In 2020 millions of Americans peacefully stood up against racism and police violence in protests across the country. These protests are remarkable not only for their size and duration, but their geographic scope, ranging from big cities to small hamlets.
However, a corresponding burst of mobilization has also occurred on the Far Right, especially among groups with virulently anti-government views. This energy has manifested in Second Amendment rallies (some at state capitols, where protesters have intimidated lawmakers with military-grade weapons), demonstrations against government imposed COVID-19 lockdowns, and efforts to disrupt and sow chaos at Black Lives Matter (BLM) rallies. Many of these groups are new and ready for violence. The Boogaloo Bois, a loose network that first appeared in 2018, aims to incite (or at least welcomes) a civil war that will bring down the government. In neonazi and White nationalist circles, newly empowered accelerationists are trying to start a race war. QAnon, a movement that began on 4chan in 2017, believes “deep state” enemies in the federal bureaucracy are trying to overthrow President Trump. But, like QAnon, many of these movements waffle between denouncing the government (or “deep state”) and cheering on President Trump’s shows of federal force at the border and in the streets.
This tension between hostility and support for the federal government is also showing up in the more established wing of the anti-government movement—the traditional militia or Patriot movement—as two recent events make clear. In August 2017, several militias attended the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Their attendance was remarkable not only because militias have historically eschewed overt racism, but also because they’ve traditionally opposed the kind of strong central government White nationalists believe is necessary to build a White ethno-state. A year later, Ammon Bundy, who led the 2016 militia takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, criticized President Trump’s depiction of Central American asylum seekers as criminals. Bundy argued that migrants were protecting their families from violence and criticized the federal government’s aggressive policing against them. While Bundy’s critique was consistent with the Patriot movement’s suspicion of federal police, he was widely condemned by other militias on social media. After receiving death threats, Bundy announced he was quitting the movement and said of his critics: “The vast majority seemed to hang on to what seemed like hate, and fear, and almost warmongering.”
These developments raise the possibility that some anti-government factions could morph into pro-Trump paramilitaries. The U.S. has little recent history with paramilitaries—a term we use in its narrowest sense, as non-state armed groups using violence to support the state (or a particular regime that holds state power)—but they are a scourge across the world. Unlike guerillas and insurgents, who fight the state, paramilitaries share weapons, intelligence, and resources with the government and engage in extra-judicial violence states desire but can’t or won’t formally sanction. In return, paramilitaries are allowed to prey on civilians and co-opt local political structures—extorting businesses, bribing mayors, and threatening bureaucrats, among other behaviors.
To explore whether and how anti-government groups could transition into pro-Trump paramilitaries, we looked at recently leaked online chats related to traditional militia groups. (We didn’t look at newer groups because they were either too recently-formed to track or still consolidating at the time of our analysis.) What we found indicates that militias could become paramilitaries in two ways: one, by making common cause with White nationalists who want to use violence to create an authoritarian, White ethnostate; and two, by acting as enforcers for Donald Trump and allied Republican politicians. These pathways aren’t mutually exclusive, but they are distinct, with different tradeoffs for militias and their members.
After the Unite the Right rally, many commentators speculated that the first pathway was already occurring, but our analysis suggests that’s unlikely. White nationalist groups reject militias’ anti-government views and openly mock their military skills and masculinity; in turn, militias reject White nationalists’ racist ideology. Our analysis indicates that the second path—militias becoming enmeshed with the government—is much more probable. Militia members appear primed to support President Trump with violence, though we have no evidence yet they are involved in coordinated planning with the Trump administration, or each other.
A shift towards paramilitarism could pose significant danger. Militia violence is nothing to scoff at, but the violence of groups working on behalf of the state under Trump would likely increase in scope. In his seminal book, Fascists, Michael Mann argues that fascism contains three elements: organic nationalism, radical statism, and paramilitarism. He asserts that paramilitarism is what enabled European fascism in the 1930s and ‘40s to move from the realm of ideology to violence, from antisemitism to the final solution. If today’s militias begin to work with the U.S. state, they could be used as agents of repression. And their de facto independence means they could use tactics that are, as yet, off-limits to the state.
Divides in the New Right Coalition and an Opening for the Far Right
The New Right coalition of White evangelicals, pro-business elites, and neoconservatives solidified in the run-up to the 1980 presidential election and has underpinned Republican electoral successes for nearly 40 years since.
Part of the New Right’s success lay in its ability to exclude conspiracy-minded elements of the so-called Old Right, notably paleoconservative groups like the John Birch Society. New Right leaders embraced free-trade and foreign intervention and refused to publicly traffic in antisemitism, as some paleoconservatives had. Those paleoconservatives who remained in the party did so largely because of their shared opposition to Communism.
But unity among conservatives began to fray in the early 2000s. The Iraq War deepened antagonisms between the party’s neoconservatives, who saw the war as a moral imperative; realists, who believed it threatened U.S. interests; and reemergent paleoconservatives, who opposed it on isolationist grounds. The GOP establishment’s support of bailouts for big banks after the 2008 housing crisis exacerbated divides between business elites and grassroots conservatives in the GOP who saw them as Wall Street handouts. Additionally, evangelicals grew weary of President George W. Bush’s style of compassionate conservatism, and their growing antipathy towards Islam put them at odds with neoconservatives, who believed the U.S. should try to work with “moderate Muslims,” who support Western values, to defeat “radical Muslims.”
