Cooke: In Defense of ‘Antigovernment Militias’

Our friend Charles C.W. Cooke at National Review Online noted much the of the same coverage we did regarding the presence of Oath Keeper volunteers in Ferguson, Missouri. The local police and Missouri National Guard failed to protect more than 20 businesses from looters and arsonists on the first night of rioting after a grand jury declined to prosecute police officer Darren Wilson for justifiably shooting robbery suspect Michael Brown, and so a group of Oath Keeper volunteers came to town to protect businesses in the most riot-prone areas.

The Oath Keepers did such a good job that they were then threatened with arrest on trumped-up charges if the didn’t leave.

Cooke notes of the absurdity:

This reaction illustrates pretty much everything that is wrong with our attitude toward government, and with government’s attitude toward us. In the course of the story, the Times claims that the fact “that some business owners accepted aid from a group regarded by some as an antigovernment militia is a testament to the rawness of emotions here following a riot on Monday night.” St. Louis police, meanwhile, insisted that they are bound “to investigate” any outfit that seeks to protect the public. In both cases, one has to ask, “why?” When you need help and you need it now, what possible interest could you have in the politics of those offering it? When under attack, to what extent can you be expected to care who has a license and who does not? Indeed, providing that you are not actively hurting anybody, what exactly is so wrong with being in an “antigovernment militia” that volunteers to protect the weak and the underserved?

In the United States, police forces exist as a public service, not as a replacement for civil society. As the Supreme Court has made clear, police are under no obligation to help or to protect you. They can choose to, certainly. But they do not have to. And, even if they did have to, it would still be the case that they could not possibly be everywhere at once.

Nor are they intended to be. For much of American history, there was no serious distinction drawn between the citizenry, the militia, the military, and the police. Instead, there were a few elected or appointed roles — watchmen, constables, sheriffs, etc. — and then there was the people at large. Those people were expected to bandy together and to help one another, to be responsible for their own protection, and to help to keep the peace — both under the control of authorities and of their own volition. When standing police forces came into being, Americans did not give up this system; they added to it.

Which is to say that there is no reason whatsoever for us to abandon either our penchant for self-reliance or our preference for volunteerism simply because we have a series of professional police forces running in parallel to civil society.

Americans have not only the right to protect themselves from violent criminals, they have the right to protect others.

Some of us might even believe that we have a moral obligation to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

Obviously, such dangerous liberty is unpopular with those who imagine themselves to be in power.