Not too long ago, I referred to open carry protesters as being comparable to terrorists. The reasons are obvious: in an age when armed madmen routinely blitz through schools and movie theaters, gunning down innocent people, it’s not such a smart idea to promote your fringe movement by wandering through a Target store with the Sandy Hook weapon, locked and loaded and nestled between your man-boobs.
No matter how these self-identified protesters might justify such a thing, this isn’t peaceable assembly as protected by the U.S. Constitution, unless the founders included the brandishing of loaded firearms as somehow “peaceable.”
Seriously, how the hell can the carrying of loaded semi-automatic military style rifles that resemble something out of an Expendables movie be considered in any universe “peaceable?” The mission is clearly to terrorize and intimidate. Nothing else. Wherever there are loaded semi-automatic weapons and untrustworthy strangers willing carry them in a public place, there’s a strong likelihood that one or more of those weapons could discharge in anger or otherwise, and no one wants to be a bystander trapped in the line of fire.
Late last week, a Colorado teenager marched through the streets of Aurora carrying a loaded Stoeger P-350 12 gauge shotgun. Aurora of all places, where James Holmes murdered 12 and wounded 58 other innocent people inside a crowded movie theater. These days, when a teen with a loaded weapon (or anyone fitting this narrow profile) marches through a public place, no matter his intentions, he’s doing one thing and one thing only: scaring the piss out of anyone in his path. Now, again, imagine a Muslim-American marching through an airport terminal waving a box-cutter, you know, in defense of his constitutional rights.
Sorry if not everyone can see the distinction between a would-be terrorist and First Amendment protester. Put another way: if your goal is protect your rights, and you believe that in order to do so you need to stockpile the deadliest weapons available and to carry those weapons in public, you’re doing it wrong.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, really) I’m not too far off the mark with my assessment. The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) reported that law enforcement officials no longer consider Islamic terrorists as the number one source of terrorism inside the U.S. According to the study, the top three most critical terrorist threats in 2013-14 are: 3) Militia / Patriot groups, 2) Islamic Extremists/Jihadists, and 1) Sovereign Citizen groups. (Rounding out the top five are skinheads at #4 and neo-Nazis at #5. Incidentally, these two groups predominantly represented the “right-wing extremists” in Homeland Security’s outrage-inducing report about domestic terrorism. Odd that so many run-of-the-mill conservatives were upset about Nazis and skinheads being labeled terrorists.)
That’s right, the Militia/Patriot movement and the Sovereign Citizen groups are viewed by law enforcement officials as a greater combined domestic threat than Islamic terrorists. And by the way, it’s important to reiterate that this isn’t a poll of random people, not unlike Gallup or any of the other outfits. The nonpartisan START researchers surveyed 364 law enforcement officers from 175 agencies.
The Southern Poverty Law Center defines sovereign citizen groups as:
[H]undreds of thousands of far-right extremists who believe that they — not judges, juries, law enforcement or elected officials — get to decide which laws to obey and which to ignore, and who don’t think they should have to pay taxes. While law enforcement officers may disagree on how to deal with or even label this extremist subculture, one thing is certain: it’s trouble. The sovereign movement is growing fast, and its partisans are clogging up the courts with their indecipherable filings. When cornered, many of them lash out in rage, frustration and, in the most extreme cases, acts of deadly violence.
When viewed in combination with the militia/patriot groups, one common denominator emerges: libertarian radicalism and gun ownership. Jared Lee Loughner, the Tucson shooter who gunned down, among others, Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) is a self-confessed disciple of the sovereign citizen movement. The Cliven Bundy fiasco is one of many examples of sovereign/militia overlap where, again, the unfettered carrying of firearms is a top shelf feature; ignoring open-carry laws is another. It’s not difficult to render a Venn diagram representing all of these far-right, libertarian movements where the commonality is the stockpiling and carrying of firearms beyond the need for hunting or home defense, but, instead, as offensive weapons meant to intimidate, attack or worse.
In other words, when it comes to terrorist threats inside the U.S., the #1 and #3 threats (sovereign citizens and militias, respectively) far outpace the #2 threat (jihadists). While Islamic terrorism shouldn’t be taken lightly, the fact that white, American, gun-owning extremists are a greater combined terrorist threat than Islamic jihad inside our borders, just 13 years after 9/11, ought to be a wake-up call for how these groups are popularly regarded by the public and by Capitol Hill. Indeed those good ‘ol boys wearing military cosplay regalia and hauling AR-15s through Starbucks on their way to the Mexico border ought to perhaps be taken a little more seriously than the intense-looking man wearing the kufi seated in the emergency exit row.
In the final analysis, these aren’t patriots or Second Amendment activists. Their actions aren’t making us safer, nor are they safeguarding our constitutional liberty. Quite the opposite. Regarding the latter, many of these pro-gun radicals are indeed undermining their own goals by coupling their precious retail products with fear and intimidation — with terrorism — rather than with liberty.