Militia groups typically considered anti-government are increasingly supportive of US President Donald Trump but are also facing charges for their illegal activities.
Around the United States, anti-immigrant and far-right militia groups and members are increasingly wrapped up in legal troubles, with many facing prison time for their activities.
Last week, a court sentenced Joshua Pratchard, a former member of the Arizona Border Recon group, to more than six years in a federal prison over a spate of charges related to weapons and ammunition possession.
Pratchard, according to court documents, travelled to Arivaca, a town in Southern Arizona, and briefly volunteered with Arizona Border Recon, a group that carries out armed anti-immigrant paramilitary patrols but rejects the militia label.
Although Pratchard left the group after a few days, he had expressed his desire to participate in rip crews—groups that steal drugs from traffickers in the desert—and detain migrants crossing the US-Mexico border, the court documents say.
In addition to being angry that the vigilante group wouldn’t allow him to use a silencer on his weapon, Pratchard “also became angry when he learned he could not go ‘hands on’ with illegal aliens crossing” the border, one source said, as reported by the Arizona Daily Star.
An Arizona Border Recon spokesperson told the newspaper that Pratchard had been asked to leave the group.
During a subsequent investigation, authorities found that Pratchard had created a “firearms and ammunition factory” in his California home.
Prosecutors hit Pratchard with 13 charges, among them transferring firearms to an out-of-state resident and illegal possession of firearms by a convicted felon.
Pratchard’s case comes amid a string of prosecutions targeting far-right militia groups and armed anti-immigrant vigilante outfits around the country.
In Texas, federal authorities and statewide law enforcement agencies have been on the hunt for Kevin Lyndel Massey, a militia leader who served time in prison for weapons-related charges after patrolling the country’s southern border.
In Facebook posts, Massey’s supporters suggested that he would not be taken alive, stating that the militiaman would not “allow himself to be kidnapped again. Death before dishonor!” (sic)
“We are aware of that language and the type of rhetoric he’s involved in,” Laura Dale, Deputy US Marshal for the Northern District of Texas, told TRT World at the time.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an Alabama-based hate monitor, documented 1,020 hate groups around the country in 2018.
Of that total, at least 17 were explicitly anti-immigrant, although others- neo-Nazi groups and white nationalist organisations, for instance- also harbour fervently anti-immigrant views.
The group also documented 216 active militia groups throughout 2018, although not all of them were active on the US-Mexico border.
While militia groups were typically considered anti-government in the past, many have become increasingly supportive of US President Donald Trump, who has implemented a harsh crackdown on immigration and asylum seekers coming to the US.
Heidi Beirich, Director of SPLC’s Intelligence Project, described the current situation as a “turning point” for the militia movement.
“Trump’s words and deeds have helped to cultivate an ethnic animus that has not in the past been part of the anti-government movement’s ideology,” she told TRT World by email.
In May, authorities cracked down on the New Mexico-based United Constitutional Patriots, a militia group that sparked widespread criticism after it detained hundreds of migrants in the desert and handed them over to Border Patrol.
Court documents subsequently revealed that the militia group had planned to assassinate former US president Barack Obama and Jewish billionaire philanthropist George Soros.
In the US state of Illinois, two militiamen pleaded guilty in January in relation to charges stemming from their firebombing of a mosque in Minnesota, among other incidents.
In June, three young men pleaded guilty to charges related to their plans to launch an attack on Islamberg, a Muslim enclave in New York State.
The assailants had planned to use rifles and explosive devices, police had said earlier in the year.
More recently, two members of an Ohio-based militia, the United Sheepdogs of Ohio, cut a plea deal with prosecutors after admitting to a “conspiracy” to obtain explosives, the local WCPO-Cincinnati reported in August. The two have yet to be sentenced.
Groups affiliated with the militia movement are not the only armed far-right believers to target Muslims and immigrants, however.
Over the weekend in Houston, Texas, as the Islamic Society of North America held its annual convention, a small group of armed right-wing protesters assembled in front of the George R Brown Convention Center and rallied.
Although the Texas Patriot Network—a far-right group that often holds armed rallies—had brought out several demonstrators during a similar protest at the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) convention a year earlier, they only managed to draw an estimated 15 participants on Saturday.
Much like last year, the group was outnumbered by a much larger contingent of anti-racist protesters, many of whom were also armed.
More than 50 anti-racist protesters from several groups attended the counter-demonstration.
Lubabah Abdullah, director of the Council for American Islamic Relations’ Houston chapter, told TRT World that the ISNA convention attendees and organisers were “just really happy to see that the small amount of protesters was overwhelmingly overshadowed by all of these supporters”.