“None Dare Call It Treason”: Combining Extremist Language About Opponents With Violent Language About Political Options
As Brother Benen notes this morning, the National Rifle Association’s new president, James Porter of Birmingham, Alabama, likes to talk about the importance of the Second Amendment as a way to ensure the American people will be able to “resist tyranny”–i.e., shoot and kill law enforcement officers, members of the U.S. armed services, and presumably anyone else (you know, like their neighbors) who might disagree with their definition of their essential “liberties”–at some undefined point in the future. And while I’ve not yet seen evidence of him calling Barack Obama a “tyrant” (though he has called him a “fake president”) I’d be shocked if it doesn’t exist.
So let’s put it this way: Porter seems to be highly representative of the amazingly common type of contemporary “conservatives” who combine extremist language about their political opponents with violent language about their political options–who in effect point their guns at “liberals” while making it known they and they alone will decide what “liberties” to surrender, democracy or laws be damned.
It makes it worse that Porter is one of the old boys who thinks it ha-larious to refer to the American Civil War as the “war of northern aggression” (as “we” put it “down south,” he said to a New York crowd recently). Since that war, whatever else it represented, was without question an armed revolution against the government of the United States, you have to wonder if the Confederacy–or as it was commonly referred to in the north for many decades, “the Rebellion”–is Porter’s model for defense of oneself against “tyranny” (you may recall that John Wilkes Booth shouted “Sic semper tyrannus“–”thus always to tyrants”) after shooting Lincoln.
Am I perhaps being unfair to these people in suggesting that they are behaving like America-haters and are flirting with treason? I don’t think so. Porter and those like him could dispel this sort of suspicion instantly, any time they wanted, by just saying: “Let’s be clear: the kind of ‘tyranny’ we are arming ourselves to forestall is something entirely different from anything Americans have experienced since we won our independence–a regime engaged in the active suppression of any sort of dissent, and the closure of any peaceful means for the redress of grievances. We’re not talking about the current administration, or either major political party, as presently representing a threat of tyranny.”
I’m not holding my breath for any statements like that to emerge from the NRA, or indeed, from the contemporary conservative movement. It’s ironic that people who almost certainly think of themselves as patriots–perhaps as super-patriots–are deliberately courting the impression that loyalty to their country is strictly contingent on the maintenance of laws and policies they favor, to be achieved if not by ballots then by bullets. Republican politicians should be repudiating such people instead of celebrating them, accepting their money and support, and even adopting their seditious rhetoric.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 6, 2013
“Feeding The Paranoid Right”: Republican Politicians And Conservative Media Bear Direct Responsibility For Vile Thinking On The Right
In today’s edition of Republicans Think the Darndest Things, a poll from Farleigh Dickinson University that came out the other day found, as polls regularly do, that Americans in general and conservatives in particular believe some nutty stuff. That’s not news, but there are some reasons to be genuinely concerned, which I’ll explain. The headline finding is this: Respondents were asked whether they agree with the statement, “In the next few years, an armed revolution might be necessary in order to protect our liberties.” Forty-four percent of Republicans—yes, almost half—said they agreed. We’ve been doing pretty well with this constitutional system for the last 224 years, but it’s just about time to junk it.
The right reaction to any shocking poll result is to say, “Let’s not make too much of this.” And I don’t think any but a tiny proportion of the people who would answer yes to that question would start in or participate in a revolution. Let’s take the gun owners who email me every time I write an article about guns, telling me I’m an ignorant unmanly Northeastern elitist liberty-hating girly-man wimp (yeah, they’re heavy on the accusations of insufficient manliness; this is what psychologists call “projection”). If their neighbor came over and said, “Enough is enough; I’m going down to the police station to kill some cops—you know, for liberty. Are you coming?”, how many of them would say yes? Not very many.
Nevertheless, the fact that so many people are willing to even entertain the idea is appalling, and we have to put the responsibility where it belongs. We don’t know for sure if you would have gotten a different result had you asked this question before, say, January of 2009 (to pick a random date), because no one was asking. But Ed Kilgore has the appropriate reaction:
But our main target ought to be the politicians and pundits and bloggers that walk the revolutionary rhetorical road because it’s “entertaining” or it makes them feel all macho (like Grover Norquist swaggering around Washington with a “I’d rather be killing commies” button after one of his trips to Angola in the 1980s), or it’s just useful to have an audience or a political base mobilized to a state of near-violence by images of fire and smoke and iron and blood.
