How Big Is The Militia Movement?

Ever since it took Donald Trump a few days to figure out how to denounce Nazis who marched through Charlottesville in August, 2017, the liberal media has been obsessed with the behavior and potential threat represented by ‘white supremacist’ groups. In particular, the mainstream media focuses much of its attention on the activities of the so-called citizen’s militias, particularly when people connected to such groups show up in a public space toting their guns.

The latest such concern can be found in a long article published in The New Yorker Magazine, which appeared previous to a bunch of militia-styled jerks getting themselves arrested for allegedly planning to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, a state that has been a focus of media attention since a  number of these ‘patriots’ began demonstrating against her lockdown rules.

The militia groups in Michigan first got noticed when it turned out that Timothy McVeigh was briefly involved with the Michigan Militia before he went down to Oklahoma City and blew up the Murrah Federal Building.  The resultant publicity put the Michigan group more or less out of business, but it has of late revived, calling itself the Michigan Home Guard. This new group told the author of The New Yorker piece, Luke Mogelson, that they count one thousand members, a claim that Mogelson made absolutely no attempt to verify or even check.

Much of the recent concern about these militia groups has aligned with a narrative about the surge in gun sales that has accompanied the spread of Covid-19. And the fact that these older-generation Boy Scouts show up in public with their trusty guns only tends to underscore the idea that the country may be facing the beginnings of a true, revolutionary movement representing whatever rhetorical nonsense these great patriots put together from a combination of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.

Granted, there has been a surge in gun sales. For example, In my state, Massachusetts, a year-to-year comparison shows an increase in background checks for guns sold by dealers to consumers of somewhere around 80%.

Granted, there has also been a disturbing increase in homicides throughout the United States. But the guns that figure in most gun assaults, fatal and non-fatal, are rarely guns that are legally owned, and the average time between when a gun is first purchased and when it is used in the commission of a crime happens to be – ready? – more than 11 years.

I’m not trying to dismiss or downplay the fear and intimidation engendered by the spectacle of some guys walking down the street in their camo costumes and brandishing their AR’s. If nothing else, such displays of infantile stupidity on the part of adults always evokes memories and fears of mass shootings like the massacres at Las Vegas or Sandy Hook.

It’s one thing to acknowledge that the legal sale of an assault rifle to a nut like Steve Paddock or Nancy Lanza could result in community-wide trauma and multiple deaths. It’s quite another to foster the impression that behind a dozen or so middle-age schmucks who have nothing better to do than show up at a public rally and wave their guns, there lurks an unseen and  increasingly large army of like-minded dopes getting ready to declare a new civil war.

When a guy sells t-shirts and other crap to support the militia on his website tells you that his group numbers a thousand or more, shouldn’t you at least try to verify his claim? Fogelson’s article describes a gathering of some of these jerk-offs at the barbershop of a guy who refused to close down after Michigan’s Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, imposed lockdown rules back in May.

Guess who called up in the middle of this brief demonstration of patriotic lore? None other than Glenn Beck, who hoped he could score the same degree of media coverage that Sean Hannity thought he would get until Cliven Bundy began lecturing Hannity on ‘your Negro’ during the standoff outside his ranch.

What I’m suggesting is that the militia movement wouldn’t ever get beyond the weekend pizza and beer tailgate party except for the possibility that one of the gang might see his picture that night on Fox News. What I’m also suggesting is that the liberal media might consider not trying to compete  with the alt-right when it comes to taking those dopes seriously or discussing them at all.

Thank God for the 2nd Amendment. How Else Would The Militia Keep Us Safe?

In case you’ve forgotten, the revered 2nd Amendment requires that every male citizen own a gun in order to serve in the militia and thus protect our country from harm. While of late the term ‘militia’ has become synonymous with crazy, government-resistance strategies promoted by dummies like Cliven ‘let me tell you about your Negro’ Bundy, the idea of para-military citizen’s groups defending themselves, their families, their friends and their communities remains central to Gun-nut Nation’s messaging about guns.

It just so happens that we actually possess a first-person accounting of how one of these citizen-militia groups behaved back in the good old days long before enemies of the ‘right to bear arms’  like Mike Bloomberg or Pete Buttigieg reared their ugly heads. The narrative is found in a book, The Pine Barrens, written by John McPhee. The author has been teaching writing at Princeton University for more than forty years, and has contributed more than 100 pieces to The New Yorker magazine since 1963.

 To many of my readers, the Pine Barrens is associated with a great episode from The Sopranos, where Paulie and Christopher drive into the area in mid-Winter to bury a guy they have killed who then turns out not to be so dead. Their victim runs off, the two North Jersey gumbahs quickly find themselves in the middle of millions of acres of semi-wild woodlands, they end up spending the night cursing at each other inside their semi-frozen car.

What McPhee explains in his brief and beautifully-written book, is that the Pine Barrens weren’t so barren in times past. In fact, the woodlands provided all kinds of raw materials used before and during the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution, such as iron ore, charcoal and wood. But as new technologies and modern modes of transportation emerged, the villages in the Barrens began to disappear and the whole region reverted to a semi-natural state, a process still occurring in many areas that were settled in the pre-industrial period and are now lacking in human presence again.

I live less than 30 miles from an area in my state (Massachusetts) called the Monroe Plateau. The Plateau used to be a farming zone, then it saw the development of water-powered mills, now it basically supports beavers, bears, moose and deer. Walk a half-mile into the woods from one of the roads that runs through the Plateau and you better know how to get out or you won’t get out.

McPhee spends a chapter discussing life in a town called Martha, which had an industrial furnace that started operating in 1793. There were 50 houses in the town, a school, a central main house and a hospital. The town also had a militia which, according to the records studied by McPhee, enrolled all the able-bodied men in the settlement  who had to turn out for drills on something called Training Day.

The militia officers wore uniforms and ‘barked out’ orders which ‘nobody obeyed.’ In fact, according to the town register which listed all events between 1808 and 1815, the training days invariably ended up in drunken brawls. On April, 1, 1814 a militia captain named Townsend was court-martialled for being too drunk to give orders; the trial took place in Bodine’s Tavern, which was also the public space used whenever the town put any issue to a vote.

Note that the description of the militia’s activities were written while the United States was just coming out of the War of 1812. Note how what went on in the town of Martha was really no different than what happened when Cliven Bundy’s son and his buddies organized themselves into a citizen’s militia and took over the Malheur Forest Range. They sat there for a few days, ate some pizza brought up by their wives, then turned themselves in because they forgot that the building which they liberated didn’t have heat.

Whenever my friends in Gun-nut Nation extoll the virtues of a citizen’s militia it sounds rather quaint. Better they should spend a weekend tramping around and defending the 2nd Amendment in a picnic grove; at least that way they won’t get hurt.