It is illegal in all 50 states to form unauthorized private militia groups. However, 36 states allow the open carry of firearms at protests. As a result, groups carrying arms and wearing tactical gear at protests can generate the public impression that they are sanctioned by the government and even perhaps aligned with police agencies. That impression presents unique challenges to public and officer safety, all the more so as it becomes normalized
The modern U.S. militia movement dates to the 1990s. For most of their history, these groups have been anti-government, labeling as tyranny, many legislative or judiciary actions. Despite these early leanings, most of the current “mainstream” paramilitary movements have cast themselves as sympathetic to former President Donald Trump and against what they claim to be “deep state” conspiracies. While the large majority of such groups are on the far right of the political spectrum, 2020 also saw activity from the extreme left, for example, in the Pacific Northwest.
During 2020, unauthorized armed groups protested health lockdowns, opposed racial justice protestors, conspired to abduct a state governor, and kill law enforcement officers, and, in an event indelibly imprinted on the country’s collective psyche as well as on policing and history, participated in the siege of the U.S. Capitol during which five people died. Complicating the problem is the fact that that allegiances can and do change as groups splinter or attach to new grievances or leaders.