Cracks in the New Right coalition allowed the Far Right to make plays to control the center and its key institutions. They primaried establishment conservatives, commandeered right-wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, hijacked Tea Party affiliates, and shifted their focus to immigration—all helping cement the power of once marginal views within the GOP establishment.
Shifts within the Militia Movement
In many respects, militias are the least likely part of the far-right ecosystem to morph into paramilitaries, given that most see the federal government as illegitimate and some have even tried to destroy it, as Timothy McVeigh did when he detonated a truck filled with explosives in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people. And militias have threatened government employees; during the 2016 Malheur standoff, the Bundy militia’s supporters were accused of intimidating Forest Service workers.
Militias have also tried to thwart federal institutions in non-violent ways. During the 1980s farm crisis, Sovereign citizens and nascent militias filed thousands of illegal liens in an effort to flood the court system with bogus paperwork that would impede farm foreclosures. After the 2008 financial crisis, Sovereign citizens used similar tactics to stop foreclosures on homes.
However, since the ‘90s, militias have been forced to reckon with two internal dynamics that complicate their attachment to anti-government ideology: latent antisemitism and racism and growing partisanship within militia ranks.
Racism and Antisemitism
While most anti-government militias publicly reject overt White supremacy—in the movement’s rhetoric all citizens are sovereign—its views on the evils of government are based on antisemitic and White nationalist conspiracism. The movement’s identified enemy, the New World Order (NWO), is an updated, coded version of an older conspiracist theory about Jewish domination, the so-called Zionist Occupied Government (ZOG). Instead of accusing Jews of attempting to create a one-world government, militias use terms like international elite or globalists to identify so-called NWO architects.
Similarly, militias have rarely defended Latinx and Black victims of government aggression. Few militias condemned New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy, which targeted young men of color, or police violence in Ferguson, Missouri. During the 2015 Ferguson protests, the local Oath Keepers chapter came to nightly protests to “protect journalists,” not Black protesters. Likewise, militias have largely remained silent when Black people are arrested or fatally shot, as Philando Castile was, while carrying permitted concealed weapons. And in the wake of George Floyd’s murder this May, several militias attended BLM protests in support of police, and some engaged in online and in-person intimidation of marchers.
The resulting impression is that militias’ concern about government overreach extends only to the country’s White, Christian citizens.
Political Participation and Partisanship
During the 1980s farm crisis, Sovereign citizens and militia groups took figurative and literal aim at politicians across the political spectrum. They were angry at Ronald Reagan, a Republican, but also local sheriffs of all parties. By the ‘90s, however, militia groups began focusing on Democrats. The sieges at Ruby Ridge and Waco, which occurred or were adjudicated during Bill Clinton’s presidency, created the initial impetus. In the aftermath, militia leaders began tentatively working with Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats. In 1994 Idaho militias threw their support behind Republican Helen Chenoweth’s congressional campaign. Once elected, Chenoweth returned the favor by investigating conspiracist militia theories about UN black helicopters at Ruby Ridge. In Kentucky, militia members worked with Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats in the General Assembly to write and pass militia-friendly legislation, including the state’s concealed carry law and a resolution prohibiting UN troop maneuvers in the state.
During George W. Bush’s presidency, militias were fairly muted, despite two wars and the intensification of federal policing, most notably the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the passage of the Patriot Act. Although some militias organized against the Patriot Act, it never became a rallying cry that significantly boosted movement numbers. Moreover, militia members who were Vietnam veterans often supported the War on Terror, or at least those who fought in it, in recognition of their own experiences. They saw the commanders who’d sent them to Vietnam as feckless, and the civilians who’d scorned them on their return as unpatriotic. For them, supporting soldiers was a way to right an historical wrong.
During the Obama presidency, militias began to ramp up active support for Republicans, especially the populist wing of the party. Many adherents joined Tea Party affiliates and used them to amplify conspiracist claims such as birtherism and the Aztlan/“reconquista” plan—a supposed plot to reconquer U.S. states that once were part of Mexico. They also joined efforts to encourage primary challenges to moderate Republicans in the 2010 elections. And returning veterans, who claimed they worried about the government invoking martial law, started new militias or took the helm of existing ones.
More recently, some militias have offered to provide security to Republican officials. In 2019 the Democratic-controlled Oregon Senate considered a cap-and-trade bill designed to limit greenhouse emissions. To prevent the quorum necessary to vote, 11 members of the Republican Senate delegation fled to Idaho. When Oregon’s Democratic governor sent state troopers across the border to bring them back, Oregon militias promised to head to Idaho to protect the senators. (The senators ultimately returned when it became clear Democrats couldn’t pass the bill.)
Militias’ growing partisanship is reflected in the ebb and flow of active groups across four presidencies. The SPLC estimates, for example, that there were 858 and 1,360 active Patriot groups at the midpoint of the Clinton and Obama presidencies, respectively. During the Bush’s and Trump’s presidencies, the numbers were 156 and 576.
