HICKORY, N.C. - In the last four years, the number of militia groups in the United States has grown to more than 1,200.
"Everybody needs to be living by these rules," said Commander James Kendrick with the Freedom Warriors National Militia.
James Kendrick, his wife Trin, and some of their friends spend a lot of time in uniform despite never being in any part of the military.
They are all members of the Freedom Warriors National Militia in Hickory and claim their standards rival the U.S. military.
"Our rules are more strict than the U.S. military's rules as far as being highly professional at all times. 24/7. Highly professional," Kendrick said.
That includes his wife calling him “Commander Kendrick,” instead of by his first name James.
He showed Eyewitness News the group's operational manual which lists Kendrick as the Supreme Commander because he founded the group.
Kendrick said the militia's 15 members focus much of their time on helping the local community, from volunteering at a local soup kitchen, to helping families who are dealing with hardships.
He also said the group is prepared to fight if necessary to defend our nation.
"If we are ever called on then yes we will step up to the plate. We have no problem. The only time I see that happening is if we are attacked by a foreign entity," Kendrick said.
Kendrick was careful not to divulge much about the group's training, but said they do have access to weapons and showed Channel 9 photos from the North Carolina mountains, where he said they train.
He started the group three years ago, which was about the same time the Southern Poverty Law Center noticed a spike in militia groups nationwide.
Eyewitness News spoke with Mark Potok, a senior fellow with the civil rights group, by phone.
He said in 2008, there were 149 militia groups nationwide. Every year, those numbers have grown. There were 512 in 2009, 824 in 2012 and 1,274 in 2011.
He believes the growth has a lot to do with the election of President Barack Obama in 2008 and the changing racial demographics in the United States.
"There are a lot of people out there who feel this is not the country they grew up in, not the country as they might say that their Christian white forefathers created and so there is a lot of discomfort," Potok said.
Kendrick said members meet every week at his apartment at Hillside Gardens. The complex receives government assistance through the Hickory Housing Authority.
Kendrick said he is disabled and gets assistance, but wanted to live here hoping the group could have a positive impact on a low income neighborhood.
"We're here to help change our community . Help make our community a safer place. Help better the education of our communities and help pull them together,” Kendrick said.
Some from the area said while militia members stand out in their uniforms they don't believe the group has done much here.
"I think it is just for show because if they are trying to cut crime down the police wouldn't be called as much. They're not helping us out none. They are just wearing the clothes," said Hickory resident Marecia Covington.
Police in Hickory are aware of the Freedom Warriors National Militia and have met with their leaders on several occasions.
"We asked them to be vigilant in reporting crime or suspicion of crime to the police department and not to take matters in their own hands," said Tom Adkins, the Hickory police chief.
Kendrick said he has heard the criticism before, but believes his group has a bright future. He hopes by helping his community he can change how people view militias.
"We are nowhere near like the other militias out there. We are pro government militia. We are the new breed of militias. We are the militia that actually steps up,” Kendrick said.