Many counterinsurgent tribal militias emerged during the second civil war in Southern Sudan. Existing studies give the impression that formation of these groups was largely a top-down process. Focusing on the rise of the Fertit militia and relying on a series of in-depth interviews with tribal leaders, this article challenges that assumption. The article shows that the emergence of the Fertit militia was principally a grassroots phenomenon stemming from local tensions and conflicts. The article discusses the wider applicability of these insights and, generally, proposes a more nuanced approach to the study of counterinsurgent militia formation. The approach suggests simultaneous attention to state interventions and local interactions.