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A militia is a group of citizens organized to provide paramilitary service. The word can have four slightly different meanings:

  • An official reserve army, composed of non-professional soldiers
  • The national police forces in Russia, and other CIS countries, and the Soviet Union: Militsiya
  • The entire able-bodied population of a state, which can be called to arms against an invading enemy
  • A private, non-government force, not necessarily directly supported or sanctioned by the government

In any of these cases, a militia is distinct from a national regular army. It can serve to supplement the regular military, or it can oppose it, for example to resist a military coup. In some circumstances, the "enemies" against which a militia is mobilized are domestic political opponents of the government, such as strikers. In many cases the role, or even the existence of a militia, is controversial. For these reasons legal restrictions may be placed on the mobilization or use of militia.



see Freikorps


One of the most famous and ancient militia are the Swiss militia. It is not widely recognized, but Switzerland maintains, proportionally, the largest military force in the world, with more than twice as many active-duty soldiers per capita as the next-proportionally-largest force, in Israel, having a trained reserve militia of 36% of the total population. However, it should be noted that Switzerland has a long tradition of political and military neutrality.

United Kingdom

For much of the history of England, the military was controlled by Parliament, which had access to the resources to maintain a standing army. At various times, The Crown and Parliament were in strong disagreement, but Parliament's economic ability to use the army was counterbalanced by the Crown's traditional ability to call out the militia. As long as the army's weapons were not radically more powerful than the militia's, this balance of power was effective.

The English Bill of Rights (1689) declared, amongst other rights:

"That the raising or keeping a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with consent of Parliament, is against law;"


"That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defense suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law;"

Following the creation of large standing army, the word militia fell into disuse in the UK, though many units retained the distinction of being designated "militia" units as extra battalions of regular regiments and "Irish" militia were heavily relied upon to suppress rebellion in Ireland. The militia was formally disbanded in 1908 with the creation of a reserve force, known as the Territorial Force, later the Territorial Army, and the units of the militia were transferred to the Special Reserve. The Special Reserve were renamed the Militia in 1921, its units being placed in 'suspended animation', and the militia was disbanded in 1953.

A number of old Militia units remain in existence, two in the Territorial Army: the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers -- which was first formed in 1539 -- and the Jersey Field Squadron (The Royal Militia Island of Jersey), 73rd Regiment, Royal Engineers (formerly the Royal Militia of the Island of Jersey and first formed in 1337). Also, the Royal Alderney Militia -- created in the 13th Century and reformed in 1984 -- is part of the Army Cadet Force, thus ensuring the continuation of the name. Additionally, the Atholl Highlanders are a (ceremonial) private army maintained by the Duke of Atholl - they are the only legal private army in the United Kingdom.

In modern usage, the term Paramilitary is more widely used of (illegal) private armies such as the UVF, UDA and Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland.

United States

The early Puritan colonists of America considered the militia an important social structure, necessary to defend their colonies from Indian attacks. All able-bodied males were expected to be members of the town militia.

In the American Revolutionary War, colonial militiamen or armed citizens agreed to turn out for service at a minute's notice. The term minutemen is used especially for the men who were enrolled (1774) for such service by the Massachusetts provincial congress. These were also known as the "valiant farmers" who fought against the British at the battles of Lexington and Concord.

The delegates of the Constitutional Convention, (the founding fathers/framers of the United States Constitution) under Article 1; section 8, paragraphs 15 and 16 of the federal constitution, granted Congress the power to "provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining (regulating/training) the Militia," as well as, and in distinction to, the power to raise an army and a navy. The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution was intended to formalize this balance between the "well-regulated" militia and organized military forces. The militia act of 1792 clarified whom the militia consists of; " I. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years" In contrast the United States National Guard, created by the Militia Act of 1903, was a federalized portion of the State militias which were converted into regular troops kept in reserve for the United States Army. The Defense Act of 1916 placed all state militia units under the National Guard. This act was later amended in 1933 under the National Guard Mobilization Act, to place all National Guard units under the control of the United States Army effectively ending their status as "militia" under Article 1, section 8, paragraphs 15,16, of the Federal Constitution and the second amendment of the Federal Constitution.

