Hints at Militia Evolution in the Age of Trump: Establishment of the Southern Defense Force

The election of Donald Trump, and especially the exit of Barack Obama from the White House, marks a critical juncture in the environment under which far-right American militias operate. A massive new wave of militia groups formed after 2008 and membership grew during Obama’s 8 years.

After November 2016, though, many militia members reversed their views of the government or have shifted their focus elsewhere. At the Inauguration, for example, Oathkeepers showed up to ‘keep an eye on the Anarchists and Communists’ of Disrupt J20. These unarmed volunteers ironically stood outside guarding the golden revolving doors to the lobbying firms on K Street, fleeing the area at the first signs of violence in their vicinity (the target was a limo, not the Oathkeepers nor another person at that juncture).

https://twitter.com/HamptonStall/status/822536145993138178

The Oathkeepers, years ago, defined themselves as a paramilitary civilian security force. They identified areas where riots could impact small business owners and showed up heavily-armed. The organization has not been explicitly anti-Fed, but local chapters have expressed significant solidarity with anti-Fed movements. In January 2016, for example, several Oathkeepers chapters showed up to the Malheur occupation to assist the Bundy gang. They even went so far as to roll up on an FBI base a few miles down the road.

Just before the inauguration, a group of pro-Trump motorcyclists formed Bikers for Trump. The Bikers for Trump declared that they would be coming to DC to protect Trump from the Anarchists and Communists in DC. Some did show up for Disrupt J20, and a few Bikers for Trump also showed up to the Women’s March the following day. The results bordered on the absurd, with a Bikers for Trump leader live-streaming to call for reinforcements due to the number of women in pink hats on the Mall that day.

Not all Bikers for Trump members had been in anti-Fed militias, but they adopted the same language that many Patriot movement militias espouse. If it weren’t for partisan politics, it would be fascinating that many of these activists changed from the starkest anti-state actors to become jackbooted collaborators with security forces for the new president.

Falling in line with the state hasn’t been the only far-right militia move since the election of Trump. This brief, of course, will not cover every different way far-right militias could have responded in the transition of power from Obama to Trump, but instead highlights a particular response from one of the largest southern far-right organizations. It’s a response that is worthwhile, especially as the American polity comes to terms with a more divided populace that is more politically activated than it has been in the last 8 years.


The League of the South and the Southern Defense Force

The League of the South (LS) is a loosely organized network of folks who hold far-right Southern views as their most critical identifying values. LS is a Southern Nationalist organization that is over 20 years old, but the real push for publicity on their ideology started in 2014. Its members desire Southern independence and a recognition of the unique nation of the Southern States. This makes the LS a Neo-Confederate organization, and they have incorporated Confederate symbolism and ideology into every aspect of their network.

The organization desires Southern independence, but isn’t always clear what this means or how to achieve it. There are many blogs associated with the LS, including one that calls for outright armed rebellion, but most are full of extended essays about Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Antifas (Anti-Fascists). The organization has not organized any sort of extensive armed mobilization in the past. Most of its activities towards Southern Nationalism have been confined primarily to members’ online activities and some rallies. The LS has chapters in 20 states, from Montana to California and from Texas to Maryland.

States with an LS chapter in red. Note: Pacific Northwestern states are combined into a four-state chapter.

LS symbology makes heavy use of both the Confederate flag and the black-crossed Southern Nationalist flag. If there was any doubt of their firm adherence to both Neo-Confederatism and Southern Nationalism, the number of places they plaster these symbols should immediately dispel it.

LS banner image featuring the Southern Nationalist flag twice

LS publications are full of vitriol at immigrants, Jews, and “snowflakes”. Compared to most organizations of its type, LS is very prolific on its own site as well as the numerous off-shoots.

LS image from recent article featuring Confederate and Southern Nationalist flags

A recent post, titled “What’s wrong with a ‘whiter America?’” responds to an editorial in the “‘fake news’ [organ] of international Jewry, New York Times” and refers to the LS not only as a Southern Nationalist organization but as a White Nationalist group, drawing American and Southern identity directly to Whiteness. Michael Hill, the author of the response, is the head of the LS and often cites the risk of “Cultural Marxism (multiculturalism, tolerance, and diversity)”. Much of the writing is militant and calls on White, Christian Southerners to prepare to defend their identity and their faith.

