“This is what we train for boys and girls! Be ready!” declared a member of the online hub of The 3 Percenters.  Over at the Ohio Patriot Network, another activist warned, “Okay folks… Lock and Load!!!” At 3%ers, a member warned, “Upon the declaration of martial law, its fists full of bullets, a chest full of Teflon, straight up, don’t allow isolation!!!%”
If you peer into the militia-sphere—the network of militia members, three percenters, oath keepers, minutemen, and other so-called “patriots” and “constitutionalists”—you’ll see a terrifyingly different world. On social media, over ham radio, and in-person, the militia-sphere has been busy spreading racist and anti-Semitic conspiracies about the origins of the virus, stockpiling weapons and stoking fears of martial law and troop deployments, counting the days until Civil War II, the “boogaloo” breaks out, and openly discussing murdering “traitors.”
Much like the Republican response to COVID-19, the militia-sphere’s response has mutated quickly, reacting to changing realities on the ground.
Initially, the most common reaction in the militia-sphere was political pushback against any criticism of the Trump administration’s slow response to the pandemic. Militia-sphere meme-makers pumped out graphics criticizing President Obama and Vice President Biden for their administration’s slow response to Ebola. They also created a mythology around President Trump, fictitiously depicting that Trump was working so hard to protect the country that he was only sleeping 4 hours a night.
In the early days of the pandemic’s spread in the United States, even as it was becoming abundantly clear that the crisis was escalating rapidly, the militia-sphere downplayed the threats. One three percenter used Facebook to share a popular theory in the militia-sphere,
A leader of the Union of Three Percenter American Patriots wrote to the 1,816 members of their Facebook group,
We had an Emergency Session of the National Council late 03/15 and early 03/16. During that meeting, our National Director of Medical Practices, Gregory Pritchard presented the Council with factual information regarding the COVID-19 virus. After listening to all of the information provided to us, the Council concluded that this virus is not at all a big threat to the general population of the United States. In any case, we do not believe that it will be any worse than the average Influenza strain(s) that are occurring in our population this year. And, we truly believe, that it is very likely that the total number of people infected and the total number of deaths in this country as a result of this virus will pale in comparison to the average number of infections caused by the current Influenza strain(s). There is, however, a real threat imposed by the paranoia and mass hysteria that is currently taking place. We also feel that there is a coordinated effort by our enemies to nurture this mass hysteria and cause harm to ours and the world’s economies. Please do not fall prey to this hysteria. Do not listen to false inflated reports of sickness caused by this virus…Do NOT discuss this virus in ANY WAY other than to discuss HARD FACTS about comparing this virus to the common yearly flue which also has and probably always will kill far more people every year than this ridiculous hoax ever will.
So-called “Constitutionalist” figure KrisAnne Hall further downplayed the severity of COVID-19 in a March 18 video. Though unable to remember his name, Hall lashed out at Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, one of the leading experts on the pandemic. Hall called Fauci a “fascist, globalist doctor” and claimed that Fauci “is manipulating Trump, and he’s got Trump’s heart-string, and he’s leading him to this statist path, this Martial Law path.”  She also highlighted a recent letter by “Dr. Paul.”
Hall was, of course, referencing Rep. Ron Paul, who is not an immunologist or an expert on infectious disease, but instead an obstetrician-gynecologist who hasn’t practiced medicine for decades. Nonetheless, Paul published an article entitled “The Coronavirus Hoax” on March 16. In it, he lashed out at Fauci, and repeatedly downplayed the threat of the virus. He argued, “People should ask themselves whether this coronavirus ‘pandemic’ could be a big hoax, with the actual danger of the disease massively exaggerated by those who seek to profit – financially or politically – from the ensuing panic.” Ironically, on March 22, Paul’s son, Senator Rand Paul, became the first US Senator to test positive for the coronavirus.
Others in the militia-sphere spread the word that Coronavirus was “just a cold virus that’s being politicized by leftists because they don’t like Trump.” Advice of medical professionals to “social distance” and stay at home was met with derision in the militia-sphere. They circulated calls to go out to bars and restaurants amidst the pandemic.
Though you wouldn’t notice from looking at the militia-sphere, as the week dragged on, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 soared as did the deaths from the virus. By March 17, the day after Ron Paul published “The Coronavirus Hoax,” the number of confirmed cases in the United States soared to 6,357, with 105 deaths reported.