The current United States Code, Title 10 (Armed forces), section 311 (Militia: Composition and Classes), paragraph (a) states "The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard." Section 313 of Title 32 refers to persons with prior military experience who could serve as officers. These persons remain members of the militia until age 65. Paragraph (b) further states, "The classes of the militia are: (1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and (2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia."[1].

The National Guard is the largest of the organized federal reserve military forces in the United States. The National Guard is classified (under title 10, see above) as the organized federal militia as it is under both federal and state control, and both the President of the United States and state governors can call upon it. Since the 2003 Invasion of Iraq many National Guard units have served overseas (under the Total Force Policy of 1973 which effectively combined the National Guard with the armed forces making them regular troops.) This can lead to problems for states that also face internal emergencies while the Guard is deployed overseas. To address such issues, many of the states, such as New York and Maryland also have organized state "militia" forces or State Guards which are under the control of the governor of a state, however many of these "militia" also act as a reserve for the National Guard and are thus a part of it (varies from state to state depending on individual state statutory laws). New York and Ohio also have active naval militias, and a few other states have on-call or proposed ones. In 1990, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the case of Perpich v. Department of Defense that the Federal government has plenary power over the National Guard, and greatly reduced (to the point of nonexistence) the state government's ability to withhold consent to Federal deployments and training missions of the National Guard.[2]

During some wars, both the suitability and effectiveness of the National Guard have been questioned, because of perceptions that personnel are often hastily, or not fully, trained for the roles they are asked to perform. For many decades, there were persistent allegations of nepotism, favoritism and/or the use of influence in the commissioning and assignment of officers. (See, for example, George W. Bush military service controversy.)

Numerous states have their own Guard units separate from the National Guard; some authorized by the states themselves, like the Alabama State Defense Force, others simply are acknowledged by the state as their official State Guard. These units have no affiliation with the National Guard.

(For information on organized private citizen militias not authorized by the Federal or state governments, see US private militias, below.)


In Canada the word militia refers to the part-time army reserve component of the Canadian Armed Forces. Militia troops usually train one night a week and every weekend of the month, except in the summer. Summertime training generally consists of a course and/or a "call out", as well as a longer exercise, usually 8-15 days. A call out can involve any job a soldier might be expected to do: staff member on a course, ceremonial guard duty, etc. In addition, primary reserve members may volunteer for service with the regular force overseas - usually NATO or UN missions. Reserve courses are often shortened versions of the same regular force course, but can use regular force staff members.

Most Canadian cities have one or more militia units. Often these 'regiments' perpetuate famous Canadian regiments that are no longer required as part of the regular forces.


Militia was an alternate name for the Citizens Military Forces (CMF), the reserve units of the Australian Army between 1901 and 1980. After Australian federation, the six former colonial militias were merged to form the CMF. Initially the CMF infantry forces formed the vast bulk of the Australian Army, along with standing artillery and engineer units.

The Defense Act of (1903) granted the Australian federal government the powers to conscript men of military age for home defense. However, these powers were unpopular and were used only for short periods at a time. The government was also forbidden by law from deploying the CMF outside Australian territories, or using it in strikes and other industrial disputes.

As a result of the ban on foreign service, during World War I and World War II, all-volunteer Australian Imperial Forces were formed for overseas deployment. CMF units were sometimes scorned by AIF soldiers as "chocolate soldiers" or "chockos", because "they would melt under the pressure" of military operations.

Nevertheless, some Militia units distinguished themselves in action against the Empire of Japan during the Pacific War, and suffered extremely high casualties. In mid-1942 Militia units fought in two significant battles, both in New Guinea, which was then an Australian territory. The exploits of the young and poorly trained soldiers of the 39th (Militia) Battalion during the rearguard action on the Kokoda Track remain celebrated to this day, as is the contribution of the 7th Militia Brigade at the Battle of Milne Bay.

Later in the war, the law was changed to allow the transfer of Militia units to the 2nd AIF, if 65% of the personnel had volunteered for overseas service. Another change allowed Militia units to serve anywhere south of the Equator in South East Asia. Consequently they also saw action against Japanese forces in the Dutch East Indies.

