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Who Are The Armed Civilians Showing Up At Protests?

A small group of peaceful demonstrators protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake hold a rally in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
A small group of peaceful demonstrators protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake hold a rally in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The presence of militia groups, supposedly there to protect property, had been making protesters and residents in Kenosha, Wisconsin uncomfortable. But then, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse opened fire with a gun he was not legally allowed to own and killed two protesters.

— NBC News (@NBCNews) September 1, 2020

Rittenhouse is far from the only armed civilian to show up at police brutality and antiracist protests. This year, white supremacists and far-right actors have done so at least 497 times. In Kenosha, police were  filmed arresting members of Riot Kitchen, a Seattle-based organization dedicated to feeding demonstrators, while leaving members of armed militia groups alone.

Police often deny links to extrajudicial groups. But a recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice highlights links of varying severity between police, white supremacists and militias. These ties  have been discovered in Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.

What’s the history behind these connections?

And more broadly, what makes something a militia? Who are in these groups? And what legal standing do they have?

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