Measuring Pathways to Paramilitarism
To assess the likelihood of two pathways to paramilitarism in the traditional militia movement—militias allying with White nationalists seeking an ethno-state, or their becoming enforcers for Trump and his allies—we looked at messages on various online forums used by both militias and White nationalists. Two forums, Discord and Iron March, contained private discussions between users, which were accessed and shared online by the independent media collectives Unicorn Riot and Bellingcat. The third forum is public: outward-facing websites for two militia groups, the Oath Keepers and the III Percenters.
The majority of our data is from Discord and Iron March, but we added the militia websites after discovering that militias didn’t engage each other as frequently, or in the same way, as White nationalist groups did within these forums (something that may reflect generational differences). While White nationalists engaged in raucous text-based conversations, militias mostly just shared articles or posted memes but rarely engaged in text-based conversations.
The now-defunct forum Iron March began in 2011 as a meeting place for international fascists to discuss ideology and the ideal state. By 2017, civil debate was replaced with a fixed, forum-wide ideology based in racism, misogyny, antisemitism, homophobia, and militarization. Over its six-year lifespan, Iron March users produced more than 195,000 posts and comments across 7097 unique threads. Of those threads, approximately 82 contained posts and comments deemed relevant to the traditional U.S. militia movement.
Discord is a free voice, video, and text chat app, but unlike traditional social media platforms where the default setting for posting is public, Discord was built to facilitate private, invitation-only chat groups. Individuals must be invited to participate in a server and proactively opt-in to membership. Within servers, users can create channels or spaces dedicated to specific topics and themes. Discord was originally built for gamers to chat during game-play, but far-right groups soon joined the fray, creating numerous servers and sub-channels. Starting in 2017, Unicorn Riot gained access to and published scores of separate servers belonging to White nationalist, neonazi, militia, and other far-right groups; this analysis draws on the 94 servers published as of 2019.
In our analysis we focus on two servers. The first is the “Charlottesville 2.0” server, which was dedicated to planning the 2017 Unite the Right rally, and contained 35,606 messages. The second is the “Patriots’ Soapbox” server, which includes militias, Sovereign Citizens, and other anti-government individuals, and contains over 1.2 million messages from April 2018 through early April 2020.
We also looked at two militia websites—the Oath Keepers and the III Percenters. Both groups are nominally national organizations with local affiliates. In practice, local groups are largely autonomous. Given the horizontal structure of both groups, their websites’ content represents areas of agreement across localities.
Pathway 1: White Nationalism’s Enforcers
There’s little evidence in either the Iron March or Discord chats to suggest White nationalist groups are working with militia groups in an organized fashion. Two reasons explain the lack of engagement. First, White nationalists showed utter contempt for militia members’ age, appearance, and masculinity. Second, White nationalists viewed militias as unreliable ideological partners because of their refusal to see race as central to their stated concerns. Consequently, we believe it’s unlikely the militia movement will morph into a paramilitary for White ethnonationalists.
The militia movement received scant attention in the Iron March data. U.S. militias were referenced in only 1.2 percent of threads in the message board, and most of these references mocked militia members’ age and training. One poster offered this broadside:
When the leader of a Florida militia group joined Iron March in 2017, he was met with similar skepticism and derision. One commentator railed, “You are the Jeb Bush of White Nationalist militias.” Another sneered, “Most awful collection of patriotard reactionary cosplayers I have ever seen.” A third sarcastically asked, “Is this just another one of those Amerifat militia groups that train out in the woods without actually accomplishing anything?”
When militia ideology was referenced, it was harshly criticized. Militia heroes Cliven Bundy and Timothy McVeigh both came in for withering criticism for their libertarian views. Referring to Bundy’s standoff with federal agents at his Nevada ranch, for example, one poster noted:
This selfish old rancher won’t get off his land to save a (sic) endangered tortoise. A bunch of lolbertarians are now at his ranch protesting, they then were tased by authorities for getting out of control and harassing officers. Serves them right.
Another poster offered a similar description of Timothy McVeigh: “McVeigh is a libertardian who the media uses to paint us as violent terrorists. Why do you like him?”
However, as one response to that query indicates, some posters were willing to consider McVeigh, and by extension militias, as useful instruments for destroying the government, then headed by President Obama, in order to make way for a fascist regime:
Yeah, he was your typical libertard. Personally, libertarians give me the shits and i think their principles and logic are fucking stupid and you basically have to be a yank with very little understanding of historical context or human society for libertarianism to appeal. But that’s beside the point. McVeigh isn’t recognized for his ideology, but for his deeds. If it was a muslim who blew up some yank fed. govt. building, i’d still cheer. If every american government building was applied the ryder truck treatment, the world would be a better place. If they didn’t want their kids to die, maybe they should have thought about that before they burned all those waco children alive. Or maybe they shouldn’t have put their daycare center in a high value strategic target to the opposing force (every decent man in the world is america’s opfor) of the United States.
