The Rule of Law vs. the Militias

In no presidential election since 1860 has the fear of post-election violence been so palpable. Indeed, the politically inspired violence ravaging many of our cities over the last several months marks the beginning of a new and dangerous chapter in American history: the potential unravelling of the rule of law.

The plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is among the more outrageous episodes. In cities such as Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, Kenosha, Louisville, and Washington, D.C, the threat or recourse to force has been the order of the day.

This situation is untenable. In a healthy democratic system, citizens must make up their minds on public matters and elections free from intimidation and coercion. Such is no longer the case in America, where representative democracy is now in trouble.

Militia Politics

Descriptions of the turn to the use of force in democratic systems—which is nothing new, sadly—range from the outbreak of a “mobocratic spirit” to the advent of “militia politics.” In one of his earliest public speeches, Abraham Lincoln, reacting to the sudden rise of violence in Missouri and parts of the South, addressed the Young Men’s Lyceum in Springfield, Illinois. He spoke of people gathering “to burn churches, ravage and rob provision-stores, throw printing presses into rivers…and hang and burn obnoxious persons at pleasure, and with impunity.”

After more than 230 years of living with success under the same constitution, few Americans have any inclination for authoritarian government, coming from either the Right or the Left.

The spread of mob action in the 1830s, redolent of what is occurring today, was a spontaneous spasm born of anger, boredom, and the opportunity to loot and pilfer. The ensuing chaos, Lincoln went on, might feed on itself, gather momentum, and spiral out of control, until the public’s attachment to the political order disintegrated. The result, he warned, is that “government cannot last.”

“Militia politics” calls to mind a more deliberate kind of activity, in which groups form with a clearer chain of command and a more fixed set of tactics. Historical accounts of the role of militias in the collapse of political regimes sometimes assign more structure for these groups than they actually possessed in their initial moments, when things were in flux between mobs and full organizations.

Two infamous instances in Europe in the aftermath of the first World War illustrate the rise of militia politics.

In Italy, the constitutional monarchy was widely unloved. Beginning in 1919, disgruntled former soldiers gathered into different groups, with those from the Right engaging in street violence against socialists and groups from the Left. All over Italy, strikes and riots against the cost of living broke out. Mobs attacked banks and public buildings. Eventually the Right came together under Benito Mussolini, a disillusioned socialist. These Fascist “black shirts” went on to stage a massive march on Rome in 1922, which led to Il Duce’s taking full control of the government in 1925. Mussolini later boasted that his revolution had “curtailed useless or harmful liberties while preserving those which are essential.”

In Russia, Vladimir Lenin had no power base before the Marxist revolution in October 1917. Even after the toppling of the Tsarist regime, in the waning hours of the Republic, there was no mass support for a “revolution of the proletariat.” But Lenin understood how to use terror to mobilize disaffected peasants, factory workers, ex-soldiers, and other groups. “We’ll ask the man, where do you stand on the question of the revolution? Are you for it or against it? If he’s against it, we’ll stand him up against a wall.” He wasted no time in establishing his own security force, the Cheka, to engage in “counter-revolution and sabotage.” A vicious civil war raged until 1923, when Lenin’s Red Army emerged triumphant.

After more than 230 years of living with success under the same constitution, few Americans have any inclination for authoritarian government, coming from either the Right or the Left. But in today’s climate with mayors and governors acquiescing to or siding with the mobs and militias, and with so many citizens abandoning the cities for safer havens in the suburbs or in more orderly states, it is none too soon to begin to worry.

Corporate America, sports moguls, advertisers — they all seem to be focusing on their own immediate well-being while ignoring the social disintegration occurring outside of their gated communities. In an upper-class version of fiddling while America burns, they are ceding to extortion while hoping that a change of national leadership will buy them a return to normalcy.

Mainstream media sources have likewise adopted an approach of promoting the interests of their favored political party. Instead of reporting on the disorder that has been occurring in cities like Portland and Seattle, they have chosen to deliberately censor reality.

Incredibly, the greatest loss in property in civil disturbances in the last century, the large-scale destruction of local businesses, and the injuries and deaths of citizens have been swept under the rug. Only in those instances where it is thought that a killing is the work of a right-wing activist, or where it is alleged that federal action initiated by President Trump has precipitated the disorder, or where a white nationalist group is charged with a plot against the governor, are the events given serious attention.

