Militia – a better defense to internal disorder

Summary: We face an expanding list of threats, natural and otherwise. We need new ways to prepare for them. In this, as in so many things, the Founders give us sound advice. Militias can provide a key component of our preparations for almost any threat – such as those we face today. Available in larger numbers than police, community-based, less militaristic than the other armed forces, and cheaper than both.

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By Ole, AdobeStock – 290264891.

The Founders’ wisdom about guns

“If this country doesn’t give us what we want, then we will burn down this system and replace it. …I could be speaking …figuratively. I could be speaking literally. It’s a matter of interpretation.”
— Hawk Newsome, President of Greater New York Black Lives Matter, interviewed on Fox’s “The Story”, June 24.

Chicago Tribune: “‘Guns are flying off the shelf.’

CNN: “Gun and ammunition sales soar as defund-the-police movement grows.

As I will describe in a few days, we face the possibility of a crash in police action – and a rise in crime. The Left is working to decrease their effectiveness: defunding them, delegitimizing them, and stripping away effective methods. In response, police are likely to work less (why put yourself in danger for low pay to protect people who do not respect you?) – with an increase in retirements (loss of experienced people) and increased difficulty in recruiting the high-quality people they need (its not a wise career choice for people with options). Crime rates have already reversed their long decline, with stunningly rapid increases in 2020 – such as NYC – (with some cites’ homicide rates already at Third-Word levels).

And there is the possibility of a return to the large-scale national rioting we experienced in 1964 – 1971, in which the National Guard occupied many inner cities in spring and summer.

A natural and inevitable result: many Americans see the trend and prefer not to wait for the results of this experiment in social engineering. They are arming themselves to better protect their communities and families. We do not need an Aristotle to predict the ugly result of armed mobs confronting armed mobs, large or small. As usual, the Founders anticipated our need, and prescribed a better solution.

“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” {For more about this, see the Cornell Law School’s analysis.}

The Founders drew on long history. Neither the need nor the solution are new, just effective.

Militia: helping nations for a millennium

Militias have their origins deep in western history, back to the 7th Century Anglo-Saxon fyrd — with military service obligatory for every able-bodied freeman. Membership in the fyrd constituted one of the three “Common Burdens” owned to the King by landowners in 8th century England (plus repair of fortifications and bridges).

The Assize of Arms by Henry II of England (1181).

“(1)  Whoever holds a knight’s fee must have a hauberk and helmet and shield and lance, and all knights should have as many hauberks and helmets and shields and lances as they have knights’ fees within their lordship.

“(2)  Whichever free laymen who have chattels or rent of 16 marks should have a hauberk and helmet and shield and lance; whichever free layman has chattels or rent of 10 marks must have a light hauberk [aubergel], an iron cap and a lance.

“(3)  Likewise all burgesses and the whole body of free men must have a gambeson [wambais], an iron cap, and a lance.

“(4)  To that end everyone must swear an oath before the Feast of St Hilary [Jan 13] that they will have these arms and will carry them faithfully for our lord king Henry, son of the Empress Matilda, and that he will be armed according to this order in allegiance to our lord king and his realm. ….

“(10)  Also let justices cause to be said in every county through which they travel, if any does not have arms in accordance with this order, the king shall take his life and limbs and not only his land and chattels. …”

Note the fourth section. Militias have an inherently problematic loyalty to the central Government. Unfortunately, having them swear an oath might not guarantee loyalty and obedience in today’s secular culture. Swear to whom in an atheist culture?

The history of militia in post-medieval Britain and later America has two themes. First, growing central control. Second, militias were seen as a “constitutional force” to guarantee liberty, as a counter-balance against the State’s standing army.

Militias have given great service to America. They were the only defense for Britain’s North America colonies. After the Revolution, militias formed the basis of America’s voluntary mobilization system. They provided the majority of defenders until after the Spanish-American War. For example, in the late 1850’s American had approximately 75 thousand uniformed militia – all self-financed. Drawn from a population of under 30 million, that’s equivalent to approximately 820 thousand today.

