Meet MyMilitia, Where Right-Wing Extremists Find Friendship and Fantasize About Violence

Dubbed "Amazon for people on the fringe," the online hub offers chat rooms, a library of manuals, and a directory of 530 local militias around the country.
October 15, 2020, 4:27pm
Members of local militia join second amendment advocates in a march from the capitol building to the Michigan Supreme Court building on September 17, 2020 in Lansing, Michigan.
Members of local militia join second amendment advocates in a march from the capitol building to the Michigan Supreme Court building on September 17, 2020 in Lansing, Michigan. (Photo: Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images)

If MyMilitia was the only place you got your news, you might be bracing for a nationwide activation of “antifa sleeper cells” come November 3, when black-clad leftists will form blockades at polling stations to menace elderly Trump voters.

“Be careful going to the polls,” one person responded on the thread. “Leftists are openly planning an election night coup.”

“We need to train, train and train some more for every possibility we can imagine,” wrote another. “This evil will not stand down. It needs to be knocked down so hard that the commies never dare try this civil war/ communist uprising on America. Ever again.”

Advertisement

For years, Facebook was the go-to hub for militia types to organize and recruit, but now that the platform is cracking down on paramilitary organizing, MyMilitia is taking its place. First registered in 2016 with GoDaddy, the site was sold in April to Josh Ellis, who runs a business repairing water damage and mold in Naperville, Illinois, and also founded “American Revolution 2.0,” which helped coordinate anti-lockdown protests nationwide.

In an interview with VICE News, Ellis claimed MyMilitia now has 20,000 registered members, about half of whom have signed up since April (we were unable to independently verify this). The site includes a feature that allows you to start your own “militia” or join any of the 530 existing militias that are organized by ZIP code, which is intended to facilitate real-world meet-ups.

“The MyMilitia viewpoint is that any man and woman who is a U.S. citizen is part of a militia,” said Ellis. “We help people find good groups and become organized and regulated.”

MyMilitia makes its pitch to prospective “militia” leaders and members under a tab named “Why use the militia manager?” It touts an array of features, including an opt-in “member map and locator,” which allows militia leaders to track their members’ movements, voice chat, and photo galleries where users can upload images from meet-ups or training events. It also advertises a library of around 500 “decommissioned military manuals,” like a 1982 U.S. Army guide to chemical weapons and the English translation of al Qaeda’s training manual.

Advertisement

The second-most-viewed upload is the Anarchist Cookbook, which contains bomb-making recipes (the book has been linked to decades of terror plots, including the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995).

“MyMilitia is like Amazon for people on the fringe,” said Brian Levin, who heads the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. “The difference is that people here are armed, and they’re reading Canadian manuals about how to blow up tanks.”

Screen shot of content on MyMilitia.com, an organizing hub for self-styled militias.

In addition to having the option to form your own militia, there are also forums where users regularly traffic in conspiracies they picked up elsewhere, like Infowars. There’s a message board devoted to discussions of weaponry, not unlike 4chan’s /k board, which was the birthplace of the anti-government “boogaloo” movement. Users can learn how to assemble their own AR-15 or sharpen a knife in an emergency. There are discussions of current affairs, survivalist guides, tactical explainers, and a shared spreadsheet dedicated to “tracking riots.”

“In the past you would have to really look for the militia of Montana, for example,” said Levin. “These days, it’s like finding a dentist.”

On the site, it’s not always clear who is engaging in fantasy role-play and who genuinely believes that guerrilla antifa warriors are busing into small towns around the country to attack supporters of President Trump. The site is awash with bloodlust and references to “tyrannical” governors—not unlike some of the discussions that allegedly took place between the group of self-titled militiamen who were so incensed by Michigan’s COVID-19 lockdown restrictions that they plotted to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Advertisement

Thirteen men were arrested in connection with the alleged plot, some of whom are now facing state domestic terrorism charges. After those arrests, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel told MSNBC she believed the problem of violent militia activity was ongoing and ran much deeper than previously thought. “I’m worried about additional threats,” Nessel said. “This may very well be the tip of the iceberg.”

Ellis says the 13 people arrested in connection to the plot were not associated with MyMilitia. But the site has been linked to violence in the past. According to the Guardian, MyMilitia site user Michael Hari and other members of his Illinois-based “White Rabbit” militia drove hundreds of miles to Bloomington, Minnesota, in 2017, where they bombed a mosque.

Ellis says that the administrators are “very diligent” in their vetting process of MyMilitia members. “We do not allow any calls to arms on the site,” he said. When VICE News read out some of the comments mentioned in this article, Ellis said, “Those are the kinds of things that we would remove; just like every other platform, we’re not always going to get everything 100 percent.”

Recently, paranoia and conspiracies about “voter fraud” have rippled from the fringes to the mainstream — aided by Trump himself. During the September 29 debate, he urged supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully.”

