UPRISING: Militias’ Warning of Excessive Federal Power Comes True – But Where Are They?

Amy Cooter has been tracking developments within the U.S. domestic militia movement during the nation’s uprisings.  

Federal agents use crowd control munitions to disperse Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland, Oregon, on July 20, 2020. (AP/Noah Berger)

By Amy Cooter 
Vanderbilt University

Militias and many other Second Amendment advocates have long argued that their primary desire to own firearms – often, many of them – is rooted in a need to protect themselves and their families from a tyrannical federal government, or to discourage the government from becoming tyrannical in the first place.

But with the mayor of a major U.S. city warning that “tyranny and dictatorship” have already arrived on the streets – in the shape of unidentified federal troops using questionable tactics – militia groups appear reluctant to throw their lot in with protesters. In fact, many have been supporting government action to suppress peaceful demonstrators.

Certainly the scenes in Portland have alarmed civil liberties groups:
Heavily armed and camouflaged federal officers, wearing no name tags or other insignia, are on the streets of Portland, Oregon, and have teargassed and arrested seemingly peaceful protesters with little or no provocation. President Donald Trump has said similar forces are coming to other cities – many run by Democrats.

To some, it may look exactly like what the militias have been warning of.

As a scholar of the U.S. domestic militia movement, I have seen in recent months a new divide emerging in these groups.

Some, often calling themselves the “boogaloo movement,” see the current political unrest as an opportunity to wrest power from an overbearing federal government. Others support police and their enforcement of strict law and order, even if that means authorities using powerful weapons and overwhelming force.

Shifting Online Dynamics

Assessing what these groups are doing, and how they are discussing recent events, has become more difficult for observers like me in recent weeks. On June 30, Facebook announced it had removed hundreds of accounts and groups allegedly related to the “boogaloo movement.”

The move came in the wake of several arrests of alleged boogaloo adherents across the country, including three in Nevada accused of plotting to “firebomb” federal land and one in California accused of killing one police officer and critically injuring another.

Boogaloo groups still have a social media presence and, until recently when the portion of the site they used was closed, a large presence on the Reddit discussion site, where comments are loosely regulated and people can post anonymously.

Now the movement’s public face is smaller and harder to find without insider knowledge. For instance, until recently it was common to see groups with the words “big igloo” in their names, a play on the word “boogaloo.” After Facebook’s crackdown, some groups are using the word “icehouse” or other synonyms that may not be as obvious. They are therefore harder for algorithms to find, but also for people to find – whether to observe or to join in.

A meme showing federal officials in camouflage arresting a person and putting them into an unmarked van.
Some “back the boog” social media groups are sharing memes like this, warning of government exercising too much power. (Big Doc’s Icehouse Bonanza/Facebook)

‘Backing the Boog’

The groups who “back the boogaloo” imply, or even outright declare, that the U.S. is no longer a free country, and generally call for supporters to oppose, violently if necessary, federal forces and the government they represent.

In the days after George Floyd’s death, I saw some of these groups call for members to participate in protests opposing police violence. But I have not seen similar calls in response to federal officers’ violence in Portland.

That may change if federal forces do appear in other places, especially areas geographically closer to active “back the boog” supporters. It is also possible that the groups are discussing protests or other actions in less public ways, in private messages or on platforms like Parler, that have marketed themselves as friendlier toward a variety of conservative views.

‘Backing the Blue’

There are still militia members who support police, often called “back the blue” groups. Commentators have observed that silence from them and other Second Amendment supporters certainly seems to be hypocritical, at best, and possibly supportive of tyranny in the current context.

That’s not the way they see it. They argue that one of the few legitimate functions of the federal government is to protect citizens from others who might infringe on their rights or safety. They support police who say that Portland authorities have failed to protect regular people from violent protesters.

That’s also what these groups claimed happened in Seattle’s autonomous zone – though they rely on news sources that describe the protesters as inherently dangerous and hampering business and free association. They seemingly ignore or discount other reports that these characterizations are exaggerated. In my research, I found that militia members were likely to exclusively trust sources like Fox News or even more conservative sites for their information, and recent data confirms that such sources may strongly shape viewers’ understanding of political and other events.

Federal officers beat and pepper-spray a Navy veteran standing in peaceful demonstration.

Mistaken Perceptions?

This view of protesters as violent is amplified by some “back the blue” members’ belief that the demonstrators are “Marxist” members of antifa, a mostly nonviolent leaderless collective movement generally opposing fascism.

For example, one Facebook group shared a video of Christopher David, the Navy veteran beaten by federal officers in Portland, talking about his experience. A commentator responded, “The end of the video tell[s] the tale, he’s going to raise money for [Black Lives Matter]! He is a liar he went there to stand with his commie comrades.”

Scholarship on conservative groups argues that they use anti-communist language to cast political opponents as not real Americans who have thus have forfeited any protections U.S. citizens should have.

