T.S. Whitman is a writer from St. Louis, Missouri. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an ofﬁcial nature nor does the content represent the ofﬁcial position of any government, any organization, or any group.
Title: Assessment of Right-Wing Militia Extremism in the United States
Date Originally Written: July 5, 2019.
Date Originally Published: October 7, 2019.
Summary: Due to increased levels of militia activity and right-wing extremism, individuals radicalized on the far right-end of the political spectrum remain an awkward elephant in the room for policymakers. Despite a clear threat from right-wing extremists, an effective response is often limited by political posturing and pressure.
Text: The rise of alt-right ideology, availability of firearms, and increased militia membership over the past decade creates a unique problem for policymakers. Setting aside the unlikely, worst-case scenario of whole-scale rebellion, even a single militia can pose a threat that exceeds the operational capacity of law enforcement personnel. There is no easy way to address this issue, as even openly discussing it probes sensitivities and fuels political resentment.
The ascent of militias has not occurred in a vacuum. It can be attributed to a sharp increase in political polarization over the past two decades, particularly after the election of President Barack Obama in 2008. This widening gap in ideology and values has led to rising animosity between Americans. Nearly 1-in-5 Americans believe that many members of the opposite party “lack the traits to be considered fully human”; and 13% of Republicans and 18% of Democrats believe that violence would be justified in response to an electoral loss in 2020. Despite high-levels of animus from both sides of the political spectrum, right-wing violence represents an increasing share of terrorist activity. The slice of terrorist violence by right-wing extremists increased from 6% of attacks in 2010 to 35% by 2016, while left-wing terrorist violence during the same period dropped from 64% of attacks to just 12%. Furthermore, right-wing violence quadrupled between 2016 and 2017. As the Center for Strategic and International Studies notes, “Although violent left-wing groups and individuals also present a threat, far-right-networks appear to be better armed and larger.” Many acts or plots of right-wing violence have involved militia members.
Some militia groups are conducting so-called “operations.” One frequent spot for militia activity is the U.S.-Mexican border, where one militia recently detained several hundred immigrants illegally crossing the border. Meanwhile, over the past decade, there have been a number of prominent incidents involving right-wing militia members. In 2014, following what had been two decades of legal disputes between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Cliven Bundy over grazing fees, the BLM moved to confiscate Bundy’s cattle. What followed was a tense standoff between Bundy’s armed supporters, many of whom had militia ties, and BLM agents. Out of fear of armed violence, the BLM caved and returned Bundy’s livestock. In 2016, Ammon Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy, led a group of armed protestors affiliated with militias and the sovereign citizen movement to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge outside of Burns, Oregon, in response to federal charges against two farmers, Stephen and Dwight Hammond. By the time the standoff ended, one armed occupier was dead and 27 more were arrested and charged. In June, 2019, after eleven Oregon Republican state Senators refused to attend a legislative session for a cap-and-trade bill, Governor Kate Brown ordered state police to apprehend and bring them to the state capitol for a vote on the bill. All eleven Senators went on the run. During a television interview, Senator Brian Boquist (R) said, “Send bachelors and come heavily armed. I’m not going to be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon.” They received support from militia groups in Oregon and Idaho, the former of which was involved in the aforementioned Bundy Ranch and Malheur National Wildlife Reserve standoffs. According to Real Three Percenters Idaho militia leader Eric Parker, “We’re doing what we can to make sure that they’re safe and comfortable.” He added that his group was communicating with the Oregon Three Percenters militia about the Senators. One militiaman with the Oregon Three Percenters wrote on Facebook that his militia “vowed to provide security, transportation and refuge for those Senators in need.” The crisis ended after an agreement between Republican and Democratic leadership was reached to kill the cap-and-trade bill.
Attempted or fulfilled acts of political violence and terrorism by domestic extremists, though often bloody, have overwhelmingly been perpetrated by an individual or small cells. In almost every case, law enforcement officers have been able to preempt, apprehend, or kill the responsible parties. However, the size, organization, and armament of many right-wing militias gives the government cause for concern. Based upon the result of the 2014 Bundy standoff and the disastrous outcome of the 1993 Waco siege, it stands to reason that even a small militia of 100 armed personnel would require U.S. military capabilities to suppress. However, the contemporary history of domestic military operations is fraught with confusion. For instance, during the L.A. Riots in 1992, Joint Task Force-Los Angeles lacked legal experts in Chapter 15, Title 10, Sections 331-334, and military lawyers were initially confused by the Posse Comitatus Act.
