As of January 2011, hundreds of active, recognised paramilitary organisations operate within the United States. Though their function is not the same as a conventional military, they train using many of the same techniques and operate as militias defending their constituents. In short, they perform duties similar to a personal army or security force. While not every paramilitary organisation can necessarily be classified as an extremist group, the large minority identify with fringe politics. Generally, paramilitary training schools can be grouped into one of three key areas.
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Establishments Providing Training to Law Enforcement and Security Officers
The most common type of paramilitary training school involves the completely legal, and often taxpayer-funded, training of police officers. Examples include recognisable state-funded police forces such as the California Highway Patrol, New York State Police or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Because these schools are required to operate within full purview of state and national laws, they must adhere to stringent standards of conduct and discipline.
General public perception of paramilitary organisations tends to gravitate toward survivalist organisations. More often than not, their structures are much more diffuse than that of a police training organisation; however, they offer many of the same types of training. They specialise in small arms, survival skills and map reading. While not every paramilitary/survivalist organisation can be identified with fringe political beliefs, many can: Council of Conservative Citizens, American Front and Militia of Montana, to name a few.
Mercenary Training Camps
For the most part, mercenary training camps also operate within the bounds of the law, though they do not enjoy the same kind of funding or support appropriated to police force training. For a fee, mercenary training camps accept average citizens and train them to survive combat situations, often through use of the same types of tactics employed by conventional militaries. Though it is not the stated goal of this type of paramilitary school to produce mercenaries or soldiers for hire, they often achieve exactly that function.
Events of the 1980s and onward have produced a fair degree of criticism aimed at paramilitary groups, with special focus aimed at the survivalist and mercenary training organisations. Given that an increasing number of paramilitary organisations and schools espouse radical ethnic and cultural beliefs, the American Anti-Defamation League has been one of the main critics. The ADL insists that, aside from promoting radical and intolerant agendas, the existence of such groups hinders federal and state governments' efforts at controlling the flow of illegal firearms and specialised military knowledge.
To the contrary, proprietors of so-called "mercenary" training establishments insist they are simply asserting their rights under the constitution. Frank Camper, operator of one of The Merc School, after two of his students were involved in terrorist activities, stated that he operates "strictly within the law."
The ADL currently lists 19 extremist groups who are active in recruiting, training and arming like-minded citizens for some type of paramilitary action.
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