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Militia Movement

Militia groups are characterized by their obsession with field training exercises (FTXs), guns, uniforms typically resembling those worn in the armed forces and a warped interpretation of the Second Amendment. Antigovernment militia groups engage in firearm training and maintain internal hierarchical command structures.


In past years, anxieties and misinformation around the COVID-19 virus helped fuel belief in an impending takeover of the everyday lives of American citizens by the federal government. Narratives around a supposed loss of civil liberties, eroding freedoms and increased censorship have become core beliefs in antigovernment circles. Ideas surrounding the loss of civil liberties, combined with fears of impending gun confiscations, conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 general election and nativist fears, served as the bedrock for the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection.

The fallout from arrests and convictions from Jan. 6 continues to dismantle what had previously been leading national organizations. The result is a movement reverting to more of a local/regional model. The national structure that such militias as the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters had used proved to be a liability in the law-enforcement crackdown after Jan. 6. This has resulted in many militias going back to smaller localized groups that are harder to infiltrate. In essence, militias are largely returning to their early 1990s “leaderless resistance” roots. 

These militias often go out of their way to portray themselves as entities training to help their communities in times of emergencies. Upon examination of the trainings, however, the groups are invariably outfitted in tactical gear and armed with weapons. They are training for combat, not emergency preparedness. This intentional disconnect between their public messaging and actual training isn’t new. In fact, it’s the same tactic used in recent history by Stewart Rhodes with the Oath Keepers. Rhodes always framed his militia as offering training for emergency preparedness. At the trainings themselves, attendees would spend a short amount of time talking about first aid and the rest of the time engaging in combat training. As former Oath Keeper Jason Van Tatenhove told the Southern Poverty Law Center, the trainings were “down-and-dirty warfighting taught by actual warfighters that had done it.” While militias since the early 1990s have sometimes used this “emergency preparedness” or “neighborhood watch” façade, there seems to be a more consistent effort right now to play this public relations game.

Overall, militias are more difficult to track, with many not having much of a social media presence. More mainstream social media spaces continue to deplatform militia groups, but many seem to be making a conscious choice to avoid social media, including alt-tech platforms. When these groups do use social media, they go out of their way to frame themselves in the best possible light.

At the regional level, there are militia groups coming together to train. An example is the formation of the Overmountain Men. This is an “alliance” between four militias around Tennessee, West Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina. They have recently included a Vermont and an Arizona militia as well. They train together and coordinate. These militias seem to have separated themselves from groups that are more overtly political (the militias that show up on Capitol steps, as they sometime phrase it) to focus on unit cohesion and training. This keeps their motives, plans and trainings largely hidden. They have a local focus and push the idea that they are there to help the community.

These local/regional militia models clearly focus more on their own geographic areas. Unlike the national Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, these groups recruit on a smaller, more local scale. They seem to rely less on social media, generally by choice. These appear to be strategic shifts due to insurrection fallout, but also reflect a trend on the right by extremists seeking to build local political power.

The national militia organizations that rose to prominence in the years before Jan. 6 continue to decline. The Three Percenter militias are a shell of what the national presence used to be. During 2023, Three Percenters continued to be convicted for their roles in the insurrection.

Even more affected was Oath Keepers, as Stewart Rhodes was sentenced to 18 years in prison for his role in the insurrection. The two chapters most associated with Rhodes, in Texas and Nevada, seem to have folded. The Arizona chapter officially rebranded under a new name and claims no relationship to Rhodes’ Oath Keepers, even though the leader said he still uses Oath Keepers flags and other propaganda.

Starting in 2023, the SPLC is listing what was the political arm of the Arizona Oath Keepers chapter (Lions for Liberty) as its own separate organization. While Rhodes’ Oath Keepers may continue disappearing, that doesn’t mean an end for its supporters.  An entity out of Utah is operating as Oath Keepers USA, which claims to be an organization separate from Rhodes’ entity. However, its founders are remaining board members and state leaders from Rhodes’ Oath Keepers. This “new” group says it will uphold “the original spirit of the now defunct ‘Oath Keepers’ organization.”