Other than the occasional war, our 19th Century militia served in much the same way as our present National Guard, providing valuable help during national disasters and civil disturbances. The modern National Guard was created with the Militia Act of 1903, replacing militia. But there is still a role for a militia.

An American militia for the 21st Century

Although few realize it, we have militias today. From US Code: Title 10 – Armed Forces; Subtitle A – General Military Law; Part I – Organization and General Military Powers; Chapter 13 – The Militia (source here).

“(a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.

“(b) The classes of the militia are –

• the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and
• the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia.”

What does an “unorganized militia” look like? Their key characteristics …

  1. These armed forces are loyal to the State, under its central control, who have some training.
  2. Its members are part-time volunteers authorized to bear and use arms at the direction of the State.
  3. They operate with some degree of self-organization and local control.
  4. Its members are drawn from and operating in the community, able to mobilize quickly when and as needed (like the Minute Men).
  5. They are a trained and armed force intermediate between the police and National Guard.

Twenty States already have militias, but most lack a meaningful role. Many police forces have “reserves” (e.g., New York City Police Department Auxiliary Police). At the lower end, there are loosely organized training programs (e.g., FEMA’s CERT). The legal and historical framework exists to rebuilt militia into an effective tool for America, on a larger scale than any of these used today.

Properly used, militias’ unique strengths.

Militia can defend the United States by mobilizing the strong social cohesion of our local communities. That is, they can defend their communities against natural disasters and civil unrest. As America becomes more diverse, with less social cohesion, bouts of civil unrest (so frequent in US history) will become more severe.

Militias are an intermediary measure: trained, local, and available in large numbers. The National Guard are a heavy-handed response, both “foreign” and military to a community. Police are too few – if their numbers are increased to handle peak demands, they tend to become either corrupt or intrusive during normal times (Proverbs 16:27: “idle hands are the devil’s workshop”). Militias are cheaper than either.

Militias are self-organizing to some degree (local volunteers under local leaders), although not self-supported or self-training.

If given concealed carry permits, a militia can put more trained and armed citizens on the streets.

When protecting their homes, a militia can display resilience under horrific circumstances. Like that of the elderly and boys defending Berlin from the Russians in the closing days of WWII. They fought as determinedly as the Wehrmacht’s professionals did at Stalingrad (the standard for elite troops in the annals of world history).

Trusted by and familiar with their community, members of a militia can operate more effectively under many circumstances than National Guard units. They can be trusted by the community, with greater ability than strangers to use force when and to the degree necessary. That is, they have the ability to use appropriate force while retaining public confidence.

Militias are, of course, no panacea. They have weaknesses different from those of police and the National Guard.

  1. Local organization and control inevitably creates wide variation in unit quality – and corruption.
  2. Standardization might prove difficult to achieve in key aspects, such as recruitment, doctrine, equipment, and training. Especially if militias are financed by local governments or their own members.
  3. Focus and seriousness often prove difficult to maintain in militias, as most units will see little or no action. Nineteenth-Century militias often degenerated into social clubs.
  4. They lack the training and experience of police and the National Guard (although many will be veterans). Rivalries among the three groups can prove disastrous.

A militia in action

What will they do during an emergency? We already have local police, state police, National Guard, Federal law enforcement agencies (such as the FBI and ATF), State and Federal disaster response organizations (e.g. FEMA – the Federal Emergency Management Agency), and even the Reserve and Regular military. Plus a host of international and non-governmental agencies. Their fast-response manpower could play a vital role (e.g., in a natural or man-made disaster).

Does it help to add another organization to this mix during a disaster? Militias need not have their own command and control hierarchy. They could be limited to providing manpower to work under the direction of other organizations. To the extent that militias include people with a wide range of skills (e.g., engineers, health care, construction), they could provide essential help. But in many situations, unskilled but disciplined manpower makes the difference.

