This article was reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, with support from The Puffin Foundation.
You may have seen it on The Colbert Report. A proposed walled city of “patriots,” known as The Citadel, received the particular dose of sarcastic humor the show reserves for militiamen and gun nuts. Colbert’s reading of the requirement that all patriot residents must own one AR-15 and 1,000 rounds of ammunition, and periodically prove their weapons’ proficiency, drew the most laughs from the audience. Six months later, this past June, when several of the Citadel’s principals appeared on Glenn Beck’s television show, the tone was just the opposite. A measured, serious discussion occurred, and the pros and cons debated of patriots’ settling in mountainous Benewah County, Idaho, and building a city where Thomas Jefferson’s “rightful liberty” would rule, and employment be provided in a weapons-manufacturing facility.
Now, after a year of justifiable skepticism about the walled city’s prospects, expressed by the Benewah County Sheriff, and criticism of the project’s leadership by rival militia factions, the group behind the Citadel is taking the next steps. On September 6–8 it gathered at a twenty-acre plot it had already purchased as a starter base-camp, according to county records.
A couple dozen or more militia-types are thought to have traveled off the main highways and up the unpaved logging roads for close-quarters battle training and a self-styled patriot convention. They housed themselves in tents and RVs. Jim Miller, a fully licensed arms manufacturer at the heart of the Citadel’s plans, was in attendance. Perhaps he sold some of the guns he has recently built, AR-15s—a civilian replica of the American military’s M-16s. Chris Kerodin, the Citadel’s central idea man and principal propagandist, taught hand-to-hand combat courses known as CQB—close-quarters battle.
They also were slated to make plans to eventually attract 300 “patriots” to their ranks, people willing to “go into harm’s way,” and “clear Black Panthers from the voting stations,” according to one of Kerodin’s frequent blog posts.
Whether or not the Citadel is built, the gathering itself is important: it could become the most significant turning point in the militia and survivalist world since Timothy McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma federal building in 1995 and the FBI crackdown on armed paramilitaries that followed.
Militias in the Age of Obama
Many book-length accounts of the militia movement of the 1990s have concluded that it began with a few key meetings, a half-dozen principal personalities and three decisive events. These last—two FBI and ATF imbroglios at Weaver Mountain and Waco, and the passage of the Brady Bill, a minimalist piece of gun control legislation—convinced Christian patriots and white supremacists that the government was planning to kill them or take their guns away. Men such as John Trochmann from the Militia of Montana (reported on at the time by Marc Cooper for The Nation) and Mark Koernke from Michigan traveled the country promoting the militia model, and helped knit the various local and state militia groups into a movement. One particularly good salesman, Bo Gritz, traded on his service in Vietnam and chest full of military medals to sell his own package of survivalist trainings. Eventually, he turned his reputation into a land deal in Idaho, a “Christian Covenant Community” he called Almost Heaven.
The movement disappeared as law enforcement officials cracked down in the wake the Oklahoma City bombing. In 1996, when the FBI peacefully closed down an encampment occupied by Montana Freemen, who had been cheating their neighbors and other patriots with funny money deals, they scored a significant publicity victory. Leonard Zeskind’s book Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement From the Margins to the Mainstream argued that by the time Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was executed in 2001, the movement character of the militia phenomenon was long dead. Local militias continued to exist, but in a much reduced state.