The militia movement was created to interact with the conservative mainstream. Because of that goal, it will continue to change and transform to meet various challenges and opportunities. The fallout from Jan. 6 is affecting the movement, but it is adapting to stay relevant and rebuild.


The Oath Keepers garnered a wave of national media attention specifically for their key involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Both House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the United States Capitol hearing and the Oath Keeper trials kept the spotlight on the group. The group received a nearly fatal blow in May 2023 when its founder and leader, Stewart Rhodes, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for seditious conspiracy for his role in the insurrection. To date, somewhere around 20 Oath Keepers have been convicted for their activities related to the insurrection.

In November 2023, four more members of a Three Percenter militia in Southern California (Erik Scott Warner, Felipe Antonio Martinez, Derek Kinnison and Ronald Mele) were convicted for their roles on Jan. 6. The men joined a Telegram chat called “The California Patriots - DC Brigade” to coordinate plans for going to Washington, D.C. The founders of the chat stated they were looking for “fighters” who were expected to bring “weaponry” and body armor with them on Jan. 6. The four were convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding, which refers to the joint session of Congress that met to certify President Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 election.


Militia numbers have declined in recent years in large part as a result of the Jan. 6 insurrection. The public and government agencies continue to identify and prosecute far-right extremists involved in the storming of the U.S. Capitol. When this is added to increased scrutiny from law enforcement, militias will continue to use a local/regional structure and try to reframe themselves as helpers of the community, instead of overthrowers of democracy. However, their field exercises involving full tactical gear will continue to illuminate their real purpose – combat training for what they see as an imminent and unavoidable battle with one-world government forces, including the federal government.


The militia movement is rooted in the Posse Comitatus of the 1970s. The Posse Comitatus movement was based on the belief that the county sheriff had the ultimate authority over a county, serving as the highest legitimate law officer who was supposed to protect their community from an encroaching federal government. The sheriff was then able to recruit men from the community and form a posse that would enforce peace and security. Under this idea, the federal government had no authority to overrule a county sheriff. Over the years, the idea of the Posse Comitatus evolved and inspired what we now recognize as the paramilitary wing of the antigovernment movement. Current militia members believe they are true patriots, with many holding onto the notion that they are modern-day versions of 18th-century colonists who banded together to fight off the British. The idea of the “unorganized militia” and standing up to a tyrannical government helps shape their interpretation of the Second Amendment and cements their view that every American has a right to own firearms to keep the government in check.

As a result, the militia movement is primarily driven by fear of gun confiscation, globalization and antigovernment conspiracy theories; though these are perennial fears, the urgency among the movement to organize outside legitimate channels increases during Democratic administrations.

Over time, conspiratorial ways of thinking have evolved, and today many militia members peddle such narratives as the idea that nefarious actors within the federal government are working alongside foreign powers to chip away the United States’ sovereignty.

The current militia movement began in the early 1990s following the armed standoffs between the government and extremists at Ruby Ridge in Idaho and in Waco, Texas. At Ruby Ridge, the 11-day standoff took place in August 1992 after Randy Weaver, a Christian identity adherent and the patriarch of the Weaver family, failed to appear in court for firearm-related charges. In Waco in 1993, the Branch Davidians were amassing illegal weapons. This led to a 51-day standoff with federal law enforcement that culminated with a disastrous raid, which ended with the Waco compound burning to the ground, killing more than 70 Davidians. These deadly standoffs, and opposition to Clinton-era firearms laws, led many gun-rights radicals to form paramilitary groups. Their ranks declined following the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, bombing and throughout the Bush administration. The election of former President Barack Obama, however, ushered in a second wave of growth that peaked with new groups like Oath Keepers and Three Percenters.

