'Freaks', 'wackos' and 'terrorists'? : the militia movement, legitimacy, and right wing extremism in the United States : a case study analysis of the Militia of Montana and the Michigan Militia Corps

Type of content
Theses / Dissertations
Publisher's DOI/URI
Thesis discipline
Political Science
Degree name
Master of Arts
University of Canterbury
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Bianchini, Amber

This thesis seeks to understand the militia movement in the United States as a political protest movement that challenges the legitimacy of the modern State. This protest reveals the fragmentation of the political culture, leading to the formation of groups like militias that challenge legitimacy based on values. The literature on legitimacy theory has not examined types of non-compliance which characterizes militia protest against specific types of domination in a political system. By using and developing Weber's theory of Value-Rational legitimacy, this study will show that militias use Value-Rational legitimacy to challenge the nature and characte1istic of Legal-Rational authority as legitimate authority. Value-Rational legitimacy as an ideal type was left undeveloped by Weber, and was absent from his typology of legitimate domination. Subsequent studies have not examined its nature or the implications for the legitimacy of the State, or the nature and objectives of political protest movements like militias. Thus, it is hypothesized that militias challenge the legitimacy of the State as Legal-Rational authority. This form of domination is challenged with Value­ Rational action as a form of non-compliance. This action corresponds to the criteria for legitimacy being Value-Rational legitimacy, based on the congruence of the value system of the political culture and governmental output.

The nature of legitimacy as a dynamic and reciprocal process of legitimation and delegitimation has also been lacking from studies. Militias engage in a conflict with the State and ideological state apparatuses such as the media, where each uses the value system in this conflict. Thus, it is also hypothesized that militias are involved in a conflict of legitimacy, where they seek to delegitimate the government and legitimate themselves through the use of the political culture, and through the use of specific tactics and strategies.

To test the hypotheses, a qualitative approach to research and analysis was utilized in this study. The Militia of Montana and the Michigan Militia Corps are used as case studies, interviews are conducted with the leaders of these groups, and content analysis is used to analyze these interviews, militia materials and government documents. The objective of this study is to explore and understand the value conflict that defines militia protest, how legitimacy is perceived and challenged by militias, and how militias are challenged as legitimate political actors. From this, we can understand how to appropriately deal with militias who are engaged in a conflict over legitimacy. It is concluded that the militia movement is a style of extremist protest which uses Value-Rational legitimacy as the values of political culture, as well as specific strategies and tactics to legitimize the movement and delegitimate Legal-Rational authority. It is also concluded that the key to appropriately dealing with militias as political actors is recognizing the movement as a political protest, to focus on the grievances that can be addressed in a political forum, and to understand the unresolved political issues that led to the emergence of the movement, such as revisiting the grievances surrounding Waco.

Militia of Montana, Michigan Militia, Militia movements--United States, Radicalism--United States, Right-wing extremists--United States, Legitimacy of governments--United States
Ngā upoko tukutuku/Māori subject headings
ANZSRC fields of research
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