To Shake Their Guns in the Tyrant's Face

Libertarian Political Violence and the Origins of the Militia Movement
Robert H. Churchill

Did a long-standing and libertarian understanding of the American Revolution create the perfect climate for the militia movement in the United States?


After the bombings of Oklahoma City in 1995, most Americans were shocked to discover that tens of thousands of their fellow citizens had banded together in homegrown militias. Within the next few years, numerous studies and media reports appeared revealing the unseen world of the American militia movement, a loose alliance of groups with widely divergent views. Not surprisingly, it was the movement's most extreme voices that attracted the lion's share of attention.

In reality, Robert Churchill writes, the militia movement was neither as irrational nor as new as it was portrayed in the press. Churchill uses three case studies to illustrate the origin of some of the core values of the modern militia movement: Fries' Rebellion in Pennsylvania at the end of the 18th century, the Sons of Liberty Conspiracy in Civil War-era Indiana and Illinois, and the Black Legion in Michigan and Ohio during the Depression. Building on extensive interviews with militia members, the author places the contemporary militia movement in the context of these earlier insurrectionary movements which, animated by a libertarian interpretation of the American Revolution, used force to resist the authority of the federal government.

Robert H. Churchill is Associate Professor of History at the University of Hartford.

Praise / Awards

  • "This book is about how we think about the past, how cultural memories are formed and evolve, and how these memories then come to impact current understandings of issues.  Churchill provides an enlightening analysis of the ideology, structure, and purpose of the militia movement.  Where much scholarship has categorized it as a cohesive, single movement, Churchill begins the process of unraveling its complexity."
    —Steve Chermak, Michigan State University

  • "To Shake Their Guns in the Tyrant's Face addresses an area - the relationship of American political violence to American ideology - that is of growing importance and that is commanding an ever increasing audience, and it does so in a way like nothing else in the field."
    —David Williams, Indiana University Bloomington

  • "Churchill draws persuasive parallels between the brown scare of World War II...the McCarthyist red scare that followed...and the second brown scare of the 1990s, directed at private militas...Above all, the author shows that the instinct to meet government force with arms is—whatever else it may be—a reccurent part of our history."
    —George Mocsary, Claremont Review of Books

  • "This is a landmark study that deserves widespread attention. A model of careful and dispassionate scholarship, it marries an immersion in the historical literature on American political violence to a supremely well-reasoned and far-reaching exploration of one of the least understood of contemporary social movements. Churchill has provided a rigorous and methodical analysis of the various militias operating in the US, one that substantially advances our understanding of a set of Americans whose modern preoccupations - far from being esoteric and bizarre - have powerful echoes throughout American History."
    —Professor Rob Singh, University of London

  • "Churchill has performed a signal service in documenting that the concept of legitimate political violence has a long historical tradition in America, and that even a movement as despised as the modern militia raises valuable questions about civic responsibility in the face of unconstitutional, even tyrannical, state behavior."
    Indiana Magazine of History

Look Inside

Copyright © 2009, University of Michigan.

News, Reviews, Interviews

Read: Gun Studies Syllabus | 4/12/2018

Watch: "Guns and Liberty" on C-Span, Professor Churchill at Hartford University | 6/17/2009

Read: Churchill on The Government and the Militia Movement- New York Times | 3/30/10

Read: Review GUNS Magazine | February 2010

Read: Review Of Arms and the | 4/24/2009

Media Kit

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 384pp.
  • 7 B&W photographs, 1 table, 1 map.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2011
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03465-9

Add to Cart
  • $29.95 U.S.

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