A Militia Story

by Loren Cobb

This is the true story of one of the largest and most successful citizen militias of all time -- its early struggle, its triumphs, its betrayal, and its ultimate tragedy. This militia had many names over the years, but it was born and first organized as the Free Corps. Its personnel were volunteers from the ranks of war veterans, civil servants, businessmen, and unemployed workers. The men of the Free Corps were united by their ardent patriotism, by their loathing of the country's weak government, and by their fear of foreign political and military influence.

The Free Corps was not a single cohesive unit. Instead it was a loose collection of individual militias that were constantly forming, reorganizing, disbanding, and reforming again. Despite the chaos, they all stood ready to assist any who needed their services. In one famous incident, they responded to a desperate call from the military to help put down widespread civil unrest instigated by communists. Success in this operation brought them recognition, prestige, and bonus pay.

In time the Free Corps militia gave birth to a conservative political party that could present the movement's ideas to the public. The patriots of the Free Corps were called upon "to keep the peace" at political rallies and meetings where communist hecklers were expected. Their task was to rough up and expel any who disagreed with the speaker. At this they were so effective that they were given other tasks and responsibilities. They formed an elite bodyguard for the leadership of their party, and embarked upon a campaign of covert war against their political opponents. Buildings were burned or bombed, and hand-to-hand battles were fought in the streets at night with communists and left-wing activists. Although they suffered many casualties and several painful defeats along the way, they succeeded in their overall goal of keeping the government out of communist control. They also began a campaign of harassing and assaulting Jews in the streets, painting graffiti on their shops, and generally making life miserable for anyone identifiably Jewish. In this task they were likewise successful.

The militia's new political party steadily gained strength, and eventually assumed power more-or-less legitimately, through the democratic process. But the militia and its followers seriously distrusted parliamentary democracy, which they blamed for 20 years of failed governments. In a series of brilliant political maneuvers, their party overthrew all democratic institutions and assumed total control of the government and the military. It was their moment of triumph.

But now a deadly conflict arose within the highest levels of the government. The prime minister, who had been protected and supported by the militia for two decades before coming to power, now abandoned them in favor of the regular army. In a lightning stroke, his bodyguard assassinated the entire militia leadership in a single night. The disorganized rank and file were gradually absorbed into the regular army, and the militia as an independent fighting force passed meekly into history. Only the bodyguard itself remained. Nevertheless, as war engulfed the country this bodyguard expanded and evolved into an elite special force, eventually numbering some half million highly trained men, the backbone of the army. Among many other secret duties, they were given the task of exterminating all political opponents, and all Jews, Gypsies, and homosexuals. For several years they were largely successful in this. Millions upon millions of innocent people died in the hands of the former militia, a slaughter that was halted only by the military defeat of their country.

This was the story of the Brown Shirts, the lethal civilian militia of Germany between the world wars. The political party they protected and loved was the Nazi party, its treacherous leader none other than Adolf Hitler, his elite bodyguard the SS. When we consider the role and use of an armed civilian militia in American society, we would be wise not to forget the Brown Shirts, their patriotism, their deeds, their destruction, and the holocaust that followed.

-- Corrales, New Mexico, 1995.