The debate about the utility of militias goes back to the Revolution. Since George Washington, American army officers have believed that militias not directly under their control could not be relied upon in combat (somethings they were right, sometimes wrong). On the other hand, the National Guard of the Cold War era, equipped and trained for combat, proved unprepared to deal with the urban riots of the 1960’s. Militias provide a third tool for our leaders.

A militia consists of armed citizens, not police or soldiers. Restraint when using force is a discipline resulting from training and experience, both probably in short supply among militias. On the other hand, members of SWAT are highly trained, yet the large number of lawsuits proving excessive force shows the intractable nature of this problem.

Politics of Militias

Militia units have been and again could become important social and political groups, supporting goals unrelated to their stated purpose. Their leadership positions could become steppingstones for local politicians, or adornments for the résumés of prominent citizens. Local militias could become powerful political tools if organized upon ethnic, creed, or ideology lines.

To the extent they have any paid support staff, militias become opportunities for patronage – as does any large local operations. Their budgets would become rewards in the local, state, and national government contractor sweepstakes.

Like every other entity in America, we can expect militias to attract well-meaning social engineers seeking to train the New American Men and Women – and so become enmeshed in America’s racial-ethnic-gender battles. Effectiveness might become secondary to their Political Correctness. In strictly military terms, the ability to recruit and train – even unit cohesion – might suffer trade-offs vs. political and social constraints. Imagine the requirements for ethnic diversity and the proper role of women.

We might see the cruel logic of evolution in action. In an age of active 4GW, perhaps communities with good militias survive while other communities suffer.

Militias as a nucleus for vigilantes

Armed forces of the State – military and police, both regular and reserve – are rigorously indoctrinated against “inappropriate” activities and loyalties. Governments also keep them under tight supervision and control. This will be more difficult to achieve with members of a militia. What that might mean in the context of American society?

A strong militia, like the best of the 19th Century, with quality volunteers and competent elected leaders, could be effective – but become controlled by its leaders and membership, independent of elected officials. There are few precedents in American history for rebellion, but there is a long tradition of local citizen-run law enforcement. These kind of social activists are called vigilante committees (quite different than lone vigilantes).

The danger of vigilantism exists when we face threats that our national elites do not choose to recognize, let alone engage. During the 19th century, America’s leaders ignored the need for law and order on our large frontier, forcing people to act on their own. Canada learned from our sorry example, extending the reach of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and other governing institutions as the frontier grew.

To mention just one of today’s so far unrecognized threats, note the flow of criminals, terrorists, and what we might call “undesirables” across our open borders. This occurs at considerable cost, mostly unreported in the national media, to those living on the border. In many inner cities, crime is common and police are not trusted – ideal conditions for vigilante committees.

Also, major events might spark local forces to act to defend their community in the absence of or in defiance of instructions from the lawful higher authorities (there was some of this after Katrina hit New Orleans). The strong internal cohesion and ties to the local community that make militias effective can easily lead them into vigilantism.


Militias are an attractive tool, providing support during emergencies and as an alternative to the growth of police (both public and private). They allow a fast and flexible response to a community’s crisis, without the cost and complexity of large-scale mobilization of police and Guard units. They can help communities become more resilient, and less dependent (in fact and psychology) on big distant government institutions.

They provide a new means to encourage civic involvement – a worthy goal by itself. We face unknown threats in the next decade. Inexpensive ways to help should be explored. Ron Fogleman (General, USAF, retired) made the case well in “Going Back to the Future” at Defense News, 16 January 2012 – “Militia Model Could Cut U.S. Expenditures.” Brilliant and frequented cited, but no longer online.

“In its current form, the force has become unaffordable…Nonetheless; our nation deserves a modern, balanced and ready defense. The big question is, how does the department reduce its budget and continue to provide a modern, balanced and ready defense when more than half of the budget is committed to personnel costs? …

“The answer to that question is right before us: We should return to our historic roots as a militia nation. …we should return to the constitutional construct for our military and the days when we maintained a smaller standing military and a robust militia. …This concept worked well for our country for the better part of two centuries. …We need our collective senior military and civilian leaders to recognize there is a way back to a smaller active military and a larger militia posture. The fiscal environment and emerging threats demand it.”

