If we cherish our right to choose our leaders, we must crack down on private armed “militias”.
The US Constitution and all 50 states prohibit armed militias who train together or show up in force at public gatherings. Under Illinois law, it is illegal for people to organize into a private militia without state permission.
Yet national authorities have looked the other way as private militias – truly irresponsible armed offenders – do just that. Authorities have also ignored the dangerous spread of “open port” laws, which allow vigilantes to carry military-style weapons to public gatherings and even to state capitals. Organizations that track militias say they are active in all 50 states.
Climb the steps of the Capitol
When insurgents stormed the United States Capitol on January 6, militias known as Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and Three Percenters were among them. The video captured men dressed in camouflage marching in an organized line along the steps of the Capitol with combat helmets, bulletproof vests, gloves with knuckle protection and radios. On Monday, the FBI warned of possible armed protests in all 50 state capitals and Washington, DC, in the coming days.
For Americans who believe in democracy, this is very scary.
Reasonable Americans should agree that no elected government can function if armed paramilitaries use force or the threat of force to overthrow the will of the people. How can government function when lawmakers and their families are threatened with violence? Yet the Southern Poverty Law Center says that in 2019 there were around 180 anti-government militias across the country undergoing military-style training.
Ignore at our peril
Government officials have tended to ignore groups because they do not recognize the extent of the threat, do not want to spark a storm of opposition from gun rights groups, or, in some regions sympathize squarely with the militias. In addition, some police and prosecutors claim that anti-militia laws are so vague that they are unenforceable.
Laws need to be updated and enforced.
In court documents filed Thursday, federal prosecutors, without specifically naming the militias, said some of those who stormed Capitol Hill intended to “capture and assassinate elected officials.” They are the kind of people who are drawn to armed militias. And this is not the first time that we have seen an attempt to overthrow duly elected governments. Members of a Michigan militia called Wolverine Watchmen have been accused of plotting the kidnapping of governors, including Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
People who believe in their right to violently overthrow democracy have long communicated with each other and reinforced their twisted beliefs in online chat rooms and in the feverish swamps of message boards. After January 6, it is clear that they represent a clear and present danger.
“We are in the middle of another civil rights movement,” said Kathleen Sances, president and CEO of the Illinois Gun Violence Prevention PAC. “I think it’s an effort to maintain a white supremacist system.”
Some militia members are aligned with the so-called boogaloo movement, which seeks to prepare for or incite civil war.
Easily leads are swept
Chicagoan Lee Goodman, who led the pre-pandemic protests against gun violence, said he always tried to engage with opponents who showed up at his events.
Many of them were people who had perhaps barely passed civic education classes in school and did not really understand a political system based on democratic representation. They are trained by like-minded individuals with violence in mind, he said.
“When you tell them it’s all about personal freedom, they believe it,” he said.
True personal freedom requires democratic government. America’s real strength is that it is a democracy ruled by the will of the people. Private armed “militias” have no place here.
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