In the rush of emotions surrounding Donald Trump’s first several days in office, hardly a moment has been more cathartic for those opposing him than the ubiquitous image of alt.right leader Richard Spencer blindsided by a fist to the head from a black clad assailant. It’s an easy act to swallow and the memes practically write themselves.
Spencer calls for his vision of racial cleansing. Groans.
Spencer makes misogynistic remarks about women. Boos.
Spencer raises a right hand in the iconic Heil Hitler salute. Hisses.
Spencer hits the ground after his face collides with the Black Bloc. Applause.
Now, I’ve never actually punched a Nazi, but I did shove a rather large racist man into a concrete wall once while delivering a Give-No-Fucks tongue lashing at point blank range and felt the euphoria only extreme self righteousness can deliver while watching him literally sprint away.
It was worth it, even though I got fired the next day.
As satisfying as such an action can be, whether delivered at the cost of employment, or safely viewed on Youtube, it’s important to keep in mind who the serious enemies are. Most damaging human depravity comes through the policies of respectable people in suits instead of shrill, small time agitators. Richard Spencer is a noisy blip of racism enjoying peripheral glow from Donald Trump’s victory. He can only fantasize about equaling the damage done to communities of color by skewed drug sentencing laws, for-profit prison systems and years of warfare in the East.
Now, I will never support legal restrictions on even the most regressive speech or opinions, but during a period of low-level insurgency against vulnerable populations, people must make their own ethical choices of how to best respond. Self defense can take many forms. Just remember that while Spencer’s kind are more visible currently, deeper and more serious problems have persisted under every administration, regardless of party.
I also want to encourage a healthy hesitance over resorting to violence. Clearly this is not a pacifist weblog, yet the current enthusiasm over “punching Nazis” plays into very unappealing macho worldviews regarding problem solving. I salute the individual who struck Spencer, but acknowledge this is all much bigger than knocking down one man or even removing one president.
There’s a narrative the NRA is pushing that I want to break down. Unsurprisingly, they are reveling in Donald Trump’s victory, calling it “a stunning political upset–led by America’s gun owners.”(1) Their bold assumption is essentially that the election constituted a national referendum on gun rights, as embodied by themselves.
Indeed, during times when many Republican leaders shrunk from association with Trump, the NRA provided complete, uncritical support. While establishment icons from the Bush family to Colin Powell, Mitt Romney and even the Koch brothers turned against a candidate who bragged about sexual assault, smeared a Gold Star family and changed policy stances at the slightest breeze, the NRA never wavered. As I wrote in October, they stood almost alone by refusing to even acknowledge issues that made so many high profile conservatives spurn Trump. Of course, this seemed particularly odd, given his mixed record supporting their main focus, the 2nd Amendment.
If there is any reason for them to take credit, it is Hillary Clinton. While Democrats, in general, spent the last twenty years viewing gun control as a losing issue, Clinton mistakenly sensed a change in the air and attempted taking advantage of the one place she could be perceived as politically Left of Bernie Sanders. Clinton and the NRA leadership may have little in common, but one thing shared is their overestimation of the firearm factor.
Instead of guns, the single greatest element in the 2017 presidential election was sheer dissatisfaction with the status quo. Angry voters from every direction sought a standard bearer. Clinton tried haphazardly to bear that mantle, which fell much more naturally around Sanders shoulders, enough that it took a rigged primary system to make her the Democratic nominee. Trump, on the other hand, harnessed this groundswell and rode it to victory, even trampling roughshod over his own party elites. The point is, Democrats apparently didn’t hold Sander’s weaker record on gun control against him and at the same time, Republicans rejected candidates with much stronger pro-2nd Amendment claims.
The NRA oversells their value in Trump’s win and by the same token, paints all opposition to him as anti-gun. They do this using conflation. On the cover of America’s 1st Freedom for January, images of gun control promoting billionaires George Soros and Michael Bloomberg hover above a crowd of placard waving anti-Trump activists. An article inside then declares: ‘“Not My President” protesters symbolize a looming threat to gun rights–one that didn’t accept defeat on election day.”(2) However, for all their alleged symbolism, if you look at the anti-Trump signs being carried, they say nothing about firearms at all. Instead, the messages read: “LOVE TRUMPS HATE” and “REFUSE TO ACCEPT A FASCIST AMERICA” and “UNITED AGAINST HATRED.”(3)
There are many issues uniting Americans who despise Donald Trump. Gun control simply isn’t one of them. If anything, the wave of racist attacks and actions unleashed by his victory has made the Left more conscious of their vulnerabilities, as seen by increased gun sales to women and minorities, greater interest in groups such as The Liberal Gun Club and even just my own personal experience of more Lefty Portlanders seeking information about firearms and Concealed Cary Permits.
