An apparent citizens group has issued a muster call for this Saturday for those who would volunteer to form an “unorganized militia.” Those who answer the call to assemble are asked to bring an unloaded rifle, “preferably a variant of the AR-15 platform.”
In a letter posted on Facebook, the group said it’s operating under Virginia Code 44.1, which defines the composition of militia. It reads: “The militia of the Commonwealth of Virginia shall consist of all able-bodied residents of the Commonwealth who are citizens of the United States and all other able-bodied persons resident in the Commonwealth who have declared their intention to become citizens of the United States, who are at least 16 years of age and, except as hereinafter provided, not more than 55 years of age. The militia shall be divided into three classes: the National Guard, which includes the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard; the Virginia Defense Force; and the unorganized militia.”
The letter said the muster’s purpose “is to preserve tranquility, peace, and civil order by beginning to organize volunteers in the event that the full organization of the militia is required to defend the rights and liberties of the citizens of Smyth County.”
The full letter can be viewed here.
The document goes on to say that volunteers will be required to provide their name and contact information, but the roster won’t be provided to any state or federal agency or be publicly listed.
The Facebook group, called Smyth Muster, is closed to public viewing. With no “About” information listed other than giving July 4 as its birthday. The Muster uses an image of the United States’ flag as its profile picture and a historic-looking illustration of the first lines of the U.S. Constitution as its cover photo.
Volunteers, according to the letter, must be able to legally possess a firearm. Open and legal carry of pistols in encouraged.
Those attending the muster, the letter says, are not to wear clothing with political messages or carry signs. They “shall only carry, wear or display the flag of the United States, the flag of the Commonwealth… or the seal of Smyth County.”
The letter, which as of Monday evening had been shared on Facebook 85 times, invited volunteers from neighboring counties or other Virginia communities “to present themselves as volunteers.”
The muster is set to take place at the Smyth County Courthouse. Officials had limited details to offer.
Sheriff Chip Shuler had met with a group of men interested in starting a patriots group, but the sheriff said he was unaware of the muster call at the time. Shuler said, “I have no indication that any issues will arise during this event.”
Commonwealth’s Attorney Roy Evans said he’d had a call from a man seeking advice about forming a militia. He referred him to an attorney active with the Tazewell County Citizens Defense Committee.
Late last year, the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors voted to “preserve a group of residents who could form a militia were such a body needed” in response to fears the General Assembly would pass gun control laws in its session earlier this year.
Evans said the call to muster appears to follow the Virginia Code. He did note that the call includes, pursuant to the Code, persons 16 to 18 years old and urges all attendees to bring a rifle and a pistol. “Minors in Virginia,” Evans said, “are not allowed to possess handguns; they may possess semi-automatic rifles but magazines are limited to 20 rounds.”
“Otherwise,” Evans added, “it appears that they did their homework and are trying to follow the law.”
Clerk of Circuit Court John Graham said that no organizer has contacted him to discuss the proposed muster call. “Likewise,” Graham said, “I'm unaware if they have obtained any permission from anyone to have such an event at the courthouse.”
Likewise, County Administrator Shawn Utt said he hadn’t received a request to use the courthouse lawn.
The county code does require “anyone seeking to use the courthouse or lands on which the courthouse is located” to apply for a county permit. However, the county has not enforced that section of its code in recent months.
While the town of Marion does require and enforce its permit requirement, Police Chief John Clair noted that would only apply if the event extends off of the courthouse lawn and onto the sidewalk or Main Street. If organizers believe it might do so, he encouraged them to get a permit in advance.
In the letter, muster organizers provide an email address for “Concerned Citizens of Smyth.” No one returned a message from the News & Messenger seeking comment on the muster.
The letter says the muster call begins at 5 p.m. regardless of weather with “an address from organizers of the muster” at 5:30 p.m.
The letter declares that the muster will be a historic event and “will demonstrate the will and resolve of the people of Smyth County and… Virginia to defend their rights, resist tyranny, and secure for themselves and their posterity those liberties that have been purchased with the blood and treasure of generations of Virginians.”
The letter concludes with “Sic Semper Tyrannis,” a Latin phrase meaning "thus always to tyrants." The phrase serves as Virginia’s motto and has historically been used as a rallying cry against those who abuse power. It promises a dire end to tyrants.
Following Tazewell’s lead, in December, a crowd called for the Wythe County Board of Supervisors to form a militia. The county did not act on the request.
Article 1, Section 13 of the Virginia Constitution says, “ That a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state, therefore, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.”
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