Those interested in assault weapons and combat techniques do not need to rely solely on book knowledge. Around the United States, training centers—from the paramilitary training camps of right-wing extremists to commercial combat schools—offer training in the use of weapons, explosives, and combat skills.
According to testimony offered before the Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism in September 1985, paramilitary/mercenary training camps can be broken down into three categories:
- Franchises or commercial establishments that offer training to law enforcement or security firms worldwide;
- Paramilitary and survivalist organizations that offer training in the use of small arms, map reading, and survival under extreme circumstances (those operated by the Covenant, Sword and Arm of the Lord, for example). According to the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, many of these camps also include an indoctrination of race hatred.
- Mercenary training camps, the goal of which is to offer the knowledge and skills necessary to be a soldier-for-hire.
In 1984, paramilitary training camps garnered media attention when the FBI revealed that several Sikh students had attended a two-week session at the Merc School in Dolomite, Alabama, with the intention of using their new-found knowledge to assassinate Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandi.
At the time, the Merc School’s owner, Frank Camper, stated that he operated strictly within the law and was merely training people to survive in combat situations. Said Camper, “If someone were to train with me and to go away and perform an act of terrorism, then I’m not responsible for that person’s actions. They are responsible for themselves.” (Camper, however, apparently did inform on the Sikh students to the FBI, helping lead to their arrest.)
Critics of the camps argue that those run by survivalist and paramilitary organizations are turning out terrorists. The ADL states in the fall issue of its 1986 Law Report, “ADL Paramilitary Training Statute: A Response to Extremism,” that in many camps, “‘combat’ training is interspersed with the indoctrination of hatred and totalitarianism in preparation for anticipated civil strife, the rationale being the vision of a ‘coming race war.'”
In 1980 such camps were uncovered in Alabama, California, Connecticut, Illinois, North Carolina, and Texas. Daniel M. Hartnett, ATF Acting Deputy Associate Director, Law Enforcement, stated at the 1985 hearings that camps run by extremists have shown “a willingness to commit violent crimes to further their cause and support their movement.”
A 1985 raid conducted by law enforcement officials at a compound run by the Posse Comitatus outside of Rulo, Nebraska, yielded a cache of weapons that included assault rifles and 13 fully automatic pistols and rifles, including modified AR-15s.
In 1986, the ADL formulated model state legislation that would ban paramilitary training “aimed at provoking civil disorder.” In drafting the model bill, the ADL specifically stated that the statute must not violate First Amendment freedoms of speech and association. Another objective was to draft the statute narrowly so that it would not prohibit legitimate lawful activities such as target shooting and other sporting events. This was important, the ADL stated, for “minimizing opposition to the bill by powerful special interest groups.” Laws based on the statute have passed in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and West Virginia.
In a statement opposing legislation restricting paramilitary training camps, America’s leading pro-gun organization, the National Rifle Association (NRA), based in Washington, D.C., states that such “legislation is objectionable because it makes the mere possession of firearms a crime, therefore undermining the right to keep and bear arms” and that “the constitutionality of such legislation is questionable at best, and could not, in all probability, withstand a court challenge based on violation of First Amendment rights.”
The controversy has faded since the 1985 hearings, although camps and schools continue to operate. The FBI currently has no figures on the numbers of camps and schools operating in the United States. One such school, Brigade Security Forces, located in Mooreville, North Carolina, offers six-day courses in “commando tactics.” It offers “absolutely the best firearms training available with numerous NATO and COMMUNIST firearms.” One can also enroll in a special 30-day course “designed for the adventurer that demands it all in one course.” Counter terrorist, sniper, and covert operations are some of the areas covered. Brigade also offers private instruction for “Individuals or Groups who desire Total Secrecy and Special Training. NO COMMUNISTS, GAYS, ATHIESTS [sic]!!!” are allowed, and one must be at least 16 years old to attend.
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