Washington (January 11, 2024) - Following the anniversary of the January 6th attack on the United States Capitol, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08) introduced the Preventing Private Paramilitary Activity Act, legislation that would create a federal prohibition on paramilitary groups through civil and criminal enforcement. The prohibition would hold individuals liable who directly engage in certain types of conduct, including intimidating state and local officials, interfering with government proceedings, pretending to be law enforcement, and violating people’s constitutional rights, while armed and acting as part of a private paramilitary organization.
There are currently no federal laws that address paramilitary activity or protect millions of Americans whose rights are threatened by this type of violent anti-democratic intimidation. Although all 50 states prohibit private paramilitary conduct, these laws are far too often outdated, underenforced, or ignored. Private military organizations pose a threat not only to national security, but they also present a public safety problem that extends beyond any single state; for example, private paramilitary actors like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers traveled across state lines on January 6th.
“Three years ago, white supremacists affiliated with paramilitary organizations stormed the U.S. Capitol, shattering windows, walls, and the families of five U.S. Capitol police officers,” said Senator Markey. “Private paramilitary actors, such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, pose a serious threat to democracy and the rule of law, and we must create new prohibitions on their unauthorized activities that interfere with the exercise of people’s constitutional rights. The forces of bigotry, hatred, and violent extremism must be stopped for the sake of our democracy.”
“Patrolling neighborhoods, impeding law enforcement and storming the U.S. Capitol, private paramilitary groups like the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters and the Proud Boys are using political violence to intimidate our people and threaten democratic government and the rule of law,” said Congressman Raskin. “Our legislation makes the obvious but essential clarification that these domestic extremists’ paramilitary operations are in no way protected by our Constitution. I’m grateful to Senator Markey for his partnership on this critical effort to protect the rule of law, deter insurrection and defend our democracy.”
The legislation creates different tiers of criminal penalties based on whether violations result in injury or property damage; provides harsher penalties for repeat offenders; and allows for a probationary sentence for first-time offenders. It also creates civil remedies by authorizing the Department of Justice to seek injunctive relief against paramilitary activity, and by creating a private right of action for individuals harmed by paramilitary activity to seek injunctive relief and/or damages. The legislation contains clear exceptions for activities such as historic reenactments, state-sanctioned trainings, and veterans’ parades.
Specifically, the legislation would prohibit the following dangerous conduct:
The Preventing Private Paramilitary Activity Act is endorsed by Protect Democracy, Center for American Progress, and the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University Law Center.
“As the events of January 6, 2021, laid bare, the rise of private paramilitary groups poses a real threat to democracy and the rule of law. In recent years, we have seen such groups interfere with the exercise of constitutionally protected rights, attempt to carry out unsanctioned law enforcement activities, and target vulnerable populations,” said Deana El-Mallawany, Counsel at Protect Democracy. “The Preventing Private Paramilitary Activity Act fills a gap in federal law by directly banning unauthorized private paramilitary activity and creating strong enforcement mechanisms to reinforce its prohibition. We applaud Senator Markey and Congressman Raskin for their leadership in introducing this critical legislation.”
“This is important federal legislation aimed at reducing the problem of paramilitarism in our country, which we saw so perilously threaten our democracy on January 6, 2021. In the last three years, the problem has not abated, and the many states with anti-paramilitary statutes on the books are not taking the appropriate steps to rein in this growing anti-democratic movement,” said Devon Ombres, Senior Director of Courts and Legal Reform, and Michael Sozan, Senior Fellow of Democracy & Government Reform, at the Center for American Progress.
“Since Charlottesville’s Unite the Right rally in 2017, we’ve increasingly seen heavily armed private paramilitary organizations seek to intimidate Americans from exercising constitutional rights and to interfere with government operations. Whether unlawfully usurping the authority of law enforcement officials or deploying paramilitary tactics to attack statehouses or the U S. Capitol, private paramilitary actors are a threat to our democracy. The evolution and spread of the paramilitary threat across our nation, where local governments and vulnerable communities have been forced to contend with armed vigilantes falsely claiming that their activities are protected by the First and Second Amendments, requires a federal response. If enacted, the PPPA will provide tools necessary to deter and prevent paramilitary efforts to undercut our democratic processes and the free exercise of constitutional rights,” said Mary McCord, Executive Director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at the Georgetown University Law Center.