Armed Militias Are Taking Trump’s Civil War Tweets Seriously

| Educate!

Above Photo: Oathkeepers members at the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia (Source: Flickr/Anthony Crider)

Over the weekend, the president sent a tweet that seemed to warn of civil war if he were to be impeached and removed from office:

Although the president was quoting Pastor Robert Jeffress’s comments on Fox News, he was adopting them as his own.

It might seem tempting to dismiss this language as of a piece with President Trump’s typical Twitter rhetoric. But it is worth paying particular attention to this tweet—because among the people who read it were militia groups enthusiastic about exactly what Trump portended. And while no violence has yet resulted from the president’s tweet, it would be foolish to underestimate the power of Trump’s comments to call rogue militias to action, particularly if there is an impeachment and he continues to use this rhetoric to fan the flames. In the days after his civil war tweet, he went on to use similarly incendiary language, referring to impeachment proceedings as a “COUP.”

Consider the Oath Keepers group, a far-right armed militia. Calling on its 24,000 Twitter followers to read the president’s whole tweet thread, the Oath Keepers account posted:

Oath Keepers
@Oathkeepers
Here’s the money quote from that thread. This is the truth. This is where we are. We ARE on the verge of a HOT civil war. Like in 1859. That’s where we are. And the Right has ZERO trust or respect for anything the left is doing. We see THEM as illegitimate too.@StewartRhodesOK https://twitter.com/realdonaldtrump/status/1178477539653771264 …

Before this tweet, the Oath Keepers account tweeted that, under the U.S. Constitution, “the militia (that’s us) can be called forth ‘to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions.’ … “All he has to do is call us up. We WILL answer the call.” Other Oath Keeper tweets also hint at violence: One states that “their favorite rifle is the AR 15.”

According to the Oath Keepers’s webpage, the organization is “a non-partisan association of current and formerly serving military, police, and first responders, who pledge to fulfill the oath all military and police take to ‘defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic,’” while declaring that they “will not obey unconstitutional orders.” The Anti-Defamation League, by contrast, describes the group as “an anti-government right-wing fringe organization” whose members have appeared “as self-appointed armed guards” at various places around the country, in defiance of what they deem to be unconstitutional government action. Last month, the group sought “security volunteers” from their membership and “other capable patriots” to escort Trump supporters attending a New Mexico rally “to protect them from potential leftist violence.” And last year, the Oath Keepers announced its “Spartan Training Group program,” with the goal of “form[ing] training groups in as many states as possible” to create “a pool of trained, organized volunteers who will be able to serve as the local militia under the command of a patriotic governor loyal to the Constitution, or if called upon by President Trump to serve the nation” (emphasis in original).

The Oath Keepers are far from the only militia group that vocally supports deploying potential force in aid of the president. In November 2018, after Trump pledged to send up to 15,000 U.S. troops to the border to deal with the approaching caravan of Central American migrants, the militia group known as “The Minuteman Project” published an “URGENT CALL FOR TEXAS BORDER OBSERVATION DUTY” to cover the 2,000-mile border from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas. According to U.S. Army documents obtained by Newsweek at the time, the military expressed its concern internally about the presence of unauthorized militias along the border, warning that protests occurring at points of entry historically had been peaceful, “unless extreme right or left groups attend.” The Minuteman Project’s co-founder, Jim Gilchrist, cautioned potential volunteers that their adversaries were “US-based PROPAGANDA organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, People without Borders” and many more groups like them. He further warned members to “use extreme caution when confronted by mainstream media” because “they are not your friends.”

