In the rush of emotions surrounding Donald Trump’s first several days in office, hardly a moment has been more cathartic for those opposing him than the ubiquitous image of alt.right leader Richard Spencer blindsided by a fist to the head from a black clad assailant. It’s an easy act to swallow and the memes practically write themselves.
Spencer calls for his vision of racial cleansing. Groans.
Spencer makes misogynistic remarks about women. Boos.
Spencer raises a right hand in the iconic Heil Hitler salute. Hisses.
Spencer hits the ground after his face collides with the Black Bloc. Applause.
Now, I’ve never actually punched a Nazi, but I did shove a rather large racist man into a concrete wall once while delivering a Give-No-Fucks tongue lashing at point blank range and felt the euphoria only extreme self righteousness can deliver while watching him literally sprint away.
It was worth it, even though I got fired the next day.
As satisfying as such an action can be, whether delivered at the cost of employment, or safely viewed on Youtube, it’s important to keep in mind who the serious enemies are. Most damaging human depravity comes through the policies of respectable people in suits instead of shrill, small time agitators. Richard Spencer is a noisy blip of racism enjoying peripheral glow from Donald Trump’s victory. He can only fantasize about equaling the damage done to communities of color by skewed drug sentencing laws, for-profit prison systems and years of warfare in the East.
Now, I will never support legal restrictions on even the most regressive speech or opinions, but during a period of low-level insurgency against vulnerable populations, people must make their own ethical choices of how to best respond. Self defense can take many forms. Just remember that while Spencer’s kind are more visible currently, deeper and more serious problems have persisted under every administration, regardless of party.
I also want to encourage a healthy hesitance over resorting to violence. Clearly this is not a pacifist weblog, yet the current enthusiasm over “punching Nazis” plays into very unappealing macho worldviews regarding problem solving. I salute the individual who struck Spencer, but acknowledge this is all much bigger than knocking down one man or even removing one president.
There’s a narrative the NRA is pushing that I want to break down. Unsurprisingly, they are reveling in Donald Trump’s victory, calling it “a stunning political upset–led by America’s gun owners.”(1) Their bold assumption is essentially that the election constituted a national referendum on gun rights, as embodied by themselves.
Indeed, during times when many Republican leaders shrunk from association with Trump, the NRA provided complete, uncritical support. While establishment icons from the Bush family to Colin Powell, Mitt Romney and even the Koch brothers turned against a candidate who bragged about sexual assault, smeared a Gold Star family and changed policy stances at the slightest breeze, the NRA never wavered. As I wrote in October, they stood almost alone by refusing to even acknowledge issues that made so many high profile conservatives spurn Trump. Of course, this seemed particularly odd, given his mixed record supporting their main focus, the 2nd Amendment.
If there is any reason for them to take credit, it is Hillary Clinton. While Democrats, in general, spent the last twenty years viewing gun control as a losing issue, Clinton mistakenly sensed a change in the air and attempted taking advantage of the one place she could be perceived as politically Left of Bernie Sanders. Clinton and the NRA leadership may have little in common, but one thing shared is their overestimation of the firearm factor.
Instead of guns, the single greatest element in the 2017 presidential election was sheer dissatisfaction with the status quo. Angry voters from every direction sought a standard bearer. Clinton tried haphazardly to bear that mantle, which fell much more naturally around Sanders shoulders, enough that it took a rigged primary system to make her the Democratic nominee. Trump, on the other hand, harnessed this groundswell and rode it to victory, even trampling roughshod over his own party elites. The point is, Democrats apparently didn’t hold Sander’s weaker record on gun control against him and at the same time, Republicans rejected candidates with much stronger pro-2nd Amendment claims.
The NRA oversells their value in Trump’s win and by the same token, paints all opposition to him as anti-gun. They do this using conflation. On the cover of America’s 1st Freedom for January, images of gun control promoting billionaires George Soros and Michael Bloomberg hover above a crowd of placard waving anti-Trump activists. An article inside then declares: ‘“Not My President” protesters symbolize a looming threat to gun rights–one that didn’t accept defeat on election day.”(2) However, for all their alleged symbolism, if you look at the anti-Trump signs being carried, they say nothing about firearms at all. Instead, the messages read: “LOVE TRUMPS HATE” and “REFUSE TO ACCEPT A FASCIST AMERICA” and “UNITED AGAINST HATRED.”(3)
There are many issues uniting Americans who despise Donald Trump. Gun control simply isn’t one of them. If anything, the wave of racist attacks and actions unleashed by his victory has made the Left more conscious of their vulnerabilities, as seen by increased gun sales to women and minorities, greater interest in groups such as The Liberal Gun Club and even just my own personal experience of more Lefty Portlanders seeking information about firearms and Concealed Cary Permits.