Other proposals

Since WWII the National Guard has become more like a military than a militia. See “Demystifying the Citizen Soldier” by Raphael S. Cohen at RAND (2015).

William Lind proposed a militia in his “Strategic Defense Initiative” (November 2004).

I first wrote about this in 2008.

Also see “Home Guard“ by Lawrence Korb, Democracy (Spring 2008). Korb is senior fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP) and a senior adviser to the Center for Defense Information(CDI). He served as an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan Administration. See my post about it.

For More Information

Ideas! See my recommended books and films at Amazon. For something different, see “The Swallow – a story of the WWII Night Witches.”

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See posts about Reforming America, about America’s police, about police brutality, about our criminal injustice system, and especially these…

  1. We are alone in the defense of the Republic.
  2. Who can we trust to defend our liberty? Will our culture’s rot spread to the military?
  3. How can we arouse a passion to reform America in the hearts of our neighbors?
  4. Is grassroots organizing a snare or magic bullet for the reform of America?
The Minute Men: The First Fight
Available at Amazon.

About America’s early militia

The Minute Men: The First Fight

“Myths and Realities of the American Revolution.”
By John R. Galvin (General, US Army, retired).

From the publisher …

“The concept of the farmer and shopkeeper pulling rifles off pegs on the wall to fight the British has been the typical image of the American minuteman. The fact that he may have had military training and drilled – and that April 19, 1775 was not his first battle – usually goes unmentioned. Winner of the American Revolution Round Table Award, The Minute Men will be of keen interest to those curious about the true history of some of America’s first soldiers.”

13 thoughts on “Militia – a better defense to internal disorder”

  1. Good day Larry,

    As usual, an excellent post. Two modern Militias come to mind regarding natural disasters, Team Rubicon and Cajun Navy. These are not armed militias but Civil Defense against Natural Disasters.

    As I understand, in my county we have a Sheriff’s Militia but is more of an unarmed Neighborhood watch countywide. Our Sheriff encourages training in use of firearms and the volunteers get training in proper use of force according to our state’s CCW Laws.

    We have a strong cohesive community. You would like it here. We had several demonstrations in cities countywide without incidents or arrests. The Cops marched with the marchers in support. I am proud of our community. There is much civic involvement and all organizations from Moose, Elks, Free Masons, AMVETS, American Legion and VFW are very active, even networked.

    Regarding the run on firearms and ammo, there’s a run on precious metals too. Many are prepping for The Crash. They’re also prepping for something else.

    Since I’m a person who enjoys shooting, I frequent ranges and gun stores. The fear is palpable! All the patrons are wearing Trump MAGA Caps, Tee Shirts and have Trump flags on their boats and trucks. All the Trump paraphernalia is made in The People’s Republic of China. Talk about a country who knows a thing or 2 about Militias. I digress, sorry. They are prepping for Civil War 2.0 which they believe will begin months after Trump’s re-election. They believe the history of 1860-61 will be repeated.

    Maybe it will but if it does, it’ll surely be as farce.

    The groundwork has been laid by the opposing R & D Parties. R claims fraud. D claims disenfranchisement. Our most important institution is in peril!

    I’m choking on the embers of our dying Republic.

    Non the less, be of good cheer. Fear not.


    1. Longtrail,

      “Team Rubicon serves communities by mobilizing veterans to continue their service, leveraging their skills and experience to help people prepare, respond, and recover from disasters and humanitarian crises.”

      Team Rubicon (website) and the Cajun Navy (website) a nice community service organization, to help with disasters. It is not remotely like a militia.

