Read Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer's undercover look at the right-wing militia movement.
In 2013, Mike Morris, a Marine veteran and IT manager from Colorado, co-founded a militia group called Three Percent United Patriots (3UP). This armed faction was an offshoot of the larger three percenter movement, which sprung up after the election of President Barack Obama. The movement's members take their name from the belief that just 3 percent of American colonists were responsible for overthrowing the British in the Revolutionary War, and that it will take 3 percent of today's Americans to bring about the "restoration of the Founders' Republic." Today, 3UP is likely the largest militia in the country, with active branches in more than a dozen states. Morris says membership "exploded" after the Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. He boasts that the Colorado branch now has 3,400 members.
After months of training undercover with militias in California, earlier this year I traveled to southern Arizona to join 3UP's Operation Spring Break. At least twice a year, militia members from around the country set up a heavily armed base in the Arizona desert and patrol the US-Mexico border for people entering the country illegally. Morris, also known as Fifty Cal, runs the operations, planning daytime and nighttime missions from his Kodiak trailer in the "forward operating base." When I first met Morris, he only knew me as a low-ranking militia member. I later caught up with him, told him I was a journalist, and asked for an interview.
Mother Jones: How did you get involved in the militia movement and patriot movement?
Mike Morris: I got involved in the militia movement back in the late '90s. I was involved in state militias in Colorado and then got involved in a group called the Tyranny Response Team, which I was one of the original members of.
MJ: What attracted you to the militia movement?
MM: I was always raised to be patriotic; to believe that protecting the nation is my duty. I went into the Marine Corps straight out of high school and when I got out of the Marines, joining a militia seemed like the way to continue serving my country. In 2013, Mitch Nerem and I formed the Three Percent United Patriots, which has become one of the largest national patriot organizations. We didn't plan for 3UP to be this big national organization. We really started by focusing on Colorado. Colorado is built up now to over 3,400 members. We have trainings every week.
MJ: What is the goal of 3UP?
MM: The object for 3UP is to unite patriot groups across the United States and to build a patriot network of shared resources, education, and training. We set out to train people to be able to take care of themselves, protect their families. We are preparing for anything, from bad snowstorms to a blackout. I can tell you what we're not: We're not an organization trying to take over the government. That being said, we do have an interest in trying to preserve what we see as the founding principles of the nation as codified by the Bill of Rights. We're not out looking for some newfound revolution. But we are prepared, should the day come, to defend our nation, defend our neighbors, and defend our way of life. I don't think there's a lot of patriots out there that are looking to run from the fight, but it's not the patriots that are gonna bring the fight.
MJ: Why does 3UP do border ops?
MM: I can tell you this: 3UP's border operations are focused on the drug trade and human trafficking. Personally, I'm not afraid of Mexican immigrants coming over and taking over the country. In fact, we've run across a few folks down there that were immigrants coming in and all we did with them is provide them some water and blankets and offer medical assistance. I'm not saying that we didn't call Border Patrol also. But that's not our focus down there. My focus is on the cartels, the human traffickers that make the people who live in those border communities live in fear.
MJ: You mentioned running into migrants and giving them water and blankets, but I saw guys dump out water jugs they found in the desert.
MM: That was a request of Border Patrol. Border Patrol told us that if we come across any drop points, we should dump the water and take the packs of food and clothing that are left. From what Border Patrol has told us, those water and food drops that we came across were not for immigrants. Those were food and water drops for drug runners. I don't know if you were with us when we found those backpacks, but that was high-dollar stuff in there.
MJ: I was there actually when we found that stuff and it was like tuna packets, sardines, and some candy bars.
MM: When I'm saying "high dollar," it may not be considered high dollar for us.
MJ: When I was in Arizona for Operation Spring Break, you seemed to work pretty closely with the Border Patrol. You even made a new contact with an intelligence officer. Have you been in touch with Border Patrol since that operation?
MM: Oh yeah. Pretty much weekly.
MJ: What do you talk about?
MM: When we coordinate our border operations, we don't hold them secret from the Border Patrol. So a lot of times, prior to an operation, we've already been speaking with Border Patrol. They know we're coming. They may even recommend which weeks they'd like to see us come down. They may even recommend certain areas they want us to be in, certain areas they don't want us to be in, and for the most part we try to honor their requests. The head honchos in Washington, DC, do not support militias operating down on the border. They also do not support their agents being involved with those groups. But I think that you could see down there that there is an interaction. We are not best friends, but there is a mutual respect.
MJ: What else does 3UP do?
