Extremist “patriot” groups and other armed militias have undergone a dramatic resurgence in America, their numbers more than doubling in the past year amid growing Right-wing fears over expanding federal power and gun control.
The Southern Poverty Law Centre, which tracks extremist organisations, says it has so far counted more than 300 patriot groups this year, at least double last year’s total of 150. The real total will be much higher as many groups do not go out of their way to publicise their existence.
The groups themselves reject accusations of racism but agree that many members are deeply worried about gun control, are angered by the federal economic rescue packages, and are dismayed by government interference in areas such as health care. They voice frustration at what they perceive as America’s international decline. Tensions are running high and some fear major bloodshed springing from a minor event. A law enforcement official told the SPLC that “all that’s lacking is a spark”.
One of the new patriot groups is called Oath Keepers. Its members, like those in other groups, look for guidance from America’s Founding Fathers. Formed last spring, Oath Keepers’ members – limited to current or former servicemen and police – swear to obey the US constitution rather than politicians. Stewart Rhodes, the founder, told The Daily Telegraph that the situation was a “potential powder keg”. He said: “The one thing that would probably lead [groups] to armed resistance is if the government did try to confiscate weapons, but that was what finally led to fighting in the American Revolution”.
Mike Vanderboegh, a former militia leader and founder of a vociferous gun rights group called the Three Percenters, pointed to a huge increase in sales of ammunition, many of it to new gun owners. “This is far larger than Obama. It speaks to an existential fear of societal collapse,” he said. He said group members were looking for “practical self-defence”, whether from “predatory government or street-level crime”. If the government carried out “another Waco” – the 1993 storming of a cult’s Texas ranch, in which 76 occupants died – “you’d see a reaction bloody beyond belief”, he added.
Heidi Beirich, a co-author of the SPLC’s militia research, said the groups were characterised by “a lot of conspiracy mongering, gun nuttery and fear of a new world order that they think is controlling the US”.
Conservatives have accused the SPLC and other monitoring groups of exaggerating the threat posed by such groups, although a Department of Homeland Security report in April voiced fears about rising extremism.
Mr Rhodes said his group’s internet forum had 11,000 members. Its 10-point oath includes pledges not to disarm fellow Americans or force citizens into “any form of detention camps”. Mr Rhodes said: “I don’t want to take it for granted that the destruction of the republic can’t happen here.” He said he had also attacked encroaching federal power under the Bush administration, adding: “They’re refusing to acknowledge the fundamental American libertarian streak that says, ‘We don’t care who’s in power, we don’t like the expansion of executive power.'”
Jonathan White, a former police officer and academic who advises both the FBI and government on terrorism, said he was less worried by the threat from the organised patriot groups than from “lone wolf” individuals who would tend to dismiss militias as “a joke”. Richard Poplawski, a Pittsburgh man who shot dead three police officers in April, complained to friends that the government was infringing gun rights.
~Submitted by Eowyn
H/t my ol’ friend Sol, and congratulations on your new post as International Business Editor of the revamped Washington Times!