Earlier this year, after Trump’s reelection campaign repeatedly ran ads quoting Trump’s references to an “invasion” on the southern border, another group—the United Constitutional Patriots—set up camp at the New Mexico/Mexico border. Without any legal authorization, this group assumed the duty of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to stop and detain migrants, all while heavily armed and dressed in military fatigues. In March and April 2019, a spokesperson for the group, Jim Benvie, regularly posted livestream videos on Facebook showing militia members chasing and capturing migrants while armed with assault rifles, and detaining them until they could be turned over to U.S. officials. In other posts, the United Constitutional Patriots described themselves as combatants in a “war” raging along the border due to migrants’ “invasion” of the country and actively sought to recruit people with military or law enforcement experience to join them. One such recruit, upon observing migrants while on “patrol” at the border, reportedly grabbed his AR-15 and asked his fellow militia member, “Why are we just apprehending them and not lining them up and shooting them?” In April, after the group’s “national commander” was arrested on unrelated charges and the Union Pacific Railroad ordered the group off of its property, significant media attention exposed the militia’s activities and it reconstituted itself as the Guardian Patriots, decamped to private land with the owners’ consent, and closed its public Facebook account.

Both of these armed militias took action at least in part in response to Trump’s rhetoric about the need to secure the southern border. Now that the president has invoked the idea of civil war, there is a risk that armed groups will take heed of this language too, whenever the president suggests that it is time.

Federal criminal law prohibits “rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof,” including incitement or assistance to such rebellion or insurrection. It also prohibits conspiring to overthrow the U.S. government, levy war against it or oppose its authority by force. Based on the organization’s declared mission, there’s little doubt that the Oath Keepers would view any impeachment action by congress as “unconstitutional” and therefore not to be obeyed. Although the group’s current tweets come close to calling for rebellion or insurrection should that happen, there’s been no indication that the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating. Are the militias drawing up plans for possible civil war, for example? Are they training? Are they stockpiling weapons? These are things that law enforcement should be investigating, whether under federal law or state law.

Although it is widely believed that the Second Amendment protects the right to form private militias, it does no such thing. The Supreme Court made this clear in its 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, explicitly reaffirming its own 1886 holding that “the Second Amendment … does not prevent the prohibition of private paramilitary organizations.” Indeed, they are prohibited by state constitutional provisions or statutes in all 50 states.

The constitutions of 48 states include provisions that require the military to be at all times subordinate to the civil authority. That means that private, unregulated and unauthorized militias—operating wholly outside of the civilian governmental authority and public accountability—are prohibited by state law. There is good reason for this. As prominent historian and scholar A.E. Dick Howard wrote in 1974 in “Commentaries on the Constitution of Virginia,” the Virginia constitution’s ban on private militias “ensures the right of all citizens … to live free from the fear of an alien soldiery commanded by men who are not responsible to law and the political process.”

Notably, Virginia was the first state to adopt its own constitution, known then as a Declaration of Rights, in June 1776. According to the operative language in Virginia’s constitution, illustrative of the language used in 47 other state constitutions, “[I]n all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.” Last year, in a successful lawsuit against the private militias that usurped legitimate law enforcement authority during the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, a state judge ruled that, based on this “strict subordination” clause in Virginia’s constitution, “[t]here appears to be no place or authority for private armies or militia apart from the civil authorities and not subject to and regulated by the federal, state, or local authorities.” The case resulted in court orders prohibiting the defendant militias from returning to Charlottesville as part of coordinated, armed groups during rallies, protests, demonstrations and marches.

Other state law criminal provisions also prohibit various types of militia activity. Twenty-eight states prohibit groups of people from associating together as a military unit or parading or drilling together in public with firearms. (It was one of these statutes that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 1886 against a Second Amendment challenge in Presser v. Illinois.) Similarly, 25 states prohibit assembling together to teach, demonstrate, train or practice with firearms, explosives or “techniques” capable of causing injury or death, knowing and intending to further a civil disorder. And another state criminal statute, found in some variation in 12 states (and in the U.S. Code), prohibits the false assumption of the duties of a law enforcement or peace officer or the unauthorized wearing of military uniforms or close imitations thereof. The United Constitutional Patriots’s spokesperson, Jim Benvie, is currently charged in federal court with violations of the federal statute based on his false assumption of the duties of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. And this summer, the Virginia attorney general issued an opinion that heavily armed militias, dressed in fatigues and other military accessories, acting in a coordinated fashion and patrolling a line of citizens waiting to engage with their elected legislators before a special session on gun safety legislation, violate Virginia’s prohibition on the false assumption of law enforcement functions.

