What is the Patriot Movement?


What is the Patriot Movement?

Adapted from Berlet & Lyons, Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort

The Patriot movement is bracketed on the reformist side by the John Birch Society and the conspiracist segment of the Christian Right, and on the insurgent side by groups promoting themes historically associated with White supremacy and antisemitism. A variety of preexisting far-right vigilante groups (including Christian Identity adherents and outright neonazi groups) were influential in helping to organize the broader Patriot movement. The Patriot movement, however, drew recruits from several preexisting movements and networks:

  • Militant right-wing gun rights advocates, antitax protesters, survivalists, and far-right libertarians.
  • Christian Patriots, and other persons promoting a variety of pseudo-legal “constitutionalist” theories.
  • Advocates of “sovereign” citizenship, “freeman” status, and other arguments rooted in a distorted analysis of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth Amendments, including those persons who argue that a different or second-class form of citizenship is granted to African Americans through these amendments.
  • White racist, antisemitic, or neonazi movement, such as the Posse Comitatus, Aryan Nations, and Christian Identity.
  • The confrontational wing of the antiabortion movement.
  • Apocalyptic millennialists, including those Christians who believed the period of the “End Times” had arrived and they were facing the Mark of the Beast, which could be hidden in supermarket bar codes, proposed paper currency designs, implantable computer microchips, Internet websites, or e-mail.
  • The dominion theology sector of the Christian evangelical right, especially its most militant and doctrinaire branch, Christian Reconstructionism.
  • The most militant wings of the antienvironmentalist “Wise Use” movement, county supremacy movement, state sovereignty movement, states’ rights movement, and Tenth Amendment movement.

Multiple themes intersected in the Patriot movement: government abuse of power; fears about globalism and sovereignty; economic distress (real, relative, and anticipated); apocalyptic fears of conspiracy and tyranny from above; male identity crisis, backlash against the social liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and more.

The Patriot movement, using conspiracist and producerist rhetoric, identified numerous scapegoats. Each unit, and in some cases each member, could pick and choose from the following list:

  • Federal officials and law enforcement officers;
  • Jewish institutions;
  • Abortion providers and pro-choice supporters;
  • Environmentalists and conservation activists;
  • Gay and lesbian rights organizers; and
  • People of color, immigrants, and welfare recipients.

The contemporary Patriot Movement began to emerge during the G.H. W. Bush administration and continued to grow under the Clinton administration. Both presidents were seen as liberal globalists in the eyes of the Patriot movement.




Patriot Constitutionalists & Freeman

Adapted from Berlet & Lyons, Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort

Throughout the late 1990s the Patriot and armed militia movements overlapped
with a resurgent states’ rights movement and a new “county supremacy” movement.
There was rapid growth of illegal so-called constitutionalist common-law
courts, set up by persons claiming a nonexistent “sovereign” citizenship.

These courts claimed jurisdiction over legal matters on the county or
state level and dismissed the U.S. judicial system as corrupt and unconstitutional.
Constitutionalist legal theory created a two-tiered concept of citizenship
in which White people have a superior “natural law” or “sovereign” citizenship.

The most doctrinaire constitutionalists argue that only the original
U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments) are valid
and legally binding, all later amendments are not. Put into effect, this
would relegalize slavery, abolish women’s right to vote, rescind the
right of citizenship now guaranteed to all persons born in the United
States, and allow state governments to ignore the Bill of Rights itself.
Amazingly, many supporters of constitutionalism seem oblivious to the
racism and sexism inherent in this construct.

The most publicized incident involving common-law ideology was the 1996
standoff involving the Montana Freemen, who combined Christian Identity,
bogus common law legal theories, “debt-money” theories that reject the
legality of the Federal Reserve system, and apocalyptic expectation.

In another incident, three men suspected of shooting a law enforcement
officer while attempting to steal a water truck in Colorado in 1998 had
talked to friends about the coming collapse of society, using Patriot-style
rhetoric. Two of them reportedly attended meetings of a local Patriot

Many of the fears over declining sovereignty and imminent tyranny
were linked to the idea that “the UN is a critical cornerstone of the
New World Order,” as one Birch Society publication put it. Opposing the
collectivist menace of global government, militia groups invoked metaphors
from libertarianism, conspiracist anticommunism, and apocalyptic millennialism.

Constitutionalists carry forward the theories of the Posse Comitatus, an armed underground movement that peaked in the 1980s. Many Christian Identity groups also adopt Constitutionalist theories, such as the Aryan Nations and the Weaver Family. The Constitutionalist movement takes the basic themes of the States’ Rights Movement which opposed integration in the 1960s and wraps them in even more vivid and aggressively apocalyptic conspiracy theories. While some Constitutionalists appear unaware of or deny the White supremacist roots and branches of the movement, others are consciously racist, and some propose the eradication of people of color and Jews.



State Citizenship:
Patriot Ties To White Supremacists And Neo-Nazis

By Tom Burghardt, Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights



[i] Stern, Force Upon the Plain; Lamy, Millennium Rage.