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Police and soldiers bring deadly skills to militia campaigns against the US government
Militia members associated with the Three Percent Movement conducting a drill in Flovilla, Georgia, in 2016, days after Trump was elected. Following its defeat in 2020, Three Percenters was involved in the January 6, 2021 insurgency at the United States Capitol. Mohammed Elshamy / Anadolu Agency / Getty Image

Thousands of police and soldiers – people professionally trained in the use of violence and familiar with military protocols – are involved in an extremist effort to undermine the U.S. government and overthrow the democratic process.

According to an investigative report released in the Atlantic in November in a leaked database maintained by the Oath Keepers – one of several far-right and white supremacist militias that stormed the United States Capitol. January 6 – 10% of Oath Keepers are current police officers or military. Another important part of the group’s members is made up of retired soldiers and members of the security forces.

The hate group – founded by a former army paratrooper after Barack Obama was elected in 2008 – claimed “an improbable number of 30,000 members who are believed to be mostly current and former military, law enforcement and emergency first responders “in 2016, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The three percent, another militia present at the Capitol on January 6, also attracts a significant portion of its members of the police, military and civilians. Larry Brock, a pro-Trump rioter arrested in zippered handcuffs, allegedly for taking hostages, is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who posted Three Percenters content online.

The militia movement is a militarized current of the American far right. Its members promote an ideology that undermines the authority and legitimacy of the federal government and stockpiles of weapons.

When militia members have professional experience in the military or police, it improves the ability of these groups to execute sophisticated and successful operations. It also helps them convey a patriotic image that masks the security threat they pose.

A man in camouflage, a bulletproof vest and sunglasses stands guard with his hands clasped

Long-standing links

The day before Biden’s inauguration, in the late afternoon, 12 National Guardsmen deployed to Washington, DC had been dismissed from their posts after investigative problems in their past; two had apparent links with right-wing militias.

Far-right elements have always had a certain presence in the American security forces.

Throughout the 20th century, many local police departments were heavily populated by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Ties between terrorist groups and law enforcement allowed discrimination and violence against African Americans, Jews, and other minorities.

In 1923, all black residents of Blandford, Indiana were forced to leave town to an unknown location following accusations that an African-American man assaulted a young girl. The illegal “eviction” was carried out and organized by the local sheriff, a Klansman, with the help of the locals of the Klan.

Police and soldiers bring deadly skills to militia campaigns against the US government

Head shot of a bald white man with a goatee on a blue background

Many US military bases also had cells of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups throughout the 20th century.

In 1995, three paratroopers from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, were arrested and charged with the murder of a black couple in Fayetteville. Two were sentenced to life in prison for the murders. The military opened an investigation at the base, which was known to be a hub of the National Alliance, then the most influential American neo-Nazi group in the country.

The military identified and dismissed 19 paratroopers for participating in hateful activity. One of them killed six worshipers at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in August 2012. He died in a police shootout.

Growing convergence

Concerns over the penetration of far-right elements into the military and law enforcement have become acute over the past decade with the emergence of militias like the Oath Keepers, based on the principle of recruiting police and military. The Oath Keepers are committed to disobeying orders at work that they deem to be unconstitutional.

The success of militias in secretly infiltrating police services has contributed to the emergence of new far-right associations that openly recruit law enforcement, such as constitutional sheriffs and peace officers in America.

Founded in 2011 by former Arizona Sheriff Richard Mack, the group promotes the idea – contrary to the Constitution – that federal government authorities should be subordinate to local law enforcement. It has more than 500 sheriffs across the country. Just over half are currently in office.

America’s constitutional sheriffs and peace officers have urged their members not to enforce pandemic gun control laws and mask regulations they say violate civil liberties.

Qualified insurgents

When members of far-right groups are also sworn professionals to protect the nation or their communities, it makes those groups more legitimate.

Authorities may be less likely to treat them as threats to internal security, a categorization that would limit their access to guns and sensitive locations.

Yet the military and police make American militias more effective, according to my research into the violent practices of the American far right.

Police and soldiers bring deadly skills to militia campaigns against the US government

A man wearing glasses in military fatigues poses with an American flag in front of a large crowd

A dataset that I manage with my team at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and used for my recent book on Right-Wing Terrorism shows that militia attacks are deadlier than those of other far-right groups. The authors are experienced with weapons and ammunition and have at least military training.

Attacks by other far-right groups are, to a large extent, initiated by people with limited operational experience, who act spontaneously.

Militias are also more likely to attack secure and high-value targets like government facilities. Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, is a prime example. He was a Gulf War veteran associated with the Michigan militia whose bomb killed 168 people at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995.

The penetration of far-right activists into the ranks of the police and the army appears to lead to an increase in direct attacks against police and military targets.

Between 1990 and 2000, 13% of attacks and plots by U.S. militias targeted military or police facilities or personnel, according to our data set. The proportion rose to 40% in 2017.

And with their training in surveillance, intelligence gathering, and public safety, dangerous militia activities are generally more difficult for federal agencies to monitor and counter.

When the militias recruit professionals, they carry out their radical crusade better.

This story has been updated to reflect the development of security news during Biden’s inauguration and corrected to accurately locate Fayetteville in North Carolina.

This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. It was written by: Arie Perliger, University of Massachusetts Lowell.

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Arie Perliger receives funding from the US Department of Justice and the US Department of Defense.

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