Virginians may Vote in Elections, But in Counties with Militias Democracy Hangs in the Balance

Bedford County Militia muster call, 2021. Image: WFXR News/YouTube

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If democracy is a ground-up experience in the United States, then county government is the bedrock upon which it stands. Counties and municipalities are where most people interface with democratic government. It’s where they vote in elections, attend schools, visit the library, and call 911 for help with emergencies. When they have disputes with neighbors, county courts resolve them. 

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Much like their federal and state peers, however, U.S. county governments are facing threats from far-right activists. Sometimes the threat is violent. When far-right groups converged on Charlottesville, Virginia, for the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally, a White supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protestors, killing a White woman named Heather Heyer,[1] while a gang of White rally-goers assaulted a Black man, DeAndre Harris, in a parking garage.[2]

But more often than not, the threat is to the body politic as far-right actors use the levers of democracy against itself. Bedford County, Virginia, is a case in point. In 2020, the county board of supervisors approved a resolution formally recognizing the Bedford County Militia, Inc. Shortly thereafter, the militia publicized its collaboration with the county’s sheriff, Mike Miller, on its webpage.[3] The news that her sheriff was working with an armed militia alarmed Donna St. Clair, a member of the Bedford Democratic Committee, so when the group invited Miller to speak to the committee, she asked him to identify the group’s commander. According to St. Clair, Miller demurred, saying he would leave it to the commander “to identify herself.”[4] “Everyone was appalled,” St. Clair recalled. “What sort of armed group gets protected status like that?”[5]

To understand militias’ potential to undermine county-level democracy from within, we’ve looked at Bedford and three other Virginia counties whose boards of supervisors considered resolutions to formally recognize militias: Campbell, Franklin, and Halifax. These resolutions are part of a process we call county capture—a form of democratic erosion pared down to scale, at the nation’s smallest but arguably most important level of democracy. As we discovered, these resolutions are part of a larger far-right plan to take control of county governments and put them on a war footing—as guerillas when Democrats are in control, and as pro-state paramilitaries when MAGA Republicans are in charge. Neither position is good for democracy.

Democratic Erosion

Democratic erosion is a process by which a variety of actors, from elected officials to outside activists, use legal means to chip away at core parts of democratic governance, including free and fair elections, individual rights, formal checks and balances, and impartial justice. 

The concept of democratic erosion (or democratic backsliding[6]) emerged in the 1960s amid decolonization in Africa and Asia, as newly independent nations tried to establish and stabilize democratic governance in the face of multiple challenges.[7] The term was revived in the early 2000s as post-communist democracies in Eastern Europe and Central Asia began to falter.[8] 

The concept is useful in capturing the ephemeral nature of democracy since World War II. Between 1945 and 2002, 96 new states[9] were formed, and most faced numerous destabilizing forces, including the 1970s OPEC oil embargo, superpower intervention during the Cold War, and IMF-imposed austerity projects in the early 1990s. Not surprisingly, many of these new democracies morphed into autocracies. 

Most recently, scholars have used the concept of democratic erosion to explain political trends in established democracies,[10] particularly after Donald Trump began trampling democratic norms in the world’s oldest continuous democracy.[11] In his last few months in office alone, Trump invited a far-right street gang, the Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by”[12] when asked to condemn the group at a presidential debate; pressured Vice President Mike Pence to not certify the 2020 electoral college vote;[13] and waited three hours before calling off supporters who violently stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.[14]

While Trump’s efforts undermined electoral politics, democratic erosion can also target individual rights, minority groups, and checks against what the French political philosopher Tocqueville called the “tyranny of the majority.” These erosions can occur even in places that continue to have free and fair elections. This combination—of elections and declining rights—is referred to as illiberal democracy.[15]

Most organizations that track democratic erosion measure it at the national level,[16] but democratic erosion can happen to states or counties and can exist even when the federal government remains democratic. Political scientists call this phenomenon subnational authoritarianism.[17] In the U.S.—an established democracy moving towards authoritarianism—militias play a central role in the erosion. 

Militias and Democratic Erosion in the U.S.

