A group of 13 men, seven of whom are said to be affiliated with an extremist group called the Wolverine Watchmen, were arrested Thursday by federal and state officials in Michigan on terrorism, conspiracy and weapons charges.
Their plans, officials said, included storming the Michigan State Capitol, abducting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and instigating a civil war. Authorities said the men had decided to “unite others” to “take violent action” against state governments that they thought were violating the Constitution. Although an extreme example, such organizations are not uncommon: There were 576 extreme antigovernment groups that were active in 2019, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Danny Davis, associate professor and director of the Bush School of Government and Public Service‘s Graduate Certificate in Homeland Security, has studied domestic terrorism for 30 years. Davis spoke with Texas A&M Today about the history of militia groups and what motivates them.
Texas A&M Today: What is a militia? What actions do they take, and what are their goals?
Davis: The modern militia movement takes its origins from before the founding of our country. From the first colony at Jamestown forward, each community had a local militia. Every citizen was expected to stand as a soldier when called upon. He owed service to the community-controlled militia. If you think about Lexington and Concord and the “shot heard around the world,” the people who fell out to fight the British when they marched out of Boston to seize stockpiles were American militia. That’s the origin of the militia concept. Today, the concept of the citizen-soldier is embodied in the National Guards of each state.
The difference today in these private militia groups is that they are just that, a group of civilians banning together on their own recognizance. They are not controlled by their communities or local government. Different militias have different goals and motivations. Some want to make sure the Second Amendment is upheld. Some can be construed similar to a shooting club. A strict interpretation of the Constitution is another important objective to some. And then there are groups that believe the federal and or a state government have usurped the power that rightly belongs to the people granted under the Constitution. Some groups, like the Wolverine Watchmen, are bent on the overthrow of the U.S. government. There’s a whole spectrum of beliefs held by militia groups. Many commentaries are quick to lump all militia elements into the racially motivated violent extremists category. While that can be the case with some groups, it is certainly not the case with all. It is important to read and or listen to what a particular militia organization says about itself.