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militia (məlĭshˈə), military organization composed of citizens enrolled and trained for service in times of national emergency. Its ranks may be filled either by enlistment or conscription. An early prototype was the national militia developed by Philip of Macedon. However, the modern concept of the militia as a defensive organization against invaders grew out of the Anglo-Saxon fyrd. The militiaman, in times of crisis, left his civilian duties and became a soldier until the emergency was over, when he returned to his civilian status. Militias persisted through the Middle Ages, especially in England, Italy, and Germany; after the rise of large standing armies they declined.
In America, however, militias survived. The Military Company of Massachusetts was the first militia organization in America and was followed by similar groups in the other colonies. Local control and voluntary service prevailed. Although the militia was valuable throughout the American Revolution, it proved undependable in the War of 1812. Therefore, no militia forces were used in the Mexican War. However, during the Civil War, when manpower needs were greater, both sides resorted to the use of militia. After World War I, state military units were established under the term National Guard. In other countries the militia is known generally as the special reserve or the territorial reserve.
In 1995 the bombing of Oklahoma City's federal building focused national attention on self-appointed “militias” or, as they often call themselves, “Patriots.” These armed, typically rural and predominantly male organizations, many of which are in Western states, are not recognized by the federal or state governments, and state laws typically either restrict or prohibit private militias. Most have a membership largely consisting of a mix of survivalists, white supremacists, gun-control opponents, “Christian Identity” adherents, and others adamantly opposed to most involvement of the federal government in the daily lives of U.S. citizens. Many in the militia movement were particularly angered by the FBI siege at Ruby Ridge, Idaho (1992), the destruction of the Branch Davidians at Waco, Tex. (1993), and the passage of the Brady Bill handgun control legislation (1993); these events spurred the further growth of the American militia movement in the 1990s. Such groups saw a resurgence during the Trump presidency amid antiracism protests and the disruptive socioeconomic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and members of one group were accused of plotting to kidnap the governor of Michigan in 2020.
See K. S. Stern, A Force upon the Plain: The American Militia Movement and the Politics of Hate (1996); D. Levitas, The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right (2002).
in the USSR, an administrative and executive body of the state called upon to ensure the maintenance of public order and the protection of socialist property and the rights and legal interests of citizens, enterprises, organizations, and institutions from criminal encroachment and other antisocial activity.
The militia was established on Oct. 28 (Nov. 10), 1917 (SU RSFSR, 1917, no. 1, art. 15). It was under the supervision of local Soviets until 1931 and then came under the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs (from 1946, the Ministry of Internal Affairs). The principles of organization and activity of the militia are defined by the decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of June 8, 1973, “On Basic Responsibilities and Rights of the Soviet Militia in Preserving Public Order and Combating Crime” (Vedomosti Verkhovnogo Soveta SSSR, 1973, no. 24, p. 309).
The militia is an integral part of the system of the ministries of internal affairs of the USSR and Union and autonomous republics. The minister of internal affairs of the USSR directs all the services of the militia. The ministers of internal affairs of Union and autonomous republics and the heads of administrations and sections of internal affairs under the executive committees of local Soviets are simultaneously the respective heads of republic, krai, oblast, okrug, city, and raion militias. Organs of internal affairs, including the militia, are under the authority of corresponding Soviets of working people’s deputies and their executive committees, as well as higher organs of internal affairs. Subdivisions of transport militia are established for rail, water, and air transport.
The militia is guided in its activity by principles of socialist legality, the laws of the USSR and Union and autonomous republics, and decrees and orders of higher and local executive and management organs of state authority. The militia interacts closely with other state organs and with the administrations of enterprises and institutions. It develops links universally with the working masses and enjoys the assistance and support of working people’s collectives, voluntary public order squads, and other independent public organizations.
The prevention and suppression of crime and comprehensive assistance to eliminate the causes of crime and other legal violations are the most important tasks of the militia. It ensures the maintenance of law and order in the streets and squares, on highways, and in public places. It brings to light the causes and conditions that contribute to the commission of legal offenses and undertakes measures to eliminate and suppress them. The militia is responsible for carrying out on-the-spot searches and other legal actions in order to uncover crimes and criminals; it is also charged with conducting immediate investigative actions for establishing and strengthening criminal evidence. Within limits defined by law, it conducts inquiries into criminal cases. Moreover, the militia organs carry out search and investigative functions upon instruction of the investigating magistrate. They carry out rulings and orders concerning the detention of individuals who do not respond to the summons of judicial and investigative organs and concerning incarceration under custody. They guard and convoy arrestees and detainees. They conduct searches for individuals who have escaped from investigations, evaded execution of court sentences, or are missing.
The militia is charged with implementing sentences of exile and deportation and conventional deprivation of freedom. It is further responsible for supervising the execution of government laws, decrees, and regulations and the decisions of local organs of state authority regulating public order. Together with other state organs and public organizations, the militia combats drunkenness and the shirking of socially useful labor; it concerns itself with problems of child neglect and juvenile offenses.
Important spheres of activity of the militia include implementation of the passport system (issuance and registration of pass-ports, along with verification of observance of passport regulations) and supervision of the observance of rules on the acquisition, maintenance, and transport of rifle firearms and powerful poisonous substances.
The militia ensures the safety of traffic movement in cities and populated areas and on highways. It checks on the mechanical condition of means of transportation and the upkeep of streets, highways, and street installations. It registers automotive vehicles.
During natural disasters the organs of the militia participate in the rescue of individuals and undertake measures to protect the state, public, and personal property of citizens.
In order to execute the duties with which it is charged, the militia has the right to verify the passports or other documents of citizens certifying their identity, to enter living and work premises for the suppression of crime and in pursuit of individuals suspected of committing a crime, to impose fines and to apply other measures of administrative influence and to detain citizens for lawful reasons and in a lawful manner, and to arrest individuals who systematically violate public order. It also has the right to prohibit the use of mechanically unsafe means of transportation and in cases provided for by law to prohibit the use of transport vehicles and to revoke drivers’ licenses. In extreme cases, as an exceptional measure, militiamen are given the right to use firearms (principles and procedures for their use are defined by the Council of Ministers of the USSR).
The service component of the militia is staffed, as a rule, with people recommended by labor collectives. Citizens of the USSR who in terms of their political and practical qualities, preparation, and state of health are able to preserve public order and combat crime are accepted for service in the militia. Housing block inspectors of the militia are appointed by the executive committees of city and raion Soviets. The procedures and conditions of service for rank-and-file administrative personnel of the militia are established by the Statute on Service in the Organs of Internal Affairs and the Disciplinary Regulations of the Organs of Internal Affairs. Militiamen receive special ranks and have a standard uniform, which is approved by the Council of Ministers of the USSR. They are provided with weapons to carry out their duties. In certain other socialist countries (Bulgaria, for example) there also exist militia-type organs for the preservation of public order.
M. I. EROPKIN