Militias—armed groups that style themselves as local guardians[18]—have always been part of the United States. The Carolina Regulators, Whiskey Rebels, and the Ku Klux Klan all justified their actions as a defense of local traditions and mores.[19] And while their goals varied—fighting colonial administrators, preventing abusive taxation, and defending White supremacy—all resorted to extra-legal violence. 

The contemporary U.S. militia movement began in the late-20th century and was defined by its vigorous opposition to the federal government.[20] Some scholars cite the 1980s farm crisis as the start of the movement’s contemporary iteration.[21] Others point to bungled federal sieges in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas.[22] Whatever the trigger, these nascent militias believed the federal government had been corrupted by so-called global forces and was preparing to confiscate citizens’ guns. Unsurprisingly, militias took a dim view of federal police forces like the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, referring to them as “jack-booted thugs.”[23]

The contemporary militia movement also embraces a conspiratorial world view. In the 1990s, the movement warned of a “new world order;”[24] today it echoes Trump’s “deep state” narrative. Both conspiracies cast members of the U.S. government as internal traitors working with global elites to undermine the country.[25]

Key to the movement’s growth is a tendency to support existing social hierarchies that favor its largely White, male base. Some militias accept openly racist members[26] and others have been willing to appear alongside White nationalist groups at protests like Unite the Right.[27] Some have also supported anti-LGBTQ legislation[28] and participated in attacks on abortion clinics.[29] 

The contemporary militia movement has been willing to use violence, mostly against people and places associated with the federal government. The 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City is the most recognizable attack, but militias have engaged in numerous other crimes since, including threatening Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agents in the 1990s,[30] occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in 2016,[31] and plotting to kidnap the Governor of Michigan in 2020. [32]   

Until recently the threat posed by militias seemed akin to that posed by guerilla groups in places like El Salvador and Northern Ireland—similarly seeking to undermine the federal government, but smaller in scale and organization. 

By 2017, however, U.S. militias started to behave less like guerillas and more like pro-state paramilitaries.[33] Despite continued talk of the new world order and “deep state,” many militias made peace with federal power in Trump’s hands,[34] even welcoming federal policing against their common enemies. In 2017, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes offered to coordinate security with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in advance of an Alt Right “free speech” rally expected to attract anti-fascist counter-protestors.[35] The Oath Keepers continued to support Trump into the 2020 election season, serving as security guards at his rallies[36] and on security details for high-flyers in his orbit, like Roger Stone[37] and Ali Alexander.[38]

The “western chauvinist”[39] Proud Boys also supported Trump, showing up at protests after George Floyd’s murder in the summer of 2020, ready to fight Trump’s purported enemies.[40] When asked to disavow the group in a presidential debate that September, Trump instead told them to “stand back and stand by.”[41] Within hours of the debate, the Proud Boys were sharing a logo with the phrase on social media.[42] According to Jeremy Bertino, a former Proud Boy then active in the group, membership requests also surged following Trump’s remarks.[43] 

Although many of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers who participated in the failed Jan. 6 insurrection were ultimately found guilty of seditious conspiracy or other felonies, [44] the Far Right endures. And, though some adherents will fall away, those who remain are likely to become more extreme. [45] They may go underground for a time, refocusing their efforts on local action.[46] 

While many contemporary militias cut their teeth on defending “local sovereignty” from a presumably tyrannical federal government, their current efforts to seek formal recognition from county boards of supervisors and establish relationships with county sheriffs suggests they now hope to gain direct access to local levers of power. Indeed, the Bedford County Militia Inc.’s webpage prominently highlights their connections with local law enforcement in matters of public safety and emergency services.[47]Given militias’ support for Trump and potential militant convergence across the Far Right, Virginia’s militias could intimidate Democratic voters, harass election workers, and muster (that is, summon their troops) to guarantee Trump’s return to power if the 2024 election’s final vote tally doesn’t go his way.

