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The New Revolutionaries

4. Police power. In the wake of the Civil War, Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act to prevent President Grant from using federal troops to police citizens in Southern elections. “Posse Comitatus,” the “county force,” refers to the right of citizens to be policed by civilians. The modern “Posse Comitatus” movement takes the term “county force” literally, arguing that the federal government has no police power at the state level. Yet the federal assistance funds to local law enforcement (LEAL), the FBI instruction of the police, the tactics and equipment supplied to SWAT teams, along with other parts of the “war on crime,” have tainted power at the state level with federal entanglement. Only a sheriff who calls up a citizens’ “posse” can be a citizens’ enforcement agent (as only grand juries can be citizen trials).

This doctrine was first espoused by some of the more secretive resisters of the government, like Gordon Kahl, who died in a shootout with federal authorities in 1983.8 But now it has become an open doctrine, espoused for instance by Representative Helen Chenoweth of Idaho, who introduced a law into the House to disarm federal officials entering a state unless they have been authorized by local authority. The discrediting of police by the Rodney King beating, the allegations of police misconduct in the Simpson prosecution, the corruption of drug enforcers in Florida, the graft of many police forces, the hedonistic revelry of New York’s cops in Washington—all these scandals lend plausibility to the claim that police power is out of control and that citizen posses should restore order in the new West, just as (in the minds of the militants) they once did in the old West.

5. Schools. Few can be happy with the state of public education these days. Poor teaching is almost the least of its troubles. Drugs, violence, and controversy plague what should be havens for children. The conspiratorialists see this as a result deliberately schemed at by the Department of Education (which should be abolished), evil teachers’ unions (NEA and AFT), and “multiculturalist” educators who attack Christianity. Combined efforts to brainwash children are meant to control the future. The extremists find witch cults in the observation of Halloween, and attacks on the Bible in the teaching of evolution. But a far wider group of people opposes the distribution of condoms in school, the use of textbooks tolerant of homosexuality, the offering of history courses that criticize America. The Christian Right has for a long time responded to this as Frank Meyer did—with home schooling. For those unable or unwilling to make the sacrifices entailed, a voucher system is demanded. The moderates defend this on grounds of variety (which they criticize when it is various cultures that are studied), or competition, or experiment. But a growing number feels that the public schools as currently operated are a positive evil to be crushed. Abolishing the Department of Education and breaking teachers’ unions are steps toward that goal.

6. Family. The religious right opposes welfare to incomplete families as perpetuating the condition of fatherless children. The correlative of this is the autonomy of complete families, in which Biblical standards like corporal punishment are upheld. Snoops from child-welfare agencies are resisted, as is Hillary Rodham Clinton’s talk of children’s rights. Parents should control children. Governmental attempts to provide standards for children undermine parental and spousal rights. The defenders of David Koresh say that the FBI’s charges of child abuse at the Waco compound are just the most dramatic instance of the way government tries to stop parents from disciplining their own children instead of surrendering them to permissive bureaucrats.

7. Religion. The government has removed religion from school, and from American life. The prestigious national media are considered part of a conspiracy to make secularism the very “establishment” forbidden by the Constitution. Secularism, we are told, “takes a stand on religion” by denying its validity, and the First Amendment forbids establishing any religious stance. The government also interferes in the religious activities of people who believe in odd practices, whether using peyote, handling snakes, or practicing Biblical polygamy. David Koresh’s “religious freedom” has been defended even in mainstream publications: if he “married” women, some of them underage, it was with their parents’ consent (families should determine these matters), and with Biblical precedent.9 His sympathizers feel that it is absurd for a government that encourages out-of-wedlock childbirth by underage and promiscuous men and women (through its welfare policies, its forms of sex education, its permissiveness) to menace a man like Koresh who was staying with his wives (unlike elusive ghetto fathers), caring for his children, providing a stable home.

8. Citizen militias. Just as the militants want citizen trials, citizen police, and citizen schools, they call for citizen militias as traditional bastions against governmental oppression. The government’s own view is that America has “a well-regulated militia” in the state units of the National Guard. But the militants do not think the Guard qualifies. Wayne LaPierre, executive vice-president of the National Rifle Association, puts it this way:

James Madison…downplayed the threat of seizure of authority by a federal army, because such a move would be opposed by “a militia amounting to half a million men.”

In 1790, since the population of the United States was about 800,000, Madison wasn’t referring to state reserves. By militia, Madison obviously meant every able-bodied man capable of bearing arms. 10

For the NRA, as for Posse Comitatus groups, the National Guard is not a citizen army. It is the kind of standing army the Second Amendment was intended to oppose. The only real defense of freedom, now as in the days of the Minutemen, is the musket in the closet, producible when government becomes oppressive. Foremost among those who protect citizens’ lives with force are the bombers of abortion clinics and the “executioners” of doctors who act in disregard of religious teaching and are protected by a secular government.