The Oath Keepers and other militia organizations are in violation of some of these laws right now. Their existence as private paramilitary units in states with “strict subordination” clauses is prohibited, as it is in states with statutes that prohibit associating together as a military unit or company. Training, instructing or practicing in paramilitary techniques for use in a “civil war” or other uprising is also currently banned in many states. And to the extent the armed militias are showing up in public places asserting authority they don’t have, they are violating state and federal laws criminalizing the false assumption of law enforcement duties.

Some observers may say that the tweets of both the president and the Oath Keepers are simply hyperbole. But the militia movement has shown that it will take action based on the president’s statements. His “civil war” comments were phrased conditionally—dependent on “the Democrats” attempting to remove him from office. State officials and law enforcement, however, do not have to wait for that condition to be fulfilled—or for the president to post new tweets that militias may interpret as calling them to arms—to tackle the potential threat posed by militias. Governors may issue cease and desist orders based on their state constitutions, law enforcement may initiate investigations based on federal and state criminal statutes, and the public may report instances of current law-breaking by militia members. Authorities would not sit idly by while foreign forces prepare for potential violence against other Americans, and they should not sit idly by while rogue private armies do the same.

  • Greeley Miklashek

    We have become a nation of hateful stress addicts and military involvement at any level fills the bill. Just switch-on your TV, if you haven’t already junked it, and you will see endless violence of every sort, including constant gun play. And, now, we get to slaughter the “Walking Dead”. We are addicted to the stress hormones released with rage and they feel damned good, thus “the feel-good hormones” (dopamine and the endorphins, etc.). Stress R Us

  • emernel

    If you want to understand what is going on with these militias you need to look up “Ernst Rohm. He was the leader of Hitler illegal militia that helped the Nazis gain complete control. These armed, uniform wearing militias roamed the streets of German cities attacking anyone who dared criticize the Nazis.

    That is what Is coming to Amerikkka. A lot sooner than you think.

    If you are Muslim or a Hindu or any other non-white group and want peace I advise you to leave the US because your lives and culture are in danger of extinction.

    Come to Canada there are open border crossings.

  • Mark Gruben

    So, when the House committees finish their work, and they recommend impeachment, and the full House adopts the resolution, and votes to impeach Donald Trump, these right-wing extremists will grab their guns, and take to the streets…….and do what, exactly? Shoot out porch lights?

  • Jon

    “We?” Speak for yourself, and be careful how you use that word.

  • acme

    If these lunatics would stick to defending the constitution, it wouldn’t be such a problem. Apparently though, none of them have any idea what is in the constitution, which Trump, McConnell and the GOPer sheep trample every day.

  • acme

    The actual state militias and National Guards had better be getting ready. Trump’s been threatening this all along.

  • antony chavez

    These Damn Foreigners can’t Act Civil for Some Reason,……Sad,

  • Like primitive islanders tearing down their sea walls in the superstitious hope an approaching storm-god would prove less deadly if not offended by barriers, so is the USian pseudo-Left imposing forcible civilian disarmament and mandatory pacifism in the utterly deluded hope our defenselessness will magically make our ChristoNazi, Nazi and fascist enemies less sadistically savage — never mind we already know these staunch allies of the regime’s most genocide-minded cops and soldiers will always have official permission to bear arms.

    Unfortunately too few of us know enough German history to recognize these real-world circumstances are at least as self-destructive today as they proved to have been to yesteryear’s anti-Nazi Germans when — after they had been forcibly disarmed — they were attacked and murdered in their own homes by heavily armed jackbooted thugs.

    (I cannot possibly describe how much it pains me, and in how many ways it hurts, to realize I am spending the last years of my life — my next birthday would be my 80th — in the one nation that expanded Nazi tyranny to high-tech, inescapable-surveillance, god-is-watching-you-24/7 omnipotence and now, with austerity and truncheons and bullets at home and thermonuclear terror abroad, fulfills Hitler’s wildest dreams by imposing its Ayn Rand moral imbecility on all the world.)