After the war, CMF units continued to form the bulk of the peacetime army, although with the creation of standing infantry units — such as the Royal Australian Regiment — from 1947, the regular army grew in importance. By 1980, when the name of the CMF was changed to the Army Reserve, the Regular Army was the more significant force.

US organized private "citizens militias"

There are United States right wing political movements that calls themselves "citizens' militias", which supporters claim are based on the common law concept of an armed citizenry and various paragraphs in the United States Constitution and United States Code. These militas are not formally linked to a state or Federal government parpamilitary organization or self defense force. They often speak out against the political actions of the Federal government because of what they consider oppressive policies and unConstitutional laws. The private "citizen militias" drew ideas and recruits from the independent survivalist movement, tax-protestor movement and others in the "Patriot" subculture in the United States. A few small private militia groups developed within the United States during the 1970s and 1980s, but the movement experienced a wave of growth in the 1990s for various reasons including the Gordon Kahl, Ruby Ridge, and Waco incidents and the passage of the Brady law, and 1994 "Assault Weapons Ban" .

The private-militias continued to grow for a few years after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on April 19, 1995. The movement declined after the election of Republican George W. Bush to the Presidency in 2000 and by 2002 had largely vanished. The FBI has published its report on the militia movement and has determined that the movement is not a threat to the national security of the United States.

Most private-militias engage in a variety of far-right political conspiracy theory, and claim that the current federal statutory laws, policies, treaties with foreign powers, and many federal agencies, are to varying degrees un-constitutional, and are engaged in unlawful practices. Private-militia activities range from organized lawful protesting of government policies to criminal activities including the illegal modification and manufacture of firearms and explosives.

However, the majority of private-militia groups are non-violent and only a small segment of the private-militias actually commit acts of violence to advance their political goals and beliefs. A number of leaders of these groups, such as Lynn Van Huizen of the Michigan Militia Corps-Wolverines, have gone to some effort to actively rid their ranks of radical members who are inclined to carry out acts of violence and/or terrorism. Officials at the FBI Academy classify private "citizen militia" groups within four categories, ranging from moderate groups who do not engage in criminal activity to radical cells which commit violent acts of terrorism.

Private "citizen militia" anxiety, paranoia of Globalism, and millenarianism relating to the year 2000 were based mainly on a political ideology, as opposed to religious beliefs. Many private-militia members believed that the year 2000 would lead to political and personal repression enforced by the United Nations and countenanced by a compliant U.S. government. This belief is known as the New World Order (NWO) conspiracy theory. Other issues which have served as motivating factors for the private-militia movement include gun control, the incidents at Ruby Ridge (1992) and Waco (1993), the Montana Freemen Standoff (1996) and the restriction of land use by federal agencies, as well as the current Supreme Court decision regarding eminent domain. One can find numerous references in private-militia literature to military bases to be used as concentration camps in the NWO and visiting foreign military personnel conspiring to attack Americans. In reponse to the attack of September 11, congress passed the Patriot Act, a law that supposedly helps fight terrorism, without debate. The Patriot Act contains federal legislation similar to that which the New world order conspiracy theorists predicted. Many feel this act has eroded many American constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, and may encourage growth in the survivalist and private "citizen militia" subcultures.

Left wing militia

The left wing militias generally consider themselves to be freedom fighters and run the gamut of leftist causes, from the national liberation movements under foreign occupation, to the various terrorist groups such as the Red Brigades, Animal Liberation Front, Earth Liberation Front, and communist guerillas in Central America. As their funding and armament in the 20th century came almost entirely from the Soviet Union, Maoist China (1949-1976) and other Marxist-Leninist states, many of these organizations declined in their activities during the 1990s, as these governments fell or changed their nature.

Efficacy of militias against modern armies

As noted above, there is much disagreement about the ability of even the best organized militia to resist a modern regular army. However irregular forces do have several points in their favor, including familiarity with local terrain, dedication (assuming one's home is being threatened), entrenchment, and no obligation to fight "by the rules". The famed successes of Boer and American snipers against British volley fire during their respective wars for independence immediately come to mind.