A Petri Dish of Conspiracy Theories
Earthquakes. Electromagnetic pulse detonations. Pandemics. Civil unrest. Looming disasters, of both natural and human-made varieties. These have long been part of far-right lore. They are the marketing materials of the snake-oil salespeople of the prepper-industrial-complex. Paranoia-for-profit is big business in the militia-sphere.
While people in the real world were stockpiling things like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and pantry essentials, the militia-sphere was singularly focused on stockpiling weapons and ammunition. Panic in the militia-sphere undoubtedly helped drive the sale of guns and ammo through the roof.
By the time confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States climbed to over 1,000, online ammunition retailer Ammo.com noticed an “unprecedented 276% sales surge that continued through the end of last week and the weekend, as the virus was declared a pandemic, travel bans were implemented, and the stock market experienced its biggest crash since 1987.” In a twenty-two day period from February 23 to March 15, Ammo.com also noted a 309% increase in revenue, a 222% increase in transactions, and a 77% increase in site traffic compared to the beginning of February.
Meanwhile, over at Patriot Sentinels of Freedom, one Kentucky member used the opportunity to sell flak vests and “riot shields” featuring Confederate Battle Flags and Ku Klux Klan Blood-drop decals.
While some in the militia-sphere were busy downplaying the pandemic, others looked for shadowy figures to blame. Conspiracy theories multiplied and mutated rapidly.
Some in the militia-sphere dug deep into the crates to unearth the old conspiracy that dominated the militia movement of the 1990s, the “New World Order.” The Brotherhood of America’s Patriots Facebook page features a popular meme that depicts the coronavirus as a “Trojan horse” to bring “New World Order, Martial Law, Police State” to the world. Another three percenter argued that, “This whole situation has really exposed the concept of the ‘New World Order’ and being part of the ‘Globalist’ movement that now has endangered so many.” The “globalist” part of the conspiracy theory has also been promoted on the premiere platform for these conspiracies, Alex Jones’ InfoWars. Mike Adams, a frequent InfoWars contributor, has argued that “The heads of the globalists” engineered and released coronavirus.
At the same time, the militia-sphere’s most vociferous supporters of President Trump clung to a debunked “deep state” conspiracy to use the virus against the president. As Politico reported, the evidence fueling their theory: the head of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases is Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the sister of Rod Rosenstein, the former deputy attorney general who oversaw the Mueller probe and, according to a disputed report, once discussed removing Trump from office.
The “deep state” plot conspiracy was also picked up by the militia-sphere’s premiere conspiracist, Alex Jones. The March 11 edition of The Alex Jones Show, featured Gary Heavin, co-founder of fitness chain Curves International and a major donor to the governor of Texas. Heavin spread the outlandish conspiracy that COVID-19 is “nefarious act” — a weaponized virus created by “the powers that be in this country who want to destroy Trump’s presidency.”
We know that it’s a weaponized virus because we see the RNA strands that were put into this virus from HIV, from MERS, and from the SARS virus. There’s no way this could have happened in nature. So somebody built it, there’s no question about that. The question is who did, and who unleashed this on the world. I’m afraid that the powers that be in this country who want to destroy Trump’s presidency, who want to eliminate China’s threat to our hegemony — and by the way, there is a byproduct of this which is a depopulation effort. We’re going to end up providing some solution to our Social Security elderly problem. This sounds terrible, but this collateral damage to the American people, I believe was a desirable byproduct for the people that are in power.
It would be problematic enough if these dangerous conspiracy theories stayed within the cammo-covered confines of the militia-sphere, but Heavin noted during his interview with Jones that he met with Texas Governor Greg Abbott to discuss coronavirus. In the midst of a pandemic, public policy for one of the largest states in the country is apparently being influenced by such dangerous misinformation.
The March 17 episode of The Alex Jones Show featured Jim Hoft, head of the far-right media outlet, Gateway Pundit, and his twin brother. During the program, they downplayed the danger of the spread of coronavirus, and argued that the pandemic crisis is being manufactured by “the deep state” to “take out” President Trump.
By far, the most popular strain of the COVID-19 conspiracy theory is the coronavirus as a bioweapon. The conspiracy has both xenophobic and anti-Semitic variants.
