The incessant power struggles that plague militia groups prompted defections in the Three Percent Security Force, robbed its leader of control and delivered the well-known antigovernment militia to the man who defied his commander.
Chris Hill led the Three Percent Security Force for years, but it appears that the organization may be nearing its end. Six of nine chapters Hill led recently abandoned him, according to members’ posts on social media. Then those branches aligned with the leader of the group's Ohio chapter, Skylar Steward, a former member ousted by Hill. Together, they formed American Constitutional Elites. Hatewatch could not determine the status of the other three chapters.
Michael Ubriaco, who uses the name Mike Rage on Facebook and belongs to the Three Percenter movement, commented about the perpetual upheaval. “Jesus christ!!!!!!! Here we go again,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “I love everyone but this is why I stay independent. This drama is too much, and the reason Patriots can’t get shit right.”
Events of the last five years support Ubriaco's views about dissension within antigovernment militias.
Machismo, the hyper-individualism of radical libertarian philosophy and paranoid conspiracy theories create obstacles for unity in the militia movement. And for a movement that fancies itself a private army, criminality, petty rivalries and a lack of military-style discipline are often its undoing.
Hill, a former Marine who calls himself “General Bloodagent,” demanded that his state chapters stop using Facebook Messenger to discuss plans for a November protest in Virginia. In a now-deleted Facebook post, Hill directed some of his anger about that practice toward Steward, who calls himself a first lieutenant, and his father, Hank.
Using Skylar Steward’s moniker, “Skydog,” Hill wrote to followers: “Skydog resigned weeks ago, he just didn’t know it. When command voted to limit command to COs and XOs only, Skylar left the command under protest. If anyone pissed away a good run … it was Hank and Skylar. Hope your f------ Facebook messenger chat was worth it.”
CO and XO refer to the military rank of commanding officer and executive officer, respectively.
Months earlier, Hill got into a heated exchange with a Virginia-based militiaman who took issue with the Three Percent Security Force for not asking his permission to enter Virginia for the November protest.
“I don’t want a bunch of uninvited invaders coming into my state causing a big shit show up there in northern Virginia,” a member identified as Larry Lewis of Ghost Squad Three Percent told Hill, according to a recording of a phone conversation between the men that Hill later posted in a video. “And then you all go home and we’re left to clean up the mess and live with what you all do.”
The conversation continued to devolve until Hill ended it with an obscene recommendation.
“So you can put a d--- in your ear and f--- what you heard about me,” Hill said before hanging up.
This type of controlling leadership and the petty squabbles that have characterized the movement appear to signal the beginning of the end for Three Percent Security Force.
Within days of Hill’s order to stop using Messenger, six of the nine chapters aligned with Steward, another ex-Marine, to form the American Constitutional Elites. Chapters from Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Florida, New York and Texas posted their defections to their Facebook pages. As those posts went live, a fellow Three Percent comrade turned combative.
A member of the Wyoming chapter who uses the name Tom Myers and the moniker “Red Dog” initially said his chapter was sticking with Hill.
“To all weak minded patriots who feel a need to broadcast their cowardly separation from 3SF [Three Percent Security Force] to the world, you need to man up and shut the f--- up. No one cares what groups your in or left. … Wyoming will stay with 3SF. … Our adversarys will not infiltrate us and break us up like so many are doing from within.” Myers subsequently deleted that post, and Hatewatch cannot determine the membership status of the Wyoming chapter or its allegiance to Hill or Steward.
With a majority of chapters defecting from Hill, Steward is primed to inherit an already existing network of dedicated followers. Those members were part of a group deemed extreme even by many Three Percenters, including the movement’s founder, the late Michael Brian Vanderboegh. Vanderboegh once described Hill and his followers as “a megalomaniac and the group that supports him.”
Steward quickly acknowledged receiving a ready-made organization that Hill built. In an Aug. 27 Facebook video post, Steward said: “As soon as the issues happened, within five minutes another channel was up and people were rolling in like, ‘Hey, what are we doing? What can we do? How can we do it? How do we move forward?’” Earlier in the video, he said the group would use Three Percent Security Force’s previously established standard operating procedures.
Steward made another declaration: “We will not fall into the bullshit. We will not fall into the drama.”
However, division and drama have dogged militias and the broader antigovernment movement for years. A perfect example occurred in 2014 when the Oath Keepers split from a network of militiamen during the Bundy family standoff.