      “in my county we have a Sheriff’s Militia but is more of an unarmed Neighborhood watch countywide”

      Neighborhood Watch groups are not remotely like militia, no matter how grand their name. I mentioned in the post more serious such groups, such as the NYPD Auxiliary Police. They are a tiny bit like real militia – having only 18 hours training, no guns (carrying batons), and having minimal authority.

      “There is much civic involvement and all organizations from Moose, Elks, Free Masons, AMVETS, American Legion and VFW”

      What are the average ages in those organizations? Those that I have seen (in my public speaking gigs) are quite old. The civil defense game is one largely for the young.

      “Regarding the run on firearms and ammo, there’s a run on precious metals too.”

      Gold is back to where it was during the 2010 – 2011 hyperinflation panic on the Right (which I mocked at the time). There are indications that US gun sales are at record high levels (data back to 1998). While stocking up on gold and guns and gold might might have similar causes, their potential social effects are quite different!

  2. I should also mention this gun buying craze is because of R fear Biden is elected and will take their MSR’s away. The NRA has it’s panties in a wad! I keep getting these panicky fundraising letters about how the 2nd Ammendment has never been in more danger!

    I laugh every time and throw it in the trash. I’d rather give money to St. Jude’s, McDonald House, USO or Gold Star Mothers.

    The only reason I’m NRA is because it’s a requirement to join our local shooting club. It’s worth it. Our club is utilized by Sherrif’s Department and Coast Guard.

    Thinking of Coast Guard, we need to take funding from USN and provide Coasties with better boats, Cutters and Diesel/AIP Submarines. The Coast Guard Auxiliary can be enhanced by Militia. Every Fishing Boat and every Pleasure Boat with a radio can be spotters. That’s how China covers their “Lake”.

    1. Longtrail,

      “I should also mention this gun buying craze is because of R fear Biden is elected and will take their MSR’s away. The NRA has it’s panties in a wad!”

      It is a constant of history that the general population believes that activists don’t mean what they say – no matter how often this theory is proven wrong.

      No matter how often they are astonished, like people are today at the riots, the cancelling, the toppling of statues, and demands. Lots and lots of demands.

      Of course, the media and academia won’t do research and reporting about the Left’s plans. It’s not news fit to print or study. I suggest reading the results of Eric Kaufmann’s small survey about Leftists’ beliefs and plans.

      “Every Fishing Boat and every Pleasure Boat with a radio can be spotters.”

      That’s a great idea. But that would not be remotely like a militia.

    2. The Man Who Laughs

      ” I should also mention this gun buying craze is because of R fear Biden is elected and will take their MSR’s away. The NRA has it’s panties in a wad! I keep getting these panicky fundraising letters about how the 2nd Ammendment has never been in more danger!”

      Not the case. The current panic has unfolded in two stages, and neither of them really has anything to do with electoral politics.

      Stage one began when the Coronavirus panic began. I generally get my ammo from I was thinking of putting in an order about the time that panic started. I was looking at what they had on the shelves, there was plenty of product, and I decided to postpone my buy because I’d had a fairly expensive month already (Out of pocket from surgery) and wasn’t really low. And besides, I reasoned, the damn virus is too small to shoot anyway. There wouldn’t be a panic over this.

      Within 48 hours, the shelves had been stripped, and about all Lucky Gunner had on hand was some of that Wolf ammo that a lot of ranges won’t even let you shoot.

      Over the following weeks, there was some gradual restocking, and things got to where you could get ammo, just maybe not the brand you normally use. But you could get it, And eventually I ordered some and it got delivered. I never ran out, or very short, But post Coronapanic, everyone wanted to be a prepper, without in a lot of cases knowing how or what they might need to prep for.

      But then the riots began, and there was another wave of panic buying, and the shelves were stripped again. And right now, if you want ammo, the pickings is slim, but none of this has anything to do, so far as I can tell, with Trump or Biden. I have enough ammo on hand that I can burn a hundred rounds on practice every other week for the rest of the year, so I’m not too worried. This is not to say that I think Trump will be reelected, or because I harbor illusions about what Biden (Or whoever is the actual President, given his cognitive decline) will do after the election. I’m just saying that this particular panic has been driven by other things.