Only a few posters suggested that militia members could be mobilized to join fascists in real world action. However, their goal wasn’t forging ideological compromise but conversion. As one poster enjoined: “Join some group that is actually doing something. Go redpill a militia. They are one step away from being fash. They’d already be on our side in RaHoWa [racial holy war].” Another poster argued:
I think it’s less important right now for fascists in America to build tiny, ideologically pure, and inevitably ineffectual groups. Instead, we need to focus on cultivating relationships with libertarian gun owners and militias, because even if they deny it, their goal is to protect the white race. The ideology can come later but in the current climate the most important thing is pragmatism and a strong defensive base. It doesn’t even matter if these groups have a token black guy or something because they will still end up, whether unconsciously or not, protecting the white race.
Charlottesville 2.0 Discord Server
After Unite the Right, militias received outsized media attention, with some commentators suggesting the movement had become the Alt Right’s armed wing. But in chats on the Charlottesville 2.0 server, where the march was planned, militias received negligible mentions (about one percent of total messages), most of it also mocking. One poster wrote: “I saw the Indiana Oathkeepers at the Indy March Against Sharia. A bunch of overweight 40-70-year olds carrying around fudded out ARs with no mags. Intimidating, to say the least.” Another sarcastically offered: “nothing more intimidating than a bunch of old, over weight, low testosterone men.” The appearance of militia members’ wives also came in for derision: “lol, that oathcucks [sic] wife looks like Chris Farley.”
The posters also derided militia ideology. In some cases, posters cast doubt on militias’ professed anti-statism, insisting they were actually working for the police. One poster argued: “Oathcucks are zero threat because they are cucked for police and military and will absolutely obey the authorities with any request.” In one exchange, another poster predicted that if violence broke out, militias would defend the police rather than the rally’s organizers:
There will be plenty of Oathcucks there to chant blue lives matter. We won’t have to do it.
Can’t we ban them?? Lol
Yeah…I despise those larpy tryhards
They usually stand in the middle with the police anyway.
In still other cases, militias were equated with Antifa. When a poster asked for background on the III Percenters, a poster replied, “Muh values; gun rights; brown nation; ‘Judeo-Christian’ values. So essentially boomer antifa but with guns and a few know how to use them. Oathcucks.”
Despite the Alt Right’s suspicions of the militia movement, messages written before the rally do suggest there was a concerted effort to create the right optics for potential converts. In particular, the rally’s organizers suggested employing symbols like the Confederate flag to leverage militias’ latent racism:
My preference is that people bring Confederate flags over other flags because it is most relevant to the Lee statue and it resonates the most with the populist crowd that is on the fence about us.
Another poster agreed:
The Confederate flag is the BEST optics because it’s beloved by legions of Southerners who are on the doorstep of becoming just like us if we can move beyond “heritage not hate.” They should be with us already but they’ve had weak leadership.
There’s little evidence, however, of formal coordination between the rally’s organizers and the militias that attended the rally. Only a few posts even entertained developing a working relationship:
Although the Discord chat doesn’t prove this request was made, Christian Yingling, commanding officer of the Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia, told reporters he was approached by rally leaders to provide security but that he told them he couldn’t protect just them, he would need to protect everyone. His armed group of 32 men instead came, he said, to provide ideologically neutral “volunteer security.” Per some reports from the scene, militia members broke up more fights than police until becoming outnumbered.
Messages exchanged about rally logistics also indicate that the organizers didn’t see the militias as supporters. One poster wrote:
It looks like there are now 4 rallies going on at four different parks. Unite The Right, The III%er “Unity” Rally, and two lefty rallies. By the way the III%er rally is being led by a young blond girl who looks like Lauren Southern. Except she sounds like section 8 trash when she talks.
There was also confusion about who the militias were there to defend. One poster was hopeful: “But if things get hairy it’ll be a godsend if they’re on our side. They open carry salt raifus [sic] like a bunch of peckerwoods.” Another poster disagreed: “Oathcuck says they will defend antifa.”
Pathway 2: GOP Enforcers
It’s more likely militias are primed to become enforcers for Trump in his declared fight against the so-called “deep state.” In both Discord’s Patriots’ Soapbox server and on independent militia websites, support for Trump was remarkably uniform. Militia members also consistently parroted Trump’s complaints about “deep state” elites.
For a movement that cut its teeth on hating the federal government and suspicion of executive power, the uniformity of support for Trump in our data represents a major aberration for the movement. While there was no active talk of preparing for a war to defend Trump, our findings suggest traditional militias are sufficiently supportive to mobilize on his behalf or that of down-ballot Republicans. The 2020 presidential election could serve as an inflection point.
Patriots’ Soapbox Discord Server
Although Discord servers are private and thus ideal for frank discussions, the Patriots’ Soapbox server was mostly used to disseminate news articles from far-right news outlets. Few discussions emerged around these posts.
To see how Patriots discussed President Trump, we searched for messages that contained “impeach” from August 2019, a month before the impeachment inquiry was announced by Nancy Pelosi, until mid-March 2020, a month after Trump’s acquittal. This resulted in approximately 2,778 messages for analysis. Of these, 78 percent were links to articles, 16 percent were novel content by users, and six percent were shared memes or tweets.