After Trump’s comments, experts at Georgetown University’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection published a fact sheet on voter intimidation, state laws on guns at polling places, and laws about “unauthorized private militia groups.”

Advertisement

“I have seen a lot of people very interested in doing poll-watching,” Ellis said. “Not like going out in full battle rattle. Just U.S. citizens following the orders of Donald Trump.”

“Local news media channel [sic] said that Trump is asking Militias to be ready before and after the election for insurrection,” one person wrote in the thread coordinating militia activity in Arizona.

Ellis said that some users on MyMilitia are particularly concerned about “intimidation” from the left, because of “reports of BLM people wearing BLM garb outside of polling places in Georgia.” “That kind of thing, especially with the news stories going on right now, can scare a lot of people from going to in-person voting,” Ellis said.

Screen Shot 2020-10-15 at 10.05.06 AM.png

Some people have discussed surveillance options. “I'm going on Election Day myself. I am going to have a GoPro camera rolling and my .45 with me, just in case,” one wrote.

“If you have a cell phone, hook it up to record a wide view in front of your vehicle,” another wrote.

“Write down the tag numbers of the cars that are there before the poll opens. This way you have a list of who was working the polls. Empty cars are your main cars.

Make sure your vehicle is angled to see any and all car tags that come and go as well as the front door of all persons. This will help with identification. At the end of the day follow the person that takes the votes to the county building for count. The law is clear . There are no stops to be made on the way to the count. Keep record of everything.”

Ellis agrees that the tone of discussion on MyMilitia sometimes gets a little exaggerated, but insists that, from his personal experience, the armed far-right are “in a very defensive mindset.”

“They’re not in an instigating mindset. They want to make sure that if a civil war starts, as little damage or loss be created as possible,” said Ellis. “People feel like we’re already in a civil war. It’s kind of a standard viewpoint. That we’re already there, it just hasn’t turned hot yet – it’s a cold war.”

Advertisement

The allegations in the Michigan case are a reminder that conspiratorial thinking and violent fantasies, no matter how outlandish, can inspire real world action. It’s also an example of the dangerous feedback loop that occurs when fringe grievances like COVID-19 lockdowns or false stories about voter fraud are amplified by legitimate voices, like elected GOP officials or Fox News, and then fed back into fringe networks like MyMilitia.

This summer, there was even a discussion on MyMilitia about whether it would be appropriate to kidnap antifa. “Not exactly kidnap, just take them to get information and possibly get them to be on our side,” one person clarified. “We don’t necessarily have to have our own jail systems, just take them by citizen arrest.”

There’s clearly a range of intentions among the participants. “At every point in white power militia movement activity, there has been both people who are armchair warriors interested in doing a more intense version of paintball, and people who are activists with deadly intent, said Kathleen Belew, a history professor at the University of Chicago and author of “Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America.” “Part of the concern is that we would be very mistaken to ignore the deadly activists by thinking the whole thing is just about fantasy role-play.”

For decades, the militia community thrived on vague grievances about “tyranny” or government overreach. COVID-19 lockdowns—and the anti-lockdown or “liberate” movement that came out of it—gave a shape to those grievances. It also opened a window between the fringes and the mainstream.

Advertisement

“The ‘liberate movement' was sort of a Grand Central Station where grievance-oriented folks could gather, and that spilled over into the militia movement,” said Levin. “Complaints like ‘these regulations are too heavy-handed’ melded in beautifully with the narrative of extreme, fringe, insurrectionist folks.”

Similarly, the obsession with antifa at the highest levels of government has been like catnip to fringe militia types. Trump and his cohorts routinely invoke the threat of antifa, even though national security data doesn’t support his version of the threat. (A recent threat assessment by Homeland Security made zero mention of “antifa”).

“On sites like MyMilitia, grievances get seasoned with conspiracy theories, stereotypes, memes, and fiery images from Portland or Seattle,” said Levin, “and what comes out is ‘Antifa is training racoons to fight’ or ‘Antifa is busing people into towns.’”

“Apparently Arms are being flown into the US for Antifa and BLM to counter the heavily armed Patriots and Veterans,” one user FLAX1911 posted in early September. “Has anyone else heard about this?”

What to do about antifa is a whole other topic of debate on MyMilitia. One thread, “Should we declare war on antifa,” garnered nearly 200 replies. Many scolded the original poster, saying they were “the kind of person who gives the Militia a bad name.” Some were all too eager to jump into the fray.

“We could dress up as antifa and attend their riots and start shooting them there, but there is a good chance we would get exposed and get bad pub[licity],” one user suggested. “I am up for an attack on antifa or blm, but there are none around where I live,” complained someone else.

“Let’s not jump the gun and go on shooting sprees,” another replied. “I do feel we all need more intel and do it the right way, or else the next the American people will see on the news is “Militia attacks crowd of peaceful protestors” even tho they are far from peaceful….. If you do decide to go after them now don’t kidnap them and go after them in small groups take them out a little at a time.”