Eleven members of the Illinois State Militia gathered on March 8 and ventured into the surrounding forests of Galesburg to be trained on topics ranging from land navigation to emergency medicine.
The Illinois State Militia (ILSM), an Illinois organization that is part of the national militia movement, hosted their monthly statewide training in the Spoon River State Forest in Knox County.
The ILSM is an organization not associated with the state or federal government that sees itself as the fulfillment of clauses in the United States and Illinois Constitutions that guarantee the right to a militia.
“The Second Amendment mentions the militia,” ILSM Captain Tom Williams said. “And the word ‘regulated’ didn’t mean what it means today. Regulated in the 1700s meant well-trained. It meant a well-trained militia so in case of emergency, you were able to be there for your communities.”
The first and fourth articles of the Illinois Constitution also distinguish between the organized and unorganized militia.
In Captain Williams’ analysis, “The organized militia these days consists of the National Guard and the unorganized militia consists of the civilian population. That is straight out of the Illinois Constitution.”
The ILSM also sees itself as the continuation of a long tradition of militias not regulated by the government that have existed in America since the colonial era, and in Illinois since the Civil War. The organization was founded about two years ago.
According to Captain Williams, the group wanted an organized militia for the whole state, which is divided into nine regions called battalions.
“Each battalion we would like to have monthly training as well as statewide training every month, which is generally in the Galesburg area,” he said.
The March training focused on non-military tactics related to emergency response. Members met at the Harley-Davidson dealership in Galesburg and drove to the Spoon River State Forest for training. The topics covered at the training included land navigation with topographical maps, hand signals, emergency medicine and moving in formation.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a nonprofit that monitors suspected racist organizations, classifies the ILSM as a “Patriot Group.”
According to the SPLC report Active Patriot Groups in the United States in 2012, “Generally, Patriot groups define themselves as opposed to the ‘New World Order,’ engage in groundless conspiracy theorizing or advocate or adhere to extreme anti-government doctrines. Antigovernment groups do not necessarily advocate or engage in violence or other criminal activities, though some have. … Many anti-government groups are not racist.”
The ILSM’s website declares, “We are NOT racist,” although it does describe itself as “anti-ILLEGAL immigrant.” The militia members who attended the training wanted to distance themselves from white supremacism. The militia sees itself as non-political and avoids talking about politics at meetings.
“Everybody here has their own personal politics,” militia member Robert Glenn said. “But as a group, we don’t have politics.”
Many militiamen expressed vague political grievances that motivated them to join, including a general dissatisfaction with “the way the country is going.”
“We elect people to represent us and to take care of and protect our country. They’re supposed to create laws to help protect us and keep us safe, but ever more increasingly it seems that they aren’t doing what they’re elected to do,” Captain Williams said of his decision to join the ISLM.
“The militias vary tremendously in terms of how racist they are, how extreme they are,” said Associate Professor of Political Science Duane Oldfield, who has studied right-wing social movements. “Some of the militia movement goes back to the 1980s, some out of the farm crises, some out of various extreme religious movements and some of these are very racially focused. Other militias seem to be very against at least open racism. The militias grew and were very large particularly in the Clinton administration, especially around Waco and Ruby Ridge.”
The SPLC report “The Second Wave” says that the militia movement then dwindled in the early Bush years and resurged in the Obama years, something the SPLC attributes to the fact that the federal government “is headed by a black man.” National politics probably play a part in the strength of the movement, but the picture generally seems more complicated than that.
“A lot of the militia movement in this area grew out of the agricultural crises of the 1980s, where you had farms in very bad shape and people being threatened and dispossessed,” Oldfield said.
The state of agriculture did seem to be a motivating factor for the ILSM.
“Nobody tills anything anymore. They just spray. They have Roundup for everything: Roundup Ready seeds, Roundup soybeans. All this Monsantoized stuff, it’s terrible,” Glenn said.