America Has a Militia Problem

And it goes deeper than you think.

1. Our Militia Problem

Mara Hvistendahl’s Unnatural Selection is one of the best books about demographics of the last decade.

The book is largely about sex-selective abortion—how some cultures choose to abort baby girls because they prefer sons. This is, on its own, a horror. But it produces lots of very bad downstream consequences, too.

In nature, 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. In China, the number is closer to 120 boys for every 100 girls. Among other things, this imbalance creates a large population of men with no marriage prospects. In China, this demographic is referred to as “surplus men.”

Anyway, there is a scene in Hvistendahl’s book where she visits the headquarters of a Chinese group called “the Patriot Club.” Here’s her description:

As the camphor trees that dot the grounds thicken into forest, I notice that nailed at haphazard angles to the trees around me are handcrafted signs carved out of rough chunks of wood, in the style favored by American summer camps, and printed with red characters that read “Look Out” and “Defend the Motherland.” . . .

The clearing is encircled by olive green army tents and inhabited by nearly a dozen young men in stiff camouflage fatigues, who are milling around and kicking up clouds of dust. At a green table that appears to have been swiped from the picnic area below, a handful of men load white pellets into metal cartridges and slide the cartridges into mock M-4s and AK-47s. On the edge of the clearing, meanwhile, two others test their guns on signs splattered with fake blood spots . . . Another man stands in the shadow of a ramshackle clubhouse, firing pellets into the woods without bothering to take aim. Still others adjust their kneepads, slide thick plastic masks over their faces, or secure camouflage fanny packs around their waists.

These types of groups are all over China. They are a thing. Hvistendahl was writing from Nanjing in 2011, but this scene is familiar enough to us in America today. She might as well be writing about Patriot Prayer or the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers or any of the other nationalist / militia groups that have mushroomed since 2008. (Why 2008? Who could say. It’s a mystery!)

The Chinese government keeps a nervous eye on groups like the Patriot Club because even though they’re nationalist now, they’re also a potential threat to the regime. Surplus men with no prospects who like to play at being soldiers are never going to be entirely safe, no matter how domesticated they might be by the authoritarians in charge.

You should keep Hvistendahl’s reporting from China in mind while you read this Mike Giglio piece from the Atlantic:

Rhodes, 55, is a stocky man with a gray buzz cut, a wardrobe of tactical-casual attire, and a black eye patch. With him in his pickup were a pistol and a dusty black hat with the gold logo of the Oath Keepers, a militant group that has drawn in thousands of people from the military and law-enforcement communities.

Rhodes had been talking about civil war since he founded the Oath Keepers, in 2009. But now more people were listening. And whereas Rhodes had once cast himself as a revolutionary in waiting, he now saw his role as defending the president. He had put out a call for his followers to protect the country against what he was calling an “insurrection.” The unrest, he told me, was the latest attempt to undermine Donald Trump.

Over the summer, Rhodes’s warnings of conflict only grew louder. In August, when a teenager was charged with shooting and killing two people at protests over police brutality in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Rhodes called him “a Hero, a Patriot” on Twitter. And when a Trump supporter was killed later that week in Portland, Oregon, Rhodes declared that there was no going back. “Civil war is here, right now,” he wrote, before being banned from the platform for inciting violence.

There are differences between the Oath Keepers and the Patriot Club, of course.

The Patriot Club is made up of play actors. The Oath Keepers are comprised of several thousand current and former military and law enforcement professionals.

The Patriot Club members have to use pellet guns, because the Chinese government would never allow citizens to have firearms.

But the underlying similarity is there: Men who lack prospects for success in the world banding together in order to fight. Because the prospect for conflict gives them a sense of agency.

We don’t have sex-selective abortion in America. But the tech revolution is creating our own version of surplus men.

Here’s a scene from an Oath Keepers meeting in the Atlantic:

Rhodes spoke like an errant professor, intent on explaining an idea: that it’s the people themselves, not any one group, who are the real militia. This, he said, was what the Founders had had in mind. He suggested that the attendees organize locally. The Oath Keepers would act like the Special Forces do overseas, training people and serving as a force multiplier. “Don’t call yourselves Oath Keepers or Three Percenters,” he said. “Call yourselves the militia of Rutherford County.”

As Rhodes told the people in the crowd to be ready for war, I sized them up. Some looked hardened, but many more did not. One man rested a hand on a cane. When Rhodes asked what their concerns were, several said they feared that rioters would show up in their neighborhoods.

His comments became more inflammatory as he began to warn about antifa and protesters. “They are insurrectionists, and we have to suppress that insurrection,” he said. “Eventually they’re going to be using IEDs.”

“Us old vets and younger ones are going to end up having to kill these young kids,” he concluded.