9. Constitutionalism. The modern militia movement, far from thinking itself outside the law, believes it is the critical force making for a restoration of the Constitution. It alone can inhibit predatory government agencies from ranging abroad, invading homes, confiscating property, punishing “unregulated” logging or fishing or mining. The modern extremist movement is not aimed at one or other excess in present governmental activity but at the whole subversion of the Constitution by way of the income tax, the secular establishment, the violation of privacy for the individual and the family and the home. Much of the militants’ respect for the Constitution was learned from the Mormons. Latter-day Saints have had strong ties with extremist groups since the days when LDS apostle Ezra Taft Benson praised the John Birch Society as “the most effective non-church organization in our fight against creeping Socialism and Godless Communism.”11 Benson’s son is now an official of the Freemen’s Institute, a center for extremist doctrine.

The Mormons believe the Constitution is divinely inspired, even though the actual operation of government has always departed from the pure standards of the Constitution. In fact, only Mormons hold the Constitution in high enough esteem, and they will be the ones to rescue it when the government has become terminally corrupt. As Brigham Young himself said: “When the Constitution of the United States hangs, as it were, upon a single thread, they will have to call for the ‘Mormon’ elders to save it from utter destruction.”12 That is exactly what many Christian patriots feel about their own militia activity, or that of their friends or allies. They are the “saving remnant” in a time of general oppression. Of course, the militants’ Constitution looks different from the one the rest of us are familiar with. The Sixteenth Amendment, imposing the income tax, is not part of it. Neither, for many, are the Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments, allegedly ratified when the South was not able to provide a free vote in the requisite majority of the states. For some of the militants, the “real” Constitution is only the first document and its original ten amendments. All later amendments were originated in Congress at a period when the government had become degenerate.

10. Corruption. H. Ross Perot touched a responsive chord in Americans when he said that government could not be fixed until professional politicians and lobbyists are turned out and “real” Americans, who want to fix it, get their hands back on the machinery. The term-limit movement, a discontent with the two-party system, the sense of alienation from one’s own representatives show how widely shared is such disaffection. But the militants, again, take this mood with greater seriousness than others do. If government is literally unresponsive to the people, then it is not enough for us to sit and sigh about it. Such a government does not even exist. If it is not responsible to us, to whom is it responsible? Some say to Satan or to international bankers or—which is much the same thing—to the New World Order. UN personnel and Russian tanks fill a vacuum. The American government, divorced from the American people, is not even American. This is a serious accusation. It resembles the use of the “corruption” argument in eighteenth-century England, when it was said that a corrupt ministry had severed the proper link between King and Parliament, invalidating the entire constitutional monarchy. Corruption of such a sort, in such a place, points not to a degenerate or imperfect government but to a nongovernment.

11. Guns. I have saved till last the part of the militants’ argument that is best known and most plausible to people who have little knowledge of or sympathy with the rest of the militants’ case. Even those who would reject the patriots’ arguments over the Sixteenth Amendment, or the Thirteenth and Fourteenth, are respectful of the claim that the Second Amendment guarantees every citizen the right to own and use firearms. Ordinary citizens may think the NRA puts too much emphasis on the constitutional right to bear arms; but they suppose that such a right exists. They just wonder why the NRA speaks as if this were the most important right in the document.

What we have to recognize is that, for many with the militia mentality, the argument for “gun rights” involves all the preceding ten points I have listed here. The needs for a citizen police (the posse), a citizen judiciary (the grand juries), a sacred home where the citizen can control children’s education and discipline and religious instruction will all be nugatory without the ability of the citizen to protect those rights by force. For them, the Second Amendment is not mainly about hunting, target-shooting for medals, or serving in the National Guard—it is about preventing the descent of the government’s “jackbooted thugs” upon their homes.

They believe our government was set up to oppose government—which puts officials in continual opposition to an armed citizenry. This explains why any infringement of the right to have any firearm, or even the most powerful (“cop-killing”) bullets, is adamantly opposed by defenders of gun rights. One can have too many weapons—or weapons too unwieldy, too large, too powerful—for the effective killing of rabbits or housebreakers. But one can never have enough firepower against a federal government that, after all, has nuclear weapons.

  1. 8

    James William Gibson, Warrior Dreams, pp. 218–220.

  2. 9

    Dick J. Reavis, The Ashes of Waco: An Investigation (Simon and Schuster, 1995), pp. 111–119. Reavis admits that Koresh’s belief that the Lord had also promised him rock star Madonna was not realistic; he just doubts the mandate of government to impose “morality” on consenting adults (or their legal representatives). See also the sympathetic exposition of Koresh’s views on polygamy in James D. Tabor and Eugene V. Gallagher, Why Waco? Cults and the Battle for Religious Freedom in America (University of California Press, 1995), pp. 68–79.

  3. 10

    Wayne LaPierre, Guns, Crime, and Freedom (Regnery Publishing, 1994; HarperPerennial, 1995), p. 8.

  4. 11

    Aho, The Politics of Righteousness, p. 115. This praise, delivered in 1963, was striking, because the John Birch Society had by then identified Dwight Eisenhower as a Communist dupe, and Benson had served in Eisenhower’s cabinet, where he presumably had the opportunity to confirm the Society’s judgment.

  5. 12

    Aho, The Politics of Righteousness, p. 114.

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