In Mariposa, California, the parking lot of Handamp;L Lumber was the scene of a flurry of activity on Sunday as members of the local militia in military-style fatigues distributed pancakes and steak sandwiches to Oak Fire refugees in the area. They served breakfast and handed out cards with QR codes and instructions on how to join their militia.
Witnesses who talked to NBC News on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified said that the Echo Company militia worked as a de facto checkpoint or an advertisement for the group during the crisis.
They were dressed in their fatigues and had their entire setup with military-style trucks, according to Rain Winchester, manager of the Monarch Inn, a hotel close to Mariposa. I don’t mind them contributing to relief efforts as long as they don’t start erecting barriers or doing any security duties. I don’t want them carrying out the sheriff’s office’s duties.
According to the 2010 U.S. census, the militia is increasingly noticeable in rural Mariposa County, which is located southeast of Sacramento and has a population of 17,131 people dispersed among 14 municipalities.
A common recruiting strategy for militias outside of Mariposa County is to offer emergency aid while dressed in military uniform. Militias around the country have taken advantage of the disasters as an opportunity to meddle in the politics and emergency services of small communities as climate change produces more wildfires and unfavorable weather events, placing additional burden on local law enforcement and fire services.
Following fires in Oregon in 2020, militias set up civilian roadblocks stopped at least one Black family who was evacuating while being ignored by local authorities. Oath Keepers members have six were arrested for breaking a curfew during Hurricane Michael in 2018 members and six created a community protection team members.
Joshua James, an Oath Keeper who stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2017, met and joined the militia during Hurricane Irma relief efforts.
In the United States, wildfires have burned through 5.6 million acres this year. Over 19,000 acres were burned by the Oak Fire, which damaged at least 116 homes, according to according to local fire authorities.
According to Rachel Goldwasser, a research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, acting as de facto assistance groups is a popular recruitment and community ingratiation strategy employed in rural regions to earn support and acceptance during calamities.
Even if assistance is always required at trying times, it is crucial to keep in mind that militias are offering it with a purpose, she said.
This agenda aims to radicalize individuals into having grievances against the government that they may very well express through intimidation or violence by recruiting members of the community, including victims, into their organizations.
According to a 2016 count by the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are hundreds of active militias in the United States; these numbers have been gradually increasing in recent years. Echo Company is one of these groups. Experts have issued warnings that emboldened by former President Donald Trump and other Republican Party figures have been implicated with militia groups.
It wasn’t immediately obvious how many people make up Echo Company. Its most well-known activities, typical of American militias, include attending protests and providing training sessions for its members when there are no calamities.
Contrarily, Echo Company is well recognized among California’s militias.
In 2020, it was expelled from the wider California State Militia movement for using exaggerated, fake worries about antifa looters and for actions that could have been construed as inciting and violent.
In 2020, Echo Company and the Central Valley Proud Boys both attended a straight pride event.
There are indications that the services it is offering are effective, though. The response to a sheriff’s office Facebook post warning locals to be careful of a local militia around the Mariposa town area shows that the group has recently acquired favor among some in the community.
Support for the militia quickly filled the post. After a few hours, the sheriffs’ office released an addendum easing their stance.
The amended post clarifies any misunderstandings and responds to the substantial quantity of comments on the original post. While we do not oppose neighborhood organizations who are assisting Oak Fire victims, it is crucial that we let the locals know about the resources Mariposa County and the incident have to offer.
The sheriff’s office continued by saying that it recognized the militia’s efforts.
The article explains that we have not activated the militia, and that they are acting politely of their own volition. We had received several alerts asking why we had created that militia. We value their efforts as well as those of any other private organizations or groups that support our neighborhood.
An email requesting comment from the Echo Company’s management went unanswered. The Sheriff’s Office for Mariposa County declined to comment.
Wildfires have been an particularly active time for militias, notably in Echo Company, frequently as a result of false information that antifa or gangs of looters were about to rob their villages blind. Law enforcement in California and the Pacific Northwest battled in 2020 to quell unfounded reports that antifa was deliberately starting wildfires so that antifa buses could storm into towns and rob local shops.
A commander of the bigger California State Militia, Mickee Hernandez, said that Echo Company was dismissed from the organization for providing private security to businesses concerned about the erroneous Facebook claims that antifa was planning to rob establishments in Atwater, California.
We sort of had a falling out. The unit was formally deactivated by us. They still call themselves by our name, he remarked.
The California State Militia, 2nd Infantry website, which is not connected to Hernandez’s bigger organization, is the destination of the copied QR code distributed to Mariposa residents on Sunday.
Echo Company posted photographs of the group in fatigues providing security in the community, including individuals standing on the roof with weapons, Hernandez claimed. This was before the group was banned from Facebook as part of a larger platform crackdown on militias.
Militias cannot perform such tasks for hire with guns in California in particular according to state legislation. It casts doubt on what we are attempting, he claimed, in the eyes of the general people.
Echo Company shared a logo of the Three Percenters, an extremist group that calls for a second American Civil War, before the regiment was banned from Facebook.
There is no situation in which California would call up a militia, according to Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the California Office of Emergency Services.
California’s National Guard is present. We have an armed forces. He asserted that there is no state militia. We take this matter very seriously. We do not support this because it has nothing to do with the state.
While militias might help in an emergency, according to Goldwasser, it would be dangerous to let them take over for legitimate aid agencies after crises.
She claimed that it is difficult to control the volunteerism that militias engage in during or after natural disasters. They may be selective in whom they choose to assist or, worse, may discriminate against victims whose ideologies or skin tones differ from their own because they were not invited to participate and are not under the management of an authorized organization.
On Facebook, comments praising Echo Company and thanking the organization for the pancakes poured in, with many stating that it was wise to deter looters.
I appreciate your service. There are not enough police in our communities for them to be present everywhere. Don’t steal or we won’t shoot! A top comment quotes a May 2020 post from Trump on Facebook.
Others who responded to the sheriff’s post stated that their town did not require the assistance of the militia.
There is a large, open park with a pavilion covered with shade. absolutely empty You’d think that would be the ideal location for evacuees to eat and relax, but instead, they picked a few parking lots in the centre of town that were very visible so they could promote, a commentator said in response.
They are powerless. They’re dressed up and seeking attention. That’s it. If not, they would change their ruse to a location where it made sense.