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The Society of Descendants of Militia Officers

serving from 1607 to 1861

Position on Selfproclaimed Militias

5 January 2016

The United States is home to over 200 armed groups who prepare to "protect" their rights against both federal and state law.  These private armed groups call themselves "militia" to cloak themselves in American history and to justify armed action against the constitutional authority of state and federal governments.  Their intent is to achieve political goals by the threat of, or actual use of, force (one of the definitions of terrorism).  This dishonors our ancestors, insults the service of generations of soldiers, sailors, and airmen in the National Guard, State Defense Forces, and State Naval Militia, and perpetuates a completely anti-historical myth of who and what the Militia were.  The following points may be helpful in thinking about and talking about this:

(1) The Militia was and is a governmental function, responsible to the authority and orders of the Governor of a State (or Colony), or, when called, to the authority of the President of the United States.

Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution states "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States ..."

Article I Section 8 paragraph 16 assigns Congress the authority to establish and regulate the framework of the Militia:  "To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress ..."

This relationship has existed ever since the Colonies had Governors, and was regulated by Colonial law and by regulations established by Colonial governments, as well as by a long series of State Militia laws.  The authority of the president is clearly established by the precedents of calls for state Militia in the War of 1812 and the Civil War.

(2) The Militia has no separate or sovereign authority to constitute itself or to engage in operations or employ force without the order of the Governor or the President.  No state or federal law provides for such authority.  Even during the days leading to the  Revolutionary War and in its first battles, the Militia operated under the authority of Colonial legislatures and Committees of Safety.

(3) In the late 1800s the Militia developed into two categories as codified in state laws: the Organized Militia and the Unorganized Militia. These are described in state law, although not all states establish Unorganized Militia (for example, West Virginia does not).

(4) The Organized Militia in state law is the Army and Air National Guard.  In some states this additionally includes a Naval Militia, which in most cases primarily consists of officers and men of the US Naval Reserve.  Some states have State Defense Forces or State Guards that serve under similar conditions to the National Guard, but have no federal role.

(5) The Organized Militia retains the long-standing law enforcement role of the Militia, and when called to State Active Duty may be invested with law enforcement authority.  Historically this role has been used to suppress insurrections (the War of the Regulation in 1771), riots (the New York Draft Riots during the Civil War), disorder resulting from strikes (in many states), and to protect prisoners against lynch mobs.  The Organized Militia in its state role is a force that may be used by the Governor to protect public order and the rule of law.  To assert that the Militia has a legitimate role of protecting lawbreaking citizens against the government is absurd and delusional.

(6) The Unorganized Militia is the traditional general levy Militia of all adults.  However, it no longer exists as a functional entity with a county regimental organization and a command structure of officers commissioned by the Governor as provided in Militia laws up to the Civil War.  In those states where the Unorganized Militia is still identified in state laws, it regulated by the Adjutant General of the state and subject to the orders of the Organized Militia structure and to military discipline when ordered to State Active Duty.

(7) The Organized Militia has a permanent existence, even if its members only serve part time.  The Unorganized Militia only exists when ordered to active duty by the Governor.

(8) The quotation "a well regulated militia ..." from the Second Amendment, often quoted by advocates of private armed groups with no lawful authority, clearly refers to the Organized Militia and the Unorganized Militia when called to active duty under the authority of the Governor or the President (Article II Section 2 and equivalent state provisions), and the management of the Militia in keeping with federal and state law and the military regulations of the state's Military Department (Article I Section 8).

Calling a group of armed individuals, acting without lawful orders of the Governor to undermine the authority of the legislature and the courts in opposition to elected authority, the Militia reflects profound ignorance of our nation's military and legal history, as well as the current laws of the nation.  We encourage our members be informed on this issue, and to educate others as to the true meaning of the term Militia.  Neither we today, nor our ancestors, have any association in any way with these groups, and we strongly oppose the use of the term "militia" to describe them.