent spate of citizen disarmament laws in states like Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland and New York has led me on a campaign to defy, resist, evade and smuggle in opposition to those laws. … I have broken the laws of three of those states… . But it is an established principle in American jurisprudence that an unconstitutional law is null and void. One man’s criminal is another man’s freedom fighter.”
—Speech at the Alamo, Oct. 19, 2013
Mike Vanderboegh first surfaced in the Alabama militia, or “Patriot,” movement after the 1993 standoff in Waco, Texas, between Branch Davidian cultists suspected of illegal arms trafficking and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). Vanderboegh wrote a post-Waco call to arms entitled, “Strategy and Tactics for a Militia Civil War,” where he discussed the value of snipers who could target secret police and militia watchdogs. Still, he liked to portray himself as a moderate within that often-violent movement. In 1996, he joined some militia leaders in signing a document that tried to distance the movement from racists and neo-Nazis.
In the mid-2000s, Vanderboegh briefly took up the anti-immigrant crusade, participating in “patrols” to catch undocumented immigrants along the Mexican border with his very small Alabama Minuteman Support Team.
More important, Vanderboegh in 2008 became one of the founders of a Patriot group called the Three Percenters, a loosely organized movement of gun owners who name stemmed from the disputed claim that only 3% of American colonists took up arms against the British. The group, which sees itself as a lineal descendant of those early American patriots, has grown since President Obama took office, according to the Anti-Defamation League, but its exact size remains unknown. Vanderboegh regularly blasts opposition to gun control laws as a leader of the Three Percenters, vowing never to surrender any arms on his Sipsey Street Irregulars blog.
Based in the small town of Pinson just north of Birmingham, Vanderboegh has lived for years on a monthly disability check despite his repeatedly professed contempt for the government that issues it. Suffering from diabetes, hypertension and congestive heart failure, Vanderboegh has had plenty of time for movement activities, including writing his unpublished E-novel, Absolved, in 2008. In the introduction, Vanderboegh called the book “a cautionary tale for the out-of-control gun cops of the ATF” and “a combination field manual, technical manual and call to arms for my beloved gunnies of the armed citizenry.” Militia fighters in his book denounce gay marriage and gun control laws, and it features a bloody shootout between law enforcement and a man who has stockpiled arms that prompts the militiamen to plan a far-reaching campaign to murder government officials.
Authorities cited the book as the inspiration for a 2011 plot by militia members in Georgia to attack four cities with ricin, blow up federal buildings, and assassinate law enforcement and other officials. The plotters, led by 73-year-old Frederick W. Thomas, had amassed at least 52 firearms and 30,000 rounds of ammunition and had already begun milling the deadly ricin from castor beans. Thomas and an accomplice pleaded guilty in 2012 to conspiracy charges.
Vanderboegh seemed to think the whole thing was a joke. In an interview with the online Huffington Post, he laughed about the notoriety he’d gained from the incident, ridiculed the men’s plans and disingenuously claimed that he’d never advocated violence against the government. On his blog, Vanderboegh was skeptical that a “pretty geriatric” militia could have carried out the planned attacks.
It wasn’t the first time that Vanderboegh’s rhetoric appeared to inspire criminal violence. In 2010, after Congress passed the health care reform bill, he urged right-thinking citizens to heave bricks through the windows of Democratic offices. From Kansas to Rochester, N.Y., to Tucson, Ariz., unknown persons responded, shattering windows of party offices — at least 10 Democrats in Congress reported harassment, vandalism or death threats. Again, Vanderboegh was wholly unapologetic, telling The Washington Post that throwing bricks “is both good manners” and “a moral duty to warn the people” about the health care act. Earlier, in 2006, Vanderboegh had also urged followers to throw bricks through the office windows of members of Congress who supported legislation that would have eventually given legal status to undocumented immigrants.
Vanderbeogh’s history apparently gave no pause to Fox News, which brought him on as an expert commentator to attack a failed ATF gun-trafficking sting called “Fast and Furious” without giving any inkling of his extremist activities. Finally, after the brick-throwing episodes in 2010, Fox stopped giving Vanderboegh a platform and describing him as “an authority.”
None of this has tempered Vanderboegh’s violent rhetoric. On Nov. 6, 2012, his blog post entitled “Vote” advised going to the polls but added ominously, “At least later on you can say you tried everything else before you were forced to shoot people in righteous self-defense of life and liberty.”
Vanderboegh has a special hatred for the Obama administration. In a 2013 speech to a radical group called the Liberty Oath Keepers meeting in Monticello, N.Y., Vanderboegh claimed, as he often does, that he started out on the far left politically, virtually a Communist — and so he knows a Communist when he sees one. “When you’re in the Party, there are radishes, tomatoes and killer tomatoes,” he said. “A radish is … only red on the outside, on the inside she’s white. A tomato is red through and through. A killer tomato … is a Communist willing to pull the trigger. And if you look at the current Administration … these people are killer tomatoes. … They are willing to do whatever it takes to bend you to their will.”
Nothing has seemed to slow Vanderboegh’s penchant for making threats, or at least implied threats. In the wake of the 2012 Newtown, Conn., school massacre, he warned in E-mails sent to more than 1,000 employees of the Connecticut State Police that they risked “initiating hostilities” if they tried to enforce the state’s tough new gun control law. “I personally violated this unconstitutional and tyrannical act by smuggling and by the encouragement of smuggling, defiance and non-compliance on the part of your state’s citizens,” he boasted to the police.
And he also seemed to target the Connecticut state senators who voted for a new state gun control law, posting information about where they, their spouses and their children lived, what their phone numbers were, and their photos.