Just about a month ago, speaking in support of a proposed radical amendment to the Missouri constitution that would attempt to nullify all federal gun laws, a state legislator from the Joplin area named Charlie Davis tried to explain to a local right-wing radio host what was the purpose of the radical amendment:
Well, for us common-sense folks here in Southwest Missouri, “keep and bear arms” means arms, ammunition, the things that you need to protect yourself from an individual or from an overextension of government.
That last part, that part about an individual having the right to protect himself from an overextension of government, is what ran through my head when I heard the news about the cold-blooded execution of two policemen and a civilian in Las Vegas on Sunday. What Rep. Charlie Davis was advocating, when he implied that people should have the right to use weapons against over-the-limit government officials, sounds a lot like what people in the “sovereign citizen” movement are advocating: individuals are the final authority regarding any law created or any action taken by government, especially the federal government.
Let’s face it. Charlie Davis’ comments about using weapons “to protect yourself from an individual or from an overextension of government”—comments he made not long after the freeloading rancher Cliven Bundy inspired militia freaks to come to his aid armed against the federal government—do not conflict with the philosophical views of Bundy or those two anti-government cop killers in Las Vegas. Here’s how the Las Vegas Review-Journal described the radicalized murderers:
Before going on a shooting rampage that left five people dead, including two Las Vegas police officers and themselves, Jerad and Amanda Miller displayed the classic ideological leanings of the anti-government patriot movement, according to nationally known experts who track extremist groups.
Their ambush of officers Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo was the latest in a growing number of shootouts, some deadly, between right-wing extremists and law enforcement authorities, the experts say.
“It’s showing no sign of slowing down,” said Mark Pitcavage, the widely known top researcher for the Anti-Defamation League. “It’s almost inevitable there will be more confrontations between right-wing extremists, and law enforcement needs to be prepared for that.”
I would like someone to explain to me how what Tea Party-loving Charlie Davis said is different from “the classic ideological leanings of the anti-government patriot movement” that inspired the two creeps who decided to go on a government-hating killing spree in Las Vegas, draping one of the police victims in the Tea Party-adopted Gadsden flag and pinning a note to the other police victim claiming that the killings were “the beginning of a revolution”?
Please someone explain to me how it is possible to neatly separate what Jerad and Amanda Miller believed about government from what so many Tea Party extremists say they believe?
Reportedly, a witness at Walmart, where Amanda Miller killed a civilian trying to stop her husband, said he heard Jerad Miller reiterate that, “This is a revolution!” If you go to YouTube and watch a two-minute tribute to the first Joplin Tea Party rally in 2009, you will see at the end of that tribute the following:
This isn’t unique to Joplin. We all know what language teapartiers have used throughout the presidency of Barack Obama. We’ve heard what the Glenn Becks and Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannitys and countless others, including countless politicians, have said about what Charlie Davis called the “overextension” of government. I don’t have to dig up and publish all the ridiculous things that have been said. But what we all should understand is that a form of radicalism very close to the radicalism that infected the minds of murderous extremists like Jerad and Amanda Miller has become an important part of mainstream conservatism these days.
Facebook can reveal a lot about people and what is in their heads and where they are getting what is in their heads. Just look at some of the “likes” on Jerad Miller’s Facebook page:
National Rifle Association
American Patriot Media Network
Rand Paul 2016
Now, none of these people or groups—who are well within the mainstream of today’s Republican Party—obviously are directly responsible for what Jerad and Amanda Miller did on Sunday. What I am interested in pointing out is how the language and basic philosophy of the Tea Party movement, at least the most influential parts of it, is similar to the language and philosophy embraced by violence-prone haters of government, including the Millers, who were armed participants in the Bundy standoff against the feds and, like other right-wing extremists including Sean Hannity, considered the outcome a victory. In fact, Hannity, using his Fox program to promote Bundy’s efforts until Bundy revealed himself as a racist, defended his actions on behalf of Bundy by first condemning the rancher’s racism and then saying,
The ranch standoff that took place out in Nevada was not about a man named Cliven Bundy. At the heart of this issue was my belief that our government is simply out of control.
You see? It is an out-of-control government that justifies the armed citizen response to what the Bureau of Land Management was trying to legally do to bring justice to Bundy—a response that caused a U.S. Republican senator to label those armed citizens “patriots.” If, as Hannity insists, the “heart” of the issue at Bundy’s ranch, where radicals were armed and ready to gun down federal agents, was a government out of control, then the heart of the issue in Las Vegas, at least for the two radicals who were armed and actually gunned down agents of the local government, was also a government out of control. There’s simply no way to separate the two, except that one was a potential tragedy and the other a real one. The underlying philosophical ideas are essentially the same: the Second Amendment gives citizens the right to protect themselves against overreaching government.
As for Charlie Davis, in a report he published about that radical and obviously unconstitutional nullification amendment to Missouri’s constitution (the “Second Amendment Preservation Act,” which barely failed in the last few minutes of this year’s session, but will certainly come back again), Davis called the legislation, “a crucial bill that prevents federal overreach.” He based his argument on some of the Founders who “were understandably wary of a centralized government with no checks on its authority.” Most notably, Davis quoted Patrick Henry:
Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.