The links were overwhelmingly to articles in far-right publications such as Gateway Pundit and Breitbart, or mainstream right-wing outlets like the Washington Examiner, with no additional commentary by the user. These articles were uniformly supportive of Trump and critical of the impeachment process.
The 16 percent of user-generated posts were difficult to analyze because the messages were context free—i.e. only the messages containing “impeach” were pulled without conversation on either side, which may have been pertinent. As such, we did a second data pull looking for all messages for a shorter time span in the server’s most popular channel. For this we focused on 922 sequential messages, which were produced around the House’s vote to impeach the President (December 18-20, 2019), most of which weren’t articles but shared memes and tweets. But the content remained similar, with most messages concerning Trump and uniformly opposing impeachment. As in the impeachment analysis, these posts spurred minimal interaction.
The third category of posts were memes. The memes about impeachment followed familiar tropes. Democrats were depicted as hapless and weak, and male Democrats were often feminized (See Figure 1).
By contrast, President Trump was portrayed as strong and in command. Although the president’s Twitter feed is strewn with grievances, his image on Patriots’ Soapbox was of a confident, smiling executive untroubled by the impeachment process (see Figure 2).
Memes also depicted Trump and Patriots as engaged in a heroic battle against a shared enemy, described with both traditional Patriot movement terminology (like “NWO” or New World Order) and Trump catch phrases (like “deep state”). Other memes included references to pedophilia, a fixation within QAnon conspiracies, and liberal use of Christian symbols and Bible references (see Figure 3).
Oath Keepers and III Percenters Websites
We also consulted the national websites of the Oath Keepers and III Percenters to see how these militias were discussing impeachment. We conducted searches for the word “impeach” on both websites, which returned one article from the III Percenters and eight highlighted blog posts from the Oathkeepers website. Although the Oathkeepers had additional content using the search term, the site curated a selection of posts which we used for analysis. As with the Patriots’ Soapbox server, interaction and comments between group members was minimal.
The newsfeeds revealed several notable trends, including uniform support for Trump and opposition to impeachment. Such rock-solid support for any president, even a Republican one, is a new feature for militias. Although Patriots have tended to criticize Democrats more frequently than Republicans, they haven’t traditionally supported presidents of either party since they consider the federal government their enemy.
Articles on both websites also portrayed the deep state as a cadre of elites seeking to overthrow the president because he poses an imagined mortal threat to their power. Likewise, Republicans such as Mitt Romney—who voted in favor of impeachment—are depicted as turncoats aligned with “deep state apparatchiks” and other globalist elites planning a coup against Trump.
To some extent, the deep state discourse adopted by Trump aligns with Patriots’ longstanding conspiratorial worldview. Trump tends to describe the deep state by referencing federal agencies militias have opposed since the 1990s, like the FBI, or individuals who worked there, such as James Comey and Robert Mueller. He’s also complained about people who work at other agencies militias distrust, including the State Department (Marie Yovanovitch) and the National Security Council (Alexander Vindman).
It’s worth noting that Trump’s ire against these figures isn’t based on their supposedly “globalist” ideology, but their perceived efforts to block his consolidation of personal power, and by extension that of the executive branch. How militias can reconcile their suspicions of federal power with lockstep support for someone who wants to concentrate presidential power is a larger question. Suffice it to say, the dominance of anti-government ideology in the traditional militia movement is waning. Militias’ posture is increasingly pro-state (or at least pro-Trump), and could thus be marshalled (internally or externally) towards paramilitarism.
There’s already some evidence paramilitarism is happening on Trump’s and Trump-aligned Republicans’ behalf. On the Oath Keepers website multiple posts solicited volunteers—especially from members of the III Percenters and other militia, biker, and Patriot groups—to provide security for Trump rallies in Florida, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas. “Security” was usually couched as protecting Trump supporters from “radical leftist assault.” The efforts of Oregon militias detailed above are cut from the same cloth, scaled down to size.
The Future and What It Holds
The traditional militia movement’s near lockstep support for Trump, and the activities some militias are already taking to protect him, represent a significant shift for a movement that was born out of suspicion of federal authorities. Discourses about the deep state partially obscure the contradictions their new stance creates, but can’t entirely conceal them, given that Trump’s clear aim is to concentrate power.
The question that remains is why this shift is happening. Although the messages above don’t provide a definitive answer, they point to an explanation. Militias are more pro-Trump than pro-state. Indeed, militias continue to distrust big government, as their embrace of “deep state” rhetoric suggests. These views are why they cheer Trump on—because he wants to wreck portions of the state they despise.
However, the ability to support Trump does involve some ideological realignment. Trump has made no effort to hide his authoritarian impulses and some in the movement, including Ammon Bundy, have publicly repudiated him for it. Local sovereignty has always been central to militia ideology, but efforts to build and defend it have largely failed, as the Bundy’s attempted take-over of the Malheur Refuge demonstrated. By embracing Trump, the new generation of militias has accepted, however tacitly, that the power of the federal government, in the “right” hands, may deliver bigger rewards. Should Trump win in November, their orientation towards and defense of aggressive state power is likely to consolidate.
