Ohio Militia Combats Stereotypes

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Member of the Ohio Defense Force gather once a month in the abandoned Roseville Prison in Perry County.(Photo: Steve Brown, WOSU News)
Member of the Ohio Defense Force gather once a month in the abandoned Roseville Prison in Perry County.(Photo: Steve Brown, WOSU News)

Researchers say since the early 1990s, the U.S. has seen a boom in the number of militias, many forming in the wake of government raids in Waco, Texas and Ruby Ridge, Idaho.

A Google search for Ohio militias produces several groups, most with a limited or anti-government message…but one of those groups lists its mission as supporting governments.

Once a month in the hills of Perry county, just south of Zanesville, members of the Ohio Defense Force meet inside the abandoned Roseville Prison. With all the bars torn out and propane heaters humming, old cells now serve as classrooms. It’s been awhile since some members have seen each other, so they’re socializing…mainly about guns. Jordan Bradshaw wears a vest and belt that can hold up to 300 rounds of ammunition.

“This is just a standard deuce gear, or 782 gear it’s your basic load-bearing vest,” Bradshaw says. “I’ve got it set up with five double-mag pouches for my AK-47.”

The room is soon called to order by Mike Waugh, a militia member and former Marine. His time at the podium centers on NOT fighting the government.

“So don’t be afraid to step out and tell your neighbors that you’re militia,” Waugh says. “Tell them you’re not out to overthrow the government. I don’t know, 50 to 80 percent are going to look at us and say ‘you’re crazy. You’re a gun nut or whatever.’”

Its words like “gun nut” that Waugh and other members say have painted a confusing picture of militias. Most members say they’re normal Americans just exercising their constitutional rights to own AK-47s and march and train like an army. Standing outside on the steps of the prison, Defense Force Colonel Ken Goldsmith says of course they prepare for the most extreme situations, but they’re only there to help. “The militia name is really good for the news media, but it’s been misconstrued because of all the people that do use it. A true militia is a community and family defense force.”

But yet, Goldsmith admits, his group and other militias are still widely feared.

What researchers call the Modern Militia Movement began in 1994, when the Southern Poverty Law Center warned Attorney General Janet Reno of a spike in what they called anti-government hate groups. The center monitors about 50 so-called “right-wing militias,” but it lists the Ohio Defense Force as a PATRIOT group. Jack Kay is a professor at Eastern Michigan University and studies militias.

“It clearly is a group that is really just everyday citizens who believe in the right to bear arms and want to do that practice,” Kay says.

Probably harmless, Kay says, but that does not mean that have the ability to enforce any laws.

“From my understanding, there is no Constitutional authority for these groups. I do believe that police forces have the right to deputize, but it would be almost unheard of.”

Maybe not, says Jeff Slack. He’s the chief of police in Roseville, the tiny town where the militia trains every month. He’s the only law enforcement or military official contacted for this story who’d even heard of the Ohio Defense Force, but he says he’s open to using them if they can help.

“Maybe if you had a missing kid or something like that, it could happen,” Slack says.

And Slack says the group’s been a good addition to the community they’re not breaking any laws, and many of the militia members travel in from across the state and spend money at the local restaurant and grocery store.

Back at the prison, some members use a break in classes to sight-in their rifles. Militia member Adam Smith admits he loves guns and he’s not surprised many people think he takes his passion a little far. He doesn’t care, either.

“Well, there’s extremes to everything. I mean there are a lot of things that I think are extreme that people do every day. I mean who gets a tattoo? I don’t have a tattoo.”

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