In 2008, there were 150 vig­i­lante groups in the US. To­day, there are more than 1,000

Civil­ian mili­tias are crop­ping up across the USA, mo­ti­vated by the de­sire to main­tain law and or­der with­out re­ly­ing on tra­di­tional means. Armed vig­i­lante groups are al­ready car­ry­ing out at­tacks, cre­at­ing no-go ar­eas and oc­cu­py­ing gov­ern­ment build­ings

World of Knowledge (Australia) - - Contents -

The first thing Cliven Bundy hears is the men­ac­ing drone of the ro­tor blades. Gin­gerly, he pushes back the cur­tain and peers out of the win­dow. His sus­pi­cions are con­firmed: nine he­li­copters are cir­cling above his ranch and an ar­mada of po­lice of­fi­cers have sur­rounded the prop­erty. Two hun­dred law en­force­ment of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing sev­eral snipers, train their sights on the 67-year-old’s prop­erty – but Bundy isn’t fazed. He smiles to him­self. He’s pre­pared for this: in the past few days hun­dreds of gov­ern­ment op­po­nents from all over the coun­try, in­clud­ing dozens of heav­ily armed mili­ti­a­men, have made the pil­grim­age to Bunkerville in Ne­vada to sup­port him in the fight against Washington. “They have my cat­tle and now they also have my sons,” the old man says, as he loads his ri­fle. “The war be­gins to­mor­row.”

HOW DO YOU GET 200 FED­ERAL PO­LICE OF­FI­CERS TO FLEE?

What sounds like some­thing out of the Wild West is ac­tu­ally the cul­mi­na­tion of a 20-year pri­vate feud be­tween a farmer and the au­thor­i­ties. A dis­pute that has now de­vel­oped into an all-out ‘civil war’ be­tween the mili­tia and the US gov­ern­ment.

It all be­gan mun­danely enough. For decades, Bundy had grazed his cat­tle on land of­fi­cially be­long­ing to the US gov­ern­ment. But as the rancher stead­fastly re­fused to with­draw his herd and pay graz­ing fees to the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment (BLM) – his ar­rears had spi­ralled into the mil­lions – the fed­eral po­lice even­tu­ally got in­volved. They seized 400 of his cat­tle and ar­rested Bundy’s son, Dave. For the farmer this was the fi­nal dec­la­ra­tion of war.

The stand­off lasts nearly a week. It seems only a mat­ter of time un­til the first shots are fired – un­til out of the blue the po­lice re­lease the cat­tle and re­treat. “We wanted to avoid an es­ca­la­tion,” ex­plained Neil Kornze from the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment. But what the gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial doesn’t re­alise is that the ‘Farm Wars’ mark just the be­gin­ning of a new era of armed re­sis­tance against the in­cum­bent gov­ern­ment.

“They have my cat­tle and now they also have my sons. The war be­gins to­mor­row.” CLIVEN UN Y rancher

HOW MANY MILI­TIAS ARE THERE IN THE USA?

Since Barack Obama’s elec­tion as US pres­i­dent the num­ber of anti-gov­ern­ment ‘pa­triot’ groups has ex­ploded, rising from 150 or­gan­i­sa­tions to around 1,000 in 2015. Many ex­perts on ex­trem­ism are con­vinced that Bundy’s tri­umph has only strength­ened the de­vel­op­ment of civil­ian mili­tias. “We be­lieve these armed ex­trem­ists have been em­bold­ened by what they saw as a clear vic­tory at the Cliven Bundy ranch and the fact that no one was held ac­count­able for tak­ing up arms against agents of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment,” says Heidi Beirich from the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­tre. “When the fed­eral gov­ern­ment was stopped from en­forc­ing the law at gun­point, it en­er­gised the en­tire move­ment.”

Ac­cord­ing to the BLM, there were over 50 in­ci­dents de­scribed as “se­ri­ous con­fronta­tions with antigov­ern­ment over­tones”, in the four years be­tween 2010 and 2014. Among them were po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated at­tacks: in 2013 a man in Ari­zona was charged with at­tempted mur­der after he shot two BLM of­fi­cials, and in Ore­gon a per­son threw fire­bombs at em­ploy­ees in a BLM camp.

