Dear Mr. VP,
Language is a very powerful thing. The words we choose to describe something can make it seem different from what it really is. For example, you might call yourself “pro-life” and “pro-family” when, in fact, you support policies like, say, separating children from their parents at the border, or taking healthcare away from sick people.
Or, for example, you could choose to call something a “Second Amendment Rally” when in fact, the event is a white supremacist patriot militia rally.
That’s exactly what’s happening in my town this weekend.
On Saturday, the Swift River Sportsman’s Club will host the fifth annual “Flag Day Second Amendment Rally.” This rally came to my attention last year (in fact, I wrote about it) because one of the speakers was disgraced sheriff Joe Arpaio. Another was Jeanette Finicum, the widow of a man who died during the terrorist takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Lots of people in town seemed to think it was pretty unfortunate that these people were going to be hosted, though probably not the guy with the Oath Keepers sticker on his truck that I sometimes see in the Dunkin’ Donuts drive thru, and probably not the people who stuck KKK newspapers in people’s mailboxes sometime last summer. I keep in mind that even in good old Tofu Curtain Western Massachusetts, we aren’t in a safe space.
Last year I had the feeling that this was more than a Second Amendment Rally — and after seeing this year’s speaker line-up, I think that’s pretty much confirmed. This is about more than guns.
Scott Lively is, unfortunately, a candidate for governor. He’s a “Christian” who consulted with the Ugandan government on their anti-LGBT bill that originally called for death as the penalty for homosexual activity (the bill that passed included life in prison as the penalty – how kind of them to tone it down). He’s also a conspiracy theorist who wrote a book called “The Pink Swastika”, which poses that Nazis were all gay and that’s why they were savage enough to carry out the Holocaust. In 2012, when an explosion under a strip club in Springfield injured 18 people, he celebrated it and prayed for “the further cleansing of Springfield.” Scott Lively may like guns, but he’s also a dangerous homophobic bigot. His presence makes it clear this is not just a “Second Amendment Rally.”
Richard Mack was the plaintiff in a lawsuit regarding the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. He’s also a former sheriff. Most recently, he founded the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, an organization listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an “anti-government patriot group.” CSPOA members believe they can refuse any orders they personally deem to be unconstitutional. Mack has also served on the board of the Oath Keepers, an organization with a similar sovereign citizen-esque philosophy. Mack says the greatest threat faced by the United States is not terrorism, but “our own federal government.” Richard Mack may like guns, but he also espouses anti-government patriot militia talking points, making it clear this is not just a “Second Amendment Rally.”
Larry Pratt founded lobbying group Gun Owners of America, considered a “more radical alternative to the NRA.” (Which is honestly a bit hysterical to me given the NRA’s recent dog whistling for cultural revolution against liberals.) However, he also has a long history with white supremacy groups. In 1992, he spoke at the “Gathering of Christian Men” along with Klansmen, assorted other white supremacists, and adherents to the racist and anti-Semitic Christian Identity movement. Pratt also founded English First, a group that lobbies to make English the official language of the United States, and a since-shuttered anti-immigration group. In one interview, he suggested that Trayvon Martin was murdered because he was from a “broken home.” All of his pro-gun rhetoric is steeped in Christian Reconstructionist ideology, so there’s also a healthy bit of homophobia hanging around. Perhaps most important to the current thesis, though, is that Pratt wrote a book called “Armed People Victorious” which, according the Southern Poverty Law Center, is “thought to have introduced the concept of citizen militias to the radical right.” Pratt’s speech at the Gathering of Christian Men was about how these sorts of citizen militias could be organized and used in the United States. Larry Pratt really likes guns, but he also hates Black people, brown people, gay people, and the federal government, making it clear this is not just a “Second Amendment Rally.”
Ryan and Ammon Bundy
Here’s where the shit really hits the fan. Ryan and Ammon Bundy are terrorists. The Bundy family participated in two armed standoffs with the federal government; one in Nevada near the Bundy Ranch, and one when they occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. In the first standoff, Ryan and Ammon led a crowd to a Bureau of Land Management site where their father’s illegally grazing cattle had been impounded; there were militia snipers with guns trained on government agents. Ammon Bundy kicked a police dog and reportedly tried to hit an officer. He’s white, though, so he only got Tasered. He’s still alive.
(Noteworthy: inspired by the standoff and rhetoric at the Bundy Ranch, Amanda and Jerad Miller, who spent some time at the ranch, went on to kill two police officers.)
And then the Bundy family went to Oregon, where they took up a crusade in the name of Hammonds, two Oregonians who were convicted of setting fires on the federal land where they grazed their cattle. (Not shockingly, Trump is reportedly considering a pardon for the Hammonds, in another nod to his allegiance to his ultra-right-wing followers.) In protest, the Bundy brothers led an occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Ammon and Ryan Bundy intentionally attempt to provoke violence in standoffs with the federal government, a government they (in their sovereign citizen minds) essentially believe has no power over them. Ammon and Ryan Bundy really love guns, but they also hate the federal government and aim to lead a violent uprising against it, making it clear this is not just a “Second Amendment Rally.”
“Second Amendment Rally” makes this sound like it’s just some folks getting together to support the Constitution, and doesn’t that sound wholesome. Let’s be clear, though. This is not just a Second Amendment Rally. This is a gathering of people who hate the federal government, who support the patriot militia movement, who work with and for hate groups, and who advocate violence against others. Frankly, I’m happy I won’t be spending this weekend at home.