Mainstreaming Militias
Mother Jones|November/December 2021
In Virginia, right-wingers who face down anti-racist demonstrators with AR-15s have earned an official stamp of approval.
By Matt Cohen. Illustrations by Julius Klemm

ON A BRIGHT afternoon in late June, members of the Bedford Militia lined up in a grassy field next to the Bryan Buchanan Auto Auction lot, right off the county highway in Montvale, Virginia. The group of a few dozen, half bearing sidearms and all in fatigues, stood still in formation, a US flag on one side and their own ensign on the other. With the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance, Bob Good, a Republican serving his first term representing the region in the US House, was onstage addressing them, fired up about his efforts on Capitol Hill to defend the Second Amendment.

Good warned that Joe Biden and the Democrats would not rest before taking every gun in the country. The only thing stopping them were people like the audience—militia members and their supporters—who, he said, to rapturous applause, were “proud patriots and constitutional conservatives who are doing their part to help strengthen our nation and to fight for the things that we believe.”

Despite that scene, if it hadn’t been for the hard talk and abundance of guns and camo, you’d have thought you just walked into a small county fair. There was a coffee stand and a barbecue truck stationed next to the stage. Artisans were selling crafts and homemade jewelry. At one tent, people could spin a wheel for prizes donated by local businesses.

But the event was the Bedford Militia’s second annual muster—the military term for assembling troops for inspection. While loosely affiliated militias are nothing new to the American landscape, across the country, they ramped up activity in the last year of the Trump administration, coming together to protest state covid restrictions, square off against Black Lives Matter activists, and rally on behalf of Donald Trump’s Big Lie, from ballot-counting centers to the US Capitol. Not only did Bedford County’s militia bring some of these trends home; they did so with a stamp of approval from the county government.

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