In more modern times, during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising a handful of untrained and poorly armed Polish Jews held off an entire Wehrmacht division for roughly six weeks during the liquidation of that city's Ghetto. Although the uprising was eventually ended by artillery fire, the German Ninth Army was able to accomplish very little throughout most of 1943 as a direct result of this action. Many modern observers have pointed out that the invasion of Poland took only three weeks, and speculate that such resistance early in the war could have stopped the Blitzkrieg in its mechanized tracks. Indeed, the USA is facing a similar situation in Iraq, i.e. a swift victory over conventional military opponent followed by an intractible insurgency.

Also, in WWII the French Resistance, armed mainly with captured German weapons and supplied by Allied air drops, were able to cause many disruptions to the Nazis which aided greatly during and after the Allied invasion of 1944.

In the United States there were widespread fears of a Japanese invasion of the largely undefended West Coast. Some military experts at the time suggested entrenchment at the Mississippi River in case of such an invasion, on the assumption anything west of that point would be impossible to defend. Such an invasion never materialized, and there are rumors of uncertain authenticity suggesting that the Japanese feared "a rifle behind every blade of grass" -- a reference to the ubiquity of skill-at-arms in the American West at that time.

Furthermore, when an Allied invasion of Japan appeared to be imminent later in the war, the Japanese government began arming its populace with bamboo spears. Even to the well-armed and mechanized Allied forces, the prospect of facing such a foe was daunting, and millions of Allied and Japanese casualties were expected. This was a major factor in the decision to use nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Another case of the effectiveness of militia is that of the Iraqi insurgency; while the regular forces and Republican Guard were quickly crushed by the invading Coalition, the insurgency is estimated to continue perhaps another 12 years.

Switzerland's continued neutrality during World War II is often seen to be due to the well-armed and well-trained citizenry.

Even when militarily insignificant, irregular action can be highly effective as a demoralizing factor, as famously seen in Vietnam, Iraq, Somalia, and Algeria.

List of militias

Some famous militia organizations:

Official army units

State sponsored militias

Private militias

See also

External links


  • Mack Tanner ARMED-CITIZEN SOLUTION TO CRIME IN THE STREETS: So Many Criminals, So Few Bullets. ISBN 0873648064
  • Gary Allen, Larry Abraham, Senator John G. Schmitz, 1976 None Dare Call it Conspiracy Concord Press
  • John A. Stormer 1968 The Death of a Nation Liberty Bell Press
  • John A Stormer 1964 None Dare Call it Treason Liberty Bell Press
  • G. Edward Griffith July 1964The Fearful Master: A second look at the United Nations Western Islands Publishing
  • Holly Sklar 1980 Trilateralism Boston: South End Press
  • David M. Kirkham 1993 The New World Order: In Historical Perspective Wyoming: High Plains Publishing Company
  • Jim Keith 1994 Black Helicopters Over America: Strike Force for the New World Order. Illuminet Press
  • Leonard C. Lewin 1967 Report From Iron Mountain: On the Possibilty and Desirability of Peace Dial Press
  • Samuel J. NewlandThe Pennsylvania militia: Defending the Commonwealth and the nation, 1669-1870 Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Dept. of Military and Veterans Affairs (2002)
  • Larry Pratt Safeguarding Liberty: The Constitution and Citizens MilitiasLegacy Communications (May, 1995)
  • Stern, Kenneth S. 1996. A Force Upon the Plain: The American Militia Movement and the Politics of Hate. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Gibson, James William. 1994. Warrior Dreams: Paramilitary Culture in Post-Viet Nam America. New York: Hill and Wang.
  • Gibson, James William. 1997. "Is the Apocalypse Coming? Paramilitary Culture after the Cold War." The Year 2000: Essays on the End, ed. Charles B. Strozier and Michael Flynn. New York: New York University Press.
  • Levitas, Daniel. 2002. The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right. New York: St. Martin's.
  • US Department of Justice Memorandum on the meaning of the 2nd Amendment. August 24th, 2004
  • Militia Act of 1792
  • Militia Act of 1903
  • National Defense Act of 1916
  • National Guard Mobilization Act of 1933
  • Total Force Policy of 1973
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