History of United States Militias

An example of U.S. modern day militias

The concept of militia warfare is not a modern one, nor did it come from the United States. The first record of a militia appears in England in 1181 A.D. with the Assize of Arms,

“He will possess these arms and will bear allegiance to the lord king, Henry, namely the son of Empress Maud, and that he will bear these arms in his service according to his order and in allegiance to the lord king and his realm.”

The concept materialized and was used throughout Europe and into the New World. The Founding Fathers adopted the concept, albeit against the wishes of the Anti-Federalists. The Founding Fathers won the battle and created law in which militias were a legal entity. Eventually, the control of militias was handed from the hands of the states to Congress, as stated in Article I, Section 8 (the Militia Clause),

“Congress shall have the power to: provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.”

The Second Amendment to the Constitution added the historic passage: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Timeline of U.S. Militias

1776 – While militias were desperately needed during the Revolutionary War, they did not come without problems. General George Washington was less than pleased with the rag tag band among his troops, stating that the men, “whose behavior and want of discipline has done great injury to the other troops.”

1787 – The Constitutional Convention delegates clash regarding governmental control over militia. The Constitution gives the federal government power to engage the militia, but grants the power to appoint officers to the states.

1831 – States begin to abolish mandatory duty in the militia.

1903 – The Militia Act of 1903 grants federal funds to state militias and allows the federal government power to review state militias.

The Army National Guard

1916 – An organized militia evolves into The National Guard.

1971 – William Potter Gale, an anti-Semitist and white supremacist, forms “patriotic” group named Posse Comitatus, which states that county government is the highest form of authority.

1983 – Gordon Kahl, a member of Posse Comitatus, kills two federal marshals in North Dakota during an arrest attempt. Kahl is later killed during a shootout in which he murdered a sheriff.

1990 – U.S. President George H. W. Bush’s gives a speech in which he talks about a “New World Order.” Conspiracy theorists equate the term with a global totalitarian government.

1992 – White supremacist Randy Weaver is confronted by U.S. federal agents in a standoff in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. Weaver surrenders after his wife, his son, and a United States marshal are killed. The incident fuels a far-right movement.

1993 – Federal agents raid David Koresh’s Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. The 51-day siege leaves 80 dead, including 4 federal agents. Militia groups see the event as government oppression.

1993 – After shooting of White House Press Secretary James Brady, the Brady Bill institutes federal background checks for firearms purchases. Militias see the Act as a move to take away citizens’ guns.

1994 – Norman Olson, the leader of the Michigan Militia, responds to the Brady Bill’s mandatory five-day waiting period, telling the New York Times, “We are ceasing to be a Republic…When people sense danger, they will come together to defend themselves. That is what’s happening.”

1995 – The Oklahoma City federal building is bombed, killing 168 people, including 19 children. Bomber Timothy McVeigh was known to attend militia meetings. Militia members defend their movement in Congress, but over the next decade, the number of militia groups declines from 441 to 35.

2000 – Fears of Y2K increase the ranks of militias, playing on the concept of social collapse.

2001 – The 9/11 attacks resuscitate the idea that militias may play a vital role in defending the United States from all threats, foreign and domestic.

2001 – The Patriot Act increases the government’s surveillance powers. Many militias see the act as evidence of federal interference.

2008 – The election of President Barack Obama prompts the increase in the number of militia groups surges from 42 to 127 in one year.

2009 – Montana attorney and veteran Stewart Rhodes forms the Oath Keepers, a militia group focused on recruiting police officers, military members, and first responders.

2014 – Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy launches an armed face-off with the Bureau of Land Management. Hundreds of militia members, including Three Percenters, respond to Bundy’s request for support. The BLM retreats, but Bundy faces nine federal charges.

2015 – Oath Keepers man the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, during Black Lives Matter protests.

2016 – Ammon Bundy, Cliven Bundy’s son, founds Citizens for Constitutional Freedom. The group is involved in a standoff at an Oregon wildlife refuge after two ranchers were indicted for setting fire to public lands. Ammon Bundy and 18 occupiers face federal charges.

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