What can citing that quote in the context of the proposed “Second Amendment Preservation Act” mean, if it doesn’t mean that people have the right to use violence against the government, which ultimately means government officials? Again, I want you to carefully read what Rep. Charlie Davis said to a local radio station in defense of amending the Missouri constitution so as to nullify federal gun laws:
It gives the constitutional right to keep and bear arms and also to have your ammunition and any other object that is a normal function of such arms. Because we see what the federal government is trying to do. They say, yeah, you have the constitutional right to keep and bear arms, but it doesn’t say anything about ammunition. Well, for us common-sense folks here in Southwest Missouri, “keep and bear arms” means arms, ammunition, the things that you need to protect yourself from an individual or from an overextension of government.
You tell me why Jerad and Amanda Miller couldn’t use that notion to support what they did a few days ago, so long as they believed in their own minds that government was overextending itself?
I’m not saying that those who believe in small government or fiscal restraint or an 18th-century concept of governance are to blame for what those two cop-killers did in Las Vegas. I’m not saying that conservatives or conservatism or any philosophical stance that advocates for shrinking the size of government, or for limiting the reach of government in our lives, are responsible for those violent extremists who take what they say seriously enough to arm themselves and begin shooting at the first agent of government they see. I’m not saying Charlie Davis endorses the killing of cops.
What I am saying, and I want to be clear about this, is that when contemporary conservatives and libertarians make an unmistakable connection between their small- and limited-government views and what some call “Second Amendment remedies”—using your constitutional right to possess firearms as a means of acting on your philosophical beliefs—then they are contributing to the environment in which people like Jerad and Amanda Miller think they are on the verge of a revolution to take their country back from people who believe in government and its role in our modern society.
In effect, marrying Second Amendment radicalism to the anti-government radicalism of the Tea Party, as, for example, local state representative Charlie Davis did, is part of a very serious problem we have in this country. Mixing gun supremacy with a philosophy that questions the legitimacy of government, again, as Charlie Davis did, should not be a philosophical concoction that Americans embrace in the 21st century.
But as the stunning and historic defeat last night of Tea Party-friendly House Majority Leader Eric Cantor demonstrated, there is an active, animated group of uber-Tea Party extremists who have taken over the Republican Party and who will, eventually, either ruin the party or ruin the country.
The man who defeated Eric Cantor is named Dave Brat, an economics professor at a private, Methodist-operated liberal arts college in Virginia. Let me give you a line from Brat’s issue statement on the Second Amendment:
The right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental right enshrined in the constitution for a reason – it provides the people with the ultimate guarantee of sovereignty.
What can sovereignty mean in this context but “freedom from external control”? And what can it mean in this context but the right to use weapons against government officials who, in the opinion of the so-called sovereign individual, are exercising unlawful actions on behalf of the state?
Dave Brat also has an opinion on President Obama’s health insurance reforms:
Obamacare has proven to be an economically disastrous law and an unconstitutional power grab by our Federal Government.
Get that? The Affordable Care Act is an unlawful “power grab” by government. That opinion standing by itself isn’t all that remarkable or disturbing for a conservative-libertarian to hold. But mix that opinion with language that insists that unrestricted access to guns give individuals the “the ultimate guarantee of sovereignty” when they believe government is grabbing unlawful power, and you have, in short order, provided nourishment for cultural cancers, like the movement that infected the minds of Jerad and Amanda Miller.
The great Charles Pierce wrote a few days ago about the Millers:
…these two jamokes allegedly marinated themselves in the stew of guns and paranoia that bubbles daily in the conservative media from fringe radio hosts and chain e-mails all the way up to the polite precincts of the National Review Online and the Fox News Channel. That shouldn’t surprise us any more. The enabling of dangerous loons and the empowerment by firearms thereof is simply a staple of conservative politics in this country, yet another fetish object, yet another set of conjuring words for the conservative priesthood…
That is absolutely the truth of it, no matter how painful it is to admit it.
Along those lines, I want to note that I am the only one (as far as I can tell) who has publicly challenged Charlie Davis for what he said. I posted two pieces on this blog (including his lame response) and sent a letter to the Joplin Globe, which was published, along with another letter written by Anson Burlingame, who gave me credit “for posing a good question.” I essentially asked Davis, “what kind of overextension of government would justify a Missourian picking up a weapon and shooting and perhaps killing a government official doing his or her duty”?
Yet, I have not otherwise seen one word written in the local paper about the radical statement Davis made, nor have I seen an example of one local television or radio reporter asking him about it. And that tells you a lot about the quality of journalism where I live, and perhaps it says a lot about how so many people, including many journalists, have sort of become used to such radical statements since the birth of the Tea Party. As Charles Pierce says, this stuff does not surprise because it has become “a staple of conservative politics in this country.”
Remarkably, and sadly, it appears it is not newsworthy these days when a politician strongly implies that citizens unhappy with the reach of government can take the law into their gun-toting hands and execute their own brand of justice. But, at least for now, it is still newsworthy when some unhappy, and sociopathic, citizens actually do it.