County Capture in Virginia 

Bedford, Campbell, Franklin, and Halifax counties are in Central and Southside Virginia.[48] Demographically, they are older, more rural, and less wealthy than the state as a whole. Except for Halifax, they are also Whiter.[49]

In 2020, all four counties debated resolutions formally recognizing militias operating within their boundaries. The resolutions had varying success. In Franklin County, the local militia lobbied the board of supervisors for recognition in 2019, but the board didn’t bring a resolution to the floor for more than two years, instead letting residents debate the issue during public comment sessions. In February 2022, Franklin supervisors finally passed a more general resolution “commend[ing] and laud[ing] citizens for their spirit of volunteerism” without mentioning the militia by name.[50] Although militia members and supporters made the case for recognition by describing themselves as volunteers, they were angry the resolution didn’t name them specifically. One member complained to the press that several supervisors had offered their support for the group in private.[51] 

In Halifax, a supervisor introduced the resolution at its September 2020 board meeting, but the board tabled it[52] and voted to remove it from consideration that November.[53] Campbell and Bedford passed their resolutions in March and May of 2020, respectively.

The 2019 Virginia General Assembly election explains the timing of these resolutions. The results, which put Democrats in charge of both houses for the first time in 25 years, sent shock waves through the state’s Republican establishment.[54] When Bedford’s Board of Supervisors met to discuss their resolution in April 2020, for example, Republican Supervisor Tommy Scott said the resolution was necessary because “Richmond is trying to take away our Second Amendment rights.”[55]

Although nothing we found in the four counties’ meeting minutes indicates formal, external coordination behind the resolutions, the timing and sequence of their introduction suggests militias may have been informally working (or at least harmonizing their efforts) with the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), a gun rights group[56] the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as to the right of the National Rifle Association.[57] Indeed, the militia resolutions followed closely on the heels of two efforts pushed by the VCDL shortly after the 2019 election.

In a two-and-a-half-month period just after the 2019 election, for example, a wave of local governments—including 91 of Virginia’s 133 counties and 16 of its cities[58]—passed Second Amendment Sanctuary resolutions. Bedford, Campbell, Franklin, and Halifax counties were among them. According to local news interviews with the VCDL’s president, the group coordinated with gun owners across the state to get sanctuary resolutions introduced and passed.[59] 

The speed of passing these resolutions suggests the VCDL also had inside help in many counties. According to Bedford board minutes from a December 2019 meeting that drew nearly 1,000 residents,[60] the sheriff supported the resolution when it was brought to the floor.[61] A local resident who was there, and who requested anonymity to avoid reprisal, recalled that the sheriff “indicated that he will let the militia do what they have to do…he wouldn’t take orders from the governor to curtail [them].”[62]

The VCDL also organized a gun rally planned to coincide with the General Assembly’s annual “Lobby Day,” a longstanding January event described by The Washington Post as “a day devoted to amateur arm-twisting.”[63] Although the VCDL insisted the gun rally was not a protest, the group announced militias would provide “security,”[64] and other far-right groups soon “latched on” to the Lobby Day gun rally.[65]White nationalists described the event on social media as “the “boogaloo”—far-right slang for civil war.[66] In the weeks leading up to the event, far-right chatter was so intense that then-Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency.[67]

Militia resolutions came shortly after Lobby Day. Although the VCDL does not publicly acknowledge spearheading these resolutions, it’s likely they were involved because of timing and similar tactics. The resolutions—declaring, in virtually identical language, official recognition of armed, self-proclaimed militia groups—were introduced in at least seven[68] Virginia counties and one city shortly before or just after the VCDL’s Second Amendment Sanctuary Resolution push was complete. Like the Second Amendment Sanctuary resolutions, the wording of the proposed militia recognitions was virtually identical. The two campaigns varied only in their level of success. Unlike the VCDL’s Sanctuary resolutions, of the seven counties and one city that considered militia resolutions, only four passed them.

The militia resolutions’ language followed two patterns common in communications by militias and sovereign citizen groups:[69] excessive reference to legal statutes,[70] and taking those references out of context or conflating them with other, unrelated legal documents. On the whole, these resolutions are like countless U.S. militia and sovereign citizen communiques before them: formal yet convoluted, and casting today’s militias as following a patriotic tradition going back to the Revolution to establish their right to muster and train during peacetime. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the county resolutions do not rest on firm legal footing. Several justify militias’ existence by pointing repeatedly to Article 1, Section 13 of the Virginia Constitution. But as Mary McCord, executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP), explains, Section 13 lays out strict parameters for militias’ operation—that they are subordinate to civil power and should not exist during peacetime.[71] Likewise, Virginia’s anti-paramilitary law prohibits actions some of these militias are already undertaking,[72] including exercising law enforcement functions and operating outside state authority. Indeed, the governor is the only state official who can call up an unorganized militia. 