For the most part, however, it is no secret that the greater part of the recent violence in the cities has originated from mobs linked to Leftist militias affiliated in some fashion with Antifa activists and Black Lives Matter. It is perhaps to be expected in an election year that liberal political leaders would not acknowledge this fact, but place the emphasis, in Michelle Obama’s words, on the “overwhelmingly peaceful movement for racial solidarity.” This observation may be soothing, but it does not obviate the amount of real violence that has taken place.

Nor does it deny that the groups bent on creating disorder have often blended themselves into the larger demonstrations, and used them to supply cover and—let’s be honest—to receive, up to a point at least, a measure of political support.

In the presidential debate in Cleveland, Joe Biden continued the same general strategy by insisting that Antifa—a self-proclaimed anti-fascist movement that employs tactics that most Americans understand to be fascist—should be considered an “idea,” not an “organization.” This contention was intended to diminish fears of any real danger from this group. Attorney General William Barr has taken a contrary view: “I’ve talked to every police chief in every city where there has been major violence, and they all have identified Antifa as the ramrod for the violence.”

Rule of Law or Rule of Mob?

The main objective in the study of mobs and militias is not, however, to decide which political disposition is most responsible for instigating violence. From what analysts in this field have surmised, the principal actors in America over the years have moved from side to side, as the actions of right-wing groups in Charlottesville in 2017 might indicate. The most important lesson to consider transcends partisanship. The U.S. Constitution authorized the establishment of the national guard and state defense forces, dedicated to upholding the rule of law. The actions of these militia groups, by contrast, represent law’s negation.

Tragically, we have moved beyond symbolic conflicts on campus to real struggles in the streets.

Indeed, an increase in militia activity, whether coming from the Left or the Right, together with the growing belief that such activity is inevitable, saps public confidence in government and in its ability to quell disorder. Unless it is resolutely countered by legitimate political authority, it opens the door to the disintegration of public order, as events in Europe in the 1920s showed.

The highly publicized incident in Portland at the end of August that preoccupied partisans on both sides—in which U.S. Marshals gunned down a fugitive who allegedly murdered a Trump supporter during a protest—was in the larger scheme of things a distraction. It missed what was most important for defending the government.

The more that the militias on the Right and Left are involved in open struggles with each other, the better the chances that one of them, and not the legitimate government, will win out. Militia group activity from one side tends to boost militia group activity on the other.

Nothing better illustrates the loss of legitimate government authority than what has been on open display in Portland and Seattle. The feckless politicians in both cities, with the assistance of their governors, pulled back from using the power of government to defend law and order, sold out their police departments, and caused the “retirement” of their police chiefs. They preferred to garner political support from those who favored the militia forces of the Left.

From the point of view of the militias, it has become clear that maintaining their own following is best served by continuing the struggle and the use or threats of use of violence. They gained local influence by showing that they were in charge of many of the streets and that they exercised as much or more control over parts of the city as the police. They could compel local officials to de-fund the police and “re-imagine” the local system of prosecuting what were once counted as crimes. They intimidated and in instances humiliated the politicians, showing the influence they had with large parts of the local populace.

In short, beneath the surface, the militias, not the government, were running the show.

The activities of militias on the Left are often linked to forces on the Left in the universities and to those in intellectual circles exercising the sanction of the so-called cancel culture. No doubt in many instances this connection is direct, as some of those active in the immediate political arena are themselves former or current students. The canceling of speeches and events on university campuses by “enemy” intellectuals, sometimes by the threat or use of coercion, has also involved participation by those connected to militias.

And yet, as important as it is for those who oppose these actions on campuses to resist them, it would be a mistake to think that by defending a speaker or protecting the right of a university event to be held, the battle against leftist militias is materially affected.

Tragically, we have moved beyond symbolic conflicts on campus to real struggles in the streets. New forces have been set loose, not unlike those that were unleashed in Italy and Russia a century ago. What will be the results of this presidential election? Will we reap the whirlwind from the growing contempt for the rule of law? We should ponder carefully Lincoln’s Lyceum address, delivered during another season of violence and lawlessness: “Let every man remember that to violate the law is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the charter of his own and his children’s liberty.”