This Friday, January 20th, Donald Trump is scheduled for inauguration as President of the United States, while again, protests oppose him nationwide. With Republicans primed to control every branch of government, the NRA needs enemies justifying scare tactics in their fundraising. Now that Obama and Clinton are removed, they will continue using anti-Trump activists instead. Don’t believe it.
As Trump is sworn in, I will be out on the streets of Portland with thousands of others who refuse to accept naked authoritarianism at the helm of State power. He cannot take office without a great cry against his lies, contempt for women and minorities and complete disregard of the Constitution. The tone must be established that armed Americans have a duty and presence in opposition, despite how the NRA portrays reality. I will be proud marching among comrades from every background in this and implore everyone who cares about creating a just, equitable future to join with us.
(1) America’s 1st Freedom, January 2017, p. 33.
(3) Ibid. p.32.
Several weeks ago, I was interviewed by Brian Wheeler, a reporter from the BBC, regarding an article in progress about liberal gun owners in the US. He didn’t credit me specifically when it came out, but answering his questions made it clear that my own political journey has been far from ordinary.
Many other leftists I know became radicalized through literature. They often cite Emma Goldman or Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky as pivotal figures who opened their eyes and formed an emerging political consciousness, perhaps for college classes or simple personal exploration. Yet, though an avid non-fiction reader, nothing of the sort captivated me early on.
I was certainly no leftist upon entering the workforce. However, my two first teenage jobs were union, (UFCW and Teamsters) and fostered a deep sense of working class pride that never left. I loved attending meetings and networking with others who shared that bond. I couldn’t understood the resentment some people felt over paying our minimal shop dues. We enjoyed health benefits and earned better wages than non-union workers. How could anyone not see the connection?
Still, it wasn’t until until my first warehouse job at twenty years old that I truly became radicalized. It was for an international religious charity cooperating with a well known corporation on a military base south of Seattle. I had to sign a stack of binding non-disclosure agreements to get hired. The whole thing was a giant tax scam. I accepted shipments of merchandise that the corporate retailer could no longer sell, one example being, the demand for Happy New Year 1989 greeting cards was rather low by 1997. We would document the value, in that case, about $1.75 per card, then convert it into charitable donations so the company could write the MSRP off their taxes. I remember the mathematics very well. Each pallet usually totaled about $177,000 and we processed hundreds of them. Be aware, eight other affiliated warehouses in the US were following exactly the same program. I’m sure many other corporations run similar schemes.
It was virtually all complete garbage. Individual charities who received the stuff probably either recycled everything or dumped it in landfills. My supervisor explained the whole process to me. This was completely legal and every day I went to work seething with rage at helping respectable institutions avoid their share of the tax burden. We would sometimes cope with the tragedy of it all by singing patriotic anthems at the top of our lungs while unloading trucks. Everyone else in the warehouse must have thought we were completely mad.
My supervisor, an ex-gutterpunk, had been a leftist activist since the first Gulf War. It was from him I learned the brutal legacy of US military interventions in the Middle East, Latin America and Asia. He taught me working class history, from Bacon’s Rebellion to the Pinkertons, while getting a hands on course in corporate welfare. Besides serving as political mentor, he also taught me how to shoot guns and considered firearms proficiency just another part of the activist toolbox. In that regard, I was late to the game. Many gun owners come from communities where knowing how to handle them is taught at an early age. Not for me. No hunters in my family.
My decision to become armed was an intellectual one, not something I grew up with. It wasn’t until learning about the Ludlow Massacre and Civil Rights era militias who battled the KKK that it became clear educated citizens with rifles could be highly valuable community members. I wanted to be one of them.
The BBC writer who interviewed me was quite interested in mainstream US gun culture and wondered how I could be considered distinct from it. My answer was, while many right-wing groups like the NRA have uncritically supported President-elect Trump’s stated agendas, there needs to be recognition that not all armed Americans accept his regressive views or ignore the often times violent persecutions against people of color unleashed since his election. Resistance to unjust policies will come from all quarters. Just as I learned on the job as a youth, firearm education is just another area of useful knowledge for any well prepared leftist.