      And if the amount of ammo I’m burning on practice seems excessive, it’s not because I’m gearing up for Civil War 2,0, or Boogaloo, or any of that other nonsense. But for weeks I couldn’t get into a restaurant, or a theater,o r a bar, or a coffee shop, but the range had been deemed essential. (Law enforcement practices there.) So when I ge ttired of staring at the same four walls, I went to the range.

      1. The Man,

        Thank you for the additional color about this.

        My son, with the assistance of some highly experienced people (and his brother), are running an armed self-defense course. Good timing!

  3. The Eric Kaufman article you mentioned should really be discussed in more detail.
    His perception that “…the change from negative to positive liberalism has enormous implications for human freedom…” is the understatement of the decade.

    However the supposed solution (the creation of a cultural nationalism that resists the demonization of established traditions) seems pretty inadequate to the task required, especially if we are now undergoing a real cultural revolution.

    If we are, indeed, witnessing a break with the established cultural order (where yes becomes more compelling than no) then such a situation seems to demand a cultural message that compels a return to the old order reinterpreted–primarily through action–not simply a rhetorical defense of the old order (which is a major fault in much conservative thinking).

    The ideas about new types of militias begins to nibble at this issue while hopes for a rebirth of a Christian symbolic that has already failed, may be quaint and naive.

    Isn’t operating under a largely Christian institutional veneer now inadequate to dealing with the creation of a positive liberalism operating under the dictates on a new type of extremely powerful party bureaucracy demanding that we now collectively kneel down culturally to Thou Shalt rather than to Thou Shalt Not?

    1. Wormwood,

      I agree on all points. But as one who just recently given up on a 17 year long project based on what I now see as feckless optimism, I’m not going to criticism the optimism of others.

      Vain though I believe it to be.

      Bowman is only in his mid-forties, I think. It will be interesting to see how he and his fellow millennials cope with what is coming. I hope they do better than my generation, the Boomers, one of the worst generations.

  4. Larry and Man Who Laughs,

    Thank you for your feedback. Your points are very good and well taken.

    A USMC Vet Firearms Self-Defense Trainer is awesome! Good on Ian! Not a bad idea having a National Guardsman helping build a proper militia.

    Thank you.

  5. Interesting development in Canadian County Oklahoma. The Sheriff is establishing a Sheriff’s Posse…

    “The posse will support local communities and could be used as a rapid response force of citizens who can be called upon swiftly to answer the call to aid in safeguarding lives and property, as well as the Constitutional Rights of innocent law abiding citizens of Canadian County.”

    Also, Oklahoma is now a Constitutional Carry state, for both open and concealed carry.

    1. Nik,

      Thank you for flagging that! I added a link to the news story to your comment.

      Canadian County has 115 thousand people. See the description of the posse. This appears to be more of a volunteer-when-needed group than an actual organization – hence of limited utility (but, of course, better than nothing). I am skeptical that they will be trusted with arms, or used during civil disturbances.

      West said he would like for the posse to include a broad range of diversity in skill and abilities and race and gender, according to the news release. “I’m hoping to get a response from a broad range of people who have a broad range of skills and sublimate it from there and see how we can work together to benefit our communities,”

      Getting strangers together does not make them useful. Having people sign up to be “called when needed” is relatively easy. But training and leadership are the essential elements to create a militia. How easy is it to find people willing to spend the time and energy to become trained – and work under discipline?

      The original Minutemen trained frequently (usually quarterly). When danger was evident, they trained several times per week.

      It will be interesting to see if that idea catches on.

      1. Regretfully, it appears to be a stunt. After submitting my data, which includes military communications, military IT, licensed armed security guard, and equine trail experience, heard not a word. A lot of potential opportunities for a rural county to gain some experienced personnel, free. Sad.

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