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Toward Comparative Studies of the U.S. Militia Movement

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The purpose of this paper is to place the U.S. militia movement into proper historical context through the use of a comparative method. Militias in the United States are often depicted as dangerous and extreme right-wing groups that warrant significant monitoring and control. The sense of danger associated with the militias is perhaps exacerbated by the tendency to think of these groups as an unprecedented social phenomenon. Early reports of U.S. militias in news reports tended to neglect the historical forerunners of this movement, and this omission promoted the view that militias are unique developments. Expanding upon work by Durham (1996), this article seeks to deepen our historical appreciation of U.S. militias. Beginning with the observation that comparative studies of the militia movement have been hampered by a failure to systematically define the subject of study, we employ five analytic categories — ideology, motivation, mobilization, organization, and ritual — in an effort to describe U.S. militias. Having outlined these categories and applied them to U.S. militias, we then compare and contrast the militias with right-wing forerunners in the United States such as the Silver Shirts, KKK, and Know Nothing Party. We conclude with several suggestions for advancing comparative investigations into the U.S. militia movement.

Affiliations: 1: Room 520T, Department of Sociology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, 899 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10019, USA.


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