Anti-Liberal Rhetoric

Some other “back the blue” members see hypocrisy in liberals, noting that few, if any, on the left objected when Oregon State Police officers killed LaVoy Finicum during the 2016 standoff between federal officials and armed supporters of rancher Cliven Bundy during a land dispute elsewhere in Oregon.

There are sharing pages like one on a well-known conservative satire site that suggests the same Oregon authorities opposing federal officers tolerate violent behavior from protesters because of “identity politics” – the idea that certain groups favored by liberals, in this case, Black people, are held to a different and more lax standard.

Image shared on Facebook of a modified Gadsden flag.

Several Facebook pages shared an image of a modified Gadsden flag, with a Black Lives Matter fist and promising “we will tread” as “proof” that Portland protesters would take away others’ rights, including the right to bear arms, if given the chance and thus do not deserve protection themselves. One comment in support of such a post read, “I[’m] glad to see I’m not the only person happy to see these commies being snatched up and dragged away. Yes, I know that this could just as easily be turned around and that we could also be dragged away in broad daylight. But if they aren’t stopped now, and they do somehow manage to gain complete power, we’ll get dragged away anyways. Better them than us, before it’s too late.”

Federal intervention has not stopped the Portland protests from growing, but some analysts expect Trump to increase the response in an attempt to appeal to his supporters as the country heads into the November election. Many people fear that move would spark violence.

The “back the blue” militia members generally respect law and order enough to not fulfill their threats of violence or criminal action – but the “back the boog” groups may not be so restrained. The “back the blue” groups may also act if federal action escalates, and members believe they are needed or useful to help defend the interests of average citizens.The Conversation

Amy Cooter is a senior lecturer in sociology at Vanderbilt University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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19 comments for “UPRISING: Militias’ Warning of Excessive Federal Power Comes True – But Where Are They?

  1. Will
    August 4, 2020 at 23:25

    Finnicum probably shouldn’t have pointed his gun at the cops…but then I think he probably wanted to martyr himself to start an Oregon redneck style Helter skelter

  2. Zhu
    August 4, 2020 at 23:23

    Baci when Obama legalized “disappearing” people and “targetted assassinations” (murder by deathvaquads), lots of Dems were telling mevir was ok, Obama was trustworthy, he was on their side blah, blah, blah. Even after Awlaki, fsthrr and son, wete droned to desth, Obama fans made excuses. Now they are crying no fair!” and Republicans are naking excuses ….

  3. The Heretic
    August 3, 2020 at 13:39

    “seemingly peaceful protesters ” ??

    You haven’t been paying attention

  4. Zhu
    August 3, 2020 at 03:50

    I always figured that militianiks’ pretensions about countering an oppressive governmeng were hypocrisy. Probably they are in the tradition of Regulstors, Vigilantes, etc. They are more likely to become right wing death squads, as in Latin Ametica, than defenders of Democracy. (Not that left wing death squads would be a bit better! )

  5. August 2, 2020 at 19:58

    They’re never on the right side of any issue and use the 2A for nefarious purposes. They’re a bunch of racist cowards who don’t really give a damn about anyone’s rights per se. Sure, they give lip service to federal overreach and Constitutional rights but only as applied to themselves. They’re more than happy to intervene to harm people of color and women. IOW, they’re the same standard issue male and white supremacists who make a hobby of turning so-called guns rights into an issue if they wish to do harm to that same such category of people who they don’t deem to have rights.

  6. delia ruhe
    August 2, 2020 at 00:59

    Yes, I think those militias’ promise to show up, armed to the teeth, when govt gets too ambitious with its power should be read as “highly selective.” If the electorate chooses the Dems for the White House and both Houses of Congress, you can bet that the promise will be loudly articulated again. And we may even hear a few actual threats. As for actually carrying out any of those promises or threats, well, I think that’s beyond “selective.”

  7. August 1, 2020 at 22:00

    If only there actually were real ‘commies’, ie, Bolsheviks, on the streets with disciplined Red militias and Red Guards built from workers defense units defending strikes and occupations, that also incorporate existing black defense militias like the No Fucking Around Coalition, veterans, etc. With enough numbers, weapons and discipline they’d protect demonstrations and protests, clean out the cops, Fed abductors, national guard, and the rightwing militias and private security detachments that support these state thugs. Many don’t see the need for this now, but likely it will be soon when such a need becomes obvious and very pressing.

    • revjen45
      August 4, 2020 at 11:52

      1.) After seeing NFAC’s gunhandling (i.e. negligent discharge hitting 3 of their own) I don’t want to be within range of such incompetence.
      2) After seeing Oberfuehrer Grandmaster Jay’s monolog with his AR I find the man too ignorant to be taken seriously. If that’s their level of knowledge and proficiency they had better watch out what they wish for, because they just might get it.

      I am a degreed Professional Gunsmith and certified instructor, so I can recognize egregious ignorance when it is so prominently on display.

  8. Don K
    July 31, 2020 at 19:13

    From what I’ve seen of the militia movements, they want little to do with decadent and chaotic cities. They have little urge to control them. Instead, they see the cities being torn apart, something we are seeing to some extent. They tend to think that their organizations will only be necessary when the cities can no longer feed themselves, and will come to the burbs and smaller cities looking for food and plunder.
    I don’t belong to any such organizatio, but keep an eye on what’s happening. I see the logic in their thinking.

