Prevent Voter Intimidation by Militias

Micki Luckey
6 min readOct 19, 2020

by Micki Luckey

Paramilitary militias and other armed right-wing extremists have been making headlines lately for attacks on demonstrators at Black Lives Matter rallies, as well as for the plan to kidnap the governor of Michigan for treason based on her Covid-19 prevention efforts. Now, with the election coming up and President Trump urging his followers to “to go into the polls and watch very carefully,” many are worried that voters will be the next target of militia intimidation and, perhaps, violence.

Can this be happening in the United States? And what can be done about it?

Oathkeepers members at the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia (Source: Flickr/Anthony Crider)

Extreme right-wing paramilitary groups are threatening and deadly

Emboldened by President Trump’s call to “stand back and stand by,”[i] militia members and wannabes carrying rifles and often dressed in military-style clothing have been showing up at racial justice protests. So far in 2020 clashes have occurred in Virginia, Texas, Oregon, Kentucky, and Georgia, resulting in half a dozen deaths. Some militia members are threatening civil war if Trump does not win the election. When protesters were shot in Kenosha, Wisconsin, one of these same militia members praised the police and called the shooter “A hero, a patriot” on Twitter.

That shooting sharply pointed out what can often be very disparate law enforcement treatment of protesters and militia members or others with guns. The 17-year-old shooter had traveled from his home in Illinois to the Kenosha protest, where police were heard telling him and other armed civilians, “We appreciate you being here.” He opened fire on protesters, killing two, and then walked away. It is hard to believe that police in Kenosha let the murderer of two people leave the scene of his crime without even being questioned, let alone arrested. (He was taken into custody later, back in Illinois.) It is easy to imagine their reaction would have been very different had he been Black.

Why don’t police officers take action when faced with white extremists?

Police will need to be alert and even-handed to prevent voter intimidation at the polls in November. The same is true should they need to keep the peace after a Trump loss, either because militias respond with violence or Trump refuses to step down and people take to the streets.

Yet it is clear that many police officers are reluctant to do their job when it involves confronting white nationalists. Perhaps taken in by the pro-police rhetoric of many militia members and followers, some members of law enforcement apparently think these extremists are on their side and buy into the common claim that armed civilians are “here to protect property.” Such biased police officers then turn a blind eye to their threatening or violent actions. The FBI has documented many years of involvement of white supremacists in law enforcement, and research has revealed that some police are members of the KKK, still today! Furthermore, many police departments (and local politicians) receive pressure from the NRA and conservative media and become overly careful to avoid the appearance of infringing on gun rights. perhaps most especially when those guns are carried by White men.

The Right to Bear Arms Does Not Make Armed Militias Legal

Many people, including members of law enforcement, assume that the right to bear arms translates to a right to have armed militias. It’s not true, but this ignorance is understandable given that both local and national news media commonly write about militia actions without citing their illegal status. When countering any inaction by law enforcement around militias, it is important to be clear about the legal status of armed militia: While the Second Amendment allows people in the United States to carry a gun for self-protection, it does not permit groups to form private militias. Court cases dating back to the 19th century and most recently in 2008 establish that the Second Amendment allows states to prohibit paramilitary organizations, and all of them do.

Both Federal and State laws are explicit in making private armed militias illegal. To address the rise of unlawful private paramilitaries, a team led by Professor Mary McCord, a legal scholar at Georgetown University, has prepared a fact sheet describing the laws in each state.

In California, for example, the State Constitution forbids private military units from operating outside state authority. The penal code makes it a crime for two or more people to assemble as a paramilitary organization for the purpose of practicing with weapons or to cause or further a civil disorder. In other words, if two or more people bearing arms and perhaps wearing uniforms present a threat to others at a polling place, they are breaking the law.

People can prepare now to defend the vote

Enforcement of these laws depends on political will, so the public needs to pressure those making and carrying out policy. People are urged to contact the Governor, the State Attorney General, the Mayor and County Officials (who oversee the Sheriff) to demand they uphold the law and act swiftly in the event of militia presence on election day. Writing letters to the editor is another good way to share some of this information.

Right now people are banding together in various groups around the country to make plans to defend a free and fair election. In unity there is strength. One pandemically safe idea is to plan a car caravan to visit polling places across the community.

Here are some other actions:

➢ Sign up to be an election defender at

➢ Attend a training on getting ready for November

➢ Participate in a workshop on election readiness

➢ Commit to nonviolent public demonstration against a coup

What can be done on election day to report armed groups near a polling place?

Individuals should not confront or directly challenge armed individuals. Even if you are part of a group prepared to intervene, the potential for violence is high. What you can do is report your observations using these suggestions based on the Georgetown Law report.

First, document what you see:

➢What are the people doing that appears threatening? Are they stopping or talking to people outside of their group?

➢Are they carrying firearms or other weapons?

➢Are they wearing uniforms or insignia, bearing signs or holding flags?

➢Are people turning away from the polling station after seeing or speaking with them?

Second, call the local police (for some cities this is not 911) to report the threat. Emphasize that these actions are not legal, even in open-carry states.

Third, put information (and photos if it is safe to take them) on social media; call the local press.

Fourth, call Election Protection at 866-OUR-VOTE (866–687–8683) to report what you see to a Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. (Assistance in other languages is available.)

The threat of armed militias and their goal of intimidation can be countered by ordinary citizens who share this information and join together to safeguard the election.

[i] Trump is infamous for not condemning the murder of Heather Heyer by Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville in 2017. Then last June as demonstrations were breaking out in hundreds of cities around the country to protest the police murder of George Floyd, Trump tweeted, “Any protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes who are going to Oklahoma please understand, you will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle or Minneapolis.” An active duty soldier named Daniel Perry followed up Trump’s not so subtle threat with his own, tweeting, “Send them to Texas we will show them why we say don’t mess with Texas.” A month later, Perry drove his car into the middle of a demonstration in Austin and ended up shooting one of the protesters multiple times at close range.