When we asked McCord why counties were recognizing militias despite Virginia law, she described the resolutions as “purely performative.” County officials were playing to their base after the General Assembly turned blue. Nonetheless, ICAP spent considerable time trying to educate county officials grappling with pressure from militias for formal recognition. In letters sent to supervisors in counties considering resolutions, ICAP explained the legal parameters around militia activity in great detail, emphasizing that Virginia law prohibits such activity in lieu of a formal muster by the governor or president.[73]

Local news outlets indicate supervisors read ICAP’s letter.[74] John Sharp, then-chair of Bedford’s board, told a reporter McCord was a “leftist” who should “stay the hell in Georgetown.”[75] Jeff Helgeson, a city council member in neighboring Lynchburg, also weighed in, saying McCord was “coming to the aid of vandals.”[76] But other supervisors appear to have taken the memo more seriously. At Halifax County’s September 2020 board meeting, where the resolution was first discussed, Supervisor William Bryant Claiborne explained his reticence to support it by pointing to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Kyle Rittenhouse answered a militia muster call and ended up shooting three protestors at a Black Lives Matter protest, killing two. Kenosha, the supervisor noted, was now at risk of facing lawsuits.[77]

Toothless Tigers or Trojan Horses?

State politicians have shown little appetite to rein in militias, or hold counties to account for recognizing them, and it’s not hard to see why. Their ability to enforce the law requires the assistance of local officials who often support militias. In short, militias have become legal in a de facto sense. 

But what kind of threat do militias pose today? In many ways, the threat is the same as it was in the early 1990s when the contemporary militia movement first burst onto the scene. Then, as now, militia-inspired county resolutions threatened federal and state governments by flouting their laws. The county stamp of approval also gave militias license to harass federal agents and ordinary citizens who disagreed with them. As militia expert William Chaloupka observed nearly 30 years ago, by their very existence, militias challenge “one of the most basic activities of sovereign government: namely, its prerogative to monopolize the use of force.”[78] 

But today’s militias also represent a new kind of threat. Instead of menacing state and federal governments, some militias are now willing to work with them. One of the most remarkable things in the Bedford and Campbell County militia resolutions is that they explicitly provide avenues for county militias to cooperate with federal power—something that would have been unthinkable in the Waco era—including being “called or ordered out for lawful purposes by the President of the United States.”[79]

However, it’s abundantly clear that militia cooperation with federal authorities is not a bipartisan endeavor. The Campbell County Militia made this point clear in May 2022 after Bob Good, a MAGA-aligned Republican who believes the 2020 election was stolen from Trump,[80] won re-nomination as the GOP candidate for Virginia’s 5th Congressional District. When Good publicly accepted his nomination, the Cardinal News reported that he was “flanked by armed members of the Campbell County Militia” as he called Democrats “the party of death.”[81]

While it may be tempting to dismiss the small, rural Campbell County, or the marginal figure of Congressman Good, that would be unwise. After Good won reelection in November 2022, the Campbell County Militia took a victory lap, noting on its webpage that its members had gone “door to door” and some had “served as poll watchers and election officers.”[82] Given the militia’s close alignment with the Republican Party’s MAGA wing, it’s possible the group could illegally self-muster on Trump’s behalf if the Democratic nominee wins the 2024 election. 

Even barring this worst-case scenario, militias are a different force to be reckoned with today than they were 30 years ago. By vacillating between guerilla and paramilitary postures, or anti- and pro-state stances, militias have become empowered as independent forces to be reckoned with by opponents and supporters alike. 

