The Militia Movement in America: Terror Comes Home
Conspiratorial thinking has always lurked around the fringes of political thought in America. Suspicious groups distrust the Catholics, the Masons, the Jews and others, believing one group or another is secretly in control of everything and trying to retain power despite heroic efforts to shine light on their nefarious deeds. The economic crisis facing American farmers led to the spreading of this kind of thinking across rural America in the 1970s and 1980s. This was the Sovereign Citizen Movement, which taught that the government had been illegal since the passage of the 14th Amendment—which redefined citizenship and contained important due process and equal protection clauses.
Article continues after this newspaper image from the April 22, 1995, issue of the Marietta Journal (Marietta, Georgia)
Members of this movement and the Patriot movement believed that they alone lived by the Constitution and that they were protecting their gun rights. They believed that the government was being run solely for the benefit of a wealthy elite who wanted to form a one-world government under control of the United Nations. They felt they should band together in armed paramilitary groups called Militias. Some felt that eventually a government action would be so egregious that it would set off an armed revolution and the government would be overthrown.
Two government actions in the early 1990s seemed to fit this paranoid thinking. The first was the standoff at Ruby Ridge, during which Randy Weaver's dog, son and wife were shot by federal agents. The second was the prolonged siege of the Branch Davidians that ended in a final, bloody assault on their compound and the loss of 82 lives. Militia members felt this was government misconduct and gross over-reaction to what they believed were minor infractions of gun control laws.
On April 19, 1995, the second anniversary of the final assault on the Branch Davidians, Timothy McVeigh parked a rental truck in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City and jogged away from it. The powerful bomb inside blew up, killing 168 people and wounding hundreds more. Later, McVeigh's getaway car was stopped because it had no license plate. The state policeman who stopped him noticed McVeigh had a concealed weapon and arrested him. While he was in custody, the FBI found where the truck had been rented and the rental agency owner helped produce drawings of three suspects, one of which strongly resembled McVeigh and led to his arrest for the bombing. McVeigh was tried for the crime, found guilty, and executed in 2001. His accomplice, Terry Nichols, got multiple life sentences. The armed revolt they hoped to set off never occurred, and the Militia movement faded. But it did not go away.
In fact, after the bombing there were two standoffs between federal authorities and members of the Militia movement. In 1996 there was an 81-day siege against the Montana Freemen. In 1997 there was a week-long standoff with another group calling themselves the Republic of Texas. Neither of these led to the loss of life.