As I’ve observed on many occasions, you can only imagine how these self-appointed guardians of liberty would feel if casual talk of “armed revolution” became widespread on the left or among those people. There should not, cannot, be a double standard on this issue.
So please join me in calling on conservatives to cut this crap out and separate themselves from those who believe in vindicating the “original constitution” or defending their property rights or exalting their God or protecting the unborn via armed revolution. If William F. Buckley could “excommunicate” Robert Welch and the John Birch Society from the conservative movement back in the 1960s, today’s leaders on the Right can certainly do the same to those who not only share many of that Society’s views, but are willing to talking about implementing them by killing cops and soldiers.
As a general matter, I don’t think it’s necessary to demand that politicians repudiate every crazy thing said by anyone who might agree with them on anything.1 But Ed is absolutely right: Republican politicians and conservative media figures bear direct responsibility for the rise of this vile strain of thinking on the right. They cultivate it, they encourage it, they give it aid and comfort every single day.
For instance, the NRA is having its annual convention in Houston as we speak. Yesterday, a man went into the Houston airport with an AR-15 and a handgun, fired into the air, was fired upon by law enforcement officials, and then shot himself. Glenn Beck then went on his program and told his viewers that there is “a very good chance” that the episode was engineered by the “uber left,” whatever that means, and compared it to the Reichstag fire. In other words, Beck is encouraging people to think that just like Hitler and the Nazis, Barack Obama is about to use an episode like that as a pretext for the imposition of some kind of horrifically oppressive regime. Beck is a featured speaker at the NRA convention, along with a passel of well-known Republican politicians like Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum. How many of them will condemn him? None, of course.
They won’t, not only because most of the people at the convention probably agree with Beck, but because what Beck says is only a tiny step or two toward the fringe from what they say all the time. Is there a prominent Republican politician who hasn’t at some point in the last four years told people that Barack Obama is a tyrant, or that our liberties are being stripped away, that Obama wants to kill your grandma with his death panels, or that America is inches from ceasing to be what it has been for two centuries? Is there a prominent Republican politician who hasn’t done his or her part to feed the paranoid, violent fantasies of the extreme right? If confronted, they’d no doubt say, “Oh, well I never actually said people should forget about democracy and start killing cops and soldiers in an attempt to overthrow the government. That’s not what I meant at all when I talked about ‘tyranny’ and ‘oppression’ and that stuff.” But that’s exactly what their supporters heard, and they damn well know it. And they ought to be held to account.
1For some reason, not everyone gets asked to do this in equal measure. For instance, in Barack Obama’s first appearance on Meet the Press in 2006, Tim Russert confronted the Senate candidate with some inflammatory things Harry Belafonte had said about George W. Bush. Now what was the connection between Belafonte and Obama? I can’t think what it might have been.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 3, 2013
“Scheduling Conflicts”: Senators Who Voted To Kill Background Checks Dodge Meetings With Gun Victims
Senators who voted against a bipartisan amendment expanding background checks for firearm purchased at gun shows and online refused this week to meet with families impacted by gun violence, citing scheduling conflicts or ignoring requests altogether.
