Sacramento Attorney: Militia Groups Are Against The Law, But Rarely Prosecuted In California

CBS News 13, California/October 10, 2020

By Anna Giles

Sacramento — A militia group’s elaborate plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan is grabbing the nation’s attention. The FBI is releasing details about how the group performed surveillance and trained together.

Armed militia groups have popped up at protests in Sacramento and across the state, including at the State Capitol. Many have come to protest COVID-19 restrictions, others have shown up at Black Lives Matter protests.

Technically, it’s against the law that they even exist.

Cellphone video captured in Stanislaus County shows an armed militia group patrolling the streets of Oakdale. This was ahead of a Black Lives Matter protest in June that never happened.

Local police and the sheriff’s department took to social media with harsh words, that this group was “unwanted,” “unwelcome” and “not helpful.” The group was asked to leave.

“There has been a hands-off approach for many years with all forms of law enforcement for these type of militia people,” said Mark Reichel, A Sacramento-based attorney who has extensive experience with domestic terrorism cases involving militia groups.

“All 50 states in the union have laws criminalizing armed militias, private militias that are armed like this,” Reichel said.

Experts feel the elaborate militia plot against Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer is evidence of a growing problem.

“So I think his plot to kidnap Governor Whitmer is an example of these armed cells, these radicalized groups increasingly looking at unfolding plans to attack and topple state governments, not just the federal government,” said Johnathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League.

But Reichel said rarely are these groups prosecuted.

“So it happens open and notoriously all the time now,” he said.

Reichel said California state law prohibits people from training to be part of a militia group, even on private property.

In Lodi, the FBI recently uncovered what they describe as a training camp to engage in civil disorders. They said it belonged to Benjamin Hung, who was arrested for driving his truck through a group of peaceful protestors back in May.

FBI records claimed he associated with several militias and far-right extremist groups.

“Taking the law into your own hands is something that we can’t encourage or allow or not prosecute when you do that,” Reichel said.

Under California State law, being part of a private militia is a crime punishable by up to one year in county jail.

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