Will Glover sits down with Vanderbilt Sociology lecturer and expert, Dr. Amy Cooter, on US domestic militias and related nostalgic groups that are commonly grouped under the terms “right-wing” or “patriot groups,” Dr. Cooter’s research interests include Race & Ethnicity, Masculinity, Nationalism, and Crime & Deviance.


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Will Glover  What constitutes a militia? What is it?  What is the initial purpose behind having militias?

Dr. Amy Cooter – Senior Lecturer in Sociology  Militias are often looped in with a lot of other groups that are kind of similar to them, but if we’re getting into academic nitty gritty details are actually different.  The core principle behind militia groups is that from their perspective, they’re doing a civic duty.  They’re trying to stand up for a literal interpretation of the constitution.  Many of them see this as a way to continue prior military service and for all of them the second amendment is hugely important.  It’s very central to who they are and why they do what they do.

Will Glover  What are the demographics of the average militia group in here, you know in the Midwest, in places like Michigan?

Dr. Amy Cooter – Senior Lecturer in Sociology  Right, so most militia groups are predominantly white, predominantly male.  Tends to be the case that they have no more than about 10 percent women.  Usually no more than a handful of nonwhite members.  Most of them are working class, lower middle class, there are exceptions. And for the most part, they really have just this core commonality about this need to protect themselves and their community.

Dr. Amy Cooter – Senior Lecturer in Sociology  In short, I found that the vast majority of militia groups don’t have race and racism as part of their group structure.  That on average, the racism we see in those folks is about the same as we would expect in any other group of the same demographic.  Many of those groups actively try to discourage racists from joining, not that they always do a perfect job, but I think that’s kind of surprising.  And it’s helpful to know that in terms of separating out which groups are likely to be a problem versus not, because the more extreme groups, about 10 percent, in my estimation, actually do tend to include things like racism, sexism as more of an overt part of their picture.  And in my opinion, and some other folks opinion that tends to be a good marker of which groups we probably need to monitor a bit more closely for possible violence.

Will Glover  With the election of President Trump and this new administration, has there been a rise in militia activity, the amount of people who are participating in militias?

Dr. Amy Cooter – Senior Lecturer in Sociology  We think so, again those exact numbers are really difficult to track over time, but all indications seem to point to yes.  That with Trump in particular, he tends to appeal to a lot of the underlying fears that these folks have, not just militias, but in other groups, other swaths of that political spectrum.  Where the way he talks about immigration, the way he talks about Muslims, kind of sends signals that, oh, these are things we should be concerned about and other people in the government are handling this well ,so maybe we should do something about it.  Additionally, in recent months, we’ve seen some very clear signals from Trump about going potentially armed and standing up for yourself and guarding against violent protesters, right, in a way that does encourage some of these folks to do those very things.

Will Glover  Are you concerned about the recent things that have happened with, you know, plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer or are you concerned about that motivating other militias around the country to take similar action?

Dr. Amy Cooter – Senior Lecturer in Sociology  I’m concerned quite frankly that things like that are already in progress.  I would not be surprised obviously if law enforcement is already monitoring groups across the board for signs of this.  But I do think that there is a possibility that some of those extreme elements within the militia movement could be further radicalized by this.  That the folks who are already sort of the extreme fringe are looking at this and saying, oh it’s just entrapment or oh it’s fake altogether.  If some of them are linking it to the idea that this is just an attempt to control people who are fighting for free speech, fighting to uphold their rights, and some of them are also connecting it to the upcoming elections, saying that it’s an attempt to quell Trump supporters specifically so that too could feed in to some of the escalating possible violence going into that event as well.