Self-proclaimed paramilitary militias have experienced a surge of popularity thanks to the recent events in the United States. Whenever their existence is questioned, those far-right groups always refer to the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution that explicitly mentions “A well-regulated Militia” in its wording. Therefore, in the following paragraphs, we will observe the Second Amendment in connection with paramilitary groups in order to declare whether their being is truly constitutionally protected or just militiamen agilely know what words to use.
First and foremost, a clear line between the original Militia and militia-style groups must be drawn to provide readers with necessary knowledge of militias in the United States. Although we do realize that such differentiation does not fully correspond with our stated goal, readers should be able to recognize fundamental differences between the Militia mentioned in the Second Amendment and paramilitary groups or militias which exist now. Therefore, in the following two sections we will use the term Militia/militias in connection with the historical organization. On the contrary, militia-style groups will be addressed as paramilitary groups.
The original Militia
According to Reinders the American Militia was rooted in the English Assize of Arms that required all free men to provide arms and undergo basic military training. These units were subordinated to local authorities who had the right to authorize them if the internal order of the country was endangered in the absence of the regular army. Although militias, composed of state volunteers, had played an important role at the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, they were later replaced by the regular army. After gaining its independence, the federal government passed the Militia Act of 1792 that included militias into the legal system. Their responsibility was to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions. To transfer abstract into a tangible form, the Militia was compounded of a network of militias subordinated to each state. Every white free male citizen between the ages of eighteen and forty-five who owned a musket, ammunition, and related equipment was obligated to be enlisted in a state militia. The chain of command favoured the president who had the power to convene state militias in a case of the invasion or insurrection upon request of governors or state legislatures. If a civil authority had lost control over a territory, then federal judges could have deployed them as well. As Reinders argues, the Act did permit federal authority to employ state troops in preserving public order .
Has the Militia survived?
After reflecting the historical nature of state militias, our upcoming goal is to identify whether any organization, which would correspond with the term militia, has survived or adopted the set of rights inherited from its predecessor.
Instantly, one repeated fallacy must be addressed. When a link between the contemporary United States and the original network of state militias is proposed, such claims are missing one important point. Paramilitary groups, which exist today, are neither interconnected nor subordinated to the federal or state governments. As Dougherty argues, instead of multiple state militias composed of eligible citizens, the United States for this purpose uses the National Guard supplemented by state and local law enforcement agencies . Furthermore, Gould provides an explanation reflecting the recent ruling in California that emphasized the well-regulated part in order to highlight an subordinated position of the National Guard to the federal government and governors who can authorize it upon officially declared emergencies1 This hierarchical relationship fairly reflects the Militia, which was subordinated to the president and state governors. When paramilitary groups are observed, one element restrains them from being considered well-regulated. They are neither controlled or subjected to any state or federal authority. Therefore, no constitutional protection can be even considered regarding their unorganized nature. Paramilitary groups exist thanks to the second part of the Second Amendment that guarantees the right to keep and bear firearms .
In the subsequent sections, we will abandon previously proposed differentiation the Militia/militias and paramilitary groups. We will operate with the contemporary label, paramilitary militia that should not be disregarded.
Exploitation of historical and cultural narratives
Paramilitary militias use the language that through fragments of historical and cultural narratives mixed with elements of patriotism produces an appealing magnet. Understanding of these claims is necessary for any counterstrategy tackling wrongfully acquired position of militias.
Prevalent identification with armed colonists is dominant among promoted narratives. Militiamen perceive their existence as a direct succession transferred from the dispersed network of armed groups in the pre-Revolutionary America. Obvious dissimilarities are excluded, solely hereditary ties are emphasized. As one member of the North Carolina Citizens Militia puts it: “The blood of our ancestors is flowing in our veins. The men who fought the American Revolution are our forefathers and we are their children.” . Although some individuals might have been born to families whose predecessors participated in the war, such claims are extremely exaggerated. No justification can be made based either on assumptive family ties or cultural identification. As Mulloy argues, these narratives are often expressed in strikingly personal terms that do not provide any logical explanation or justification in respect of the existence of paramilitary militias. Furthermore, militiamen identically perceive the contemporary American political system with the colonial era, arguing that tyrannical government has preserved, and paramilitary militias guarantee no further infringement of the constitutional rights. According to them, a Free state persists thanks to their presence. As the Michigan Minute Men argue, they are “the inheritors of the task that began more than two centuries ago” .
If observed narratives are perceived through theoretical approaches toward insurgencies, some similarities can be percieved. As Javed proposes, insurgencies are outcomes of deep dissatisfaction rooted in political and social environment. They oppose established status quo if the current system is unable to successfully address existing problems . This article does not propose that paramilitary militias engage in insurgency-style propaganda and should be perceived according to that. Our intention was solely to indicate comprehensiveness of exploited narratives that enables recruitment of new members and supporters in the same way as insurgencies perpetrate it.
Paramilitary militias nowadays
Over decades of misinterpretation the term militia has been modified into a version that does not provide a clear explanation which organizations are incorporated from an ambiguous group of potential candidates.
The militia movement was formed in the early 1990s by antigovernment extremists in reaction to newly imposed federal gun control measures and to deadly standoffs between federal agents and civilians.2 Besides the possession of firearms, a variety of conspiracy theories supplemented their claims regarding the federal government’s alleged approach toward gun ownership. Until today, the militia movement has experienced inflow and outflow in membership. After a surge in the 1990s, it suffered a serious decline in the early 2000s. Nevertheless, the first resurrection is tightly connected with the Obama administration. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, such increase was fueled by anger over the changing demographics of the country, the soaring public debt, the troubled economy, and proposed initiatives by President Obama that were branded as “socialist” . Subsequently, the key element of their strong contemporary position resonates with Trump’s presidency that triggered an ideological shift among the far-right community. His rhetoric had connected with exploited narratives promoted by paramilitary militias and created a symbiotic cooperation that in a view of militiamen provides needed legitimacy .
