To Shake Their Guns in the Tyrant's Face: Libertarian Political Violence and the Origins of the Militia Movement
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To Shake Their Guns in the Tyrant's Face: Libertarian Political Violence and the Origins of the Militia Movement [Hardcover]

Robert H. Churchill
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 3, 2009

After the bombings of Oklahoma City in 1995, most Americans were shocked to discover that tens of thousands of their fellow citizens had banded together in homegrown militias. Within the next few years, numerous studies and media reports appeared revealing the unseen world of the American militia movement, a loose alliance of groups with widely divergent views. Not surprisingly, it was the movement’s most extreme voices that attracted the lion's share of attention.

In reality the militia movement was neither as irrational nor as new as it was portrayed in the press, Robert Churchill writes. What bound the movement together was the shared belief that citizens have a right, even a duty, to take up arms against wanton exercise of unconstitutional power by the federal government. Many were motivated to join the movement by what they saw as a rise in state violence, illustrated by the government assaults at Ruby Ridge, Idaho in 1992, and Waco, Texas in 1993. It was this perception and the determination to deter future state violence, Churchill argues, that played the greatest role in the growth of the American militia movement.

Churchill uses three case studies to illustrate the origin of some of the core values of the modern militia movement: Fries' Rebellion in Pennsylvania at the end of the eighteenth century, the Sons of Liberty Conspiracy in Civil War-era Indiana and Illinois, and the Black Legion in Michigan and Ohio during the Depression. Building on extensive interviews with militia members, the author places the contemporary militia movement in the context of these earlier insurrectionary movements that, animated by a libertarian interpretation of the American Revolution, used force to resist the authority of the federal government.

A historian of early America, Robert H. Churchill has published numerous articles on  American political violence and the right to keep and bear arms. He is currently Associate Professor of History at the University of Hartford.

"This book is about how we think about the past, how cultural memories are formed and evolve, and how these memories then come to impact current understandings of issues. Churchill provides an enlightening analysis of the ideology, structure, and purpose of the militia movement. Where much scholarship has categorized it as a cohesive, single movement, Churchill begins the process of unraveling its complexity."
---Steve Chermak, Michigan State University

"To Shake Their Guns in the Tyrant's Face addresses an area---the relationship of American political violence to American ideology---that is of growing importance and that is commanding an ever increasing audience, and it does so in a way like nothing else in the field."
---David Williams, Indiana University Bloomington

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

A historian of early America, Robert H. Churchill has published numerous articles on the American Revolution and American political violence. He is currently Associate Professor of History at the University of Hartford.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: University of Michigan Press; 1St Edition edition (March 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0472116827
  • ISBN-13: 978-0472116829
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,363,718 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
With the sole exception of The Right to Bear Arms: The Rise of Americas New Militia, by Jonathan Karl (1995), this is the first book on the constitutional militia movement that is not part of a campaign of demonization by those with a stake in portraying constitutionalists as threats to the established order. Churchill not only does a good job of tracing the movement back to the American Revolution through an almost unbroken line of militia revivals, but also convincingly debunks the critics and shows how their pretended scholarship is weak or disingenuous. It is a book that is long overdue and that deserves to be read by every thinking American. It should also be read by people elsewhere in the world, since it presents a view of political thought that lies at the foundation of most modern republics.

However, this is not the definitive history of the modern phase of the movement. That remains to be written. It is an excellent introduction to such a history, outlining the main elements that deserve further examination. It is an invitation to historians to join him in exploring this part of our history and bringing out the issues that have driven it.

Churchill was one of the debunkers of Michael Bellesiles' anti-firearms twisting of history with fabricated "facts", Arming America, which has been overwhelmingly discredited.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Actual Reserch on the Militia Movement June 28, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Rather than accepting the popular media myth about the militia movement, Robert Churchill actually went out and gathered the facts, following the historical precedent from the beginnings of the American Revolution. Contrary to the media myth, most militia members are not uneducated rural bigots, but in fact are more highly educated than the general population (over half have college degrees), and are middle class Americans from the suburbs and have successful careers.

The constitutional militias actively root out any infiltration by Neo Nazis, Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups, and maintain an overt nondiscrimination policy of membership. The ideals of the constitutional militia members are best reflected by the writings of one of their most influential leaders, Mike Vanderboegh, who is well studied in American History, ethics and legitimate defense of liberty. Mike maintains a blogspot called Sipsey Street Irregulars where he keeps his readers informed of current events and commentary, with an emphasis on current threats to liberty. Mike best describes the militia's view of itself as "sheep dogs;" non-threatening, but willing to protect itself and the flock, self-sufficient and independent, aspiring to the highest ideals of early Americanism.

Professor Churchill also examines the collectivist, extreme left, Neo-Nazi-hate-group type militias, and found that they are actually quite few in number and fizzle out quickly. Nevertheless, these are the types that the Southern Poverty Law Center wants to project as the mainstream of the militia movement, a view that is propagated by the mainstream media, the Department of Homeland Security, and other militarized segments of law enforcement, and is utterly false.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant! September 18, 2009
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Professor Churchill's work is a brilliantly written and thoroughly researched history of the militia movement in the United States. It is a must read for anyone interested or concerned with the militia movement or with the right to bear arms from a historical perspective.

It is not an "easy read" and is not intended for someone looking for light reading from a superficial perspective. However, if the reader's interest is in really understanding the subject from a truly researched effort, then this is the book for that reader. Were I teaching current history rather than Systems Engineering, this would be required reading.

C. Thompson Pardoe
Johns Hopkins University
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book! January 5, 2011
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The first part of the book was a little boring and I almost quit reading it. Glad I didn't as the author does great service to righting a lot of the historical "wrongs" that we all learned in school. I would recommend this book to anyone with an open mind and a willingness to see American history from a different perspective than what we were taught in school.
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7 of 56 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Thin Rationalization December 16, 2009
The author attempts to link the 1990s militia movement - the self-styled "Constitutionalists," as you might recall - to the militias of the Colonial-Revolutionary era, seeking to tie them together in one larger "movement." This is nonsense, as the legal militias of early America were official state organizations. Self-constituted lynching parties, however, were something else again. This is the true origin of the 90s militia movement.

As we recall, the militia movement was funded by Western "conservatives" who bought into apocalyptic survivalism and thought the end-times were a-coming when Republicans lost the White House in '92. Ruby Ridge, Waco, et al, were convenient excuses to demonize Janet Reno as the harbinger of a "jackbooted" totalitarian regime in the making.

Also of note is that Churchill does not condone the extremist violence of the left. But that was as surely an extension of revolutionary libertarianism as the examples he treasures, from the Haymarket martyrs of the 1880s to the Black Panthers' "self-defense" armed struggle. In truth, militias and guerrillas played a destructive role in US life whenever they emerged. The US civil war began in Kansas, for instance, as self-organized pro and anti-slavery guerrillas formed and slugged it out, until their violence assumed formal shape in pitched armies at battle.

As an antidote to such partisan scholarship as this I recommend "Arming America," by Michael Bellesiles. The campaign of vindictive villification launched against his work, and himself personally, should in itself show he's taken true aim.
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