A racial justice protest in nearby Lynchburg several nights after George Floyd was murdered shows why. As the protest was getting underway, a nearby restaurant owner encouraged county militias to help him counter the protestors.  Militias arrived and took up positions on the roof and along the building’s perimeter. The arrival of heavily armed White men at a largely Black protest, however, added fuel to the fire. A Black protestor told a local reporter: “aiming those rifles and firearms, it kind of made the situation escalate a lot. That’s where the violence took place.”[83]

Although the Lynchburg Police chief told reporters he did not muster the militia, its unlawful policing undermined community trust in his force. Indeed, a day after the protest, local militias posted on Facebook that they had offered to help LPD but would cease policing protests after “conversations” with the department.[84] Whether the department’s conversations occurred out of sympathy for militia ideology, or caution in convincing a heavily armed opponent to stand down, the announcement felt like a slap in the face to some residents. One Black protestor told the media that “people felt like they was being looked down upon, and no one cared because they had [militia] guns pointed right at their face.”[85] Others wondered why the department tear-gassed and arrested Black protesters—charging 15 with crimes—but appear to have negotiated with White militias engaged in unlawful policing. 

Militias can create problems even when they are engaged in putatively apolitical activities. After participating in hot-button counterprotests in 2020 and early 2021, militias in Bedford and Campbell counties changed course. After a tornado ripped through Bedford in 2022, for example, the militia rebranded as a civic-minded group, using Facebook[86] to tout its work helping the sheriff with cleanup.[87] 

According to Donna St. Clair, the militia’s cooperation with the sheriff continues today, as the sheriff calls on militia members to “chop up trees that fall over in windstorms, get cats, things like that.”[88] St. Clair also worries that the group’s anonymity, supported by the sheriff, may allow members to hide criminal backgrounds from the public even as they take up public-facing roles. When she asked Sheriff Miller about this, the answer was troubling. “I asked if he would hire a deputy with no background check,” St. Clair told us. “He said of course not. I then asked why it was okay for our armed militia to be anonymous. We could have convicted felons, substance abusers, who knows? He had no answer.”[89]

Sheriff Miller did not respond to our request for comment. We also contacted county attorney Patrick Skelley, who told us he had no personal knowledge of cooperation between the sheriff and the militia,[90] but suggested we ask the sheriff’s office.

The sheriff’s decision to cooperate with the county’s militia could prove a double-edged sword. If the group splits into factions, Miller could find himself in the midst of a violent power struggle he cannot contain. The board of supervisors would also have to decide which faction would retain formal recognition. As St. Clair put it, “I told the sheriff he has a tiger by the tail.”[91]

Paramilitaries the world over routinely abuse their connections to formal power to settle personal scores, rent-seek, and abuse vulnerable people. If Trump wins the GOP nomination (and ultimately the presidency), Bedford and Campbell Counties’ militias could settle personal and political scores with abandon. 

Virginians may continue to vote in elections, but in counties with militias, democracy hangs in the balance. 


[1] Joe Ruiz and Doreen McCallister, 2017, “Events Surrounding White Nationalist Rally in Virginia Turn Fatal,” The Two-way, National Public Radio, August 12, 2017.

[2] Ian Shapira, “Fourth Attacker Sentenced in Charlottesville Parking Garage Beating of Black Man,” The Washington Post, August 27, 2019.

[3] “Tornado Cleanup,” Bedford County Militia.

[4] Interview with Donna St. Clair, Bedford Resident, former co-chair of the Bedford Democratic Committee, and former Democratic candidate for Virginia State Senate Seat, District 8. April 27, 2023.

[5] Interview with Donna St. Clair, September 8, 2023.

[6] Charles Gati, “Backsliding in Central and Eastern Europe,” Connections 6(3) (2007): 107-20.

[7] Rupert Emerson, “The Erosion of Democracy,” The Journal of Asian Studies 20(1) (1960): 1-8.

[8] Steven Fish, “The Dynamics of Democratic Erosion,” in Postcommunism and the Theory of Democracy, eds. Richard D. Anderson, M. Steven Fish, Stephen E. Hanson and Philip G. Roeder (Princeton University Press, 2001), 54-95.

[9] A.J. Christopher, “Decolonisation without independence,” GeoJournal 56 (3) (2002): 213-224

[10] The history of the term “democratic erosion” is interlinked with the development of the post-World War II liberal international order. After this new order consolidated in the 1950s, Western democracies often used the U.S. model as the benchmark for measuring (and in some cases forcing) democratization in other parts of the world, even though their societies had different social fault lines, economic histories, and local forms of governance. Not surprisingly, many western-led democratization efforts floundered, or were only partially implemented as a result. Ongoing democratic erosion in the U.S. has emboldened authoritarians, some in places where earlier western-led democratization attempts failed, to argue the U.S.’ political disarray shows once and for all that democracy doesn’t work.

