Miller'sAleHouse.jpg

Miller's Ale House in Lancaster was the setting of a Dec. 11 Three Percenter meeting. The chain restaurant's general manager said he and his employees did not know anything about the group or its politics.

 

Members of a militia movement who view the U.S government as tyrannical and vow to oppose it with arms, if necessary, met earlier this month inside a Lancaster County restaurant and conducted a meeting in full view of other patrons, according to people who said they witnessed the gathering.

A group of roughly 20 to 25 people, some wearing patches associated with the Three Percenters militia, gathered at Miller’s Ale House on Harrisburg Pike and held what appeared to be an introductory meeting for potential recruits on Dec. 11, witnesses said.

“As I was looking at them, maybe two or three of them had a biker patch on the back of (their jacket),” said one witness, an Elizabethtown resident who insisted that he be identified only by his first name, Troy, because he feared being targeted by the militia members he observed. 

Troy said the large patch some attendees displayed included the Roman numeral III, with the letters AP above it, surrounded by a circle of stars which itself was encircled by the phrase, “I am descended from men who would not be ruled.”

Troy said one of the men wearing a Three Percenter jacket appeared to call the meeting to order and then others in the group stood up one at a time to say where they were from and described their previous military experience.

It is unclear if the group was local or using Lancaster as a meeting spot. According to Troy, some said they were from Wilkes Barre and York, but others were from as far away as Maryland and Montreal, Canada.

One even mentioned they had land that could be used for “training.”

“It appeared to be a recruiting or business meeting,” he said. “Without a doubt it was a meeting being held in Miller’s Ale House.”

According to the Department of Justice, the “Three Percenter” ideology “espouses anti-government views,” and the term is “based on the myth that only three percent of American colonists took up arms against the British during the American Revolution” and “less indicative of membership in a single overarching group than it is representative of a common belief in the notion that a small force with a just cause can overthrow a tyrannical government if armed and prepared.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League, the groups and individuals adhering to that ideology view themselves in that same context: ready to take up arms against a tyrannical modern federal government if necessary.

Miller's Investigates

In the days after the gathering, a person using the Twitter handle @Have2Care — who heard about the group from a patron who was there — brought the meeting at Miller’s Ale House to the attention of restaurant’s management, writing on the social media site that they contacted the general manager.

The manager, Simon Vorva, said “the 3% are welcome to host recruitment meetings in his restaurant as long as they don’t make any trouble,” the tweet read.

Miller’s Ale House responded to the tweet that it would be investigating further.

Speaking with LNP | LancasterOnline on Dec. 13, Vorva said he did get a call but disputed the Twitter user’s characterization of it.

“We’re a business, we don’t screen people,” he said. “I don’t even know what Three Percent is.”

The Lancaster Chamber said they also received a complaint about the meeting, apparently from the same Twitter user. President Tom Baldrige said the caller, a woman, complained on behalf of another individual who believed they had witnessed a white nationalist group meeting at the restaurant.

“Lancaster County has some work to do reaffirming we are a welcoming community,” Baldrige said. “It’s always unfortunate to hear when people are uncomfortable or feel threatened by conversations they overhear, especially in a public setting.”

In a statement sent via a third-party public relations firm, Jim Kuehnhold, executive vice president of Miller’s Ale House, confirmed the restaurant seated a group of 25 individuals on Saturday, but said staff didn’t notice their Three Percenter patches.

“The group was well-behaved, didn’t engage with or disrupt other guests and, as far as we could tell, were not conducting any activities other than dining and socializing. At the end of the meal, they paid their bill and left without incident,” Kuehnhold said via email. “After the party left, our restaurant team reported receiving multiple calls from one individual who said we shouldn’t have served them. The General Manager repeatedly explained that we did not know anything about the group or their politics.”

'Terrorist Entity'

Lancaster County has been the site of open militia activities in recent years. Members of the Carlisle Light Infantry and Domestic Terrorism Response Organization sat atop buildings with rifles watching a Black Lives Matter protest in Elizabethtown last year, and the county is host to dozens of current or former Oath Keepers — another anti-government group — some of which have provided armed building security as well.

Earlier this year, a joint FBI and Department of Homeland Security assessment identified anti-government and militia extremism as one of the three main threats of of domestic terrorism. The report cited planned terrorist attacks by Three Percenters.

Sam Jackson, an assistant professor at the University at Albany who studies anti-government extremism, said the Three Percenters are better thought of as a movement, with a mix of formal groups and individuals sharing their ideology and symbols.

He said their activities can range from community service and traditional political activism, to tactical and firearms drills and training in preparation for anticipated conflict with a tyrannical U.S. federal government, in the same vein as the colonists' revolt against the British that lies at the heart of the Three Percent ideology.

“(At the group level) they very much portray themselves as preparing for a conflict that is either already happening in a slow sense or as more of a long-term eventuality, but for most of them, it’s much more imminent,” he said. “It’s something that they are really worried about and they are in a hurry to prepare for.”

The group was originally formed in 2008 by Mike Vanderboegh, an Alabama-based anti-government extremist, and grew in 2008-2009 during a time of growth for the broader militia movement, according to the ADL. In recent years several of the larger Three Percenter Groups have collapsed, but other groups looking to fill the gap, such as the Pennsylvania-based Proud American Patriot Network, have sprung up in their place.

Like most armed anti-government groups, the Three Percenters reject the militia label, but often act in the role of community security or expose rhetoric about being ready to if needed in the way a militia — which can only legally be sanctioned by the governor — would be.

The Three Percenter ideology has led to armed conflict and planned violence in some cases.

In 2014 a group of Three Percenters from Idaho were involved in an armed stand-off with federal authorities in Bunkerville, Nevada; in 2017 a man planning to attack an Oklahoma City bank with a car bomb told the FBI he held "three percenter ideology," and in 2020 the second-in-command of the Wisconsin branch provided training grounds for a group who was plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Witmer.

Several Three Percenters were involved in and arrested for storming the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, and the group has been designated as a "terrorist entity" by Canada's government.

“There’s this possibility of criminality or violence even for those members and groups who don’t plan for or engage in criminality or violence,” Jackson said, adding that the rhetoric and ideas in the Three Percenter ideology can make violence seem more acceptable for others listening.

While most Americans might view politics as citizens of different opinions coming together to debate issues of concern and reach a resolution for the public good, Jackson said, Three Percenters often see politics as inherently conflict driven with patriots on one side and nefarious elites on the other, making good faith disagreements nearly impossible.

Amy Cooter, a sociology professor at Vanderbilt University who studies militia, said it is speculative to try to assess the group’s motive for meeting without knowing what they discussed, but the pattern she has seen from Three Percenters groups as of late is that they are trying to reclaim their identity.

“When they meet in a very public place, that is what I have seen from other groups in the past, that they are trying to frame themselves as part of the community and not as extremist,” she said. “It is unusual when people travel from that far away so it does sound like they are trying to build a little bit of a network and maybe trying to share pointers for recruiting closer to home on the local level.”

What to Read Next