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Thursday, March 25, 2021

How to deal with armed private militia in Rhode Island

We have the means but do we have the courage?

By Will Collette

Oath Keepers in formation, marching into the Capitol on
January 6. (U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia)
The Trump mob’s January 6 attempt to overthrow the election and murder members of Congress increased public attention to a problem that began near the birth of our Republic and has been a recurring problem ever since: armed private militias.

As more members of the Oath Keepers and the 3-percenter Militia are arrested and charged in what is looking more and more like organized sedition, let us not forget that we have local politicians who have aided and abetted these radical insurrectionists.

Rep. Justin Price (R-Richmond, etc.) was actually at the January 6 coup attempt, though he claims he never went inside the Capitol (and blames Antifa). 

Rep. Blake “Flip” Filippi (R-Charlestown, etc.) has actually represented the Oath Keepers and has spoken at their rallies. 

Sen. Elaine Morgan (R-Hopkinton, etc.) convinced Hopkinton’s Town Council to adopt a resolution that proclaims their refusal to enforce any law they deem in violation of the Second Amendment.

Their active and rhetorical support for armed private militias is a violation of their oaths of office and a threat to our democracy.

(L-R) Our local Three Stooges: Justin Price, Flip Filippi and Elaine Morgan

The United States grew out of our Revolution against British rule, a war started by colonial militias and  finished by the Continental Army and the Navy and Army of France. 

The men who formed our Republic understood the need to defend it, but were fearful of creating a large standing army. Thus, they conceived the Second Amendment of the Constitution to ensure they could call up an armed citizens’ militia for national defense.

Here’s how they phrased it in the Second Amendment to the Constitution:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

By the time of the Civil War, state militias were well established and were among the very first troops to be thrown into the meat grinder, Northern and Southern militia boys alike. Former Governor Ambrose Burnside marched our state militia, 1st Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry Regiment, into the slaughter.

After their defeat in the Civil War, the South’s use of private militias intensified. The best known example was the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) whose armed bands terrorized freed slaves. They lynched and butchered thousands.

Every single state in the union – even Texas – adopted laws to deal with the problems caused by armed private militias, essentially banning them by requiring all military groups to operate only under civil authority.

CLICK HERE for a state-by-state analysis of these laws from the Georgetown University School of Law.

Here’s how it is stated in the Rhode Island Constitution:

Like other states, our Constitution demands that all military groups such as the National Guard must operate under the direct control of the state.

Rhode Island not only addressed the problem of private militias in the state Constitution. It also enacted several specific laws banning militia activity.

RIGL §30-12-7 bans paramilitary groups operating without the governor’s consent, forbids such groups from parading in public with firearms and bars municipalities from funding or equipping a private militia.

RIGL §30-12-9 bans private individuals from wearing military-style uniforms unless they are legally authorized (e.g. veterans).

RIGL §11-55-2 bans militia training, especially with firearms or explosives.

Rhode Island and all the other states had good reason to ban private armed militias as armed insurrections across the political spectrum. Extreme disputes can lead to extreme violence, whether it’s the Civil War struggle over slavery or Rhode Island’s 1841-2 Dorr War over the right to vote.

In 2013, Flip Filippi travelled to Massachusetts to represent the Oath Keepers in their demand for permission to hold an armed paramilitary ceremony right on the Lexington Battle Common.

Illegal 2013 rally by Oath Keepers and III Percenters in
Lexington, MA. Photo: Lexington Patch
The Lexington Board of Selectmen pulled the Oath Keepers’ permit in the wake of the Boston Marathon Bombing when the whole state, especially eastern Massachusetts, was in a state of emergency in fear of more terrorist attacks.

Lexington's police force had been detailed to aid in the search for the terrorists.

Despite Flip’s eloquent arguments that his yahoo clients had been granted a permit a month before the Boston bombings and subsequent state of emergency, the Middlesex District Court upheld the town’s decision to yank the permit.

So true to their oath of respect for law and order, the Oath Keepers held their rally anyway. 

Local media reported that a large contingent of local police had to be pulled away from the still ongoing manhunt for the Tsarnaev brothers to maintain some order at the illegal Oath Keeper rally.

Fast forward to today and these same militant far-right radicals continue to believe they are above the law. January 6 showed how they are willing to take arms against their own government and to kill or beat senseless those police officers they claim to love and respect.

January 6 could have been worse. Federal investigators have uncovered messages between Oath Keeper and other militia leaders about whether it was time to introduce their guns into the battle for the Capitol. 

There was this exchange between an Oath Keeper and a III Percenter about making sure there was “someone standing by at a dock ramp (one near the Pentagon for sure) we could have our Quick Response Team with the heavy weapons standing by, quickly load them and ferry them across the river to our waiting arms.”

Ironically, these wild-eyed radicals had enough respect for the strict gun control laws in the District of Columbia to keep their weapons out of sight, in their vehicles, or as in the case of the above exchange, in gun-friendly Virginia. I guess they didn’t want to get busted by DC Police before they were ready to go for their guns for real.

Neither the Second Amendment nor any state’s laws permit private militias to take up arms against this country. It doesn’t matter how pissed they are that their former guy lost the 2020 election.

We are seeing a sharp rise in hate crimes, even in Rhode Island where the Anti-Defamation League reports a 400% increase in the number of racist and anti-Semitic instances. We don’t know where, when or how the groups behind the January 6 insurrection will strike again.

Fortunately, we have solid laws on the books to address the threat of armed private militias. They need to be enforced.

Our local politicians – Filippi, Price and Morgan – need to denounce them, disassociate themselves or resign from office.

As the shootings in Atlanta and Boulder show, we all face the daily threat of mass shootings from lone wolves who can walk into a business, a grocery store, a school, church or any gathering of people and kill everyone they see. 

We have a large array of very good legislative proposals before the RI General Assembly. If nothing else, we need to ban the sale and ownership of assault rifles.

These bills need to pass.

The Second Amendment is not absolute and we do have the right to define the terms for its use as we do any of the other amendments in the Bill of Rights. The public good demands it.

As many of our greatest leaders, from Abraham Lincoln to the Justices of the Supreme Court have said, “the Constitution is not a suicide pact.” Even Donald Trump said it in his own special way: "Our constitution is great, but it doesn't necessarily give us the right to commit suicide, okay?"