Reader Discussion

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on November 03, 2020 at 07:31:59 am

The most notorious standout from the recent rioting is the total failure, nay the complicit indulgence, of local and State authority in the mob action. Respecting 'militia', and people really need to define that term in its proper context, one is reminded of the Battle of Athens, not Greece, but Tennessee, not in Leonidas' time, but in 1946! Then contemplate the significance of provisions like Art 16, cap 1 of the Vermont Constitution, which lays the meanderings of the likes of Justice Breyer to rest. The greatness of America is in the magnificent self-restraint our citizenry have exercised in the right to possess, bear and carry arms, and the control each has exercised in the absence the use of deadly force in view of the massive possession. Militias are not evil. They represent the hallmark of citizen participation, bringing their own arms to organization, in order to defend the polity against organized aggression, even under the color of law. They represent a threat only to those who engage in mass disorder of a dangerous kind. To see them emerging now is no surprise. Indeed, Portland could have used a 7th New York (a unit consisting of the finer families of NYC) of its own in fine fashion to bring order out of its chaos. The absence of a local militia is more of a threat to good political order than its existence.

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on November 06, 2020 at 06:07:47 am

What this comment raises is spot on. The handwringing of the Ceaser and Laconte echo the prejudices of urban elites who fear the people. While the authors may oppose the progressive woke terror, they worry about the people by themselves standing up to and resisting despotism being fostered on to them. The handwringing of we can't have that now... is the all but said in the background in the above article.

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Clifford Angell Bates, Jr
on November 03, 2020 at 09:34:02 am

Good summary of where we're at. Whither?

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Michael Bond
on November 03, 2020 at 09:35:41 am

The issue is one of legitimacy…if Marxian prosecutors, mayors and governors allow riots and looting to occur with impunity militias gain the same legitimacy as those who played a critical and central role in the War of Independence. Americans are facing the prospect of having to fight a second war of Independence and as such well-organized militias may well play and equally critical and central role…hence the brilliance of the 2nd Amendment.

This election cannot and should not be compared to past American elections; the closest analog is 1932 Germany that paved the way for Adolf Hitler and Hindenburg won the election. To wit; Biden is an establishment figurehead and nothing more than a Trojan Horse and Kamala Harris nothing more than the culmination of a Soros strategy to put black women in positions of power across the United States i.e. the Oprah Winfrey strategy which assumes wrongly they have deep insight and form a bridge as did Obama…while being virtually impervious to criticism.

Very simply, if Marxians gain power they will still send their lumpen into the streets to destroy but this time on a massive scale to create “Y’all tired yet” Planned Chaos which will only end when Obama, the voice of reason, is called to lead for “the good of the country”. Marxians will then hold that the Constitution has failed…with the end result being a social justice blank check like that of South African so admired by Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Obama.

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Adler Pfingsten
on November 06, 2020 at 06:09:59 am

Absolutely.. the costs of not using every resource at our hands to prevent this horrible thing from coming to be. Here I recommend what Burke said:
"Whilst men are linked together, they easily and speedily communicate the alarm of any evil design. They are enabled to fathom it with common counsel, and to oppose it with united strength. Whereas, when they lie dispersed, without concert, order, or discipline, communication is uncertain, counsel difficult, and resistance impracticable. Where men are not acquainted with each other’s principles, nor experienced in each other’s talents, nor at all practised in their mutual habitudes and dispositions by joint efforts in business; no personal confidence, no friendship, no common interest, subsisting among them; it is evidently impossible that they can act a public part with uniformity, perseverance, or efficacy. In a connection, the most inconsiderable man, by adding to the weight of the whole, has his value, and his use; out of it, the greatest talents are wholly unserviceable to the public. No man, who is not inflamed by vain-glory into enthusiasm, can flatter himself that his single, unsupported, desultory, unsystematic endeavours, are of power to defeat the subtle designs and united cabals of ambitious citizens. When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."

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Clifford Angell Bates, Jr
on November 03, 2020 at 10:11:41 am

The article at its heart is premised that we actually have the “rule of law” in this country. We do not. We have one rule for the elites and another for the untermenschen. Federal judges effectively make law through fiat. Militia’s are the natural result of this situation. Our country was founded on the violent overthrow of a corrupt regime. Are you so blind to the fact that it should not happen again?

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Mikey Serrano
on November 03, 2020 at 10:28:35 am

This is stuff we already know laced with admonitions we've already heard. It's like a mother telling her son who's about to go into the military, "Be careful." Neither the mother's admonishment nor the essayists' lecture can have any affect on what is done thereafter.

