Perspectives: What is the militia?

OPINION – Few words in the English language evoke a stronger reaction than the word “militia.” In our day, it’s a word that conjures up images of antisocial radicals dressed in camouflage and running around in the woods.

More often than not, these perceptions are based on social conditioning rather than actual instances of wrongdoing. For instance, when the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City was blown up 19 years ago, blame for the bombing was placed at the feet of the entire political right — but especially the militia movement.

Politicians and pundits lumped all critics of federal government excesses into one ball of wax and accused them of wanting to overthrow the federal government. The very word “militia” became an epithet.

The problem with this narrative is that the men who were eventually tried and convicted of the Oklahoma City bombing were not militia members, but former members of the United States Armed Forces. Oops.

The militia movement had been gaining momentum in response to federal efforts to impose stronger gun control measures through a ban on certain semi-automatic firearms passed in 1994. Following on the heels of the deadly Ruby Ridge and Waco debacles, many Americans were concerned about maintaining essential liberties in the face of an aggressive central government.

The concept of the citizen militia is one that is rooted in history and human nature. Machiavelli, in his writings, described the Swiss as “the most free and most armed people” of Europe. This makes sense since armed citizens can actively defend their freedom where unarmed ones cannot.

Blackstone in his commentaries on the Laws of England wrote of “the natural right of resistance and self-preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.”

The value of the armed citizen was well understood and widely supported by the Founding Fathers of this nation. This is why it was widely debated and ultimately protected by the U.S. Constitution during the writing and ratification of that document.

After their experience with King George’s standing armies, the former colonies affirmed and guaranteed the right of the people to bear arms in their own defense and in the defense of their respective states. Imagine that.

When the founders wrote the 27 words that comprise the Second Amendment, they spoke of the “right of the people to keep and bear arms” as being a prerequisite to the “security of a free state.” Had they meant that this right was limited only to the states organizing their well regulated, or well-trained, militias, they would have stated it.

They were validating what St. George Tucker described as he echoed the words of Blackstone:

The right of self defence is the first law of nature …. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms, is under any colour or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.

Following the passage of the Militia Acts of 1792, the president was given authority to call the various state militias into the service of the United States to repel invasions or put down insurrections. In 1903, the Dick Act further clarified the president’s use of the state militias by making the distinction between the “organized” and “unorganized” militias.

The organized militia referred to what we now call the National Guard. State National Guard units are considered part of the regular U.S. Armed Forces and can be sent into action abroad just like their full-time counterparts.

We saw this just a few years ago when the 222nd was activated and sent to serve in Iraq.

The unorganized, or general, militia consists of able-bodied males, most often between 17 and 54 years of age, who are capable of volunteering for the defense of their communities, states, or nation.

Though the media image of the unorganized militia typically consists of a wild-eyed conspiracy theorist straight out of central casting, the reality is a lot more benign.

County search and rescue teams are often organized, trained, and called into action by their local sheriff to address imminent problems. In the event of widespread danger that exceeds the capability of sworn officers, these individuals can be deputized as needed.

This provides necessary civic oversight that serves the needs of the community without imposing undue regulation that only favors centralized government. This is just one example of the unorganized militia.

During the Los Angeles riots in 1992, armed Korean merchants spontaneously organized to protect their businesses from the looters and arsonists that police were powerless to stop. Eventually the organized militia, in the form of the National Guard, was brought in to help restore order.

Occasionally, local authority can be the problem as has been seen in Mexico where self-defense groups have organized to secure the safety of their communities.

In this case, corrupt local police were part of the problem as cartel members raped, robbed, and murdered with impunity. When appeals to their local and national leaders fell on deaf ears, Mexican citizens armed themselves; disarmed the corrupted police officers; and either killed or ran off the cartel members from their communities.

They had simply had enough.

While the press uses the term “vigilante” in describing the citizens’ actions, the bottom line is that they took control of an intolerable situation and secured their communities. When their government wouldn’t stop the abuse of the cartels, the people had to take action on their own. This would not have been possible without the common people bearing arms in defense of their homes and families.

Now the Mexican government is asking them to turn over their guns and saying it will protect them. The self-defense forces are refusing to give up their arms. Can you blame them?