The push, part of an effort organized by the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, comes as lawmakers who opposed the popular measure are facing pointed questions from angry constituents at town halls and seeing their approval ratings plummet. As a result, some are simply dodging the tough questions, particularly from families who have been most affected by gun violence:
– SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R-NH): Anne Lyczak — who lost her husband Richard in January 1994, when he was killed in a drive-by shooting in Portsmouth, N.H — “wrote a letter to Ayotte, inviting her to dinner at her house to talk about ways to prevent gun violence…. Ayotte’s office, however, turned down Lyczak’s request, saying the senator would keep it under consideration for the future. Ayotte’s office cited scheduling constraints” [Huffington Post, 5/3/2013]
– SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R-AZ): “Caren Teves, whose son was killed last summer in a mass shooting in Aurora, Colo., said she invited Flake to dinner to sit in her son’s empty chair. He replied with a hand-written note affirming his support for expanded gun control measures. “I am confused and would like an answer,” Teves said. “I would like Sen. Flake to look me in the eye and tell me why he ignored me.” Teves said Flake has ignored many emails and phone calls from her and her husband, but she remains determined. [KTAR, 5/2/2013]
– SEN. MARK PRYOR (D-AR): Neil Heslin — whose son was murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School — “said he invited Senator Pryor to a private dinner to speak about how legislation he wants to eliminate gun loopholes. However, Heslin told us he never heard back from Pryor, but plans to speak with him at a public event in Lonoke County Thursday.” [KATV, 5/2/2013]
– SEN. RICHARD BURR (R-NC): “Fran Lynch of North Carolina’s Religious Coalition for a Non-Violent Durham sent a letter to Burr, asking that he join her and her friends for a discussion on gun control… Burr’s scheduler replied that the senator was unavailable “due to previously scheduled events already on his schedule.” [Huffington Post, 5/2/2013]
– SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R-OH): “[A] Springfield, Ohio woman whose 27-year-old son was killed in last year’s Colorado movie theater rampage tried to arrange a dinner with Portman so she could express her frustration with his vote….A Portman aide told The Plain Dealer the senator’s schedule did not permit him to meet with Jackson this week, but he would consider it in the future.” [Plain Dealer, 5/2/2013]
– SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): Parents of a woman who was killed in the Colorado theatre shooting “said they initially invited both Cruz and Senator John Cornyn to their home for dinner…. Though Cornyn has not accepted their invitation, Cruz, who was in town on Wednesday for a North Side Chamber of Commerce event, met briefly with the couple at a local restaurant.” [KSAT, 5/1/2013]
The National Rifle Association has begun running radio ads thanking Ayotte for voting down background checks and the senator continues to justify her opposition to the amendment by falsely claiming that additional screenings would lead to the creation of a gun registry. The claim, widely debunked, has been advanced by the NRA.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the sponsor of the bipartisan measure, has pledged to slightly modify his amendment and bring it back for a vote in the Senate. Gun advocates remain hopeful that the growing public pressure could convince more than 60 senators to support the bill, forcing House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to put it up for a vote in House of Representatives. The House version of the Manchin compromise has more than 120 co-sponsors, including three Republicans.
By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, May 4, 2013
“Nullification, Symbolism Over Substance”: How States Are Making It A Felony To Enforce Federal Gun Laws
In mid-April, Kansas passed a law asserting that federal gun regulations do not apply to guns made and owned in Kansas. Under the law, Kansans could manufacture and sell semi-automatic weapons in-state without a federal license or any federal oversight.
Kansas’ “Second Amendment Protection Act” backs up its states’ rights claims with a penalty aimed at federal agents: When dealing with “Made in Kansas” guns, any attempt to enforce federal law is now a felony. Bills similar to Kansas’ law have been introduced in at least 37 other states. An even broader bill is on the desk of Alaska governor Sean Parnell. That bill would exempt any gun owned by an Alaskan from federal regulation. In Missouri, a bill declaring federal gun laws “null and void” passed by an overwhelming majority in the state House, and is headed for debate in the Senate.
Mobilizing the pre-Civil War doctrine of “nullification,” these bills assert that Congress has overstepped its ability to regulate guns — and that states, not the Supreme Court, have the ultimate authority to decide whether a law is Constitutional or not.
The head of the Kansas’s State Rifle Association, an affiliate of the National Rifle Association, says she put the bill together and found it a sponsor. While the NRA regularly lauds passages of states’ gun-rights laws, it stayed silent on Kansas’ law, and, so far, has kept a low profile on nullification. (The group did not respond to our requests for comment.)
Many observers see nullification bills as pure political theater, “the ultimate triumph of symbolism over substance,” as UCLA law Professor Adam Winkler put it. He said he doubts the laws will ever be enforced, and, if they are, expects them to be struck down by the courts.
Winkler and others say nullification laws violate the Constitution, which makes federal law “the supreme law of the land…anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.” Indeed, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder wrote a letter last week to Kansas governor Sam Brownback, asserting that Kansas’ law is “unconstitutional.” (Brownback, who signed the bill into law, did not immediately respond to our requests for comment.)
But the growing number of such bills — which have passed by large majorities in at least one chamber of seven state legislatures–highlight the challenge gun control advocates face in their attempt to fight for gun regulation at the state level.
It also shows how nullification is fast becoming a mainstream option for state politicians. In Pennsylvania, 76 state legislators signed on to sponsor a measure that would invalidate any new federal ban of certain weapons or ammunition. The bill would impose a minimum penalty of one year in prison for federal agents who attempt to enforce any new law.