  9. Grand Vizier
    July 31, 2020 at 17:23

    As long as the government is targeting minorities and progressives the militias are happy to sit back and watch them advance their agenda.

  10. Jim Hartz
    July 31, 2020 at 16:31

    Good to see someone has an eagle-eye on the development of the Militia/Patriot movement which I am aware of from Michigan, up above the Pontiac area, like the town of Goodrich. And it seems some of those people–or people with their view–have migrated to Nevada, perhaps a town called Chandler.

    Anyway, good to see an update on that cluster of increasingly complicated–if not incoherent–views.

  11. Dfnslblty
    July 31, 2020 at 15:15

    Ms Cooter, we do not want militias to aid us; they are decidedly not helpful.
    fed.g00ns and self-appointed right-wing militias have the same agendas.
    Impeach potus Again, and Convict.

  12. Deniz
    July 31, 2020 at 15:08

    Empowering a disenfranchised minority group to overthrow the majority right out of the CIA regime change playbook. It has been used in numerous countries throughout their bloody history – there are simply too many examples to cite Why should anyone believe that this time it is different and a real organic people’s movement unadulterated by the Intelligence Agencies or DNC elements? The last genuine people’s movement was Occupy Wall Street and you can tell that it was genuine, because it was shut down. Liberal, freedom-loving Obama couldn’t tolerate students sitting on Wall Street’s front steps and now they are copasetic with protestors partitioning off Seattle and Portland?

    Perhaps the Alt-Right isn’t actually as dumb as CNN and MSNBC tell us they are.

    • SRH
      August 2, 2020 at 02:38

      “Empowering a disenfranchised minority group to overthrow the majority right out of the CIA regime change playbook” is not remotely the case. The CIA gives support to privileged, wealthy elites in states with leftist governments, elites who refuse to accept democracy whenever it threatens their wealth and power. Do you really think that the CIA loves genuinely oppressed minority groups?

  13. Michael McNulty
    July 31, 2020 at 15:04

    People contained by people dressed in green are not facing a police force but a military. US foreign aggression has come home.

  14. Aaron
    July 31, 2020 at 14:09

    Probably most of these types are uneducated morons. They are lost in their minds and form their views on current events from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and his ilk. There is I think, now more than ever, a kind of philosophical argument to be made for the necessity of the right to bear arms. Who could watch the armed federal troops and not wonder what could happen if the public was completely unarmed? But these militia guys are not of the Mel Gibson in The Patriot kind of good guys. They are basically racist a-holes. And they seem to be totally ignorant that all of their heroes are actually more than anything simply Zionist shills who would throw them under the bus for Israel like in all of our Middle East wars, not for America and freedom, but just to protect the interests and safety of Israel. They are being used and played and don’t even get it. And I suppose many of them are ex-military guys who should know better. They are confused and misguided. Another disturbing and bizarre thing happening that dovetails with your scholarship is Charles Manson. He was all about inciting this kind of race war, he called it Helter Skelter, and the murders carried out by his “family” were to ignite a race war. So there is a kind of pathological psychopathic element at work in all of this – sick and twisted weirdos at all levels of society taking sides and then switching sides and inciting more chaos on purpose to achieve some fu-ked up apocalyptic end game or rapture. And strangely enough, each group feels like it has God on it’s side. It seems like we are in deep trouble, and everybody is looking to false prophets to find the promised land, and anybody can be a scapegoat depending on the current days news cycle. We really don’t know who to trust anymore, some want “law and order” one day, but they sow chaos at the same time? What is not understood, and is paramount now, is that we should all strive for law and justice for EVERYBODY, not just for the rich or the blacks or the whites or whatever, but for every single person, and the police and agents need to be held to account, and politicians and bankers on Wall Street also. This is the crux of the issue causing these problems. There isn’t a cohesive system of justice, so naturally various members and groups are indignant, and they should be, but they are going about correcting it in a confused, misguided way.

    • k.marks
      August 1, 2020 at 05:37

      this didn’t just start recently,this is a culmination of righteous anger that began before the nation’s independence,damn near every other form of struggle has been violently put down.it is past the time for the state to learn they do not have the monopoly on violence,how many “good protesters” need to be murdered before fools see what they are actually witnessing?,the willful ignorance comes with a price to be paid by those unable or unwilling to alter the reality we are living in.and state will always try to co-opt any movement of the masses but to say this is a “regime change” op is stupidity and it’s not the “jews” or illuminati or any other moronic idiocy

    • Zhu
      August 2, 2020 at 00:13

      “Zionist shills” Ah, yes, always blame scapegoats! In fact, we are to blanw, not anyone else.

    • SRH
      August 2, 2020 at 02:40

      “Probably most of these types are uneducated morons.” Unlike you, Aaron, of course. You’re a better person all round, aren’t you?

Comments are closed.