There’s one other difference between the Chinese militia problem and ours. In China, these Patriot Clubs are threats to the government. In America the militias are a threat to the citizenry.

One last scene, again from the Atlantic:

I drove from Kentucky into the mountains of Carroll County, Virginia, and, in a field along a winding road, parked at the end of a long row of pickup trucks and SUVs. A hundred people, most of them armed, were looking up at a man giving a speech from the back of a flatbed truck that was painted in camouflage. Between the crowd and me were two young men with semiautomatic rifles. They stopped me in a manner—neither friendly nor unfriendly—that I’d encountered at checkpoints in other parts of the world. . . .

This was a different kind of crowd than Rhodes had drawn to the VFW hall. Many were in their 20s and 30s and had come in uniforms—some Three Percenters wore black T‑shirts and camouflage pants, and members of another group stood together in matching woodland fatigues. From the latter, a man climbed onto the flatbed and introduced himself as Joe Klemm, the leader of a new militia called the Ridge Runners.

He was a 29-year-old former marine and spoke with a boom that brought the crowd to attention. “I’ve seen this coming since I was in the military,” he said. “For far too long, we’ve given a little bit here and there in the interest of peace. But I will tell you that peace is not that sweet. Life is not that dear. I’d rather die than not live free.”

“Hoo-ah,” some people cheered.

“It’s going to change in November,” Klemm continued. “I follow the Constitution. We demand that the rest of you do the same. We demand that our police officers do the same. We’re going to make these people fear us again. We should have been shooting a long time ago instead of standing off to the side.”

“These people.”

Speaking of which . . .

2. Stanley Crouch

Last week a reader passed along a clip from a 2003 Book TV interview with Stanley Crouch. I’m going to beg you to watch it, too.

But in case you’re pressed for time, here’s the transcript:

The two stories that have overwhelmed us in the Western world, over the last 60 years, the first story is the death camps.

Now you could say the Russian revolution. True. The death camps—and the reason is because the death camps taught us one thing far more important than people tend to say it's about.

People tend to think that the death camps are about anti-semitism. Which does have a very long record of about 2,000 years. But the thing about the death camps—the anti-semitism—that is the smallest part of the story.

See, what the death camps really teach us with Nazism, what the whole final solution teaches us, is that no amount of education can automatically save you from tribal barbarism.

See, before those particular Germans in that 12 years between 1933 and 1945 did what they did, we would have thought that, you know, all that Beethoven and Bach and all of that in some way could hold a strong enough shield against the tribal impulse to keep you civilized. But the Nazis proved to us that’s not necessarily true.

No, it certainly isn’t, is it?

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3. The Fast and the Furious

Who knew that Dom Toretto was real?

Whether its loads of canned corn or construction materials or 25,000 cell phones, truck thievery is surprisingly common. CargoNet, an industry group that tracks cargo theft, tallied roughly 2,600 truck thefts in 2019, with the average value of a trailer theft at around $148,000. Truck hijacking has of course been going on as long as there have been trucks — and before that, train and stagecoach robberies emerged an indispensable part of American folklore. The phenomenon became particularly widespread during Prohibition, when gangsters would jack trucks to fund booze-running operations and other crimes. Incidents became so numerous that insurance companies refused to insure shipments going through Chicago. A contemporaneous feature in the Chicago Tribune recounts hijacking incidents from the 1930s. In one, a black sedan filled with men with guns pulled alongside a truck carrying a load of tires, got the truck to pull over, blindfolded and tied up the driver, and drove the vehicle to a secret warehouse on a farm, where the goods were unloaded. Authorities were eventually able to find the load of stolen tires because the driver heard turkeys while captive and there were only a few turkey farms in the area. . . .

Most important is the element of surprise — overwhelm the driver, toss him out of the vehicle, and drive off — the same now as it was in the 1930s. But most truck thieves avoid the muss and fuss of violence or kidnapping, preferring instead to take an unattended trailer. One detective told me that’s how many cargo thieves get their start — it’s a crime of opportunity that is refined over time. Anyone capable of stealing a trailer likely knows people who can make the cargo disappear, he said, and from there a more robust thievery ring can develop.

The deliberate lack of indication on most trailers about what’s inside means that returns on the theft can depend heavily on the luck of the draw. When a truckload of computers, medicine or other high-value targets goes missing, it usually suggests an issue elsewhere along the delivery chain.

“Take a guy working at a dock or a warehouse making $12 to $15 per hour — you throw him a few hundred bucks and all he has to do is text you the number of a truck carrying a load of brand-new TVs,” said Arthur Schwarzer, a sales and logistics specialist from a major third-party shipping firm in Chicago. 

Read the whole thing.