A Brief Pause Before Punching Nazis

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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.

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Trump, the NRA and Inauguration Day

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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.

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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.

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid. p.32.

An Armed Leftist Education

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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.

The Tet Offensive and Trump

tet-offensive-colt-1911-full-rightIf a perfect metaphor to symbolize the current state of American politics is sought, look no further than the world of commemorative firearms. You can find ads for these in many leisure periodicals, usually featuring triumphant patriotic themes or personalities like John Wayne and General George S. Patton, emblazoned with gold filagree.

This is a time when the president-elect of the United States not only coddles White Nationalists and openly admires Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, but has already broken longstanding protocols keeping peace with China and implied willingness to break international treaties controlling nuclear weapons. A candidate who ran as an outsider to “drain the swamp” of status quo politics, now stacking cabinet positions and government departments with insider apparatchiks.

Therefore, how appropriate under such circumstances that the first issue of the NRA’s political magazine, America’s 1st Freedom since Donald Trump’s election, contains a full-page ad for a Colt .45 pistol commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive.

The Tet Offensive. A series of intense battles in 1968 that is widely considered to signal when the United States began loosing the Vietnam War.

 

The Armed Face of Privilege

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It’s easy for me to forget America has changed. I get up every day, drive around Portland, make plumbing and electrical repairs and feel like a completely respected member of the community. Today I interacted with a glass contractor, tow truck driver, galvanized pipe vendor and numerous other people, including a random man who tapped on my passenger window as I ate lunch and courteously requested I be careful of his vehicle when I moved my truck later. Like usual, never once was I made to feel socially slighted or uncomfortable as a White American.

Contrast that with my wife’s daily experience as a Black American. In the days since Donald Trump’s election, she’s dealt with increased blatant racism, from being called the worst racial epithets or told to “go back home” in public. That plus many more negative experiences, such as customers at her job who would rather wait for a White clerk than be served by her. Over time, that kind of treatment can really grind a person’s humanity down.

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(above) Mr. and Mrs. Eliot

But it’s not just day-to-day respect I enjoy. Over the last eleven or so years, I’ve actively promoted and conducted firearms training, primarily among marginalized groups with a leftist slant. It has all occurred in the open and often documented by this weblog or my former ‘zine, American Gun Culture Report. For example, there’s an old OCCUPY photo of me holding some socially subversive placard, with an AK-47 slung over my shoulder. In other words, my social message could be interpreted as: “Here I am, status quo, I’m striving to bring about your downfall while armed to the teeth!

Yet in all that time, I’ve never faced significant social sanction beyond the odd email or forgettable internet comment. Now, while my activities have certainly been more small scale than, for instance, Black Lives Matter, recall the massive backlash against that group and other Black Americans who organized in response to unjustified police shootings and State Sponsored Terrorism in Ferguson, Missouri.

What is the definition of modern American privilege? It’s me. Despite virtually all sensational mass shootings in the US being carried out by White men with a grudge against society, I still get a free pass to criticize with my rifle at the ready. Even when facing repressions that some might imagine only exist in the most distant, corrupt corners of the world, Black Americans are frowned upon over everything from minor rioting, to peaceful protests or even objecting when strangers touch their hair.

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(above) a sample socially subversive placard

What can White Americans do in this age when action against vulnerable communities becomes increasingly acceptable? First of all, don’t be a privilege denier. It doesn’t hurt to acknowledge that worldwide, people receive better treatment based on skin color. That’s just a social reality. Next? Resist by every means possible. My own privilege has many times put me in positions to call out injustice. Determine appropriate times for the soap box, ballot box and cartridge box, then use them accordingly.

Seasoned 2nd Amendment advocates can be even more valuable. Right now many people have become first time firearm owners, alarmed by the wave of violence against people of color and others. Most would benefit from training and instruction. Be an armed ally, for those who can’t with such ease. Take new folks out to the range and teach the safety and skills they need.

But most of all in this coming era, don’t be silent. Don’t be a bystander. Take agency no matter what. Never let neutrality melt into complicity.