To be clear, the paramilitarization of militias on behalf of Trump and his GOP allies is by no means certain, but fall-out from the COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming 2020 presidential election campaign season are potential inflection points to watch. If militias do begin to paramilitarize, they aren’t likely to coalesce into a national group. The militia movement has always been decentralized, and there is little indication from our data that they are actively coordinating with each other, or with newer movements such as the Boogaloo Bois. However, as people from conflict zones with decentralized paramilitaries, such as Colombia and Northern Ireland, can attest, decentralization is no shield from violence.
 Lara Putnam, Jeremy Pressman, and Erica Chenoweth, “Black Lives Matter Beyond America’s Big Cities,” The Washington Post, July 8, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/07/08/black-lives-matter-b….
 Mehdi Hasan, “How the Far-Right Boogaloo Movement Is Trying to Hijack Anti-Racist Protests for a Race War,” The Intercept, June 10, 2020, https://theintercept.com/2020/06/10/boogaloo-boys-george-floyd-protests.
 J.J. Macnab. “Assessing the Threat from Accelerationists and Militia Extremists,” Testimony before the U.S. Congress’s Subcommittee on Intelligence and Counterterrorism, Committee on Homeland Security. July 16, 2020. https://docs.house.gov/meetings/HM/HM05/20200716/110911/HMTG-116-HM05-Wstate-MacNabJ-20200716.pdf
 “The Boogaloo: Extremists New Slang Term for a Coming Civil War,” Anti-Defamation League, November 26, 2019, https://www.adl.org/blog/the-boogaloo-extremists-new-slang-term-for-a-coming-civil-war.
 We follow the Southern Poverty Law Center’s classification of militias as “anti-government.” Anti-government groups are distinct from militiarized White power and neonazi groups because racism and antisemitism are not their central focus. See: “Extremist Files: Anti-government Movement,” Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), 2020, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/ideology/antigovernment.
 In her analysis of the militia movement in Michigan, Amy Cooter notes that, “Michigan Militia units are not racist at the group level” because racism is “antithetical to their stated mission of upholding Constitutional principles of equality and freedom.” Amy B. Cooter, Americanness, Masculinity, and Whiteness: How Michigan Militia Men Navigate Evolving Social Norms, Dissertation, 2013, p. 131, http://hdl.handle.net/2027.42/98077.
 Sam Levin. “Cliven Bundy rebukes Trump over attack on migrants: ‘We should have a heart,’” The Guardian, November 29, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/nov/28/cliven-ammon-bundy-criticizes-trump-immigration-border-wall.
 Salvador Hernandez, “Ammon Bundy Is Quitting The Militia Movement After Breaking With Trump On Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric,” BuzzFeed, December 6, 2018, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/salvadorhernandez/ammon-bundy-help….
 The Jim Crow-era Klan behaved like a paramilitary. See Tara McAndrew, “The History of the KKK in American Politics, JSTOR Daily, January 25, 2017, https://daily.jstor.org/history-kkk-american-politics/
 We use the term traditional militia to refer to established groups such as the Oath Keepers, the III Percenters, and the Bundy family militia groups led (at different points) by Cliven and Ammon Bundy. Newer groups, such as the Boogaloo Bois and QAnon, have co-opted traditional militias rhetoric, infusing it with anti-science and revolutionary conspiracy theories, but for the most part they aren’t working together. For a discussion of this wider militia-sphere see: Joel Finkelstein, John K. Donohue, Alex Goldenberg, Jason Baumgartner, John Farmer, Savvas Zannettou, and Jeremy Blackburn, “COVID-19, Conspiracy and Contagious Sedition: A Case Study on the Militia-Sphere,” Rutgers: Network Contagion Institute, June 1, 2020. https://ncri.io/wp-content/uploads/NCRI-White-Paper-COVID-19-Militia-Sphere-1-June-512pm.pdf
 Michael Casey, How Militia Became the Private Police for White Supremacists. Politico Magazine, August 17, 2017, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/08/17/white-supremacists-militias-private-police-215498
 Much of our evidence—from leaked Discord chats, the Iron March forum, and militia webpages—predates 2020, but the patterns we identify are broadly consistent with the divides apparent in newer groups as well.
 Michael Mann, Fascists (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
 Carolyn Gallaher, “Aberration or Reflection? How to Understand Changes on the Political Right,” The Public Eye, (Spring, 2019), https://www.politicalresearch.org/2019/05/24/aberration-or-reflection-how-understand-changes-political-right
 Sara Diamond, Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States (New York: The Guilford Press, 1995).
 David Greenberg, “An Intellectual History of Trumpism,” Politico Magazine, December 11, 2016, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/12/trumpism-intellectual-history-populism-paleoconservatives-214518 See also: John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, “An Unnecessary War,” Foreign Policy, November 3, 2009, https://foreignpolicy.com/2009/11/03/an-unnecessary-war-2/
 Emily Ekins, “Today’s Bailout Anniversary Reminds Us That the Tea Party Is More Than Anti-Obama,” Reason Magazine, October 3, 2014, https://reason.com/2014/10/03/the-birth-of-the-tea-party-movement-bega/
 Melissa Deckman, Dan Cox, Robert Jones, and Betsy Cooper, “Faith and the Free Market: Evangelicals, the Tea Party, and Economic Attitudes,” Politics and Religion 10, no. 1 (2017): 82-110.
