May 21, 2022 | International Centre for Counter-terrorism

Militia Violent Extremists in the United States: Understanding the Evolution of the Threat

May 21, 2022 | International Centre for Counter-terrorism

Militia Violent Extremists in the United States: Understanding the Evolution of the Threat

Excerpt

In the United States, militia violent extremists (MVEs) embrace violence in service of antigovernment and anti-authority ideology. MVEs are just one part of the militia movement: movement adherents who cannot be regarded as violent extremists hold similar suspicions of government but eschew violence.

There is significant overlap between the ideas of the nonviolent and violent aspects of the militia movement, and both aspects must be examined to adequately understand MVEs. This policy paper introduces MVEs alongside the broader militia movement, including the movement’s history, organisation, ideology, and violent activity. However, it is important to distinguish between nonviolent militia activists and those who engage in violent extremism. Most activists in the movement do not engage in violent activity, and in the US, advocacy of militia ideology decoupled from violent extremism is protected by First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly. Americans also enjoy Second Amendment rights to bear arms. Despite the use of the term militia to describe the movement, not all adherents belong to an organised paramilitary group. Indeed, such groups may sometimes be unlawful even if they are non-violent as many states bar unauthorised private militia groups.

The threat MVEs pose to US law enforcement, government officials, and civilians has grown
following an increase in militia group membership since 2008. Federal, state, and local law
enforcement continue to disrupt plots targeting government employees and the broader public.
MVEs have also become a regular presence at violent protests. The most prominent display in
this regard was the 6 January 2021 attack on the US Capitol, during which MVEs were part of
the group that sought to interfere with certification of the 2020 US presidential election results.
While MVEs represented only a small percentage of participants, there is evidence that members
of the MVE contingent prepared for the attack and deployed a range of violent tactics during the
events of 6 January.

Though MVEs and the associated militia movement exist primarily in the United States, the
movement has spread to Canada. Certain national militia networks in the United States have
established chapters there, and the Canadian government has designated both the Three
Percenters and Proud Boys as terrorist entities.

Dr. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is a scholar, practitioner, author, and entrepreneur who is the founder and chief executive officer of Valens Global and also leads a project on domestic violent extremism for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Dr. Colin P. Clarke is the director of policy and research at The Soufan Group and an Associate Fellow at ICCT-The Hague. Samuel Hodgson is an analyst at Valens Global, where he focuses on white supremacist extremist organisations. Follow Daveed on Twitter @DaveedGR. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, non-partisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

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Issues:

Domestic Extremism