The Right to Bear Arms: The Rise of America's New Militias

by Jonathan Karl

Reviewed by Jon Roland

Although I do have some criticisms of the book, on the whole I find it well-written and fair. I recommend it, with a few reservations. It is a book you could give as a Christmas present to friends who have doubts about the militia movement and your involvement in it. It is sympathetic to the concerns of patriots and militia activists, and, so far I as I know the facts, fairly accurate.

First, however, I must comment on a few inaccuracies. Karl quotes me as saying things orally, such as at the first muster in San Antonio, April 19, 1994, which were in fact excepted from written materials delivered to the attendees. I did say things like that orally, but so far as I know, no one was taping my comments and so the quotes are actually paraphrases.

Wherever Karl uses the phrase "right to bear arms", including in the title of the book, the reader should substitute the complete phrase "right to keep and bear arms". I don't leave out "keep and" and neither does anyone else in the patriot/militia movement.

Also, he suggests that I advance the "shadow government" conspiracy theory as a conviction, but in fact I do so only as informed speculation, as I do all other such theories. I advocate maintaining a wide range of theories, fitting available evidence to each as it becomes available, while remaining skeptical of all of them. Life requires us to sometimes make decisions on the basis of partial or imperfect information, and I advocate doing so as methodically as the information allows, with a minimum of emotional noise.

By the way, I heard five people use the term "shadow government" in this way before I started using it: two intelligence people, one retired military man, one reporter, and one reform activist. I also heard a credible report that Oliver North had once said that "I work for the Shadow Government". I was also aware of the use of the term in Britain and other countries having a parliamentary form of government to refer to the parallel structure commonly set up within the opposition parties to prepare them to assume power if they won an election.

Karl does a good job distinguishing the militia movement from the racial separatist/supremacist movements. He makes it clear they are actually in opposition to one another. I would agree that any such book needs to examine both, since they have been connected by anti-militia propaganda, but he leaves the impression that in their manifestation as independent groups they are comparable in strength and significance, when in fact the independent militia movement is vastly larger and more important. Independent racist groups are few and small in number. The major threat from organized racism comes less from such independent groups than from the ways such people have pervaded law enforcement organizations, where their fascist mentality not only endangers minorities, but the general population.

I would also disagree with Karl's characterization of the militia movement as small in number, perhaps no more than 100 thousand nationwide. That might be a reasonable estimate for the number that meet regularly, but one must include all those who have met at least once recently, who remain connected in some kind of alert network, and who are prepared to respond if the situation should call for it. That number now probably now exceeds a million, and may be as much as two or three million. Militia activity is a matter of kind and degree, subject to rapid change as circumstances change. There is now widespread awareness of the militia concept, and even those skeptical or opposed to the concept are likely to become active under certain circumstances.

While Karl is generally sympathetic to many of the concerns of militia activists, he leaves the impression that most of them are overblown or exaggerated by a paranoid mindset. I would agree that this is a problem, but the evidence of corruption and abuse cannot be dismissed because its investigators sometimes construct implausible conspiratorial theories to try to make sense of it. In fairness, Karl does examine some of that evidence, and probably would have examined more if he had been writing a longer book.

My final criticism of the book is that it is too short. More books are needed, and will undoubtedly be forthcoming. I am working on a couple myself. In the meantime, people should visit our Web site, and encourage others to do the same. We are seeking suggestions for additional materials to be added to our Web site, and for how it might be improved.

So, buy the book, and give copies to your friends. Ask your booksellers to stock it, and mention it to the media. Encourage other media to cover this book and the subject, with emphasis on the evidence that provides the basis for our concerns.