How Gun Rights Helped Mainstream Neo-fascists
s we anticipate the end of the pandemic, things are starting to get back to “normal.” What does that mean? In 2019, “we pretty much had a mass shooting once a week,” says criminal justice scholar Christopher Herrmann.
So we are back to the fierce arguments about gun control. The National Rifle Association (NRA) is weaker due to numerous scandals, lawsuits and investigations. However, investigative reporter David Smyth says the NRA’s ideas have been adopted by “the overwhelming majority of elected officials in the GOP, especially on the national level … along with many, if not most, of the 74 million people who voted for Trump’s reelection.”
Since the 1970s, the NRA has claimed that any regulation of firearms is a step toward the confiscation of everybody’s guns. They offer an insurrectionist interpretation of the Second Amendment, which argues that an armed populace is an essential defense against government tyranny.
Darrell Miller, a constitutional law scholar at Duke University, notes:
“The premise of the insurrectionist theory is, ‘I need these arms in order to defend myself against an oppressive government.’ But that can express itself in all kinds of ways. That can be passive, like, ‘I have this gun in my house.’ It could be, ‘I’m carrying this gun into this government building because I want to show them that they can’t do anything to me.’ Or, it can extend all the way into the use of violence against government officials.”
It has become normal for people to assemble outside government buildings carrying highly lethal weapons. The FBI has charged Michigan militia members with plotting to storm the Michigan Capitol building and kidnap and kill political officials.
Several individuals involved with the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol were hit with illegal gun possession charges. However, the leaders were aware of the strict gun control laws in Washington, D.C. In a message on social media, a leader suggested bringing weapons like clubs and bear spray rather than guns.
Chip Brownlee, reporting for The Trace (a nonprofit journalism outlet devoted to gun-related news), writes:
“Far-right extremist groups are talking explicitly about using gun rights rhetoric and conspiracy theories concerning hypothetical gun confiscation under President Joe Biden as a way to attract new members, according to experts and a review of online postings.”
The Trace reviewed hundreds of chat room messages and posts on forums popular with far rightists. On the site Telegram, an encrypted far-right messaging platform, a moderator of a popular channel advised members to recruit Trump supporters “by the millions.” The post suggested that they “be less combative” when addressing more mainstream people. “Instead push the most extreme talking points that they already have in their heads thanks to Trump.” One of the talking points the moderator listed was “They’re coming for our 2A guns.”
This isn’t a new development. The rise of the patriot militia movement of the 1990s was a response to gun control legislation. Leading figures of that movement had longstanding involvement with neo-fascist groups, which they failed to emphasize. They used the gun rights movement to mainstream their politics.
Much of the national impetus for the militias grew out of a closed-door gathering in Estes Park in October 1992. This meeting of 175 Christian men was convened by the late Pastor Pete Peters, who operated a radio ministry (AM, shortwave, internet) from his church in Laporte (near Fort Collins).
Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler confessed he was a “100% bigot” and gave the Nazi salute. Former Texas KKK leader and Aryan Nations evangelist Louis Beam advocated the formation of small leaderless guerrilla cells to attack “government tyranny.”
Peters, Butler and Beam were leading proponents of Christian Identity theology, which teaches that the Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Germanic, Scandinavian and kindred people are descended from the Israelites of the Bible. They claimed the Jews of today are actually direct biological descendants of the devil.
Larry Pratt, a former Virginia state legislator, suggested that local armed militias should be formed to help in the war on drugs. His models were the civil defense patrols in Guatemala and the Alsa Masa vigilantes in the Philippines. These groups essentially functioned as government-sponsored death squads.
Pratt was the director of Gun Owners of America (GOA), which describes itself as the “no-compromise alternative to the NRA.” In 1996, Pratt was forced to resign as a co-chair of Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign after his speech at the Estes Park meeting was revealed.
The GOA has had a powerful influence in the Colorado Republican Party beginning in the 1990s. I wonder if Pratt would have had to resign from a political campaign today.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.