The widely debunked conspiracy contends that the coronavirus originated in a level 4 (the highest biosafety level) research laboratory in Wuhan, and either “escaped” from the lab or was engineered in the lab as a bioweapon. The Wuhan Institute of Virology is a real place. But the emergence of the virus in the same city as China’s only level 4 biosafety lab is pure coincidence.
Nonetheless, the militia-sphere has been rife with xenophobic conspiracies about the Wuhan lab. Though there are many variations, the general theme is that China engineered COVID-19 as a bioweapon to kill Americans and destroy the American economy.
This conspiracy has been infiltrating the mainstream for more than a month. As early as February 24, popular right-wing racist talk-show host, Rush Limbaugh, claimed, “It probably is a ChiCom [Chinese Communist] laboratory experiment that is in the process of being weaponized.” Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) repeatedly suggested before Congress and on Fox News that the virus could have come from the lab. At the same time, President Trump continued to refer to COVID-19 in racist terms, calling it the “Chinese virus.” Comments like these have led to an increase in xenophobia across the country and a marked rise in attacks on Asian-Americans and Asian immigrants.
Not content with xenophobic rants against China, others in the Militia-sphere have seized on anti-Semitism, to blame the pandemic on a longtime foe. George Soros, a Hungarian-born Jew, has become a player in yet another conspiracy theory.
A popular article circulating in the militia-sphere was published by Sons of Liberty Media on March 14, entitled “COVID-19: A Manufactured Virus In A Soros-Owned Lab To Crash The Economy?” It argued that,
Many theorize COVID-19 is a manufactured germ designed to bring on a worldwide recession, especially here in the US, thus destroying the number one accomplishment of the president.
The Nazi nucleus based NWO Socialist movement financed by George Soros, his billionaire buddies and managed by Barack Obama, very well could have brought on this disaster as their nuclear option in getting President Trump out of office.
It’s important to remember that less than a year ago, it was reported that members of a militia known for rounding up undocumented immigrants near the border, the United Patriots of America, were training to assassinate George Soros.
Another popular militia-sphere conspiracy is that Microsoft co-founder, Bill Gates, predicted, and is profiting, from the coronavirus. This conspiracy, which was also widely-circulated in QAnon circles and on 4chan, takes unrelated events and financial connections out of context and morphs them into another conspiracy about the coronavirus. Some in the militia-sphere have blended in their hatred of President Obama and anti-environmental hysteria into the Gates conspiracy. Somehow, it’s part of a plot to depopulate the planet (reminiscent of the Agenda 21 conspiracies of the Tea Party-era).
By March 23, the militia-sphere turned its attention back to politics, specifically attacking Democrats. After Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell failed to pass bailout legislation, the militia-sphere tried to blame Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. They called Pelosi a “c-nt” and a “b-tch” and even posted images of Pelosi smothering a bed-ridden Statue of Liberty to death with a pillow. They blamed her and the Democrats for McConnell’s inability to round up enough votes in the Republican-controlled Senate. One member of West Virginia OathKeepers pondered “How is it that Nancy Pelosi and Hillary have not been shot, riddle me that?”
The next day, the militia-sphere returned to familiar ground with conspiracy memes about how Democrats were to blame for the coronavirus pandemic because they distracted Trump with the impeachment investigation.
Throughout all the noise and chaos, new recruits have flocked to a wide array of militia-sphere social media groups. As a result, the number of people exposed to conspiracies and misinformation has grown rapidly.
The Militia-sphere, Martial Law, and the Boogaloo
After President Trump declared a national emergency on March 13, and numerous states and localities called for people to stay at home, conversations in the militia-sphere quickly shifted to talk of the “boogaloo”—impending martial law, Civil War II, robbing neighbors, and murdering journalists and “traitors.” As one militia member remarked, “shit just got real.”
Fear of martial law has been a militia-sphere reoccurring theme for decades. It’s often combined with fears of gun confiscation, and occasionally includes things like FEMA-concentration camps and images of the Holocaust. In the early 1990s, before the Oklahoma City bombing, the Militia of Montana was one of many groups that had a traveling slideshow featuring grainy pictures of alleged concentration camps and the movement of UN military vehicles getting ready to round up “patriots.”