At the fore­front of this move­ment are a group called the Oath Keep­ers. Founded in 2009, the or­gan­i­sa­tion has around 30,000 mem­bers, many of whom have served in the armed forces or po­lice. The group has vowed to “pro­tect the con­sti­tu­tion from all en­e­mies at home and abroad” – es­pe­cially the Sec­ond Amend­ment, which guar­an­tees ev­ery Amer­i­can the right to bear arms. When­ever there’s a con­flict in­volv­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants, African-amer­i­cans or gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives, you can be sure the mili­ti­a­men will turn up with their bul­let­proof vests and as­sault ri­fles. Al­ready ac­tive in 47 US states, they were also present at the oc­cu­pa­tion of the Mal­heur Na­tional Wildlife Refuge in Ore­gon. “They claim that they are just a group of up­stand­ing cit­i­zens who want to pro­tect the con­sti­tu­tion, but that’s not true,” says Mark Potok, an ex­pert on ex­trem­ism. “The Oath Keep­ers are throw­ing oil on the fire and there’s a real danger of this fire spi­ralling out of con­trol.”

IS THE STATE’S MO­NOP­OLY ON THE USE OF FORCE IN­CREAS­INGLY LIM­ITED?

The Oath Keep­ers are just the tip of the ice­berg: other mili­tias, like the Ari­zona Bor­der Re­con, ar­bi­trar­ily pa­trol the Mex­i­can bor­der to hunt down drug couri­ers and il­le­gal im­mi­grants, while civil­ian armies like the North Florida Sur­vival Group (NFSG) equip chil­dren with as­sault ri­fles to pre­pare them for the apoc­a­lypse, which they be­lieve to be im­mi­nent. What con­nects all of these groups is their lack of trust in the gov­ern­ment. They see them­selves as the only true guardians of the con­sti­tu­tion, par­tic­u­larly the named amend­ments. “The gov­ern­ment is try­ing to get rid of all of our weapons,” says ex-cop and NFSG leader, Jim Foster. “We are pa­tri­ots just try­ing to pro­tect our right to bear arms. We are the cus­to­di­ans of the Amer­i­can con­sti­tu­tion.”

Ex­trem­ism ex­perts be­lieve the for­ma­tion of such groups is symp­to­matic of the trans­for­ma­tion that Amer­ica is cur­rently un­der­go­ing – to­wards a so­ci­ety that has abol­ished the rule of law of the states. No one em­bod­ies this men­tal­ity quite so ex­tremely as Don­ald Trump. Ac­cord­ing to Mark Potok, the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee has elec­tri­fied the rad­i­cal right – and in in­cit­ing ha­tred against Lati­nos, Mus­lims and Amer­ica’s own gov­ern­ment he has be­stowed le­git­i­macy on groups like the Oath Keep­ers. “Trump sounds more like the leader of a lynch mob than of a great na­tion like ours,” says US politi­cian Ni­had Awad.

The rest of the world isn’t im­mune from this form of ex­trem­ism. This year has seen an in­creas­ing num­ber of mili­tia-style at­tacks on mi­grant camps in Calais, France, while as re­cently as mid-april five mem­bers of the Fre­ital neo-nazi group in Ger­many were ar­rested. The rap sheet against them in­cluded at­tempted mur­der. Of even more con­cern are the num­bers of guns on the streets. In Jan­uary, 300 small firearms li­cences were ap­plied for in Cologne fol­low­ing dis­tur­bances dur­ing the city’s new year cel­e­bra­tions. This com­pares with 408 ap­pli­ca­tions made dur­ing the whole of 2015.

And in June, Bri­tish MP Jo Cox, who cam­paigned for her coun­try to leave the Euro­pean Union, was shot and mur­dered in broad day­light by an as­sas­sin with links to far-right or­gan­i­sa­tions.

A con­ti­nent that’s home to a grow­ing num­ber of civil­ian mili­tias who plan to take the law into their own hands? The par­al­lels are ob­vi­ous. The dif­fer­ence be­tween the sit­u­a­tion in the USA and Europe is that in Europe, the mili­tias have yet to de­clare war on their gov­ern­ments.

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