This Friday, January 20th, Donald Trump is scheduled for inauguration as President of the United States, while again, protests oppose him nationwide. With Republicans primed to control every branch of government, the NRA needs enemies justifying scare tactics in their fundraising. Now that Obama and Clinton are removed, they will continue using anti-Trump activists instead. Don’t believe it.
As Trump is sworn in, I will be out on the streets of Portland with thousands of others who refuse to accept naked authoritarianism at the helm of State power. He cannot take office without a great cry against his lies, contempt for women and minorities and complete disregard of the Constitution. The tone must be established that armed Americans have a duty and presence in opposition, despite how the NRA portrays reality. I will be proud marching among comrades from every background in this and implore everyone who cares about creating a just, equitable future to join with us.
(1) America’s 1st Freedom, January 2017, p. 33.
(3) Ibid. p.32.
If a perfect metaphor to symbolize the current state of American politics is sought, look no further than the world of commemorative firearms. You can find ads for these in many leisure periodicals, usually featuring triumphant patriotic themes or personalities like John Wayne and General George S. Patton, emblazoned with gold filagree.
This is a time when the president-elect of the United States not only coddles White Nationalists and openly admires Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, but has already broken longstanding protocols keeping peace with China and implied willingness to break international treaties controlling nuclear weapons. A candidate who ran as an outsider to “drain the swamp” of status quo politics, now stacking cabinet positions and government departments with insider apparatchiks.
Therefore, how appropriate under such circumstances that the first issue of the NRA’s political magazine, America’s 1st Freedom since Donald Trump’s election, contains a full-page ad for a Colt .45 pistol commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive.
The Tet Offensive. A series of intense battles in 1968 that is widely considered to signal when the United States began loosing the Vietnam War.
It’s easy for me to forget America has changed. I get up every day, drive around Portland, make plumbing and electrical repairs and feel like a completely respected member of the community. Today I interacted with a glass contractor, tow truck driver, galvanized pipe vendor and numerous other people, including a random man who tapped on my passenger window as I ate lunch and courteously requested I be careful of his vehicle when I moved my truck later. Like usual, never once was I made to feel socially slighted or uncomfortable as a White American.
Contrast that with my wife’s daily experience as a Black American. In the days since Donald Trump’s election, she’s dealt with increased blatant racism, from being called the worst racial epithets or told to “go back home” in public. That plus many more negative experiences, such as customers at her job who would rather wait for a White clerk than be served by her. Over time, that kind of treatment can really grind a person’s humanity down.
(above) Mr. and Mrs. Eliot
But it’s not just day-to-day respect I enjoy. Over the last eleven or so years, I’ve actively promoted and conducted firearms training, primarily among marginalized groups with a leftist slant. It has all occurred in the open and often documented by this weblog or my former ‘zine, American Gun Culture Report. For example, there’s an old OCCUPY photo of me holding some socially subversive placard, with an AK-47 slung over my shoulder. In other words, my social message could be interpreted as: “Here I am, status quo, I’m striving to bring about your downfall while armed to the teeth!”
Yet in all that time, I’ve never faced significant social sanction beyond the odd email or forgettable internet comment. Now, while my activities have certainly been more small scale than, for instance, Black Lives Matter, recall the massive backlash against that group and other Black Americans who organized in response to unjustified police shootings and State Sponsored Terrorism in Ferguson, Missouri.
What is the definition of modern American privilege? It’s me. Despite virtually all sensational mass shootings in the US being carried out by White men with a grudge against society, I still get a free pass to criticize with my rifle at the ready. Even when facing repressions that some might imagine only exist in the most distant, corrupt corners of the world, Black Americans are frowned upon over everything from minor rioting, to peaceful protests or even objecting when strangers touch their hair.
(above) a sample socially subversive placard
What can White Americans do in this age when action against vulnerable communities becomes increasingly acceptable? First of all, don’t be a privilege denier. It doesn’t hurt to acknowledge that worldwide, people receive better treatment based on skin color. That’s just a social reality. Next? Resist by every means possible. My own privilege has many times put me in positions to call out injustice. Determine appropriate times for the soap box, ballot box and cartridge box, then use them accordingly.
Seasoned 2nd Amendment advocates can be even more valuable. Right now many people have become first time firearm owners, alarmed by the wave of violence against people of color and others. Most would benefit from training and instruction. Be an armed ally, for those who can’t with such ease. Take new folks out to the range and teach the safety and skills they need.