[11] Erica R. Hendry, “Trump Asked Russia to Find Clinton’s Emails. On or around the Same Day, Russians Targeted Her Accounts,” PBS Newshour, July 13, 2018. Trump’s efforts started before he won the presidency. After it was reported that his opponent had used a private email account while heading the State Department, Trump encouraged the Russian government to hack her email account, telling reporters during a press conference in Florida—“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing, I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

[12] Ted Hesson and Kristina Cooke, “Explainer: President Trump asked the Proud Boys to ‘stand by.’ Who are they?” Reuters, September 30, 2020.

[13] Barbara Sprunt, “Jan. 6 Committee Leaders say Trump Broke the Law by Trying to Pressure Pence,” NPR, June 16, 2022.

[14] Barbara Sprunt, “Jan. 6 Panel Sheds Light on the 187 Minutes Trump Went Dark during Capitol Siege,” NPR, July 22, 2022.

[15]Varieties of Democracy,” International Democracy Community. The International Democracy Community describes electoral democracy as a baseline for other, more expansive types of democracy. A country can be defined as an electoral democracy if it has competitive elections. A liberal democracy, by contrast, holds competitive elections and protects individual rights to both prevent the “tyranny of the state and the tyranny of the majority.”

[16] “Countries and Territories,” Freedom House, 2023.

[17] Agustina Giraudy, Democrats and Autocrats: Pathways of Subnational Undemocratic Regime Continuity within Democratic Countries (Oxford University Press, 2015).

[18] Paul Rexton Kan, The Global Challenge of Militias and Paramilitary Violence (Palgrave McMillan, 2019), 8. According to Army War College Professor Paul Rexton Kan, “collective self-defense lies at the core of [militias’] identity and is used as a rationale for their violence.”

[19] Catherine Stock, Rural Radicals: Righteous Rage in the American Grain (Cornell University Press, 1996).

[20] Amy Cooter, “US Domestic Militias’ Intersections with Government and Authority: How a Sociology of Individualism Informs their Praxis,” in Local Self-Governance and Varieties of Statehood: Tensions and Cooperation, eds. D. Neubert, H. Laugh, and C. Mohamad Klotzback (Springer, 2022). Cooter argues that militias’ opposition to the federal government does not carry over to their views of state and county governments.

[21] Joel Dyer, Harvest of Rage: Why Oklahoma is only the Beginning (Basic Books, 1997).

[22] Mark Pitcavage, “Camouflage and Conspiracy: The Militia Movement from Ruby Ridge to Y2K,” American Behavioral Scientist, 44(6) (2001), 957–981.

[23] Carolyn Gallaher, On the Fault Line: Race, Class, and the American Patriot Movement (Rowman and Littlefield, 2003), 90.

[24] Gallaher, 16-21. See also Sam Jackson, Conspiracy Theories in the Patriot/Militia Movement (George Washington University Program on Extremism, 2017).

[25] Ryan Lenz, “Alt-right Fears ‘Deep State’ Retribution against Trump,” Southern Poverty Law Center, February 27, 2017.

[26] Gallaher, 127.

[27] Paul Duggan, “Militiamen Came to Charlottesville as Neutral First Amendment protectors, Commander Says,” TheWashington Post, August 13, 2017.

[28] Gallaher, 200-204.

[29] Frederick Clarkson, “Anti-abortion bombings related,” The Intelligence Report, September 15, 1998.

[30] Erik Larson, “Unrest in the West: Welcome to Nevada’s Nye County, Whose Angry Residents Are Spearheading the Region’s Charge against Washington,” Time Magazine, October 23, 1995.

[31] Carolyn Gallaher, “Placing the Militia Occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon,” ACME 15(2) (2016): 293-308.

[32] Kanishka Singh and Steve Gorman, “Ringleader in Plot to Kidnap Michigan Governor Sentence to 16 Years in Prison,” Reuters, December 28, 2022.