The Oath Keepers and militias supported Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his family against the Bureau of Land Management, which wanted him to pay 20 years of past-due grazing fees and fines for using federal land. Bundy asserted the federal government lacked authority to manage federal land. The Bundys soon accepted support from militias, which flocked from across the United States for a showdown with the government.
But the president of the Oath Keepers, Army veteran Stewart Rhodes, called on his followers to retreat, fearing a government drone strike on the extremists’ camp. The militia alliance, commanded by fellow Army veteran Ryan Payne, turned on the Oath Keepers and called Rhodes a traitor who was guilty of dereliction of duty and desertion.
“You’re lucky that you’re not getting shot in the back,” Payne said of Rhodes in a video taken from the paramilitary camp. “Because that’s what happens to deserters on the battlefield.”
Rhodes later described Payne and his followers in a video as a “bunch of hotheads” and a “ticking time bomb” who weren’t “under sufficient command and control.”
A later standoff shows how the militia movement can descend easily into chaos.
The 2016 armed seizure of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon, also was plagued by self-destruction and competing visions within the movement. The occupation’s leaders, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, Cliven’s sons, sought to build upon the standoff two years earlier and split from a peaceful protest to occupy a public building on the refuge. Influential members of the antigovernment movement opposed the occupation.
Ironically, the Three Percent of Idaho – one of the groups that condemned the armed takeover – fractured following allegations that its leader, Brandon Curtiss, reportedly used militia funds for personal expenses.
Rhodes and his Oath Keepers and Richard Mack of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association also opposed this occupation. Mack, a former sheriff in Arizona, endorses the far-right idea that sheriffs have the right to prevent federal agents from enforcing laws that local officers deem unconstitutional. Even Alex Jones, arguably America’s most influential conspiracy propagandist and key contributor to the contemporary Patriot movement worldview, decried the occupation as a potential “false flag.”
Inside the wildlife refuge-turned-combat outpost, a fight broke out between militants and members of an outside group, Veterans on Patrol. There were also accusations of “stolen valor” – a term used to describe falsely claiming military affiliation – against militants who made up or exaggerated their military ties within a movement that fetishizes militarism.
The chaos surrounding the southern border-based United Constitutional Patriots (UCP) illustrates the volatile nature of antigovernment extremist groups. The paramilitary group made news after uploading videos on Facebook showing members dressed in military-style clothing. The group, in a press release, also claimed it was working with Border Patrol to stem illegal immigration, an assertion the federal law enforcement agency refuted.
Then came the rift.
A UCP member, Steven Brant, filed a report with the Sunland Park, New Mexico, police accusing another member of making “terroristic threats,” according to Young Turks and BuzzFeed. Armando Delgado Gonzalez allegedly asked why immigrants weren’t being lined up and shot and championed the return of gas chambers from “Hitler days.” Gonzalez later told BuzzFeed that he did not make those comments.
After the police report surfaced, UCP spokesman Jim Benvie split from the organization.
Benvie’s new group, Guardian Patriots, included a handful of former UCP members. The group eventually crumbled after Benvie was charged with two counts of impersonating a U.S. officer or employee in June. If convicted, Benvie faces up to three years in prison, prosecutors said.
Last fall, Patriots of the Constitution, another far-right group mobilizing around the southern border, severed ties with UCP and its leader Larry Mitchell Hopkins – aka Johnny Horton Jr. Jim Peyton, leader of Patriots of the Constitution, soon broke off from his own group, though he reserved the right to retain his rank in the Patriot movement.
“I, General James F, Peyton, do hereby submit this letter of resignation to General Terry Kelley of the Patriots of The Constitution,” Peyton posted on Facebook. “I will still retain the rank of General that was given to me by former Commander, prior to General Kelley, and will be willing to assist any Patriot group in need of assistance.”
Like these other groups, Three Percent Security Force has a history of abrasive leadership and self-starting militants splitting off to take the offensive.
In 2016, three Kansas Three Percent Security Force members splintered from the parent organization to create “The Crusaders.” The men thought neither the government nor apparently the militias were doing enough to combat the perceived threat of Islam in the United States.
As reported by Hatewatch, group members plotted an attack – brainstorming ideas such as arson, kidnapping and rape – before deciding on using improvised explosive devices to demolish a mosque and an apartment complex housing more than 100 Somali immigrants and Muslims. An undercover FBI operation foiled their plans, and a judge sentenced the three men to 30, 25 and 26 years behind bars.
Photo illustration by SPLC