The movement employs legitimate tactics (political activism, protests, community service) and illegitimate (paramilitary training and organization, armed standoffs, criminal and/or terroristic violence). The militia movement’s antecedent is the Christian Identity-inspired Posse Comitatus, and Christian Identity, overall, played a key role in its development and early shaping in the 1990s. Many of the militia movement’s one-world conspiracy theories parallel the antisemitic ones of hardcore white nationalists. Early militia framers, some of whom came from Identity circles, replaced “Jewish bankers” and “Jewish puppet masters” who supposedly controlled the world with different keywords, such as “international bankers” and “the United Nations.” Part of this was a strategic decision to downplay overt racism and antisemitism, so the militia movement could interact with more mainstream parts of the conservative movement. By leading with pro-gun, anti-tax and pro-property rights messages, the militia movement set itself up to try to appeal to a larger segment of the population. While the militia movement may have racist roots, it is not inherently racist. 

This desire to tap into hot-button issues of the political mainstream has continued. As the federal government’s “War on Terror” following the terrorist attacks on 9/11 inspired anti-Muslim bigotry, sectors of the militia movement jumped on board. Similarly, as issues concerning immigration rose to prominence, some militias flocked to the border to illegally patrol and detain immigrants trying to cross the border. These developments reinforce the militia movement’s embrace of nativist beliefs under a thin veil of national security.

Notable historical moments in the militia movement, and a few examples of the dangers it presents:

  • At the “Rocky Mountain Rendezvous” in Estes Park, Colorado, in 1992, 160 neo-Nazis, Klan members, antisemitic Christian Identity adherents and others arguably laid the groundwork for the militia movement that would explode in 1994.
  • In January 1994, John Trochmann, a Randy Weaver supporter who attended events at Aryan Nations, launched the first major modern militia, the Militia of Montana.
  • Oklahoma City Bombing, April 19, 1995: Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The bombing killed at least 168 people and injured at least 680 people.
  • In November 1995, members of the Oklahoma Constitutional Militia were arrested on charges of making bombs designed to blow up federal offices in several cities, along with abortion clinics and bars serving the LGBTQ+ community. At the time of their arrest, they had 210 pounds of fertilizer, a gallon of nitromethane and part of a toaster that could be used as a detonator. A jury will later convict the group’s leader, Willie Ray Lampley, and two of his followers. Lampley was a Christian Identity preacher.
  • Two leaders of the Republic of Georgia militia were charged with manufacturing shrapnel-packed pipe bombs in April 1996. Another member was arrested later and accused of training a team to assassinate politicians.
  • In October 1996, seven members of the Mountaineer Militia were arrested in a plot to blow up the FBI’s national fingerprint records center in West Virginia. Ringleader Floyd “Ray” Looker is sentenced to 18 years in prison. Three others were imprisoned for the plot, one for providing blueprints of the FBI facility to Looker.
  • In December 1999, two members of the California-based San Joaquin Militia were charged in a plot to blow up two 12-million-gallon propane tanks, a television tower and an electrical substation in hopes of provoking an insurrection. The group’s leader pleaded guilty to plotting to kill a federal judge and to blow up the propane tanks
  • Five members of the Alabama Free Militia were arrested in April 2007 in north Alabama during a raid that uncovered a cache of 130 homemade hand grenades, an improvised grenade launcher and other weapons. Raymond Kirk Dillard, the founder and “commander” of the group, had complained about Mexicans taking over the country and reportedly told his troops to open fire on federal agents if ever confronted.
  • Arivaca murders, May 30, 2009: Shawna Forde, leader of the militant group Minutemen American Defense (MAD), coordinated an attempted home invasion that ended with a double homicide when members of the group killed Raul Flores and his 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia. The group, which operated on nativist fears, was hoping to find cash or drugs to help maintain their border vigilante operations. Forde and one other member were sentenced to death, while a third member was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the killings.
  • Cliven Bundy’s Battle at Bunkerville, Nevada, April, 2014: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department engage in a four-day standoff against Cliven Bundy and his antigovernment followers, including several militia members. The dispute, which originated over cattle-grazing fees, ended when the BLM withdrew to avoid a violent clash with antigovernment supporters.
  • Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Occupation, Jan. 2, 2016: Antigovernment adherents and militia members descended onto the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Princeton, Oregon, for a 41-day standoff with law enforcement. The move, led by Ammon Bundy, was an attempt to get the federal government to hand over public lands to states. 
  • White Rabbit Three Percenters Illinois Patriot Freedom Fighters Militia, March 2018: Members of the White Rabbit extremist group operated a criminal network that planned to bomb an Islamic Center in Minnesota, as well as vandalize a women’s health clinic. Two of the accused pleaded guilty, and one was convicted and sentenced to 53 years in prison for the plot. Two of the men, Michael McWhorter, 33, and Joe Morris, 26, both of Clarence, Illinois, pleaded guilty in the District of Minnesota. The men were sentenced to 190 months (about 16 years) and 170 months (about 14 years) in prison. The leader of the group, Emily Claire Hari, 51, pleaded guilty to federal terrorism charges and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
  • UCP Illegal detainment of migrants, April 20, 2019: The militia group United Constitutional Patriots gained national attention after the group documented their activities outside Flora Vista, New Mexico, while searching for and detaining migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Group leader Larry Mitchell Hopkins was eventually sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for illegally owning a firearm as a felon.
  • Michigan kidnapping plot, Oct. 8, 2020: Members of the Wolverine Watchmen, along with members of the Michigan Militia, were arrested by the FBI and Michigan State Police after plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The group was motivated by wild conspiracy theories that aimed to overthrow the state government and murder the governor.
  • Jan. 6 insurrection, Jan. 6, 2021: Violent domestic extremists, including antigovernment militias like the Oath Keepers, stormed the Capitol building to stop the certification of the results from the 2020 general election. Members of the group have been convicted of multiple federal charges. At least five people died in connection with the attack.
  • Rhodes guilty of seditious conspiracy, Nov. 29, 2022: Elmer Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers militia, was convicted in U.S. District Court of seditious conspiracy for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection and was later sentenced to 18 years in prison. Rhodes and four other Oath Keepers – Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins and Thomas Caldwell – were convicted of obstruction of an official proceeding. Meggs was convicted of seditious conspiracy as well.

