California's split personality on militias

Townhall Media/Julio Rosas

Mariposa, California is a small, unincorporated community with a population of barely 1,500 located well to the east of San Francisco. Like many other California communities, the people of Mariposa have been threatened by wildfires recently. During one such event, a significant crew of mostly younger to middle-aged men in fatigues driving camouflage-painted vehicles set up a relief operation in the middle of town, feeding and otherwise assisting residents who were displaced by the threatening Oak Fire. But these were not Army soldiers or Marines. They weren’t even members of the National Guard. They were civilian members of Echo Company, a militia that is centered in Mariposa County. Some of the locals were glad to see them pitching in to help out. Others were more suspicious and seemed to believe they must be up to no good. (NBC News)

The parking lot of H&L Lumber in Mariposa, California, was host to a flurry of activity Sunday as members of a local militia sporting military-style fatigues handed out pancakes and steak sandwiches to evacuees of the Oak Fire raging nearby. Along with breakfast, they doled out business cards with QR codes and directions to join their militia.

Some say the members of the Echo Company militia served as a de facto checkpoint or an advertisement for the group during the crisis, according to witnesses who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified.

“They had their whole setup with military-style trucks, and they were in their fatigues and whatnot,” said Rain Winchester, a manager at Mariposa’s nearby Monarch Inn.

Echo Company (bearing the same name as an active Marine unit) is reportedly quite active in Mariposa County. They show up and volunteer for all manner of public challenges. And as the linked article notes, they take that opportunity to pass out business cards with information for people who might want to join the militia themselves. Many people fleeing the Oak Fire were grateful for the food, water, and shelter from the sun that the militia provided. Nobody asked them to do it. They just showed up and pitched in.

But interviews conducted with some of the locals showed that some people were more than a little suspicious. Comparisons to the Proud Boys were common, which is no surprise because the Proud Boys draw so many headlines nationally. (With many of those headlines not reflecting well on them.) One man said he was “fine” with Echo Company helping out with relief efforts. But he was concerned over the possibility that they might start setting up roadblocks and “doing security work.” He said that he did not want to see the militia “doing the work of the Sheriff’s Office.”

It’s a more charitable attitude than militias are treated to in other places, particularly in blue states like California. Most liberals seem to hate the militias by default, largely because of their tendency to be armed and their open reservations about the government. Those conflicting views of the public seemed to be on display during the Oak Fire.

Of course, when operating properly and within the law, militias should not be and typically are not a problem. In fact, they were a prominent feature of revolutionary war-era America, frequently mentioned in the Constitution and other documents of the day. Helping out during an emergency is a fine service for them to engage in when they don’t have anything better to take up their time.

But people should also keep in mind the original purpose of the militias as well. They’re not gathering together to conduct illegal raids and attacks. They’re not even training to fight with the government. Or at least not yet. They’re just standing ready in case the day comes when that becomes a requirement as described by the Founders. For now, however, handing out sandwiches and bottled water to people fleeing a wildfire doesn’t sound like something that should upset people overly much.

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