A new wave of militias are emerging throughout the United States. They are increasingly organized, well-armed and steadily recruiting members into a club long lionized as a fringe movement welcoming the collapse of society. Although, in reality, that is not the flag many of today’s militias are flying the highest, if at all. The gut of their cause is often relevance as opposed to reclusiveness.
For more than a year and a half I’ve captured the United Sentinel Militia as it weathers through an identity crisis less of their own design than of the society they see themselves preparing to defend. And in that time I’ve discovered a nuanced group more compelling than the caricatures that make its way onto TV and into print.
“Land of the Free” challenges the perceived motivations of a militia making few illusions about what they represent; an unapologetic view that may indeed be more in line with the pivot politics is taking in our country.
This work is intended to spark a discussion about the preconceptions many people hold about seemingly-radicalized groups like the USM. I hope the photographs will bring people together in a gallery or make them pause as they flip through pages of a magazine and show how, nationwide, the resurgent militia movement is playing out in the daily lives of some of the folks who live in our communities.
“We’re normal,” said Lindsay Wood, a stay-at-home mother of two and information officer for the USM. “On my Facebook I still post pictures of my cats and dinner and everything else…It’s a normal life; we just have another aspect to it.”
Their reasons for joining are bubbling to the surface in living rooms and kitchens, not just in the rural meadows and mountains sides that have become their training grounds. This project explores how this movement is unfolding; getting beyond the stereotypes to capturing moments that demonstrate the movement’s current direction.
Visually, it’s a dynamic story about more than a fringe society drunk on the 2nd amendment. This is a story about our neighbors. And it’s one worth sharing with those who think militias are content to continue living in the shadows.