“Members of a militia movement that views the U.S. government as tyrannical and vows to oppose it with arms, if necessary” met Dec. 11 at a Lancaster County restaurant in full view of other patrons, according to witnesses, LNP | LancasterOnline’s Carter Walker reported Wednesday. A group of 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, witnesses said.” One witness said those in attendance stood up one at a time to say where they were from — they mentioned places as disparate as Wilkes-Barre, York, Maryland and Montreal — and to describe their military experience.
It’s tempting to dismiss the actions of militia movements such as the Three Percenters as mere playacting by mostly white guys who like to look tough, wear body armor and wield guns.
A witness told LNP | LancasterOnline’s Walker that some of the men seen at Miller’s Ale House were wearing a patch emblazoned with the Roman numeral III, with the letters AP above it and surrounded by a circle of stars that itself was encircled by the phrase, “I am descended from men who would not be ruled.”
This is not exactly subtle messaging.
The Three Percenters, however, are real menaces to democracy and American society.
In June, Canada declared the Three Percenters to be a “terrorist entity.” The website of the Canadian government’s public safety agency notes that the Three Percenters “have been linked to bomb plots targeting United States federal government buildings and Muslim communities. In November 2015, a Three Percenter was arrested and eventually convicted of shooting and wounding five men at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Minneapolis, Minnesota.” And Three Percenters were affiliated with the violent 2020 plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, that website noted.
As LNP | LancasterOnline’s Walker reported, a joint FBI and U.S. Department of Homeland Security assessment earlier this year identified anti-government and militia extremism as one of the three main threats of domestic terrorism; the report cited planned terrorist attacks by Three Percenters.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the Three Percenter designation is “based on the myth that only three percent of American colonists took up arms against the British during the American Revolution.” It’s embraced not so much by a “single overarching group,” the DOJ explains, but rather by adherents of a “common belief in the notion that a small force with a just cause can overthrow a tyrannical government if armed and prepared.”
So Three Percenters are not only terrible at history, but grandiose and violent.
And it should worry all of us that they see Lancaster County as a convenient place to meet.
Other extremists may insist that this Three Percenter gathering was too public to have been real, that it must have been a trap set by the FBI. We certainly hope the FBI was aware that it took place. But the fact remains that this meeting at Miller’s Ale House drew some two dozen people, according to the chain restaurant’s management.
In a statement sent to LNP | LancasterOnline, Miller’s Ale House executive vice president Jim Kuehnhold confirmed the restaurant seated a group of 25 individuals. “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.
Those “well-behaved” individuals, however, upset other customers who were alarmed by their presence. And no wonder.
Preparing for conflict
As Sam Jackson, an assistant professor at the University at Albany who studies anti-government extremism, told Walker, the Three Percenter movement’s activities can range from community service and traditional political activism, to tactical training in preparation for anticipated conflict with what it sees as a tyrannical U.S. federal government.
“(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,” Jackson said. “It’s something that they are really worried about and they are in a hurry to prepare for.”
Anyone who thinks such conflict is a distant and implausible scenario must have been sleeping Jan. 6, when violent insurrectionists — Three Percenters among them — stormed the U.S. Capitol.
According to The Washington Post, Barbara F. Walter, a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego who serves on the CIA’s Political Instability Task Force, believes we “are closer to civil war than any of us would like to believe.”
In a book set to be published in January, she writes that “if you were an analyst in a foreign country looking at events in America ... you would go down a checklist, assessing each of the conditions that make civil war likely. And what you would find is that the United States, a democracy founded more than two centuries ago, has entered very dangerous territory.”
So it is incredibly unnerving to read about yet another instance of extremists meeting in Lancaster County.
Extremist gatherings here
Lancaster County has been the site of other militia and extremist activities in recent years.
— In June 2020, members of the Carlisle Light Infantry and Domestic Terrorism Response Organization, armed with rifles, stood watch in Elizabethtown as a Black Lives Matter protest took place.
— The county is host to dozens of current or former Oath Keepers, another anti-government group. (Oath Keepers were represented among the leaders of “patriotic groups” that met near Quarryville on Jan. 3 to plan for Donald Trump’s rally in Washington, D.C., three days later.)
— In August 2020, some of the nation’s most notorious white nationalists met in a Lancaster Township barn to launch a political party whose stated enemy is “Zionism and the international Jewish oligarchy.” The barn is owned by pro-Russia Holocaust denier and Jan. 6 insurrectionist Charles Bausman.
And now it seems that Three Percenters met at a chain restaurant here.
Amy Cooter, a sociology professor at Vanderbilt University who studies militia, told LNP | LancasterOnline’s Walker that when such groups meet in very public places, they’re often “trying to frame themselves as part of the community and not as extremist.”
“It is unusual,” she said, “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.”
The possibility that a meeting here could lead to the spread of the cancer of anti-government extremism should appall every local elected official. Yet again, we implore those elected to public office in Lancaster County to take a firm stand against such extremism, to make it clear that such twisted beliefs aren’t welcome here.
We shouldn’t have to keep making this plea.