[33] Carolyn Gallaher and Jaclyn Fox, “Could Anti-Government Militias Become Pro-State Paramilitaries?” The Public Eye, October 27, 2020.

[34] Andrea Mazzarino, “The Far-Right Militias Supporting Trump,” The Nation, October 29, 2020.

[35] Jason Wilson, “Oath Keepers Militia Will Attend Portland ‘Free Speech’ Rally, Says Leader,” The Guardian, June 3, 2017.

[36] Andrew Blake, “Oath Keepers seeks armed volunteers for Trump rally in D.C.,” The Washington Times, December 10, 2020.

[37] Christian Triebert, Ben Decker, Derek Watkins, Arielle Ray, and Stella Cooper, “First They Guarded Roger Stone. Then They Joined the Capitol Attack,” The New York Times, February 14, 2021.

[38] Kyle Cheney, “Text Message Trove Shows Oath Keepers Discussing Security Details for Trump Associates,” Politico, April 18, 2022.

[39] “Proud Boys,” Southern Poverty Law Center, SPLC’s Extremist Files.

[40] Cassie Miller, “Proud Boys are Still Violent, Despite Legal Woes,” Southern Poverty Law Center, August 25, 2021.

[41] Derek Hawkins, Cleve R. Wootson Jr., and Craig Timberg, “Trump’s ‘stand by’ Remark Puts the Proud Boys in the Spotlight,” The Washington Post, September 30, 2020.

[42] Vera Bergengruen, tweet on 29th September 2020, 11:00pm.

[43] Quinn Owen, “Proud Boys Saw Surge in Membership after Trump’s Debate Message, Former Member Testifies,” ABC News, February 21, 2023.

[44] On the Oath Keepers see: Kyle Cheney, “4 More Oath Keepers Found Guilty of Seditious Conspiracy tied to Jan. 6 Attack,” Politico, January 23, 2023. On Proud Boys see: Amna Nawaz and Saher Khan, “Proud Boys Members Convicted of Seditious Conspiracy in Jan. 6 Case,” PBS News Hour, May 4, 2023.

[45] Matthew Valasik and Shannon Reid, “After the Insurrection, America’s Far-Right Groups Get More Extreme,” The Conversation, March 15, 2021.

[46] Spencer S. Hsu and Hannah Allam, “Landmark Oath Keepers verdict hobbles group, but the movement lives on,” TheWashington Post, December 3, 2022.

[47] “Who We Are | Bedford County Militia, Inc,” Bedford County Militia, 2023.

[48]Virginia’s Demographic Regions,” The University of Virginia Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. The University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service’s Demographics Research Group puts Bedford, Campbell, and Franklin counties in “west Central” Virginia and Halifax in “Southside” Virginia.

[49]Quick Facts,” The United States Census Bureau.

[50] Jason Dunovant, “Supervisors Pass Resolution Supporting Volunteerism, Leave Out Militia,” The Franklin News-Post, February 23, 2022.

[51] Dunovant, “Supervisors.”

[52] Campbell Robertson, “In Rural Virginia, a Militia Tries to Recruit a New Ally: The County Government,” The York Times, October 28, 2020.

[53] Halifax County Board of Supervisors,  Meeting Minutes, November 2, 2020, 15.

[54] Martin Austermuhle, Danielle Cheslow, Barbara Sprunt, and Hannah Schuster, “Blue Wave Turns Virginia State Government Fully Democratic for First Time in 26 years,” WAMU, November 5, 2019.

[55] Bedford County Board of Supervisors, Meeting Minutes, April 27, 2020, 9.

[56]About – Virginia Citizens Defense League,” Virginia Citizens Defense League.

[57] Brett Barrouquere, “Animated by Conspiracy Theories, Far-right Extremists Seize Opportunity to Rally around Guns in Virginia,” Southern Poverty Law Center, January 24, 2020.

[58]Counties / Cities Adopted,” VA 2nd.

[59] Rich Griset, “From Fringe to Force: How a Gun Rights Advocate from Chesterfield Made his Mark,”  Chesterfield Observer, January 15, 2020.

[60] Shayne Dwyer, “Bedford County Approves Second Amendment Sanctuary Resolution After Spectacle of a Meeting,” WSLS, 2019. This information was also confirmed in our interview with an anonymous Bedford County resident, September 15th, 2023.