  • Greeley Miklashek

    Thanks for providing proof of concept.

  • bourntoboogie

    Sorry to inform you but everything you perverts “reported” on is false. And we’ve been ready for you Leftist commie scumbags since Clinton was in office. Trump was elected because Americans are waking up to what the Left is doing. ANTIFA and BLM are today’s brownshirts. We will not let you destroy our Country and Western Civilization as a whole…

  • Tyrone Slothrop

    When you seek to reverse a lawful election simply because you don’t like the man in office, you should expect a strong reaction. Impeachment is a slap in the face to the 62,000,000 Americans who voted for Trump. If you deprive us of our franchise, we will take it back by any means necessary.

  • kevinzeese

    No one on this list is a member of Congress so “we” will not depriving Trump voters of anything.

    But, if a president is elected and commits crimes he or she should be impeached. That has nothing to do with the vote — it has to do with upholding the law and constitutional checks and balances.

    In Trump’s case he will not be removed from office unless the Repubican Party turns on him since a two-thirds vote is required in the Republican-controlled Senate to convict him of impeachable offenses. That will not happen unless crimes are shown and public opinion turns against Trump.

  • sandidad

    Patriots are defending our Constitution, stupid!!!! Patriots are defending our Constitution from the Godless, baby killing, socialistic, communistic, Islamic Democrat Party and Muslim Obama who shredded our Constitution..

  • sandidad

    Not we, the Godless, baby killing, socialistic, communistic, Islamic Democrat Party and Muslim Obama. We didn’t have ISIS, BLM, Antifa until Muslim Obama was president. Obama’s racist rhetoric of pitting blacks against whites and our police is when the hatred began. How many police have died because of Obama’s racist rhetoric?

  • kevinzeese

    We were very critical of Obama’s policies on Popular Resistance but Muslim extremists existed before Obama — even before Bush and Clinton — as did police killings of blacks. These are all long-term problems. You seem to hate Obama and want to blame him for problems that existed before he was president and call him names but you are really not making any sense.

  • acme

    Whew! Whackos are out today!
    Exactly what part of the constitution are you and Trump defending against the godless Muslim Democrats? Precisely how did Obama, not my favorite president, shred the constitution, beyond his race of course?

  • acme

    Clinton got impeached over a BJ with a consenting adult, after having had every nutball conspiracy theory dragged out and scrutinized for 5 years exposing nothing. Trump has been commiting crimes from day one.

  • acme

    If you equate Nazi/fascism with Western Civilization, you are the problem.

  • James R. Olson

    get help.

  • James R. Olson

    Should I remind the moron, Tyrone, if that is his real name, that trump lost the election by three million votes, a not inconsiderable number of Americans, who now have to put up with a complete fuckup that lost the election

  • antony chavez

    European Americans are Second or Third Class Americans,…..We got Americans before You and Your Chain Migration Children came here,……So Calm Down,…!

  • Jon

    Loren, Yes,the danger is there, but so is resistance. Despair is not a winning strategy, as I often say. I too am close to your age.

  • Jon

    It is not merely “not liking,” but the flagrant flouting of Constitutional law, brazen racism, disrespect for truth, ignorant, bombastic speech with very limited vocabulary, and environmental tyranny. Just to start!

  • Jon

    ” dragged out and scrutinized for 5 years exposing nothing” Hardly! I would LOVE to see both Trump AND Clinton Foundations investigated by honest prosecutors.

  • David Pryor

    Thats what the oath keepers do, They defend the constitution by upholding their oaths to do so, Hence the name, Oath keepers. Proud member and never been a lunatic.

  • David Pryor

    Provide security for whiney little anti gunners when you create civil unrest with your tantrum that has been ongoing since 2016. I dont think you have thought this through really well. The military will be with us, not against us.

  • Tyrone Slothrop

    We conservatives know that when you liberals call us “racist”, it’s because you’ve lost the argument and have nothing cogent left to say.

  • A most emphatic Hear, Hear!

  • Jon, I say again: despair is NOT surrender!

