In Rural Virginia, a Militia Tries to Recruit a New Ally: The County Government

“Virginia is not the Virginia it used to be,” lamented John Sharp, a supervisor in Bedford County, which passed a militia resolution in May. “We’re outvoted.”

It could be that way for a long time. And if the current polls are right, it could soon be that way in Washington, too, leaving the right with a hold on the courts and little else. Some are preparing.

“Biden’s coming for us; there will be a war,” said Paul Cangialosi, who works with the Virginia Militia Alliance, created after last year’s election to organize armed groups across the state. “We don’t fix this at the ballot box, I hate to say it. We’re too divided.”

Gun control, anti-coronavirus lockdowns, talk of a vaccine mandate: Mr. Sharp described it all as if it were an imposition by a remote colonial power.

“In the end,” he said, “we just want to be left alone.”

That is where militias come in.

The legal theory is this: The Virginia Constitution speaks of a “well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms,” so if a county were to endorse the right of local residents to assemble and train as a militia — even if it granted no other special powers or duties — wouldn’t that give people firmer legal standing to challenge gun laws?

A few places have tried this, said Mark Pitcavage, a researcher with the Anti-Defamation League, including some counties in Florida in the mid-1990s, but nothing came of it. The law is plain.

“Neither in Florida nor in Virginia do counties have the power to do this,” Mr. Pitcavage said. “The power to organize the militia is firmly divided between the federal government and state governments.”


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