MM: One of the founding principles of 3UP is that we should be involved in our communities. We spend just as much time doing community-service-type work as we do militia-type work. We were the largest private organization donating to veterans' assistance last year in the state of Colorado. We delivered something like four tons of food to VFW food closets. We have donation centers all around the state where people can drop off food, blankets, and clothing. We were part of the water relief up in Flint. We were down at the floods in Louisiana. We were first on the scenes for the floods in South Carolina this year. In Colorado, we've done search and rescue. We run a youth corps where we do educational-type things. I want people to understand that the patriot movement is so much more than what gets portrayed a lot of times in the mainstream media. They portray us as a bunch of guys in camouflage running around in the woods that just want to shoot their guns. We're your neighbors. We're people who care about our communities and care about the direction of the nation.
MJ: What do you think of the federal government?
MM: The federal government is becoming tyrannical. I think that they have broadly overreached in many aspects. We see it in the Second Amendment, but we see it in the First Amendment, too. There's talk about what you can say, when you can say it. [Attorney General] Loretta Lynch came out herself and said people who make disparaging comments against Muslims should be charged with hate crimes. We see the federal government getting involved in everything from school lunches to firearms to how you can talk. Twenty years ago, we didn't need all these laws and rules. Things seemed to work just fine.
MJ: What are the most important issues facing the country right now?
MM: How do we break the division between people in the country? How do we break political division? How do we break racial division? That has gotten worse over the last five years. I think that division permeates through everything that's going on in the US today. I think that's part of the Black Lives Matter movement. I think that's part of the ISIS scare. I think it's definitely seen in the presidential elections. When you look at the patriot movement, you see that we aren't all cut from the same cloth. We have different backgrounds, different religions, and different ethnicities. But we've all come together under one premise and that's love for this nation.
MJ: But at the same time, you take steps to make sure that no Muslims enter the group. In one radio show, you talked about how at the border ops they put pork in the food so Muslim infiltrators don't show up. Muslims are a part of the country, so if you are saying that you want unity, how do you reconcile that?
MM: We don't have a rule in 3UP that says no Muslims. I'm not anti-Muslim. I'm anti-radical-Muslim. The same could be said for any group. I really don't care what somebody does in their own yard, in their own house, in their own community, as long as their beliefs don't trump my beliefs. They're free to think and do what they want if it's not affecting me or my neighbors or my kids. You're going to get a lot of different answers on the Muslim question from patriots because it's a touchy subject and it's hard to answer.
MJ: In an interview you did with AmmoLand.com, you talk about America becoming unrecognizable. What do you mean by that?
MM: It seems like every day, you hear about another right being restricted, especially when it comes to the Second Amendment. It's constantly under fire. But it's not even just that. The PC world, as I would call it, I think has gotten out of control. It's gotten to where you can't say or have any opinion that's outside of mainstream media's opinion without being labeled a racist or a -phobe of some type. We're starting to not be a nation of free thinkers. At some point, if we continue in this trajectory, we won't recognize the America that we live in.
MJ: Has 3UP ever had any trouble with the feds or law enforcement generally?
MM: Trouble? No. Have we had encounters? Sure. But they haven't been because we were doing something illegal. So yeah, we had DHS come out to the camp before and just sit down and talk to us, ask us what we were doing. I wouldn't consider that trouble.
MJ: What are your thoughts on the elections?
MM: I'm obviously not a Hillary fan, but I don't know how excited I am about Trump, either. I think the two major parties we have are each as corrupt as the other nowadays. I'm not necessarily saying we all need to go out and vote for Libertarians or the Green Party. We need politicians to go back to being what politicians were supposed to be 100 years ago: servants of the people. One of the things that is destroying the nation is the career politician. Because when you have somebody that's been a senator for 30 years, they're bought and paid for. Alls they are is a special-interest mouthpiece. We shouldn't be making millionaires out of our politicians.
MJ: What do you think about Donald Trump's idea of a wall on the border?
MM: Well, I don't know how well that would work. I think that we need border control. I think that we definitely need to help our Border Patrol by giving them better equipment with better funding. You can build a gigantic wall if you want. It may slow down the traffic, but what it's gonna do is it's gonna slow down the immigrant traffic and that's not the traffic that concerns me the most. A wall is not gonna slow down the drug traffic and it's not gonna slow down the human trafficking because those people have all the money in the world to build tunnels, to buy airplanes. I mean, shoot, they are using submarines off the West Coast. I would like to see us focus on stopping the criminal enterprise that's going on down at the border. I don't think a wall is going to do that.