Trump, Safety Pins and Resistance

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This being my first writing since the election of Donald Trump, I’d like to admit being very wrong. Again. Like most observers, the chance of him even becoming the Republican presidential nominee seemed so remote, I completely discounted it. From an article last March, I apologized about that oversight, making note of how unprecedented it was that, in this day and age, a high profile politician could come so far while promoting nakedly racist policies, as opposed to the more socially palatable (yet just as fundamentally racist) economic agendas embraced by both Republican and Democratic elites.

Then, in late October, I predicted Trump’s defeat “which looks increasingly certain (barring some new sensational Clinton revelation), will only cement the 2nd Amendment alongside misogyny and comb-overs in American political consciousness.” In all fairness, however, the FBI re-opening Clinton’s email scandal was hardly new or sensational. The main disturbing revelations were long exposed, serving perhaps just enough of a reminder to tip the balance against her.

Not wanting to sound alarmist or overly demonize Trump voters, I’m well aware the White Nationalist element among them is not a majority. Many simply picked him as being the only candidate opposing Clinton, a status quo politician backed by the reviled economic 1%. Still, that’s no excuse. It’s an unacceptable decision to spite Wall Street hedge fund managers by actively sacrificing the vital interests of vulnerable fellow citizens and immigrants.

Now here we are. Trump the president-elect. Fascism represented among his senior staff. Racist attacks on the rise nationally. Nearby in Oregon, a black woman was beaten by brick wielding white men who allegedly praised Trump during the assault. It’s pretty much the kind of worse case scenarios that prompted me to become a gun owner in the first place. Already, I’ve been contacted by more Portlanders than usual seeking firearms training and information about concealed carry permits.

It remains to be seen if the true face of Trump in action will indeed swing federal power down in the worst ways, with mass deportations, religious registries and press censorship. Until then, his election emboldens bigots on a local level to increasingly abuse minorities. This must be strongly countered by every means available. It’s all very well and good to signal solidarity using safety pins, as many Americans are these days, but a symbol is only effective when backed with substance against violence. Many lynch mobs and racist attacks have been thwarted when opposed by armed resistance. Less so if sewing supplies are the only recourse.

Countless brave people from our shared history have successfully confronted fascism and state terror. In the coming months and years, we may be tested just as surely. The spirit of Harriet Tubman and Eleanor Roosevelt and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade live on inside everyone who chooses such paths. With those inspirational legacies, we still have hope for the future.

The NRA Quadruples Down on Trump

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Actually, quadruple is an understatement, as the most recent issue of America’s 1st Freedom contains six individual articles promoting Donald Trump, one cover mention, another showcasing his VP, plus a bonus endorsement insert and special letter by Wayne LaPierre. It looks like a shotgun marriage, but with the blushing NRA handcuffed to it’s bombastic groom with shackles of lurid prose.

Reading each piece felt like a recitation of the grim vows to this unbalanced, manichean ceremony. Despite painting candidates in tropes of Good vs. Evil, in all reality, the articles contain very little about Trump, other than his supposed role as an antidote to their real foil, Hillary Clinton. While Clinton has left an anti-gun trail decades long that any Google equipped researcher can easily follow, none of their pro-2nd Amendment sentiments attributed to Trump predate his presidential campaign.

It’s easy to see single-issue logic operating. One candidate who eagerly embraces armed voters, even though a relatively recent convert. Opposed, stands a politician proud to call the NRA her enemy. An endorsement choice looks obvious. Check the ammo box for Trump. Cycle the action closed.

This simpleminded endorsement is a complete insult. Everyone turning the pages of America’s 1st Freedom knows by now what singular destruction Trump has wrecked throughout the Republican Party. I looked in vain for any mention of his controversies at all. Even to assure NRA members that, despite what they have heard about Trump, he can still be counted on support 2nd Amendment rights, and why that should outweigh everything else, even bragging about sexual assault. At least acknowledge what a fraught decision voting for Trump will be among many members. It’s as though the article deadlines were ten months ago.

By ignoring the true spectrum of reality in this presidential campaign, the NRA is locking American gun politics into potential disaster. Through sheer incompetence and a vile personality cult, the Trump campaign has tainted everything associated with it. Countless Republican defectors, desperately trying to save the reputation of their brand, recognized that long ago. Riding it down Dr. Strangelove style into oblivion, which looks increasingly certain (barring some new sensational Clinton revelation), will only cement the 2nd Amendment alongside misogyny and comb-overs in American political consciousness. It’s still not too late for a divorce.