 George Kassimeris & Leonie Jackson, “The West, the rest, and the ‘war on terror’: representation of Muslims in neoconservative media discourse,” Contemporary Politics, 17, no. 1 (2011): 19-33.
 Gallaher, “Aberration or Reflection?.”
 Molly Ball, “The Fall of the Heritage Foundation and the Death of Republican Ideas.” The Atlantic, September 25, 2013, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/09/the-fall-of-the-heritage-foundation-and-the-death-of-republican-ideas/279955/
 Chip Berlet & Spencer Sunshine, “Rural rage: the roots of right-wing populism in the United States,” The Journal of Peasant Studies, 46, no. 3 (2019): 480-513
 Sovereign Citizens share anti-government ideology with militias, but are typically independent actors unaffiliated with any particular group. See: J.J. MacNab, “What Las Vegas Police Killings Show About Evolving Sovereign Movement,” Forbes, June 13, 2014, https://www.forbes.com/sites/jjmacnab/2014/06/13/what-las-vegas-police-killings-show-about-evolving-sovereign-movement/#3cc9bbda2a28
 Joel Dyer, Harvest of Rage: Why Oklahoma City is only the Beginning (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997).
 Edwin Hodge, “The Sovereign Ascendant: Financial Collapse, Status Anxiety, and the Rebirth of the Sovereign Citizen Movement,” Frontiers in Sociology 4, no. 76 (2019): 1-10.
 Carolyn Gallaher, “Global Change, Local Angst: Class and the American Patriot Movement,” Environment and Planning D, Society and Space, 18 (2000): 667-691.
 Mark Pitcavage, “The Militia’s Election: Extremists React to Trump Victory with Celebration—and Anger,” Anti-Defamation League, November 10, 2016.
 In particular, the Oath Keepers in Ferguson were focused on protecting reporters from Infowars. Joanna Walters, “White militiamen roam Ferguson with rifles while black men wrongly arrested.” The Guardian. August 12, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/aug/11/oath-keepers-ferguson-automatic-rifles
Michel Martin. Philando Castile Case Asks: Whose Second Amendment Right Is Protected? NPR’s All Things Considered, June 25, 2017, https://www.npr.org/2017/06/25/534332874/philando-castile-case-asks-whose-second-amendment-right-is-protected
 Isaac Stanley-Becker, As protests spread to small-town America, militia groups respond with armed intimidation and online threats. Washington Post, June 18, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/as-protests-spread-to-small-tow…
 Dyer, Harvest of Rage, 191-213.
 In the 1990s, Blue Dog Democrats were a coalition of fiscally conservative Democrats who opposed gun control laws. See: Jessica Mendoza, Centrist Democrats are back. But these are not your father’s Blue Dogs. Christian Science Monitor, June 4, 2019, https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2019/0604/Centrist-Democrats-are…
 Patricia Sullivan, “Obituary: Militia-friendly Idaho Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage,” Washington Post, October 4, 2006, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/2006/10/04/militia-friendly-idaho-rep-helen-chenoweth-hage/9e77fc0f-5e1a-45c1-bc99-e573c45248ac/
 Carolyn Gallaher, On the Fault Line: Race, Class, and the American Patriot Movement (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003), 98-102.
 After 9/11, local police became more involved in policing terrorism and ensuring national security. The Department of Homeland Security established information-sharing protocols with local forces, hosted trainings, and offered grants for new equipment. See: Matthew C. Waxman, “Police and National Security: American Local Law Enforcement and Counter-Terrorism after 9/11,” Journal of National Security Law and Policy, 3, 2009, 377-407.
 Anti-Defamation League. “The Quiet Retooling of the Militia Movement,” 2004, https://www.adl.org/sites/default/files/documents/assets/pdf/combating-hate/Militia_retools.pdf
 Gallaher, On the Fault Line, 219.
 Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind, Tea Party Nationalism: A Critical Examination of the Tea Party Movement and the Size, Scope, and Focus of Its National Factions (Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, 2010), https://www.irehr.org/2010/10/20/introduction/; See also: Berlet, Chip, “What is the Tea Party Movement?” Research for Progress (blog). https://www.researchforprogress.us/topic/558/faq-collection/what-is-the-tea-party-movement
 Sonia Scherr, “Arizona Debate Unleashes New ‘Reconquista’ Accusations,” Southern Poverty Law Center, May 5, 2010, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2010/05/05/arizona-debate-unleashes-new-%E2%80%98reconquista%E2%80%99-accusations
 Chicano activists in the 1960s believed that Mexico should reconquer southwestern states that had once been part of its territory. Although the plan never became a widespread rallying cry among Chicanos, the right-wing activists used it to justify their fear/opposition to immigration. See Heidi Bierich, “Exploring Nativist Conspiracy Theories including the ‘North American Union’ and the Plan de Aztlan,” The Intelligence Report, (July 2007), https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2007/exploring-nativist-conspiracy-theories-including-%E2%80%98north-american-union%E2%80%99-and-plan-de-aztlan.