The head of the LS explains his ideology in 2 minutes

Dr. Michael Hill, the head of LS, talks often about nations not as political entities, but as cultural divisions between peoples. He explains in a video that Southern Nationalism is the belief in a nation of “White European Southerners… mainly from the British Isles”, who are a “distinctive people based on blood, and from that blood comes culture”.

It’s the same argument that modern and contemporary White Nationalists use when talking about the nationality of the White race. This particular phrasing is not even original to Michael Hill. White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon has explained that Western culture comes from Western blood and Western identity.

The name of YouTube channel upon which Michael Smith’s explanation of Southern Nationalism is hosted, RedShirtArmy, refers to the Southern paramilitary organization that took up arms to intimidate and halt pro-Black democratic changes after the Civil War. The Red Shirts mobilized to overthrow a state government in 1898 as well.

Michael Smith’s billboard in Florida

Southern Nationalism is also unique from White Nationalism in that it is also coupled with desires for Southern secession from the United States, based on their understanding of Southern secession in the 19th century.

The LS has organized immigration protests in Cartersville and Calhoun, GA, flown Secession flags in Columbia, SC, held secession rallies in Gainesville, GA, and hosted similar activities in other Southern states.

Image from an FL LS event

The LS will also be represented at a Neo-Nazi event in Pikeville, KY in April. The event is headlined by the head of the National Socialist Movement (US Nazi party). Other organizations represented are the Traditionalist Workers Party (White Nationalist Nazi-sympathetic) and the Aryan Nationalist Alliance (Skinheads).

Not every member of the LS is in a militia and the LS does not necessarily represent a militia organization at its essence, but LS networks serve as easy connections for the formation of any armed force, especially with so significant an ideological leaning. Before, this could have been a resistance force or a force in favor of arms training and self-sufficiency exercises like many other Southern militia groups. Trump is now president, so the liberal threat of arms-snatching is no longer a worry for far-right gun-owners.

The LS, though, has changed its target for its desire for armed mobilization. Rather than mobilization against the state or against Obama during his 8 years, LS leadership has called for mobilization against a different perceived threat.

This threat, of course, led to the establishment of the Southern Defense Force.


The Southern Defense Force (SDF)

The Southern Defense Force (SDF, not to be confused with the majority-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces) is a new armed force created by the leadership of the League of the South at the beginning of February. The establishment of the force comes in a press release titled “Directive 02022017” (Feb 02 2017).

Directive 02022017 outlines a perceived threat to the South in the form of radical leftist groups. The organizations specifically named are Antifa and Black Lives Matter, though the directive is aimed at a much larger coalition of social justice and radical organizations from the American Left. Specific tactics that this directive highlights are “march-rioting, burning [flags], and physically assaulting those with whom they disagree.”

Antifa and BLM are usual targets for White Nationalist organisations. Antifa stands in direct opposition to White Supremacy, actively mobilizing against White Nationalism (including punching prominent White Nationalist Richard Spencer). Black Lives Matter has been the source for a number of cries of “White Genocide” from White Nationalists, accompanied by a rising interest in documenting “Black Crime” and “BLM terror”. Wording for these directives and articles come from a background of shared underground media that has come to the forefront in the past couple of years, in no small part due to the pro-Trump Alt-Right.

Copy of Directive 02022017 on the website of the Texas chapter of LS

Directive 02022017, and specifically the call for an armed-and-ready defense force, does not come out of an organizational vacuum, either. The Southern National Congress (SNC, a guiding body for the LS) passed a resolution in late 2009 calling for a coalition to be formed to responding to any natural or human threat to Southern states. In 2009, the threats were tornadoes and Obama’s presidency. In 2017, the weather threat remains but Obama is gone from office.

A lot of the language referring to the “growing leftist menace” is recycled from the Obama years, including the fact that leftists will destroy “our historic Christian civilization”. The LS/SDF advocates for increasing opportunities to train in hand-to-hand combat, firearms combat, and survival skills. These are all things that many anti-government militias have been training in for years.

The SDF directive maintains that the LS does not condone the use of violence save for special cases, of which one is self-defense of liberty and property. “Liberty” as an abstract concept to be defended is a vague concept, and the defense of liberty was a central tenant for many “patriot movement” militias, including the GSFIII.

There are not yet firm signs of public mobilization for SDF militants, but organizational mechanisms are likely already in place at the time of writing. It will be interesting to see how integrated into current state apparatuses the SDF will seek to be, especially as Directive 02022017 does not mention Southern secession, a rarity for things written by the LS.