It didn’t happen then. It’s not happening now. But that hasn’t stopped the militia-sphere from returning to those familiar themes in the middle of a pandemic.
Beyond the conspiracy theories circulating through the militia-sphere, paranoia has been heightened by a seemingly endless display of cellphone videos purported to show military troop movements. Though these videos have repeatedly been debunked, they keep coming.
Each passing day, the fear in the militia-sphere has become more palpable. As the proverbial “SHTF,” the Trump-nationalism of the militia-sphere was supplanted by the hyper-individualism of the members. One member of the 25th BN/42nd FF Light Foot Militia stated, “I’d rather have dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery… and will be prepared for the former.” A member of Michigan Boogaloo Boys Defending the 2nd wrote, “Following orders is not patriotic. I will not sit and wait.” Another meme that appeared on the California State Militia Training Connect page featured the image of an “Official Permit” that simply read “I can do what I want.”
There have been remarkably few calls for mutual aid or support. Instead, there is lots of discussion about taking stuff from their neighbors at gunpoint.
Responding to the question, “What’s the plan when shit goes south boys?” in the Kentucky State Militia group, one member responded, “Protect my family by any & all means regardless if I become a killer.”
A popular militia-sphere meme featured a photo of a group of heavily-armed camouflaged men preparing to burst through a door in the middle of the night included the headline “Me and the boys going for a grocery run at my asshole neighbor’s house.” Another shows a photo of a man in body armor and an assault rifle with the caption, “When the coronavirus has everyone losing their minds and stocking up on TP but you’ve got enough ammo to liberate any supplies you need.” Another simply reads, “He who hath bread with no guns, hath no bread. –Boogalation’s 5-56”
While some are thinking about raiding their neighbors, others in the militia-sphere believe that the coronavirus may be what kicks off “the boogaloo” – a second Civil War. As one Boogaloo enthusiast wrote on Facebook, “If the current situation proves anything for a fact… it proves the left and the right cannot coexist together. It’s time America has a divorce and split up into separate nations. At least one nation for the left, at least one for the right, and at least one for moderates/ independents. The big ig can’t start soon enough.” The “big ig” is short for “Big Igloo” another slang reference to the Boogaloo.
One of the most popular posts in the militia-sphere is a series of images from an Instagram account called bloody.revolutions. It features infographics on “Basic Boogaloo Tactics”— sabotage, target selection, and more to “combat a tyrannical government that needs to be destroyed.”
Another meme on the East Coast Minutemen Facebook page featured the image of camo-clad people cleaning a table full of assault weapons with the caption, “Get’em Cleaned & Ready – We May Have Guests Very Soon.” One member responded, “Maybe we should go on the offense and be the guests!” and another added, “Washington DC could use a good airing out.”
Others in the militia-sphere have argued that it’s time to start killing journalists and traitors. One Three Percenter wrote, “Why aren’t we rounding up ALL media personal[sic] and oath-breaking politician[sic] and hanging them!!?? They have done so much damage to this Country[sic] over the last 20 years. When are we going to put an end to this??!” The post also included the image of a hanging noose with the slogan “So when the hell did we stop hanging traitors to our nation…” One person replied, “I’m ready. Why are we waiting they are trying to keep us maintained.” The original poster replied, “This is all legal under our Constitution! Let’s hang the goddamn traitors, let’s end this now. We need to get the word out and start assembling before our comms are cut.” Another person added, “Hang’em!” while another chimed in, “let’s get it on before they call for martial law and gun confiscation.”
 Lee, Timothy. Three Percenters Group. Facebook.com. March 22, 2020.
 Iman, Steve. Ohio Patriot Network Group. Facebook.com. March 22, 2020.
 Croft Jr., BG. 3%ers Group. Facebook.com. March 17, 2020.
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 Hall, KrisAnne. “Episode 1059 What About The Day After #Covid19.” The KrisAnne Hall Show. YouTube.com. March 18, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHt5tQTqRdc&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR0YFCDKN-uaex0GUg82OjtCfuyEyGN1cyz_8wss3ak2ygmt7BK2rfdxlX0
 Paul, Ron. “The Coronavirus Hoax.” Ron Paul Institute. March 16, 2020. http://www.ronpaulinstitute.org/archives/featured-articles/2020/march/16/the-coronavirus-hoax/
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