And further, beyond "obey the law," what would the essayists have us do in order to face the coming storm. One commenter, relying perhaps on colonial history and the history of the American Revolution, suggests that militias can be a good thing, a matter of lawfully-armed, lawfully-run, well- organized self-defense. Surely such militias would have protected the public in Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis, St. Louis and Kenosha had such militias been deployed, once it was apparent that police departments had been ordered to stand down and to become mere passive observers rather than active deterrents of lawlessness. Yet one knows for certain that, had such well-armed militias been deployed by the people, Blue state and local governments would have acted forcefully to subdue, arrest and prosecute them, while continuing to ignore the living lie of Michelle Obama's "mostly peaceful protests." And we know for a certainty that in Blue States and Blue Cities the laws are such that using a firearm lawfully is all but impossible, despite the Second Amendment (in no small part because the "Kennedy Roberts Supreme Court has decided to ignore that part of the constitution) and that even when doing so lawfully one faces the certain threat of criminal prosecution (just look at St. Louis.)

The essayists further weaken their less-than-useful attempt at providing wisdom by arguing that lawless militias are a bipartisan matter. They fail to recognize that, from the distinctly anti-Federalist Shay's Rebellion, to the Jefferson-inspired mobs which President John Adams rightfully railed against, to more recent years when the Democrat Party deployed the KKK, the armed-enforcers of its anti-Black, anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic bigotry, to what the Democrats called the "Summer of Love" in 2020 when Antifa was tolerated if not sponsored and Black Lives Matter was officially blessed by the Democrat Party, violent mob and militia lawlessness has almost exclusively been an activity of the left and very often of the Democrat Party.

Thus the essayists are misleading when they state: "But in today’s climate ... mayors and governors (are) acquiescing to or siding with the mobs and militias...." "For the most part, however, it is no secret that the GREATER PART (my emphasis) of the recent violence in the cities has originated from mobs linked to Leftist militias affiliated in some fashion with Antifa activists and Black Lives Matter." Having equated active militia mobs with the right and with the left, the essayists thus suggest that state and local governments are "acquiescing to or siding with" the right and the left. That is false. Only the militia mobs of left have been aided and abetted by government and only by Democrat government. Indeed, no active, violent militia mobs of the right are even identified by the essayists.

A useful admonition regarding organized lawlessness: Americans should forcefully condemn BLM and Antifa and all who fund, support or condone them. It is they who are solely and wholly responsible for causing, aiding and abetting mob and militia violence from 20016 to 2020. Americans must also condemn lawless, destructive attacks on President Trump and his supporters, as they were deployed by the Obama Administration before and the FBI, the Special Counsel and the Democrat-run House Impeachment Committee after the 20016 election, and by the Antifa and BLM mobs during the 20016 Inauguration and continuously thereafter. A blanket, unqualified, strong, bi-partisan condemnation is warranted and badly needed. It must include the mainstream left media and their mindless talking heads, Big Tech and their insidious, kleptocratic owners; a long-list of "useful idiots" among Fortune 500 companies, the Hollywood elite, hundreds of professional athletes, and the Democrat Party and its leadership, including its current candidates for president and vice president.

Had the essayists done that, their essay would have been helpful.

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on November 03, 2020 at 10:39:24 am

Excellent article. I would add that the rule of law is also undermined by one party states using militias to enforce their ideological programs, e.g., the brown-shirts in Germany. In this framework, the call to defund the police is the first step to replacing them with "official" militias. Pretty cynical, I know. Keep up the good work.

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Ben Jacobs
on November 03, 2020 at 11:06:12 am

You wrote: ".....an increase in militia activity, whether coming from the Left or the Right, together with the growing belief that such activity is inevitable, saps public confidence in government and in its ability to quell disorder. ..."

As you know, many Mayors and a few Governors have ordered their police/National Guard units to "stand down" while riots, burning, and looting take place. I would suggest that those orders are what "....sap public confidence in government and its ability...."

Under the system of the US, citizens delegate police powers to local governments. But that delegation does not ipso facto remove the power from citizens to protect themselves, their families, and their neighborhoods (including retail stores) from riots, vandalism, and theft. If THAT were the case, the "Korean snipers" of L.A. would still be in prison.

One doubts that you want to attempt to make the case that citizens should casually observe wanton destruction of livelihoods in their own neighborhood. Rather, I think you should make the case that there are "good" militias who have every legal and moral and Constitutional right to step in and act when Government(s) deliberately fail to do so. Somewhere in the Declaration is a line about '...........a long train of abuses......'--which certainly applies here.

