The National Guard, State Defense Forces, and the Militias: Official and Unofficial Status
CRS Report for Congress
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The National Guard, State Defense Forces,
And the Militias:
Official and Unofficial Status
Robert L. Goldich
Specialist in National Defense
Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division
Speculation about ties between suspects in the Oklahoma City Federal Building
bombing and “state militias” have raised concern over what these militias are and from
where they derive their authority, if any.
It is necessary to put the State militias into the context of State (as opposed to
Federal) military forces. First, each State has its Army National Guard and Air National1
Guard, with both Federal and State missions:
The Army National Guard and Air National Guard are somewhat unique among
the world’s Reserve military forces as they fill both Federal and state missions. Each
state’s National Guard is both a military force under the command of the respective
state or territorial governor and a part of the federal reserve components. Therefore,
each member has dual status as a member of the National Guard of his or her state and
as a member of the Reserve component of the Army or Air Force.
The National Guard’s Federal mission is to provide properly trained and equipped
units for prompt mobilization for war, national emergency or as otherwise needed. The
Guard’s state mission is to provide trained and disciplined forces for domestic
emergencies or as otherwise directed by state law.
Second, Several states have military forces which are organized and funded by the
states, but which have no formal association with the federally-supported, trained, and
equipped National Guard.2 These forces are often called State Guards, Military Reserves,
Defense Forces, or Emergency Volunteers. Their mission is to perform some of the
National Guard’s domestic responsibilities in case the Guard of a particular State is
1 Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs. The Reserve Components of
the United States Armed Forces. June 1994: 17.
2 Some have called for additional Federal support, including money, for these State forces. See
Honorable James A. Traficant, Jr. State Defense Forces. Extensions of Remarks in the House of
Representatives. Congressional Record, June 2, 1987: E2193-4.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
mobilized for war. Their modern origins date back to both World Wars, when the entire
National Guard was mobilized, leaving no organized military forces (other than rapidly
expanding active duty units, who had to focus on wartime training) to deal with natural3
disasters or civil disorders. Similarly, some State defense forces assisted in crowd control
or coping with natural disasters during the Persian Gulf War period, when 62,000 regular
Army Guard and 16,000 Air Guardsmen were called to active duty.4 There has been some
concern in the media that members of some State defense forces have attracted individuals
whose temperament is not suited to being part of an organized armed force, or who have
assumed, inappropriately, the same powers that the regular National Guard has.5 Other
State defense forces, however, appear to be well-disciplined and have had few if any such
Third, there are groups which call themselves State militias, but have no official
sanction from a State government. It appears that the Michigan Militia, which has been
the object of much discussion in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, is an
entirely private organization.7 In some cases, of course, it may be that individuals who are
members of either the regular National Guard of a State, or that State’s home defense
force or guard, may also be a member of a private group that calls itself a “militia.”
However, Department of Defense regulations prohibit military personnel from participating
in groups “that espouse supremacist causes or advocate violence.” One academic observer
has suggested, and some spokesmen for the National Guard have agreed, that the high
degree of racial and sexual integration in the Armed Forces today is actually at odds with
the attitudes of white supremacist groups, leading some members of these groups to take
an adversarial stance toward both the active and reserve components of the Armed Forces,8
including the National Guard.
3 U.S. Home Defense Forces Study. Prepared for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense
(Manpower, Reserve Affairs, and Logistics), Contract No. MDA903-80-C-0594. Dunn Loring,
VA, Historical Evaluation and Research Organization, March 1981.
4 Ibid.: 19, 37; “State Volunteers Replace Activated Guardsmen,” Washington Post, December
5 Ruffin, Jane. “Misadventures Shade Militia’s Image.” Raleigh [N.C.] News and Observer.
May 3, 1992: 1; Jack Anderson and Dale Van Atta, “Bills Would Load a Loose Cannon.”
Washington Post, Nov. 21, 1991: B-27.
6 Byars, Carlos. “Criticisms of State Guard are Unfounded, Top Soldiers Rebut.” Houston
Chronicle, June 14, 1992: 2.; Robert D. Jaye [Letter to the Editor], “Best Kept Secret.” Army
Times, Feb. 2, 1987: 24.
7 McQuaid, James. “Michigan Militia Wolverines.” Soldier of Fortune, April 1995: 51.
8 “State Volunteers Replace Activated Guardsmen,” Washington Post, December 24, 1990: A-3.