  • Kenneth Schustereit

    Mary B. McCord is currently Legal Director and Visiting Professor of Law
    at the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at
    Georgetown University Law School. She is the former Acting Assistant
    Attorney General and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for
    National Security at the U.S. Department of Justice and was a long-time
    federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of
    Columbia.” Wow! How could such a distinguished officer of the court with
    such a well rounded and respectable resume write such a mis-guided load
    of crap?The Oathkeepers are no more far-right wing than the New Black
    Panthers care about black people! If the Ayrian Nations skinheads or the
    KKK tried to join in the rally in question they’d get their scumbag
    asses thrown out.

  • Kenneth Schustereit

    Nailed it. Getting tired of being grouped in with KKK types. As part Native and West African it’s offensive.

  • Kenneth Schustereit

    Yeah, as the muslim-caused crime spike continues to rise in Canada. Pathetic!

  • Kenneth Schustereit

    I took an oath. It has not expired.

  • acme

    Then you better read the constitution.

  • CJeanne

    If you remove the illegal votes which have been clearly identified, and many for which people have been charged, and the number of votes which exceed the registered votes in districts, Trump did not lose the popular vote! Just saying, get real!

  • kevinzeese

    Please provide some sources for these claims, CJeanne, they seem like falsehoods to me. I am open to them being true but I could not find anything to support your claims.

  • C.j. Singleton

    “And to the extent the armed militias are showing up in public places asserting authority they don’t have, they are violating state and federal laws criminalizing the false assumption of law enforcement duties.”

    So if they trade their fatigues and armor for black hoodies and masks then their firearms for bike locks its perfectly acceptable to block and direct traffic and beat anyone they disagree with half to death? It happens in Portland every week

  • angf117

    I agree Jon.

  • angf117

    I agree its coming to fruition…..and I am ready.

  • angf117

    we hate Obama because he IS the enemy of the State!

  • angf117

    yea come to canada because you guys are PUSSIES living off the protection of the United States!

  • angf117

    fuck you asshole.

  • angf117

    you are a pussy which should have been erased in your gene pool…you are yet another liberal fucktard.

  • sandidad

    Screwball. police don’t go around killing blacks. Blacks are their own worst enemies. 50% of the killings in America are committed by blacks.

  • AZRanger

    You wish it will only be that!

  • acme

    Wow. The wit and intellectual mastery of your brilliant comebacks absolutely level me. I bow to your superior debating skills.

  • acme

    You should stick to boogie-ing.

  • acme

    You don’t buy that “Constitution” crap, huh. You making the rules now?

  • acme

    Which conveniently allows trump and other goper racodts to push your buttons and watch yoy dance to their tune. You never heard of the Southern Strategy?
    Look it up.

  • Col. Kish

    Better watch what you say, and for the most we are not right wing not jobs, that’s how ignorant you are. We dont choose democrat or Republican, its people like you that try to label us as right. As far as my militia goes we are mostly prior special forces, you want to keep running your mouth fuck boy

  • bill07407

    This article is pure bullshit written by a moron

  • SPerkins

    Uh..when this impeachment is yet another hit & miss, how do you think the left will respond? People think that when all hell breaks loose, Oathkeepers are going to sit by and allow mayhem to continue when insanity starts attacking law enforcement for trying to keep order? Oathkeepers are not the aggressors here. Go to someone’s home and start trashing it because you don’t like the paint and see if the owner doesn’t do what is necessary to protect their family

  • Shawn Brackney

    You’re an idiot

  • Kevin Clark

    Oathkeepers, far right, ya,ok. Maybe compared to the socialist left.

  • Donald Nelson

    Perhaps, you should just cash your welfare check.

  • Donald Nelson

    Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

  • Donald Nelson

    Meanwhile, the scum called the democratic party, will have spent tons of our money, which they could have otherwise stolen.

  • Donald Nelson

    Gee, another jerk, who doesn’t believe in the electoral college, unless it tips the election in your favor. Cry me a river.

  • j reasor

    If there are all these laws against paramilitary training, then why are terrorist trading camps being allowed to operate.

