"Yesterday, in my view, was one of the darkest days in the history of our nation."' President Joseph R. Biden spoke these words following the January 6, 2021 riots at the U.S. Capitol Building that left five people, including a police officer, dead. (2) The mob that stormed the Capitol sought to prevent Congress from certifying then J?resident-elect Biden's Electoral College victory. (3) In the weeks following the riot, investigators began arresting rioters associated with extremist right-wing militia groups, such as the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters. (4) While January 6, 2021, can accurately be labeled a dark day in American history, the events that unfolded did not necessarily surprise those familiar with the activity of extremist private militia groups in the preceding months.
On October 8, 2020, federal agents arrested seven members of the Wolverine Watchmen militia who plotted to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. (5) One week earlier, in front of a national audience, then-President Donald Trump told the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, to "stand back and stand by." (6) In August 2020, seventeen-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse killed two protestors in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where armed militia groups sought to assume security functions during protests for racial justice. (7) Although these incidents differ, they all highlight a troubling reality: the increased presence of armed private militia groups in public spaces. (8)
While elements of private militias have existed since America's colonial period, the modern militia movement traces its roots to the 1990s. (9) The movement, which is generally "anti-government and radically pro-Second Amendment," quieted in the early 2000s, but has undergone a resurgence in recent years. (10) Groups vary greatly...