What to Know:
Earlier this month, Maryland Representative Jamie Raskin (D) and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey (D) introduced a bill aimed at preventing “private paramilitary activity” within the United States, which they say is in response to the events of January 6th.
In a joint statement, the two argued that while all 50 states prohibit private paramilitary activity, “these laws are far too often outdated, underenforced, or ignored. Private military organizations pose a threat not only to national security, but they also present a public safety problem that extends beyond any single state; for example, private paramilitary actors like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers traveled across state lines on January 6th. ”
“There are currently no federal laws that address paramilitary activity or protect millions of Americans whose rights are threatened by this type of violent anti-democratic intimidation.”
H.B. 6981, or the “Preventing Private Paramilitary Activity Act of 2024,” was introduced on January 11 and the main body of the bill seeks to prohibit private paramilitary organizations from:
- “Publically patrol, drill, or engage in techniques capable of causing bodily injury or death;”
- “Interfere with, interrupt, or attempt to interfere with or interrupt government operations or a government proceeding;”
- “Interfere with or intimidate another person in that person’s exercise of any right under the Constitution of the United States;”
- “Assume the functions of a law enforcement officer, peace officer, or public official, whether or not acting under color of law, and thereby assert authority or purport to assert authority over another person without the consent of that person; or”
- Train to engage in any activity described above.
It is important to note that the bill defines a paramilitary organization as “any group of 3 or more persons associating under a command structure for the purpose of functioning in public or training to function in public as a combat, combat support, law enforcement, or security services unit.”
Penalties would include a maximum of one year in prison for any violations that do not result in bodily injury and a maximum of two years for any activity that results in damage to property. Violations that result in bodily injury can carry a maximum sentence of five years, with violations that result in death carrying a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Senator Markey stated that “Three years ago, white supremacists affiliated with paramilitary organizations stormed the U.S. Capitol, shattering windows, walls, and the families of five U.S. Capitol police officers.”
“Private paramilitary actors, such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, pose a serious threat to democracy and the rule of law, and we must create new prohibitions on their unauthorized activities that interfere with the exercise of people’s constitutional rights. The forces of bigotry, hatred, and violent extremism must be stopped for the sake of our democracy,” he added.
Patrolling, impeding law enforcement and storming the Capitol, private paramilitary groups like the Oath Keepers use political violence to threaten democracy. @SenMarkey and I are making it clear: our Constitution in no way protects these operations. https://t.co/BGBFATGoCa
— Rep. Jamie Raskin (@RepRaskin) January 11, 2024
Likewise, Representative Raskin said that “Patrolling neighborhoods, impeding law enforcement and storming the U.S. Capitol, private paramilitary groups like the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters and the Proud Boys are using political violence to intimidate our people and threaten democratic government and the rule of law.”
He added that “Our legislation makes the obvious but essential clarification that these domestic extremists’ paramilitary operations are in no way protected by our Constitution. I’m grateful to Senator Markey for his partnership on this critical effort to protect the rule of law, deter insurrection and defend our democracy.”
We were unable to find any Republican lawmaker responses, so we talked to Adam Holroyd, co-founder and owner of Spiritus Systems, who has expressed concerns over the bill.
Adam described how he opposes the bill, arguing that it is predicated on the idea that the government is always just and true with its intentions and thus should have a monopoly on violence. He went on to express concerns with the bill, which he described as being vague, and that it threatens the natural right to self-defense and is ultimately part of a process to erode the people’s rights to govern themselves.
“The question that I like to ask is this; as a non-biased citizen, do I feel that our current government is behaving in a similar fashion as the Crown did back in the 1700s,” he said, adding that “No matter your stance on the Second Amendment, the Founding Fathers definitely agreed that the Government should be balanced by the people.”
H.R. 6981, We aren't a fan of this.
— adam holroyd (@theadamholroyd) January 30, 2024
He then explained how many groups, whether it be militias or gun clubs, are a collection of prepared citizens, whose focus in training is not to overthrow the government, but rather to be prepared to assist their communities in times of natural disaster or severe civil unrest. However, training for these scenarios does present itself with the possibility to use lethal force. This bill would also prevent people from training on public lands when private facilities are not available.
For Adam, it seems that the bill tips the balance of power back into the favor of the Government. “Should one side of a scaled system hold all of the power?” If this bill advances, he said, then citizens are deprived the ability to equip and prepare themselves as a group. “Where is this paramilitary organization they are describing actually a problem? Anytime we write a law, we must be careful to ensure that it is needed” he added.