Vigilante Justice

  • March 25, 2015

Read ADL's full report, Vigilante Justice: Militias and “Common Law Courts” Wage War Against the Government. (PDF)

In recognition of the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, the ADL is making available select reports from 1994-1997, the era when the Oklahoma City bombing occurred.

This report describes circumstances in the mid-1990s, not the present day.

In the 1997 report Vigilante Justice, ADL surveyed anti-government extremists in the United States and found that armed militia groups, although fewer in number than in previous years, continued to pose a significant threat of violence and disorder in America. A crackdown on such militia groups by law enforcement since the Oklahoma City bombing may have forced many to go underground.

The report found, however, that the so-called “common law court” movement (now better known as the sovereign citizen movement), which sought to create its own vigilante legal system to escape a government it believed was illegitimate, was still thriving. 



  • The "common law court" activists defied legitimate institutions of government by replacing them with  parallel structures of their own creation. "Common law court" adherents used outlandish versions of American history and bizarre conspiracy theories to justify their activities. Some groups promoted anti-Semitic views, including the notorious fraud that Jewish banking families owned the Federal Reserve.
  • While the number of militia groups declined in the months after the Oklahoma City bombing, some of their members became involved in criminal acts. They acquired illegal ammunition and bomb-making materials, planned or committed criminal acts of violence against federal buildings or officials, and engaged in bitter, even deadly, confrontations with law enforcement.
  • Cross-fertilization between anti-government extremist movements began to blur the differences that previously existed between them. Many activists joined both militia and "common law court" groups, breaking down the boundaries altogether.
  • Right-wing anti-government extremists viewed law enforcement officers as the foot soldiers in a government plot to impose tyranny, refusing to recognize their authority and rejecting any laws they deemed intrusive. Their defiant stance led to heated — and occasionally deadly — encounters with authorities on the local, state and federal level.
  • Anti-Semites and racists found a comfortable home in certain segments of the anti-government extremist movement.
  • Militia and "common law court" ideologues insisted that gun control legislation was a major component of a secret government conspiracy to disarm and control the American people. They believed the federal government was working in league with the United Nations to strip Americans of their constitutional rights and impose a tyrannical "New World Order."
  • The Internet had become a very useful tool for pumping out propaganda, facilitating rapid, confidential communication among members and sympathizers, while creating a "virtual" community of like-minded believers scattered around the country.