Profiles on the Right: Three Percenters

About Spencer Sunshine

The Three Percenters (aka 3%ers, III%ers, or “Threepers”) are a Patriot movement paramilitary group that pledges armed resistance against attempts to restrict private gun ownership.1 Adherents and supporters have been associated with threats and acts of violence. Like other Patriot groups, they depict the federal government as tyrannical. Their name refers to the (disputed) percentage of American colonialists who took up arms against the British during the Revolutionary War.

Image created by a Three Percenter and posted to the conservative blog Skeptical Eye favorably compares the Three Percenters to the Confederacy and the American Revolution.

Image created by a Three Percenter and posted to the conservative blog Skeptical Eye favorably compares the Three Percenters to the Confederacy and the American Revolution.

The Three Percenters have a loosely defined membership and a decentralized organizational structure. Seemingly anyone can use the label. There are overlapping Three Percenter organizations, including local, state, and regional leadership structures that coordinate actions and decision-making.

A Three Percenter from Idaho provides "security" at the Oregon Standoff, Jan 14, 2015. Photo by Spencer Sunshine.

A Three Percenter from Idaho provides “security” at the Oregon Standoff, Jan 14, 2015. Photo by Spencer Sunshine.

The Three Percenters were co-founded in late 2008 by Mike Vanderboegh, who was active in 1990s Alabama militia groups. Vanderboegh has said, “The Three Percent idea, the movement, the ideal, was designed to be a simple, powerful concept that could not be infiltrated or subjected to agents provocateurs like many organizations that I observed in the constitutional militia movement of the 90s.”2 Along with the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters are part of a new wave of Patriot movement groups that are successors to the militia movement of the 1990s and have had a dramatic rebirth since the 2008 election of Barack Obama to the presidency.3

Ideologically, the Three Percenters are similar to the better-known Oath Keepers, a Patriot movement group of current and former military, law enforcement, and first responders. The Oath Keepers claim to “defend the Constitution,” and interpret this as a commitment to right-wing social and economic views of the kind usually associated with the John Birch Society. The Oath Keepers promote conspiracy theories that claim that the United States is a socialist government intent on disarming the population so that a foreign government can invade. They are committed to a libertarian view of private property that opposes most federal land ownership or restrictions on private use for environmental or other reasons.4

A Three Percenter flag could be seen flying above the Jan. 2015 militia seige of a federal building in rural Oregon.

A Three Percenter flag could be seen flying above the Jan. 2015 militia seige of a federal building in rural Oregon.

Where the Oath Keepers are a formally incorporated group with a board of directors and membership roll, the Three Percenters are more like a loosely organized social movement. The Oath Keepers carefully cultivate a public image of bold but legal resistance against supposed government tyranny. Consistent with their media-ready image, they claim that they can deny membership to felons.5

Those with felony convictions are welcome in the Three Percenters, who work closely with the Oath Keepers. There appears to be substantial membership overlap and their most prominent members appear in public together; for example, Vanderboegh and Oath Keepers President and Founder Stewart Rhodes both spoke at a 2015 Salem, Oregon rally against a law requiring registration of gun sales between private individuals. This arrangement with the Three Percenters may afford the Oath Keepers a measure of insulation from public scrutiny of actions by Three Percenters.

Three Percenter co-founder Vanderboegh is well known for his violent rhetoric. In 2010, he called for breaking the windows of Democratic Party offices, and a slew of such attacks followed. He called for armed resistance to Obamacare and has published personal information about the families of legislators who voted for gun control measures.6 At the 2015 Salem, Oregon rally against state gun control legislation, he threatened “civil war” (as he did at the Bundy Ranch) as a response to the new laws. He also called Oregon Governor Kate Brown and others in the state government “tyrants” and “domestic enemies of the Constitution,” before saying, “this country has long had a remedy for tyrants—a second amendment remedy. So be careful for what you wish for, Madam—you may get it.”7

The Three Percenters have shown up at almost all of the major Patriot movement standoffs and armed camps in recent years, including the Bundy Ranch confrontation with Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agents in Nevada in April 2014; a Josephine County, Oregon dispute between miners and the BLM in April 2015; and a Lincoln, Montana dispute between miners and the BLM and Forest Service in July 2015. In Idaho, they have mobilized religious hatred and xenophobic hostility, organizing public rallies against Syrian refugee resettlement.8 The Idaho Three Percenters’ organizing has inspired similar actions in California. Supporters also tried to build a “citadel” in rural Benewah County in the Idaho panhandle.9