MacFarquhar perceives the term militia in a range from traditional antigovernment groups mixed with neighborhood watch units to armed BLM groups that have recently participated in protests against police brutality. Proposes that there is no universal definition that would clearly emphasize which organizations can be labeled a militia thanks to its blurriness .
Therefore, to conclude this section, we argue that any heavily armed organization that engages in military-style training can be considered a paramilitary militia, regardless its ideological standpoints, as a result of decades-long incorrect usage.
State constitutions and paramilitary militias
Militiamen perceive the Second Amendment as a sanctuary guaranteeing their position in the United States, nevertheless, state constitutions suggest contrary evidence. All 50 states impose laws that legally limit the existence of paramilitary militias on their territory. Although each constitution creates a different environment, generally, engagement of privately controlled groups in military training is predominantly recognized as a criminal offense. Simultaneously, no unit is allowed wearing uniforms that are either identical or similar to those employed by the U.S. Armed Forces. One might argue that state constitutions are very explicit, however, their enforceability is really complicated and does not create much space for a potential lawsuit .
What is the right perception then?
Based on our debate, two explanations address this issue. Firstly, any discussion dealing with paramilitary militias should ideally avoid the term militia. The only organization that corresponds with the original network of state militias is the National Guard, although the original one was dissimilar in its nature. The National Defense Act of 1916 supports our proposed claim. After its approval, it made mandatory to use the term National Guard for state militias and expanded the president’s authority to mobilize them during conflicts or national emergencies in the United States or in different parts of the world. The act itself was an update of the Militia Act of 1903, which created the first National Guard, to make the state militia force easier to federalize and train its members professionally like the U.S. Army. Additionally, the 1908 Militia Act authorized the use of the National Guard overseas. The true intention behind the 1916 Act was to guarantee state militias as the national’s primary reserve force . Nevertheless, one might argue that such conjuncture is not adequate. Yet, regardless numerous dissimilarities, the National Guard shares one key element with its historical predecessor. Individuals, who serve in its units, are part-time citizen soldiers and typically hold civilian jobs but can be activated by state governors or the president in order to respond natural disasters, health emergencies, violent protest, or to support military operations overseas . Although not all citizens are enlisted for military service nowadays, this key variable in the role of the National Guard is fairly similar to Reinders’ description of the Militia Act of 1792.
It is true that paramilitary militias exist thanks to the Second Amendment, but its second part, which guarantees the right to keep and bear firearms. Under no circumstance they reflect the well-regulated precondition. Furthermore, state constitutions possess hypothetical power to limit their existence, i.e., approaches vary in each state, and enforceability is limited. Nevertheless, it should not constrain employment of more appropriate approach. Therefore, this article proposes a paramilitary groups label that addresses their true nature and, more importantly, avoids using the word militia.
However, it would be foolish to anticipate that the nickname militia can be completely abandoned from day to day. Everyday conversations, in which people debate actions of heavily armed groups, will probably keep calling them militias. On the other hand, employment of the term militia might be acceptable if a clear line was drawn between the Second Amendment and paramilitary groups that share no similarity with the original network of state militias. The National Guard has absorbed duties and privileges of its historical predecessor. As MacFarquhar argues, it provides coverage to a variety of armed groups across the whole political spectrum if we like it or not.
Despite the prevalent assumption among the far-right community, no correlation between paramilitary militias and the Militia emphasized in the Second Amendment exists. Although the term militia should be used only in debates about the National Guard, decades of incorrect employment restrain its definitive abandonment. Therefore, the difference between both entities should be promoted in order to provide rigorous explanation separating facts from exploited narratives. Furthermore, a more suitable term was proposed, i.e., paramilitary groups that reflects the true nature of ambiguous entities in the United States.
To answer our headline. Yes, A well-regulated Militia is an exploited narrative that serves differently than the Founding Fathers expected. Paramilitary groups are benefiting from the way the United States Constitution is written. Through successful exploitation, they falsely portray themselves as successors of the Militia. Deeply rooted narratives and misconceptions allow promoting content composed of historical inaccuracy blended with patriotism influenced by fragments of the coronavirus disease that has been supported by some politicians recently. Such match was especially visible during the January 6 rally and occupation of the Michigan’s state capitol . It is worth noting that in the contemporary United States, no organization, which would fully correspond with the original network of state militias, exists. Nevertheless, their role was officially transferred to the National Guard in 1916, which serves as a reserve force to the U.S. Armed Forces. Its troops are predominantly authorized in cases of domestic emergencies, but have participated in overseas military operations as well, such as the 1063rd Maintenance Company of the Montana National Guard that was deployed to Southwest Asia on October 2, 2021 . Paramilitary groups operate individually and are formed upon private leadership that is not subordinated to any federal or state authority. To label those entities militias would be absolutely misleading. Moreover, it would artificially boost self-proclaimed legality proposed and exploited by militias themselves.
To conclude this article, if the Founding Fathers could speak up, they would probably perceive paramilitary groups as rivals or perhaps enemies of a free State, not its guardians.
1 According to McKinley and Winnefeld, the National Guard is either under state or federal command. When it is authorized on “state active duty”, then troops are under the governor’s command. Another method is when the federal government activates Title 10, then the National Guard is “federalized” and placed under the control of the secretary of defense and the president .
2 These events were mainly connected to the Waco siege and Ruby Ridge incident.
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