National Guard: American militia differs from vigilantes

Militias continue to be a hot topic in recent news; what are militias, what are they supposed to do, and where did they come from? The idea of the American militia is older than the U.S. itself, and revisiting militia history could be key to figure out what’s going on now.

On national guard.com/guard-history, the National Guard website explains that the “National Guard is a unique and essential element of the U.S. military.”

The U.S. National Guard claims to have been founded in1636 as “a citizen force organized to protect families and towns from hostile attacks,” and “today’s National Guard Soldiers hold civilian jobs or attend college while maintaining their military training part time, already to defend the American way of life in the event of an emergency.”

The National Guard’s stated mission is to “serve both community and country,” whether it be domestic emergencies, overseas combat missions, counter drug efforts, or reconstruction missions.

The Guard website says “As a Guard Soldier, your primary area of operation is your home state,” but “any governor or the president himself can call on the Guard at a moment’s notice.”

Nationalguard.mil goes into further detail on the history of the National Guard, tracing the exact day of the Guard’s birth to Dec. 13, 1636.

The first militia was formed in the Massachusetts Bay Colony by the General Court, and was organized “into three permanent regiments to better defend the colony.” Those three regiments are currently standing as the 181st and 182nd Infantry regiments, the 101st Field Artillery and the 101st 101st Engineer Battalion, still residing in Massachusetts.

Technically speaking, the National Guard is older than the U.S. Army. Nationalguard.mil explains that, “Our ability to recognize Dec. 13, 1636 as the organization date of the oldest Army National Guard units is based in law. The Militia Act of May 8, 1792, permitted militia units organized before May 8, 1792 (the birthdate of the U.S. Army) to retain their ‘customary privileges.'” The Militia Act of 1792 was carried over into the Militia Act of 1903, the National Defense Act of 1916, and by subsequent laws.

Where things get slightly trickier is “10 U.S. Code 246 – Militia: Composition and Classes.” Code 246 (b)(2) sets up the distinction of “The unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia.”

The United States Militia “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.”

So if you’re a U.S. male citizen age 17 to 45, you are technically in the U.S. Militia, particularly the unorganized militia.

The technicalities of militia structure aside, the popular understanding, or image of the militia, is derived from the legendary Minutemen from the beginning of the American Revolution.

The “Private Militia Movement” which debatably drifts into domestic terrorism territory sometimes, is a form of homage to the idea of the Minutemen.

In “The Minutemen, the National Guard and the Private Milita Movement: Will the Real Militi Please Stand Up?” by Chuck Dougherty for the John Marshall Law Review, Dougherty points out that the Private Militia Movement began after the passing of the Brady Act, which put a wait on all handgun sales, private citizen militias have risen around the country, particularly in Michigan and Eastern Montana.

Some private militia members argue that being part of a militia frees them from federal firearms restrictions. Many private militia members argue that their purpose is to stand against “unconstitutional regulations.”

Dougherty noted that “With the passage of the assault gun ban, the citizen militia movement continued to gain strength. The terrorist attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City has exposed these previously little known groups to intense public scrutiny.” Where does being a legitimate militia end and a terrorist organization begin? Usually with terrorist activity or ideas.

Dougherty argued, “The militia system existing at the time of the Second Amendment’s ratification has disappeared. Instead, the United States now has an organized militia system, the National Guard.” Instead of allowing due processes and the American system to take its course, private militia groups take to vigilantism.


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