Discussing right-wing extremism requires delicacy and nuance, but will remain an inflammatory topic regardless of how it is addressed. In attempt to position itself to respond to right-wing domestic terrorism and political violence, the government has faced allegations of political bias. The earliest assessment of right-wing extremism under the Obama administration’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) came under severe scrutiny for anti-conservatism and was subsequently retracted. According to Daryl Johnson, a career intelligence analyst and author of the report, the political fallout led to the end of “work related to violent right-wing extremism.” It was reported by The Daily Beast in April 2019 that the DHS had disbanded its domestic terrorism intelligence unit. Some officials have anonymously alleged that there has been a sharp reduction in the number of domestic terrorism assessments as a result.
Despite the challenge of addressing right-wing militia extremism, the average American is unlikely to ever be killed or injured by one. The chances of being killed in a terrorist attack, committed by a right-wing extremist or otherwise, are 1 in 3,269,897. More concerning is the threat posed by insurrection, even if it is isolated and not widespread. Keith Mines, a veteran Special Forces officer and diplomat, estimated a 60% chance that America would experience “violence that requires the National Guard to deal with.” Ignoring this possibility will only place America at a disadvantage if an extreme militia group collectively turns to violence.
 Kalmoe, N. P., & Mason, L. (2019, January). pp. 17-24. Lethal Mass Partisanship: Prevalence, Correlates, and Electoral Contingencies (pp. 1-41). Retrieved April 09, 2019, from https://www.dannyhayes.org/uploads/6/9/8/5/69858539/kalmoe___mason_ncapsa_2019_-_lethal_partisanship_-_final_lmedit.pdf
 Ideological Motivations of Terrorism in the United States, 1970-2016 (Rep.). (2017, November). Retrieved April 10, 2019, from University of Maryland website: https://www.start.umd.edu/pubs/START_IdeologicalMotivationsOfTerrorismInUS_Nov2017.pdf
 Clark, S. (2019, March 07). Confronting the Domestic Right-Wing Terror Threat. Center for American Progress. Retrieved April 10, 2019, from https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/security/reports/2019/03/07/467022/confronting-domestic-right-wing-terrorist-threat/
 Jones, S. G. (2018, November 07). The Rise of Far-Right Extremism in the United States. Retrieved July 08, 2019, from https://www.csis.org/analysis/rise-far-right-extremism-united-states
 Goldman, A. (2019, June 04). F.B.I., Pushing to Stop Domestic Terrorists, Grapples With Limits on Its Power. Retrieved July 08, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/04/us/politics/fbi-domestic-terrorism.html
 Hernandez, S. (2019, April 19). A Militia Group Detained Hundreds Of Migrants At Gunpoint At The Border. Retrieved July 05, 2019, from https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/salvadorhernandez/militia-group-border-migrants-detain-united-constitutional
 Prokop, A. (2015, May 14). The 2014 controversy over Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, explained. Retrieved April 11, 2019, from https://www.vox.com/2014/8/14/18080508/nevada-rancher-cliven-bundy-explained
 Sommer, W. (2019, June 21). Armed Militias Pledge to Fight for Fugitive Oregon GOP Lawmakers ‘At Any Cost’. Retrieved from https://www.thedailybeast.com/armed-militias-pledge-to-fight-for-fugitive-oregon-gop-lawmakers-at-any-cost
 Matthews, M. (2012, February 07). Chapter 4: The 1992 Los Angeles Riots and the Posse Comitatus Act. In The Posse Comitatus Act and the United States Army: A Historical Perspective. Retrieved April 10, 2019, from https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Portals/7/combat-studies-institute/csi-books/matthews.pdf
 Matthews, M. (2012, February 07). Chapter 6: Conclusions. In The Posse Comitatus Act and the United States Army: A Historical Perspective. Retrieved April 10, 2019, from https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Portals/7/combat-studies-institute/csi-books/matthews.pdf
 Johnson, D. (2017, August 21). I Warned of Right-Wing Violence in 2009. Republicans Objected. I Was Right. Washington Post. Retrieved April 09, 2019, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2017/08/21/i-warned-of-right-wing-violence-in-2009-it-caused-an-uproar-i-was-right/
 Woodruff, B. (2019, April 02). Exclusive: Homeland Security Disbands Domestic Terror Intelligence Unit. The Daily Beast. Retrieved April 11, 2019, from https://www.thedailybeast.com/homeland-security-disbands-domestic-terror-intelligence-unit
 Nowrasteh, A. (2018, March 08). More Americans Die in Animal Attacks than in Terrorist Attacks. Retrieved April 10, 2019, from https://www.cato.org/blog/more-americans-die-animal-attacks-terrorist-attacks
 Ricks, T. E. (2017, March 10). Will we have a civil war? A SF officer turned diplomat estimates chances at 60 percent. Foreign Policy. Retrieved April 9, 2019, from https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/03/10/will-we-have-a-civil-war-a-sf-officer-turned-diplomat-estimates-chances-at-60-percent/