But most of all in this coming era, don’t be silent. Don’t be a bystander. Take agency no matter what. Never let neutrality melt into complicity.
First of all, I’d like to admit that I was wrong. Terribly wrong. As recently as five months ago, during casual political discussions, I spoke breezily about the unexpected longevity of Donald Trump’s candidacy and what a fascinating window it shone onto disaffected elements within the Republican Party. My observation always concluded, “But he can never be president.”
While Trump remains far from actually winning the presidency, I was still wrong. Of course, what I meant, was that an establishment candidate must inevitably triumph, with vast superpac resources and party backing. Rank and file Republican voters might briefly flirt with entertaining, yet absurd personalities like Ben Carson or Trump, but someone on the order of a Jeb Bush would necessarily become nominated. That’s how the game works. Or worked.
For now, we can skip over the litany of inconsistencies, incredible claims and bizarre statements by Trump that would have shattered any other serious campaign and have already turned most party power brokers against him. By this point, his opponents are well aware of them and most supporters simply don’t care. However, for a weblog about firearms and social violence, the calls to action uttered by Trump himself require serious scrutiny.
Irresponsible rhetoric is nothing new to American presidential politics, from caustic personal insults during the 1800 Thomas Jefferson .v John Adams campaign, to John McCain’s joke about bombing Iran in 2007. Trump possesses no reservations against using similar language regarding political opponents, but ups the ante by encouraging rally attendees to physically attack protesters, even claiming he will pay their legal bills if arrested. Crowds are listening.
Besides a reluctance to distance himself from the endorsement of KKK leader David Duke, Trump’s gatherings have become noted for assaults, not to mention hand-raising “loyalty oaths,” which many perform in a classic Heil Hitler salute. In one amazing incident, Trump campaign officials didn’t even bother relegating one of their neo-Nazi volunteers to stuffing envelopes in a back room, but let her be interviewed on television, with fascist tattoos prominently displayed. For an election cycle already over the top, it’s beyond parody.
Now, many people observing these incidents immediately take a predictable worse case scenario and compare the situation with 1933 and Hitler’s rise in Germany. I am hesitant at making such a leap, but still, the potential for civil disorder appears to be growing. No matter who becomes nominated by either party, 2016 will surely be a very bitter election. Trump has already threatened supporters will riot if his bid is thwarted at the Republican convention.
Assuming, it is indeed Trump on the Republican side, what might his adherents do if he looses the general election? Will people who consider this man their saving grace from alleged hordes of Mexican rapists, simply concede defeat, after being urged to take matters into their own hands? Or, conversely, should he win, take that victory as license to exercise violence against Trump’s declared foes among minorities?
I hate to think of what might be possible under these conditions, which is the reason I became a gun owner in the first place. Historically, whenever skeptics asked why I keep an AK-47 handy, my response, as a historian, was generally: lynch mobs. While some comfortably imagine such terrible outbursts only occurred long ago in America’s past, per just one example, it was 2007 when a racist crowd attempted murdering two Latino men, just several miles south of my home in Portland, Oregon.
Though Trump has clearly mastered redirecting class resentment along ethnic and religious lines, his supporters shows signs of being uncontainable. The 2016 presidential race is already leagues off any map into uncharted territory. If frustrated or euphoric right wing voters use violence against vulnerable members of society, it may very well fall on common people to make hard choices. Turn away in shock, or respond with prompt action.
Far too often in US history, individuals have taken the easy path and let mobs carry out extremist justice, from Gold Rush era purges against American Indian to the Zoot Suit riots against Latinos and Blacks of 1943. Should Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” signal a return to the days of unaccountable pogroms, armed citizens must be ready to counter them. If dark days lie ahead, at least we can choose not to enter them helplessly.
I recently received an e.mail from the billionaire Wall Street financier, and former New York city mayor, Michael Bloomberg. Well, it was actually his pet project, Everytown for Gun Safety, a national gun control organization. As a socialist, I’m highly skeptical of most any agenda pushed by front groups for the ultra-wealthy, (Bloomberg being only one of many billionaires on their advisory board) and this was no exception. At any rate, their communication was promoting a new video by the comedian Rachel Dratch. Here is her written introduction:
I can think of a lot of things that don’t go well with drinking alcohol: Calling your ex. Performing heart surgery. Knitting. A loaded firearm. We can all agree that mixing that stuff with alcohol makes for a pretty dangerous cocktail. That’s why I was shocked to learn that you can legally carry a loaded gun in places that serve alcohol in 49 out of 50 states. Who thought this was a good idea?! And it’s just one of the crazy gun laws the NRA has fought for in statehouses across the country. The good news is, there’s something people like you and me can do about it: Check out the video I made about “What Could Go Wrong?” when guns and alcohol mix. Then, sign up to get involved to stop the gun lobby from pushing their extreme laws in your community. I spent my comedy career on Saturday Night Live doing some pretty ridiculous stuff. But “let’s allow guns in bars” is the kind of idea that’s too ridiculous to make up. And it’s being pushed by the same extremists who want guns in mental institutions, day care centers, and in the hands of felons and domestic abusers. It’s going to take people like you and me — sane, reasonable people — standing up to these reckless laws in our neighborhoods, cities, and states, if we want to keep our families safe.
