Earlier this week, perennial presidential candidate and former Texas congressman Ron Paul made a rather startling remark while campaigning for Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia. At least, it would have been startling coming from anyone but a privileged white man on the political right.
After arguing that “we need someone to stand up to the authoritarians” in the U.S. government, he stressed that the constitutional “right to keep and bear arms” was not for hunting, but to enable armed rebellion against tyrannical governments.
“The Second Amendment was not there so you could shoot rabbits,” he said. “Right now today, we have a great threat to our liberties internally.”
While these arguments have become something of a staple among gun rights advocates, and are therefore no longer terribly surprising to hear, when one pauses to consider their underlying message, they are actually pretty jarring.
What Ron Paul seems to be saying is that it is the patriotic right of Americans to take up arms against the government. Assuming that he doesn’t mean this metaphorically – which in a country with as many gun owners as the United States would be a foolish assumption indeed – what he is advocating is targeted violence against “authoritarians” in the government.
To give him the benefit of the doubt, what he might have in mind is some Hollywood-inspired romantic view of a gritty armed rebellion against an Evil Empire, sort of like the movie “Red Dawn.” Or he might be daydreaming of the American colonial era when the Minutemen and Sons of Liberty launched an armed rebellion against the British. But what taking up arms against the government actually means in today’s real world is shooting and killing members of the police forces, the military, IRS employees or any other of the 11.8 million Americans who work for the local, state or federal government.
Putting aside for a moment the theoretical and historical underpinnings of such an argument and Thomas Jefferson’s high-minded maxim that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants,” in reality, what this translates into are not righteous guerilla campaigns against faceless tyrannical forces, but rather, seemingly senseless acts of violence against largely working class government employees.
Just last Friday, likely inspired by this sort of rhetoric, a gunman walked into Terminal 3 at Los Angeles International Airport, pulled an assault rifle out of a bag and opened fire, killing a Transportation Security Administration officer at a security checkpoint and wounding two other TSA officers. Several others were hurt in the incident.
The TSA identified the slain officer as Gerardo I. Hernandez, a 39-year-old father of two who worked at the airport for five years. “It’s devastating because he was such a great guy. All he talked about was his family,” friend Kevin Maxwell said. The victim was “very proud” of his son and “spoke profoundly” of his daughter, Maxwell added.
The shooter, 23-year-old Paul Anthony Ciancia, was apparently targeting TSA workers specifically in order to “instill fear into their traitorous minds.” Eyewitnesses said that he walked through the airport terminal with his gun asking people, “Hey, are you TSA?”
“I just shook my head,” Leon Saryan, a traveler at the airport, told CNN. “And he kept going.”
His family said that Ciancia had become increasingly angry at the government and “the New World Order,” the purported attempt by global elites to establish a one-world tyrannical government. He had sent his brother and father “angry, rambling” texts venting about the government in recent days, family members said.
Granted, TSA agents have been known to overstep their authority and treat passengers disrespectfully, and there are certainly legitimate grievances against the increasingly intrusive security at airports and elsewhere. But no one other than the most unhinged anti-government fanatic would dare to argue for gunning down TSA employees at airports. Then again, is it possible that this type of shooting is exactly what gun rights advocates have in mind when they argue for taking up arms against the government?
It’s hard to say for sure, but it’s certainly possible.
What’s really amazing though is the way that people like Ron Paul can make such flippant public remarks obliquely calling for violence against the state, and hardly anyone objects. While there has been some notable criticism of Paul’s statement, for example at Mother Jones and Raw Story, the tacit suggestion to shoot government employees (or whatever exactly is meant by taking up arms against the government) elicited barely a whimper of commentary from the pundit class, and certainly no public denunciations by the Republican Party or the Cuccinelli campaign.
In fact, Cuccinelli’s website proudly displays Paul’s endorsement letter which rails against Obama’s “egregious assaults on states’ rights and individual freedom,” among other things.
Compare the non-response to Paul’s implicit call for armed rebellion to what you might expect if, say, a Muslim cleric made a similar statement in a public sermon. Calling for jihad against the U.S. government is more than enough to get a Muslim a one-way ticket to Guantanamo, but of course, when a similar call is made by white politician (particularly one on the right), the response is a collective shrug.
Indeed, American citizens have been targeted for assassination for making similar calls, for example Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son who were killed by a U.S. drone in Yemen two years ago. In justifying the attack on Awlaki, President Obama has said that “he repeatedly called on individuals in the United States and around the globe to kill innocent men, women and children to advance a murderous agenda.” (His 16-year-old son, who was assassinated two weeks later, was targeted because he “should have a far more responsible father,” according to former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.)
And what about someone on the left? Could a revolutionary anarcho-communist expect to get a free pass if he or she were to openly advocate armed rebellion? Not likely. Recall the case of the RNC 8 for a moment, the eight activists who were charged during the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minnesota for Conspiracy to Riot in Furtherance of Terrorism. These charges resulted from simply publicly stating plans to blockade traffic and disrupt the convention through non-violent civil disobedience.
It certainly appears that the privilege of advocating violence against the state – or more accurately, against government employees – is one that is reserved to “constitutionalists” on the right, and does not apply to leftists or Muslims. The danger is that many of these right-wingers are actually armed, and often unhinged. What this means in real terms is that innocent people like TSA officer Gerardo Hernandez may not make it home to their families one day.