  • jeff hays

    Nice hit piece from a progressive viewpoint. If there is grounds for a ‘Hot’ revolt it will mostly be because of progressive traitors trying to gut 2A and pissing off the holders of 300 million firearms and trillions of rounds of ammo.

  • Jason Dupea

    Oh brother! We’ve been taking the threat of civil war seriously for over a decade at this point. It has next to nothing to do with Trump.

    We bear arms and get training because we don’t trust government to stay within its constitution bounds—largely because it never had in living memory. Don’t let your politicians do unconstitutional stuff and we won’t have to go to war with them.

  • Jason Dupea

    Pretty sure only ANTIFA does that these days.

    Militias just don’t. They’re generally not white supremacist and are generally more likely to die protecting your right to free speech than to hurt you for exercising it.

  • Scott Neptune

    Whoever wrote this opinionated article leans way to left and is not all neutral on the topic. Fact is the militia groups you mentioned support the president and our constitution. If you disagree with that then you are who is a threat to America, not them.

  • Mike W

    ppl on the left *really* need to stop being afraid of guns and pick up one (or more), train and prepare. You have the same 2A right as anyone else. Exercise it!

  • Mike W

    …and so am I

  • Mike W

    …and you’re a fucking eggplant. You need to take trump’s dick out of your mouth. It’s unbecoming of a social media tough-guy such as yourself.

  • JPeyton

    Who and how are you going to stop over 7 million well armed, well trained and dedicated Patriots from protecting our country from those who wish to destroy it. These men and women are past and some present military, law enforcement, first responders and yes FBI and a few people high up the chain of our government. We all took an oath to defend the constitution against all enemies both foreign and domestic. The oath we all took does not have an expectation date on it.

  • Rennie Pitt

    Your Afraid. Should be!

  • SenatorDT

    The author. may. quote the Constitution but has little knowledge of its meaning and Original Intent. The General Gov(Fed) has no authority over its Creator (Constitution) so, Court Opinions do not apply to the Constitution. The Militia was to guard the Country Not a standing army. The Militia is “Necessary” for the security of a free State. The President is only encharge when the Militia are activated for duty within the United States. Every male between the ages of 18-45 is automatically part of the Militia and is required to select officers and train on a regular basis. State Govenors do not provide methods of training , so the units must do it themselves. Militias are and have served in securing our boarders, Helping in disasters,providing security. The Militia was and have never been offensive, they are for Defense only. This article starts out on the wrong premise and that is by ignorance or agenda.

  • Lancefer

    If the Commander in Chief asks for assistance, and you have taken the oath, every American will back him. Active duty, retired, vets, police, will have no one to shoot at because we don’t shoot the unarmed. But, I expect the insults to be epic.

  • acme

    Hah!

  • Mike

    Where do i take the oath. I will do what i have to to protect our constitution and our great President. So where do i sign.

  • James Tinsley

    Flagrant Flouting of Constitutional Law! Now there is an interesting term. What would that mean? Would that be attempting to present an argument stating one can actually uphold National Foundational Law too often?

  • Steve Elder

    Just goto youtube & type in Judicial watch there is a ton about it and the current cases in process.

  • John Stagg

    Trump has done more for the racist blacks and mexicans than any other president, yet they continue to hate him and support liberal traitors because they are black and mexican or because they offer a free hand out. The foreign invaders are coming here to steal health care, welfare, land, jobs and our entire country. They are also here to rape and murder our innocent daughters. They are not here to assimilate and become Americans. They are pawns of the devil sent here to destroy our country with the help of the nazi, communist liberals. If the police, national guard and the military are filled with these same people what does the government expect us to do, let them throw us into the colosseum to be eaten by the lions. We know that once they take our guns the next step is enslavement and murder. It is better to die fighting then to give up and then be murdered by those thugs!

  • John Stagg

    That is a terrible lie made up by another communist liberal, You olson are the true fuckup, if you don’t like it here then move to china!

  • James R. Olson

    Asserting facts not in evidence.

  • James R. Olson

    Gosh what an original comment. I love my country, but we do have too many morons a few bricks shy, who need to be herded over a cliff.