Helena, Montana – April 19, 2020: Yellowstone Militia of Billings, armed group of men carrying guns and weapons, protest of government shutdown and Montana’s stay-at-home orders. credit: Shutterstock

I recently wrote on the Civics Nation Facebook page, “Both sides are not the same. One side has woke shaming mobs, the other has a fascist Dear Leader with millions of angry white dudes armed to the teeth in white supremacist militias ready to make the coup succeed this time around.” A friend responded:

Q: Please send me a source on the size of militias. This NY Times article has data that mirrors the numbers I recall.  I live amongst Republicans and most do have a modicum of common sense.  Hyperbole only gets most people more aroused or dismissive. They are not much concerned about shaming mobs but burning/riot mobs make them nervous and heaven help any groups that might mess up their commute to work. Republicans also seem split over who their leader will be.  


A: The NY Times estimates only 15 to 20,000 in militias, but the ADL estimated the number at 100,000 in 2011. I expect that number has increased since then. 


Civics Lesson: Organized and Unorganized Militias

Is voter suppression a myth or a reality? Like all things in politics, the answers aren't as straightforward as some might think.The militia of the United States, as defined by the U.S. Congress, has changed over time. During colonial America, all able-bodied men of a certain age range were members of the militia, depending on each colony’s rule. Individual towns formed local independent militias for their own defense. The year before the US Constitution was ratifiedThe Federalist Papers detailed the founders‘ paramount vision of the militia in 1787. The new Constitution empowered Congress to “organize, arm, and discipline” this national military force, leaving significant control in the hands of each state government.

Today, as defined by the Militia Act of 1903, the term “militia” is used to describe two classes within the United States:

  • Organized militia – consisting of State Defense Forces, the National Guard and Naval Militia.
  • Unorganized militia – comprising the reserve militia: every able-bodied man of at least 17 and under 45 years of age, not a member of the State Defense Forces, National Guard, or Naval Militia

Congress has organized the National Guard under its power to “raise and support armies” and not its power to “Provide for organizing, arming and disciplining the Militia”.


Those private militias estimated in both the NY Times and by ADL are neither the “organized militia” (ie the National Guard) or the “unorganized militia” (all able-boded men aged 17 to 45). If you add in numbers from those groups, that’s where you get to my estimate of “millions.” Especially, when you run these numbers:
Number of Firearms in America:                  393 million
Percentage of Republicans who agree with this statement, “Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”:     30%
Number of Registered Republicans:              36.4
Approximate number of Republican Men:      22 million
Number of well-armed men ready to use violence to save America:   6 million Republicans + another 3 million independents.
Hopefully, enough state guards that report to Democratic Governors or non-Trumpist Republicans along with most of the National Guard and federal agents (FBI, customs, etc.) will all remain loyal to the Constitution in the wake of tomorrow’s election and will easily overwhelm any and all who take up arms to support a Trumpist coup attempt v2. What do you think?
Eric Forst is the founder and CEO of Civics Nation. With more than 20 years of experience as a marketing technology executive, Forst has spent his career helping clients in politics and industry better understand voters and consumers. In an age of fake-news and Russian propaganda, our civic duty of being an informed citizen is harder than ever. Forst’s deep understanding of the methods of ad-tech and AI helps Civics Nation readers identify fake news, the methods of propaganda, and learn the civics and history lessons needed to make informed votes.
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