Outline map of US states with number of Militia groups.


View all groups by state and by ideology.
* - Asterisk denotes headquarters.

1st West Virginia Volunteer Mountain Infantry
West Virginia

American Patriots Three Percent

Appalachian Rangers Association
Knoxville, Tennessee

Arizona Border Recon
Phoenix, Arizona

Arizona State Militia
Sierra Vista, Arizona

Bedford County Militia
Bedford, Virginia

California State Militia
Central California

Cottonwood Militia
Cottonwood, California

First Pennsylvania Mountain Regiment

Frontiersmen, The
Ravenna, Ohio

Genesee County Volunteer Militia
Genesee County, Michigan

III% Security Force

III% United Patriots
Johnstown, Colorado
Mt. Olive, North Carolina
North Carolina
Guilford County, North Carolina

Last Militia
Butler County, Ohio*

Light Foot Militia, 63rd Battalion
Spokane County, Washington

Mayhem Solutions Group
Casa Grande, Arizona

Michigan Liberty Militia
Barry County, Michigan

Missouri Militia
Jasper, Missouri
Kansas City, Missouri

New England Minutemen
New Hampshire

New York Militia TM
Broadalbin, New York
Schaghticoke, New York *
Tillson, New York

Oath Keepers
Chino Valley, Arizona
Allen County, Indiana

Fredericksburg, Virginia
Zuni, Virginia
Wakefield, Virginia

Ohio Defense Force Home Guard
New Lexington, Ohio
Zanesville, Ohio*

Ohio Militiamen

Ohio Minutemen Militia
Oak Harbor, Ohio

Ohio Valley Minutemen Citizen's Volunteer Militia
Charleston, West Virginia

Patriots for America
Dallas, Texas

Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia

Pennsylvania Oath Keepers
Lake City, Pennsylvania

Real Three Percenters Idaho, The

Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia

Stokes County Militia
King, North Carolina

Texas Three Percenters

This is Texas Freedom Force

Three Percent of Washington

Veterans On Patrol

Virginia Kekoas

Concord, North Carolina*