Waning Militias

Threats of open warfare end in militiaman's arrest

In an apparent bid to jump-start his Western Illinois Militia, Dan Shoemaker was going to flout state law and tote a semi-automatic gun through the public squares of Galesburg and Monmouth, two small Illinois towns.

He warned that police interference during his planned June 17 protest could lead to "open warfare" — in which case, he instructed followers, "Don't stop killing the enemy until they are all dead."

As he predicted, Shoemaker did end up in a violent confrontation with police who arrested him, emerging with a black eye and a gash over his forehead, and leaving Knox County Sheriff Jim Thompson with a separated shoulder and a deputy with a bruised knee. But it wasn't the type of showdown he'd anticipated.

Shoemaker was unarmed when the policemen arrived at the high school where he worked, two days prior to his planned protest, to serve up a warrant on felony charges of weapons possession, aggravated intimidation and threatening a public official. Following the scuffle, charges of resisting arrest were added to the list.

"I will live free or die," Shoemaker had told those gathered at a rural farm for the June 10 annual public meeting of the Western Illinois Militia. The author of the U.S. Militiaman's Handbook — a movement classic — expressed frustration at the fact that he was the only founding member of the group still active, citing police harassment as the reason.

The man he named as his successor in the event of his demise, Kenny Butler, said that if the government didn't heed Shoemaker's warnings, it could have another catastrophe like Ruby Ridge or Waco on its hands. "Can they really afford another massacre?" Butler asked the crowd.

Sheriff Thompson, also fearful of a bloody outcome, had met with Shoemaker in early June to try to dissuade him from staging his martial exhibition. It turns out that Thompson and Shoemaker are old friends, and even after their run-in, Thompson has remained sympathetic.

He says he shares Shoemaker's belief that Constitutional rights need to be protected. "I don't perceive Dan as a kook," Thompson said. "Personally, I think Dan is a nice, honorable man."

On the day that Shoemaker was to demonstrate — as he sat in a Knox County jail with bond set at $1.3 million and an arrest warrant with $1 million bond awaiting him in nearby Warren County — members of the Western Illinois Militia marched in Galesburg. But they were unarmed.

Unlike their leader, these militiamen apparently weren't prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. Whereas Shoemaker had said repeatedly that he was ready to die for the cause, his supporters chose to march on local hospital grounds — reasoning, as one said, that this was the best place to be in case they were shot.