Besides irresponsibly asserting that anyone actually desires arming mental patients or violent abusers, Dratch handily distorts consuming alcohol with a far from universal end result: murderous-drunkenness. It’s a bizarre oversimplification to imagine having casual drinks turns average people into staggering menaces who can’t be trusted with knitting needles or would shoot up a bar Wild West style given the opportunity. Nobody would survive a happy hour if that were true. Also, the worst likely scenario involving knitting and drinking is a tacky scarf. People don’t down several beers and then immediately jab craft tools into their eyeballs. Given that people are far more likely to drink themselves to death than be fatally shot, it might seem alcohol is the more relevant social problem.
The set up Dratch implies, is that guns will turn bars into homicide scenes over minor disagreements. Subtract the guns, no more problem. However, as she admits, most states allow properly licensed persons to legally carry concealed firearm in such establishments already. Therefore, her fear isn’t some hypothetical worry. It’s something we can examine the facts on.
Bureau of Justice statistics conveniently arrange criminal acts, so that a breakdown can be viewed covering violent incidents within restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Interestingly, the yearly average for 2004-08 was 4.4% of total. About the same as visiting a neighbors residence or the sidewalk in front of your own. However, far less than inside your home (17.6%) and in school or on school property (13%). These numbers include all violence, not just involving guns. In other words, despite bars potentially containing alcohol and firearms, they are still much safer than individual residences or schools. The school point is significant, because while homes often pair both alcohol and guns, schools should be relatively spared from drinking and are often considered gun-free zones. In other words, social violence remains foremost a social issue– not a gun, knife or tools-of-violence issue. This needs to be stressed, because gun control arguments easily play into simplified causation scenarios, obscuring complex societal problems.
The video heavily reinforces gun-owner stereotypes. Dratch cheerfully hams it up, portraying a harried suburban mother who takes her family out to a restaurant. There, her children are horrified, seeing rifles propped against the bar and casually resting near white men wearing baseball-caps and clean flanels. Climax arrives when a shotgun is accidentally knocked over, though it fails to discharge. Curiously, the video doesn’t even address Dratch’s stated concern: that concealed weapons make bars violent, instead humorously suggesting unconcealed long guns will cause accidents. There are no statistics available regarding accidental firearm deaths in bars, but I suspect it is greatly infrequent.
It’s understandable some people fear guns in places that serve alcohol. Of course, people do get drunk and make poor life choices. Indeed, the father of a dear friend of mine was shot and paralyzed years ago, following a bar altercation. As for myself, I’ve carried a gun hundreds of times in divebars, nightclubs or upscale lounges. In those circumstances, I elect against drinking excessively. Everyone that I know who carries, exercises similar judgment. The low rate of bar violence, compared to other locations, implies this is common restraint.
But why carry in a bar if they’re so safe? Well, fatality statistics don’t tell the whole story. I remember one of the Portland Pink Pistols telling me years ago, about encountering several men savagely beating another outside a gay club. Simply the sight of his gun was enough to halt the assault. Another good friend of mine was nearly stabbed to death by racial skinheads while walking home from a Portland bar. Also, people employed in the service industry tend to work odd hours and carry cash. Circumstances like that attract predators who might be further encouraged if people leaving bars were known as vulnerable targets.
Everytown for Gun Safety is an organization representing interests of the notorious wealthiest 1%. People who don’t work long hours earning tips or catch the last bus home at dark transit stops. Social elites dwelling in gated communities with private security, who know 911 would always respond in emergencies. Most Americans don’t possess that assurance and for some, a concealed pistol might be the worst case ticket home to their families. A percentage are even baseball-cap-wearing white men, but that is hardly universal. Indeed, people from every background rely on guns for protection. I know, because many share it with me, often laughing that because of stereotypes, they would never tell friends, family or co-workers. American’s don’t need rich men like Bloomberg proclaiming simplified solutions for very real problems. Reducing the number of places marginalized populations can exercise self defense is simply regressive class warfare.