 Suzy Khimm, “The Idaho GOP’s Pro-Militia Candidate,” Mother Jones, April 2, 2010, https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2010/04/idaho-republican-rex-rammell-governor-election-miltia/
 Southern Poverty Law Center, “Extremists Files. Oath keepers,”. https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/oath-keepers. See also: Shane Bauer, 2016. “ “We’re Your Neighbors,” Says the Co-founder of This Right-Wing Militia,” Mother Jones, October 26, 2016, https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/10/interview-three-percenter-militia-leader/
 John Sowell, “Oregon GOP Senators flee to avoid climate change vote. They may be in hiding,” Idaho Statesman, June 21, 2019. https://www.idahostatesman.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article231826048.html
 See Spencer Sunshine, “Smokescreen: How Timber Unity has mainstreamed militia groups, Alt Right, and conspiracy theories in Oregon politics,” March 4, 2020, https://spencersunshine.com/2020/03/04/smokescreen/ See also: Will Sommer, “Armed Militias Pledge to Fight for Fugitive Oregon GOP Lawmakers ‘At Any Cost’,” The Daily Beast, June 21, 2019, https://www.thedailybeast.com/armed-militias-pledge-to-fight-for-fugitive-oregon-gop-lawmakers-at-any-cost
 Southern Poverty Law Center. “Extremist Files: Anti-government Movement,” https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/ideology/antigovernment.
 Iron March chats can be found here: https://www.bellingcat.com/resources/how-tos/2019/11/06/massive-white-supremacist-message-board-leak-how-to-access-and-interpret-the-data/. Discord chats can be found here: https://discordleaks.unicornriot.ninja/discord/
 Notably, Discord offers its users the ability to engage in conversation over text and voice. While militia members did not engage in as much text-based conversation, it is possible they were utilizing the audio component. However, as we did not have access to the audio, we opted to employ additional text-based materials for triangulation purposes.
 Larping refers to live action role play.
 Iron March messages are referenced by a) the number of the thread in which the post was found and b) the date of the post. This message was thread number 7429, posted on 5/10/17.
 IM Thread 7863, 5/30/17
 IM Thread 7926, 6/7/17
 IM Thread 7926, 7/7/17
 IM Thread 3836, 4/11/14
 IM Thread 6808, 8/3/16
 IM Thread 6808, 8/3/16
 IM Thread 4483, 11/22/14
 IM Thread 4537, 12/8/14
 Messages found in discord server Charlottesville 2.0 will be cited as “channel,” “date.” For this message, #antifa_watch, 8/3/2017
 #antifa_watch, 8/3/2017
 #antifa_watch, 7.19/2017
 #antifa_watch, 8/3/2017
 #virginia_laws, 7/30/2017
 #antifa_watch, 7/26/17
 #antifa_watch, 7/26/17
 #antifa_watch, 7/21/17
 #antifa_watch, 7/22/17
 #sunday-night, 7/15/17
 Joanna Walters, “Militia Leaders who Descended on Charlottesville Condemn ‘Rightwing Lunatics,” The Guardian, August 15, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/15/charlottesville-militia… .
 Jackson Landers, “Three Militias Barred from ever Returning to Charlottesville (updated),” Rewire.News. May 16, 2018, https://rewire.news/article/2018/05/16/three-militias-barred-ever-returning-charlottesville/. See also Ben Hallman, “Charlottesville May Change the debate over Armed Militias and Open Carry.” Business Insider, August 17, 2017, https://www.businessinsider.come/charlottesville-may-change-the-debate-over-armed-militias-and-open-carry-2017-8.
 Benjamin Hart and Chas Danner, “3 Dead and Dozens Injured After Violent White-Nationalist Rally in Virginia,” Intelligencer, August 13, 2017, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2017/08/state-of-emergency-in-va-after-….
 #antifa_watch, 7/26/17
 #antifa_watch, 7/26/17
 #antifa_watch, 7/29/17
 Patriots’ Soapbox has 11,199 registered users. Of these, 82 percent were irregular participants, posting less than 10 times. Approximately six percent posted 100 or more messages. The great majority of messages were made by 42 users, who each posted more than 5,000 posts. One “superuser” posted 87,463 times. It is possible that some of Patriots’ Soapbox’s regular posters are bots, though we have no way to tell.
 It is worth noting that discord contains both text and voice based chatting capacity. That is, individuals may be simultaneously typing and sending messages while talking with users over the chat function. Unfortunately, we do not have access to these audio files, which may house more discussion than seen in the text channels.
 Tom McCarthy and Miranda Bryant, “Trump Impeachment: A Timeline of Key Events so Far,” The Guardian, January 15, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/oct/31/trump-impeachment-inqui….
 These percentages were developed by categorizing the first 250 messages.
 The channel #psb-voice-content contains over 720,700 messages, almost 60 percent of the entire Patriots’ Soapbox server.
 Discord contains text as well as live chat capability. The #psb-voice-content channel—the most popular within the Patriots’ Soapbox server—was paired with an audio component. Individuals may have been voice chatting in real time while sending messages, memes, and articles back and forth. That is, while the static text often appears unidirectional, there may have been extensive communication of the shared materials within the audio. We did not have access to this voice content.