Supporters of nullification are not simply frustrated at what they see as congressional and presidential overreach. During a hearing about one of the nullification bills she had introduced, Tennessee state senator Mae Beavers called the Supreme Court a “dictatorship.”
“You think that the Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter of any of these laws. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe it was ever granted the authority under the Constitution,” Beavers was quoted as saying in The Tennessean. (Reached by phone, she asked to comment later, then did not respond to further requests.)
The Supreme Court rejected nullification in 1958, after Southern states tried to use the concept to avoid desegregating public schools. “No state legislator or executive or judicial officer can war against the Constitution without violating his solemn oath to support it,” the Court ruled.
Winkler, the UCLA law professor, said that even though the nullification trend was likely to be ineffectual, “It represents a strong, powerful opposition to our government.”
The concept of nullification has had a resurgence since the beginning of President Obama’s administration. More than a dozen states have introduced bills to nullify Obamacare.
The Tenth Amendment Center, a group that advocates nullification as the solution to a range of policy issues, from marijuana legalization to Obamacare, publishes model gun nullification language. The center has little direct contact with state legislators, Michael Boldin, the center’s founder, said.
The roots of guns law nullification trace back nearly a decade.
In 2004, Montana gun rights activist Gary Marbut drafted a bill stating that any guns manufactured and retained in Montana are not part of interstate commerce, and thus are exempt from federal regulation. The bill failed twice, but it became law in 2009 after Republicans took control of the state House. By Marbut’s count, at least eight states soon enacted “clones” of the Montana law. (Those laws don’t go quite as far as the more recent nullification legislation. For instance, most of them don’t make it a crime to enforce federal law.)
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms responded to the earlier laws with letters to local firearms dealers explaining that federal laws and regulations “continue to apply.”
The day the Montana law went into effect, Marbut filed a lawsuit in federal court asserting the right to manufacture weapons in the state without a federal license. The suit, now before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, has been backed by a large group of supporters, including Gun Owners of America, the Second Amendment Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Goldwater Institute, and a group of nine attorneys general, some of them from states that had passed their own versions of the Montana law.
Representatives of Goldwater and the Cato Institute said they see the case as not primarily about guns. Instead, they say, it’s meant to persuade the Supreme Court to roll back the Congress’ power to regulate commerce within a state.
“The likelihood of victory is low,” said Trevor Burrus, a research fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies.
The latest set of bills — including Kansas’ new law —represent a far broader and more aggressive challenge to federal law. Even conservative organizations have been skeptical of the trend.
“A state law that criminalizes federal activity — I would oppose that as both imprudent and wrong,” Burrus said. The Cato Institute’s chairman wrote an op-ed recently arguing this kind of nullification is invalid.
Goldwater Institute’s Nick Dranias, a Constitutional expert, said the term “nullification” is sometimes applied to legitimate attempts to exert state sovereignty, “and sometimes it is essentially lawless civil disobedience.”
States should only pass laws challenging federal power “when there is a reasonable legal argument for sustaining them,” he said. And the penalty for enforcing federal law in “hard cases” should be “a misdemeanor at most.”
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group, released a “fact sheet” last year titled “Nullification: Unlawful and Unconstitutional.” (The fact sheet does not address guns in particular.)
The Montana activist who helped inspire the nullification movement in Kansas is also a bit skeptical. While he simply chose to challenge the federal government’s commerce power, Kansas is “bucking federal power more generally,” he said.
“I think, maybe tactically, they may have gone a little further than they needed to,” Marbut said.
Though he supports the principles behind the Kansas law, “I don’t know how much of that they can uphold when it gets to the courts.”
But Marbut hopes that the rapid spread of gun law nullification bills across the country will encourage the Supreme Court to hear his case.
“I see the tide moving our way,” Marbut said. “I think the Supreme Court has figured out that the people of America are gathering their torches and pitchforks and it’s time to settle things down by reeling in the federal giant.”
A spokeswoman for Alaska’s Parnell, who has not either approved or vetoed the state’s nullification bill, said last month that “he is supportive of it.” But, she added, “The bill (as with all bills that pass) is currently undergoing a thorough review by the Department of Law.”
In Kansas, Patricia Stoneking, the president of the Kansas State Rifle Association, said she was recommending that Kansans not start manufacturing guns under the new law until its legal status has been clarified.