Numerous arrests of Three Percenters and those who have shown affinity with them have been documented. Allen “Lance” Scarsella, who was arrested in connection with the shooting of five people at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Minneapolis in November 2015, showed an affinity for the Three Percenters.10 So did Jerad Miller, who was at the Bundy Ranch before he and his wife, Amanda, were involved in a June 2014 ambush of police officers and subsequent shootout that left five dead, including the Millers.11 Three Percenter Brad Bartelt threatened to detonate a homemade explosive on Arkansas State University’s campus in December 201512. Bran­don D. Gibbs, who was heavily armed and armored when police arrested him in December 2014 for threatening a city official, also had shown an affinity for the Three Percenters.13 And in 2011, Frederick Thomas was arrested in Georgia as a member of a militia group, which “planned to attack cities including Atlanta with deadly ricin, bomb federal buildings and murder law enforcement officials and others.”14 Thomas was allegedly inspired by Vanderboegh’s online novel Absolved; it describes a future confrontation where activists with Patriot movement views have a shootout with law enforcement and plan to murder government officials.15


[1] Co-founder Mike Vanderboegh described the concept this way in 2009: “The Three Percent today are gun owners who will not disarm, will not compromise and will no longer back up at the passage of the next gun control act. Three Percenters say quite explicitly that we will not obey any further circumscription of our traditional liberties and will defend ourselves if attacked. We intend to maintain our God-given natural rights to liberty and property, and that means most especially the right to keep and bear arms. Thus, we are committed to the restoration of the Founders’ Republic, and are willing to fight, die and, if forced by any would-be oppressor, to kill in the defense of ourselves and the Constitution that we all took an oath to uphold against enemies foreign and domestic.” Mike Vanderboegh, “What is a ‘Three Percenter’?,” February 17, 2009,

[2] Mike Vanderboegh, “A Brief Three Percent Catechism — A discipline not for the faint-hearted,” June 29, 2014,

[3] Mark Potok, “The ‘Patriot’ Movement Explodes,” March 1, 2012,

[4] Rachel Tabachnick, “Profile on the Right: Oath Keepers,” April 23, 2015,

[5] See Article VIII, Section 8.01 in the “Bylaws of Oath Keepers,” accessed December 31, 2015,

[6] “Michael Brian Vanderboegh,” accessed December 31, 2015,; see also David Neiwert, “Antigovernment Speakers Denounce Washington State Gun Law, Threaten Violent Revolt,” December 17, 2014,

[7] Devin Burghart of Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights pointed this part of the speech out. “We Will Not Comply Rally – Salem, Oregon – May 30, 2015,” uploaded July 3, 2015, Vanderboegh’s “civil war” comment is around 57:15, and comments on Brown around 1:04:40; for his Bundy Ranch speech, see Miranda Blue, “Bundy Ranch Speaker Warns Of ‘Civil War On A Vast Scale,’ Promises Harry Reid Will Have His ‘Balls Ripped Off’,” April 30, 2014,

[8] David Neiwert, “‘III Percenters’ Ride Wave of Islamophobia in Idaho to Lead Anti-Refugee Protests,” November 4, 2015,

[9] Bill Morlin, “Behind the Walls,” May 16, 2015,

[10] Sarah Kaplan, “Minn. man accused in Black Lives Matter shootings reportedly subscribed to ‘sovereign citizen’ subculture,” December 1, 2015,

[11] Mark Potok, “Alleged Las Vegas Cop-Killers in ‘Patriot’ Movement, Warned of ‘Sacrifices’,” June 9, 2014,‘patriot’-movement-warned-‘sacrifices’.

[12] Arturo Garcia, “Alleged Arkansas State gunman was investigated for saying he was ‘suicidal and homicidal’ online,” December 10, 2015,

[13] “Apparent Extremist Threatens Police Officers and a City Employee,” December 17, 2014,

[14] Mark Potok, “Georgia Militiamen Arrested in Major Domestic Terror Plot,” November 2, 2011,

[15] “Michael Brian Vanderboegh,” accessed December 31, 2015,


Spencer Sunshine, PhD (associate fellow) writes about the U.S. White Nationalist movement (including the Alt Right, neo-Nazis, and esoteric fascists), the Patriot movement and militias, and antisemitic currents. He is the lead author of the 2016 report Up In Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement, which is a collaboration between PRA and Oregon’s Rural Organizing Project. He can be contacted via his website and on Twitter @transform6789.