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L A Stich
on November 03, 2020 at 12:04:10 pm

This article incorrectly asserts that most political violence comes from the Left. As the DHS has repeatedly pointed out, this is far from the case. The overwhelming majority of cases of political violence come from the Right. The graphic below was provided on the DHS website.


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Image of Whitney
on November 03, 2020 at 13:20:31 pm

I followed the link and found it informative, but it does not say what you suggest it does. Its reporting is limited to domestic terrorism, which is obviously not synonymous with political violence. The latter term I take as including the type of violence we see taking place nearly nightly in places like Portland and Seattle, but which are not incorporated in the illustration you provide.

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Image of John
on November 03, 2020 at 15:35:22 pm

That chart, in itself, shows nothing whatsoever that would support your assertion that the Right is responsible for most violence. Consider that fully one third (35%) of the "terrorism" cited is against either religious communities or law enforcement. It is doubtful that the Right would be targeting them.
Also fully 45 % of the "terrorism" was listed as "threats" which of course could be no more than some knucklehead exclaiming that he wants to see Hillary Clinton hung. another 12% were "plots." One must assume that since there is another category for attacks, that these plots were unexecuted (or more likely the result of FBI instigation as has been their wont). And 17% is classified as "weapons stockpiling." I suspect that since I have 2,000 rounds of 9mm ammunition, I also could be charged with weapons stockpiling. This is not an excessive amount if one frequently visits firing ranges.

Rethink your position. Try to examine the data as the data lacks granularity and is therefore open to all manner of interpretations.

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on November 03, 2020 at 18:06:52 pm

Sry but you are wrong and the DHS study is flawed and you are reading it wrong.

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Mark Kaulius
on November 03, 2020 at 12:20:35 pm

I'd like to join a militia. Where do I sign up?

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Lipo Davis
on November 03, 2020 at 15:03:37 pm

Excellent article. The rise of the militias is a threat to the Republic and the core value of all modern democracies--the rule of law. Perhaps the militias are not evil--as one comment herein claims? If not--I would hate to live on the difference between the evil and the malevolent. The peaceful contestation and transition of political power without the threat of violence is the cornerstone of democracy. Thugs in "camo" do not represent the universal values of democratic societies.

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Anthony Raymond Brunello
on November 03, 2020 at 20:05:20 pm

What is missing from this discussion is what militias are by definition and what the militias are for. The constitution of militias is actually codified in Federal law in 10 U.S.C 246 and it encompasses every adult of military age. Ergo, militias are an American institution whose existence is not only defined by U.S. Statues but guaranteed under the Second Amendment. The purpose of a militia is to serve as a citizen reserve to be called up in times of need. Another role of militias is pointedly described by James Madison in Federalist 46 and that is to overthrow a tyrannical government and re-secure the future of our freedoms.

Thus those who argue that militias per se are dangerous to the republic have it exactly 180 degrees out.

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Brian Wilson
on November 03, 2020 at 18:26:09 pm

Some have commented on the value of a peaceful transition of power.
I share that favorable assessment and recognize that "thugs in camo" are not representative of that value.
Nor are thugs in black masks no matter how anti-fascist or anti-thug they purport to be.

How does one confront those thugs? How does one deal with those who adamantly refuse to reason with opponents; who characterize them as evil, racist, etc and demand, yes, DEMAND no longer just silence, but approbation. There is a point beyond which patient and deliberate reserve is counterproductive.
Let us hope it does not come to this....
BUT What If, in the Germany of the 1920/30's, thugs in camo presented themselves as a counterforce to the Thugs in Brownshirts? What if these thugs presented a coherent alternative to the Brownshirts? And what if that alternative was sufficiently robust, sufficiently cohesive and reflective of traditional German values to deter the industrialists from casting their lot with Hitler?

Counterfactuals are fun. Would we, in hindsight, castigate these thugs in tarnung?

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Image of gabe
on November 04, 2020 at 14:13:01 pm


"I'd like to join a militia. Where do I sign up?"

I would suggest you contact your local branch of the FBI as they doubtless have numerous of their agents embedded in your local militias. In fact, in some past instances, FBI agents comprised the majority of the militia.

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Guttenburgs Press and Brewery
on November 04, 2020 at 01:10:32 am

[…] Electoral College That Critics Call Chicanery Gives the Whole Nation a Voice – W. Sellers/CJ The Rule of Law vs. the Militias – James Ceaser & Joseph Loconte at Law & Liberty A New Civil War? Not Bloody Likely […]

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