They understand what we have forgotten over many generations; the power of the sword in the hands of the citizenry is the only sure deterrent for tyranny from any source. When it comes to creating misery and destruction, corrupted government – not the militia – is the clear winner.

Remember this when you hear the word “militia” being used as a Pavlovian buzzword. It’s not supposed to scare us.

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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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  • combat vet and true jedi warrior April 21, 2014 at 10:51 am

    Obamas comin’ to steal the guns!!!

    • Brian April 21, 2014 at 11:13 am

      Are you a paid troll, or do you just do this for fun? There is a clear pattern the left is currently following: target a handful of states hard, then spread out from there. They are following that pattern with gay marriage, legalizing pot, and gun registration (which has always led to gun confiscation; just ask the Canadians and the Australians). Just because something is happening slowly, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

      • combat vet and true jedi warrior April 21, 2014 at 12:15 pm

        Maybe bury them guns out in the back yard til the raid is over???

      • aja April 21, 2014 at 7:05 pm

        A Paid Troll… Obviously.

    • Fred April 22, 2014 at 5:49 am

      You are so right. That is what people of the left really want. Just like in all dictatorships down through history. Thank you for reminding us.

  • My Evil Twin April 21, 2014 at 11:09 am

    You can bet your life, that the anti gun crowd, along with the feds are taking a good hard look at this situation in Nevada, trying to determine the best way to use it in their efforts to get rid of guns in the hands of the public in general. If you think for one minute that this isn’t a very real danger, then you are living in some other world.
    While I disagree with most of what Bryan Hyde writes, this was a good article.

    • combat vet and true jedi warrior April 21, 2014 at 12:12 pm

      It’s too bad these “militia” guys are such wackjobs. As a responsible gun owner I feel like they make the rest of us look bad.

      • Jacer April 22, 2014 at 10:05 am

        Jedi, your comments to articles in general make me feel that your are less than a responsible gun owner and more of a person who simply has a gun.

  • Ron Larsen April 21, 2014 at 11:41 am

    Bryan…Great article as usual…keep up the good work…

  • COMBAT VET AND CONSERVATIVE April 21, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    While I served my country to give the progressive liberals the right to fear guns and the militias, I also served to ensure the same rights are afforded to me and my loved ones. I do not fear the militias because I understand their purpose and it aligns with my belief that I have a duty to defend my country/community against all enemies foreign and domestic. We that have taken the oath understand that said oath does not have an expiration date on it. I do not serve on any militia and more than likely never will. However, I will exercise my God given rights by any means necessary at any given time. Brian, your article is spot on. Thank you for explaining it to those who fear the militias.

    • COMBAT VET WARRIOR COMMANDO GENERAL April 22, 2014 at 9:25 am

      those darn liberals! OBAMA’S COMIN’ FUR THE GUNS!!!

  • Silence Dogood April 21, 2014 at 3:13 pm


    This article is spot on.


  • JAR April 21, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    Good article again. You’ve been eating a balance breakfast the last few weeks, haven’t you. (unlike a few bombs you wrote weeks past). Remember, road apples for a quick meal will make you fat and stupid. Just ask Harry Reid, the Congressional Domestic Terrorist.

  • Peg April 21, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    Well written explanation. History has proven that freedom lovers without the ability to defend themselves seldom keep their freedom.

  • McMurphy April 22, 2014 at 8:04 am

    Definition of militia from Title 10 of the US Code

    Title 10, USC
    § 311. Militia: composition and classes
    (a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied
    males at least 17 years of age and … 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—
    (1) the organized militia, which consists of the National
    Guard and the Naval Militia; and
    (2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members
    of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or
    the Naval Militia.

    • Pathefinder April 22, 2014 at 10:12 pm

      irregardless of what some statute states (do you actually expect the legislators who wish to retain their power of office to author any legislation that would weaken their hold on that power?), the original intent it that all males who are capable of handling a firearm are members of the militia. Belonging to any military force makes one a soldier, not a militiaman.

  • Gabriel May 21, 2014 at 12:36 am

    The real threat is a Foreign Communist Insurgency composed predominately of civilian Cuban Communist’s.

    They operate on shared communications as a single group, utilizing cellular, wifi, bluetooth and satellite tracking to target individuals.

    All of the psychological and physical tactics of the KGB are played against targeted individuals.

    Knowing is half the battle…

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