Even if Kansas’ law ends up being struck down in court, “We actually are not going to roll over and play dead and say, ‘Oh, no, shame on us,’” Stoneking said. “The fight will not be over.”
By: Lois Beckett, ProPublica, May 3, 2013
How stupid does the Senate background-check vote look now, I ask the pundits and others who thought it was dumb politics for Obama and the Democrats to push for a vote that they obviously knew they were going to lose. I’d say not very stupid at all. The nosedive taken in the polls by a number of senators who voted against the bill, most of them in red states, makes public sentiment here crystal clear. And now, for the first time since arguably right after the Reagan assassination attempt—a damn long time, in other words—legislators in Washington are feeling political heat on guns that isn’t coming from the NRA. This bill will come back to the Senate, maybe before the August recess, and it already seems possible and maybe even likely to have 60 votes next time.
You’ve seen the poll results showing at least five senators who voted against the Manchin-Toomey bill losing significant support. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire is the only one of the five from a blue state, so it’s probably not surprising that she lost the most, 15 points. But Lisa Murkowski in Alaska lost about as much in net terms. Alaska’s other senator, Democrat Mark Begich, lost about half that. Republicans Rob Portman of Ohio and Jeff Flake of Arizona also tumbled.
Egad. Could it possibly be that those pre-vote polls of all these states by Mayor Bloomberg’s group were … right? All the clever people pooh-poohed them, because, well, they were done by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and because it just seemed impossible that 70 percent of people from a red state could support the bill. But the polls were evidently right, or at least a lot closer to right than the brilliant minds who laughed at Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey and Harry Reid.
Something remarkable is happening here. Now, the pressure is on the other side. It’s on the NRA—gathering this Friday and Saturday, incidentally, for its annual convention, its first annual convention since Newtown. I think you’ll agree with me that the group has put a tremendous amount of thought into how to change its image, do a little outreach, present a picture of itself that will confound its critics. Or not: Sarah Palin will open the meeting, and Glenn Beck will close it. The list of eight political speakers—current and former elected officials plus John Bolton—features not a single Democrat. They’re really battening down the hatches.
And they are going to lose. I talked with a couple of knowledgeable sources about what’s going on now. Five Republicans, I’m told, have expressed some degree of interest in the bill: Ayotte, who would appear be a near-certainty to switch her vote; Flake, also a likely; Murkowski; Dean Heller of Nevada; and Bob Corker of Tennessee. Tennessee seems like a tough state to be from when casting such a vote as a Republican, but Corker is someone who at least tries once in a while to have conversations with Democrats.
On the Democratic side, as you’ll recall, four Democrats voted against Manchin-Toomey: Begich, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Max Baucus of Montana. I’m told that Begich would like to switch, just needs to figure out how he can get there. Heitkamp is a bigger question mark. Pryor is probably lost.
That leaves Baucus. Shortly after the last vote, he announced he was retiring. That ought to mean that he should feel free enough to vote for the bill this time. It’s hard to know what Baucus actually believes—if that matters. He has a solid NRA career rating, but he’s cast enough votes the other way (supporting the assault weapons ban and the Brady waiting period) to make the other side suspicious. Before he announced he was quitting, the NRA was running ads against him.
What he believes may matter less than how he wants to spend his Senate afterlife. If he wants to stay in Washington and make money, he’ll be more likely to vote for Manchin-Toomey, because he’ll be dependent to some extent on Democratic money networks that were furious with him after the vote. If he just wants to move back to Montana, who knows.
That’s eight potential switches, where six are needed. One of those six, remember, is sure to be Harry Reid. He cast a procedural no vote because only senators who vote against a bill can bring it to the floor again, but obviously, if it is going to pass, he’ll vote for it. Even so getting to 60 will still be a heavy lift. And then there’s the House. So certain matters remain unclear.
But some things are quite clear. Manchin and Toomey deserve great credit for sticking with this. Democrat Kay Hagan of North Carolina, also up for reelection next year but a supporter of the bill, is every bit as at risk as Pryor and Begich are, and she makes them look like cowards. And clearest of all is the fact that, far from that vote being some kind of devastating blow to Obama or the Democratic Party, it accomplished a lot. It pulled a few bricks loose from the wall. Next time, that wall just might crumble.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 2, 2013