[61] Bedford County Board of Supervisors, Meeting Minutes, December 9, 2019, 7.

[62] Interview with an anonymous Bedford County resident. The resident requested anonymity by noting: “people in camouflage with AK 47s, it’s very intimidating.”

[63] Laura Vozzella and Anita Kumar, “Lobby Day brings carnival feel to Virginia Capitol,” The Washington Post, January 16, 2012.

[64] “Lobby Day 2020,” The Defender, January 2020.

[65] Barrouquere, “Animated.”

[66] WNYC Studios, “Behind The Scenes of Virginia’s 2020 Lobby Day,” New York Public Radio, July 2, 2021.

[67] Caroline Linton, “Virginia Governor Declares State of Emergency in Advance of Pro-gun Rally near State Capitol,” CBS News, January 15, 2020.

[68] Ned Oliver and Graham Moomaw, “As Virginia Democrats advance new gun restrictions, militias organize, promising to resist,” Virginia Mercury, January 13, 2020; Hannah Hall, “Augusta County supervisors will not approve plan for militia,” WHSV3 News, February 25, 2020; Autumn Childress, “Rockingham County Supervisors Reject Unorganized Militia Proposal,” WHSV3 News, February 26, 2020. In addition to the four counties discussed here, Tazewell County and the city of Norton in Southwest Virginia passed resolutions in 2019 and 2020 respectively. Augusta and Rockingham counties in Shenandoah Valley considered but ultimately rejected resolutions in 2020.

[69] Christine M. Sarteschi, “Sovereign citizens: A narrative review with implications of violence towards law enforcement,” Aggression and Violent Behavior, 2021 Sep-Oct. 60:101509, doi: 10.1016/j.avb.2020.101509.

[70] District of Columbia v. HellerMcDonald v. Chicago, and United States v. Miller.

[71] Interview with Mary McCord, Executive Director, Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP), Georgetown University.

[72] Code of Virginia, Article 8, Unlawful Paramilitary Activity.

[73] John Sharp and Robert Hiss, “Re: Private Paramilitary Activity in Bedford County,” June 16, 2020. See, for example, the letter sent to Bedford County’s County Administrator Robert Hiss.

[74] Santiago Melli-Huber, “Militia Members at Lynchburg Protest May Have Broken the Law, Legal Expert Says,” WFXR, July 1, 2020; Franklin County Board of Supervisors, Meeting Minutes, February 15, 2022, 79.

[75] Rachel Mahoney, “Lynchburg-area officials mum, dismissive of claims militia have acted illegally,” The News and Advance, July 11, 2020.

[76] Mahoney, “Lynchburg-area.”

[77] Halifax County Board of Supervisors, Meeting Minutes, September 8, 2020.

[78] William Chaloupka, “The County Supremacy and Militia Movements: Federalism as an Issue on the Radical Right,” Publius, vol. 26, no. 3 (1996), 161–75, JSTOR.

[79] This wording is found in both counties’ resolutions.

[80] Meagan Flynn, “From Quiet Falwell Acolyte to Bombastic Marjorie Taylor Greene Ally: A Freshman Lawmaker’s Political Evolution,” The Washington Post, December 10, 2021.

[81] Markus Schmidt, “Bob Good Calls the Democrats ‘the Party of Death,’” Cardinal News, October 17, 2022.

[82] Campbell County Militia, “Campbell County Militia Celebrates Local Election Results,” November 11, 2022.

[83] WFXR, “Lynchburg Looks Back One Year After Protests, Tear Gas, and Calls for Justice,” WFXR, June 1, 2021.

[84] Mahoney, ”Lynchburg-area.”

[85] WFXR, “Lynchburg Looks Back.”

[86] Bedford County Militia, Inc., “Militia Makes Short Work of Storm Debris,” Facebook, May 29, 2022.

[87] “Tornado Cleanup,” Bedford County Militia.

[88] Interview with Donna St. Clair, April 27, 2023.

[89] Interview with Donna St. Clair, September 8, 2023.

[90] Email communication with Patrick Skelley, September 5, 2023.

[91] Interview with Donna St. Clair, April 27, 2023.