Mike Vanderboegh, a longtime leader in the “Patriot” movement, died Wednesday in Alabama after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 64.
Vanderboegh also was founder of the “Three Percenters,” who vow to use force if necessary to resist what they see as oppressive gun-control laws.
The Second Amendment activist and blogger from Pinson, Ala., was known for pushing the envelope when it came to gun rights, from organizing an armed protest at the Washington state capitol to mailing standard-capacity gun magazines to governors of states that banned them.
“He was a voice that this movement needed,” said Bob Wright, a comrade and commander of the New Mexico Militia. “Already, we’re feeling the loss of that voice.”
But those who monitor extremist groups say the rhetoric Vanderboegh used was dangerous and helped fuel a resurgence of anti-government violence in recent years.
“Vanderboegh’s primary legacy will be as one of the more successful recent promoters of anti-government extremism, helping to increase both the anger levels and numbers of such extremists,” said Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow with the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.
Shortly before he died, Vanderboegh donated his papers to the John Hay Library at Brown University in Rhode Island. University archivist Jennifer Betts said the collection would be processed and available to view by summer 2017.
Vanderboegh first surfaced in the 1990s as an organizer for the Sons of Liberty, then became head of the 1st Alabama Cavalry Regiment Constitutional Militia.
In recent years, he had been more widely known for his “Three Percent” movement, which draws its name from the percentage of colonists said to have taken up arms against the British in the American Revolution.
Vanderboegh was diagnosed five years ago with a gastrointestinal stromal tumor. Once a looming figure, Vanderboegh told The Star in May that he’d dropped nearly 200 pounds.
Larry Pratt, executive director emeritus of Gun Owners of America, called Vanderboegh “a man of passion and humor.”
Pratt disagreed with critics’ assertion that Vanderboegh incited violence.
“Mike’s whole idea has been to make people aware of our great past and to make it part of our present,” he said. “Maybe they see that as a violent threat.”
Known for his often-incendiary language, Vanderboegh directed his criticism not only at what he said was a corrupt government but sometimes even at others in his own movement.
When a group of armed militants led by Ammon Bundy took over a national wildlife refuge in Oregon in January, he called them fools.
“What Bundy and this collection of fruits and nuts has done is give the feds the perfect opportunity to advance their agenda to discredit us,” he said.
Vanderboegh’s most recent tactics involved leading what he called “armed civil disobedience” in response to tougher gun legislation passed after the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
He smuggled 30-round AR-15 gun magazines into several states that had outlawed them, then announced it afterward. Around Christmas last year, he mailed 30-round AR-15 and AK-47 magazines to politicians who supported the stricter gun laws.
“I told them that now that they possessed these magazines, they should go arrest themselves,” he said.
In 2014, Vanderboegh traveled to Nevada to join other protesters in a standoff between federal authorities and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who the government said owed $1 million for grazing his cattle on federal land.
“All over this country, at this moment, we are still staring civil war in its bloody face,” he said in a speech he gave there.
In 2008, Vanderboegh attracted authorities’ attention when he started writing an online novel called “Absolved” and posted it on his blog, “Sipsey Street Irregulars.”
The book, a fictional story about gun owners and militias who resist federal government attempts to confiscate their firearms, contains detailed accounts of battles with law enforcement, airplane attacks on government buildings and assassinations of federal agents.
“The whole point of my work is to make people understand that we’re done backing up,” he told The Star.
The book set off alarms at the Kansas City regional fusion center, which issued a bulletin saying it might incite anti-government violence.
Authorities said the book later inspired a group of militia members in Georgia to go on a domestic terrorism rampage. The group was arrested in 2011 for plotting to attack four cities with ricin, blow up federal buildings and kill government employees and local police.
Vanderboegh also is credited with inciting followers to commit vandalism.
After Congress passed the health care reform measure in 2010, he called for modern-day “Sons of Liberty” to throw rocks through the windows of local Democratic Party offices around the country in protest. After that, vandals struck several Democratic Party offices.
Vanderboegh may be most recognized for his blog posts on “Operation Fast and Furious,” a flawed gun-trafficking operation run by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
David Codrea, a Second Amendment advocate who worked on the issue with Vanderboegh, described him as “a man of unique intelligence and perspective.”
“Mike is driven by a quest for individual liberty,” said Codrea, who has a blog called “The War on Guns” and is field editor of GUNS Magazine. “He’s a man who I looked to as an example of integrity and courage. But that does not mean we were joined at the hip.”
Indeed, Codrea said, Vanderboegh at times could be a “curmudgeon.”
“People don’t have a neutral reaction to the guy,” he said.
Roger Charles, co-author of “Oklahoma City: What the Investigation Missed — and Why It Still Matters,” called Vanderboegh a “national treasure.”
“He’s probably the smartest and certainly one of the most well-read guys I’ve ever run into,” Charles said. “He once told me it boils down to a very simple question: Do we serve the government or does the government serve us? That’s the crux of it.”
Right-wing watchdog groups kept a wary eye on Vanderboegh.
“Argumentative and prickly, Vanderboegh found his true calling not as a leader or organizer within the militia movement but as a rabble-rouser and propagandist, spreading anger and suspicion,” said the Anti-Defamation League’s Pitcavage.
Vanderboegh used his blog to encourage and distribute anti-government sentiment, becoming “a significant propagandist in the resurgence of the militia movement” that began in 2008 and 2009, Pitcavage said.
The “Three Percenters,” Pitcavage said, grew to be much larger than their parent militia movement and are now a major player in the anti-government extremist movement.
Vanderboegh pulled the movement into the mainstream, Wright said.
Vanderboegh leaves a wife, Rosey, a son and two daughters. His oldest son, Matthew, an Army veteran, has taken over the blog.
In April, after Vanderboegh posted on the blog that his doctor said he had a short time to live, hundreds of readers responded.
“One reader said, ‘Mike, you can cross over knowing that you taught us how to fight on every battlefield,’ ” he said. “And I thought, ‘Wow, that’s something else.’ ”