Ok: off comes the liberal intellectual hat, on goes the radical gun nut hat. Just for a moment of two.
I love Maddow. I do. I think that having a real intellectual, and an entertaining one at that (entertaining Ph.D.s are few and far between, and I’m speaking as an actor with a Ph.D.) on TV is one of the great accomplishments of the 21st Century—almost as great as having a real intellectual in the White House. Not only that, but she has a queer sensibility that I have always loved living as close as I do to Chelsea and Park Slope, and coming from San Francisco and Santa Cruz back in the day.
But when Maddow and my other liberal colleagues start going after the 2nd Amendment it always bothers me. I mean, really: how can they be so strident in their defense of the 1st amendment and so dismissive—even hostile—to the 2nd? Both are essential to liberty—or, if you wish, both of them are enshrined in the same document, the Bill of Rights, and get their soul authority from the same source, the Constitution. As is often pointed out, the founding fathers believed that guns were essential to liberty (though most of the quotes on the subject attributed to them that are floating around on the internet are bogus).
Maddow is raising the alarm about militia units and anti-government extremism, and perhaps rightly so. There are certainly anti-government extremists out there, often forming into so-called “militias”, whether out of racism directed at our president, or else a populist mistrust of government and banking institutions, or simply out of fear that their rights will be taken away by a zealous government out to protect itself from its citizens or its citizens from themselves. These movements absolutely represent a threat to the Union and to the rule of law. The example of Timothy McVeigh, which she is always citing, is a frightening warning to be sure.
But in raising these alarms Maddow and others are doing several things. First of all they are doing what they often justly excoriate Fox News for: trying to motivate people through fear (this is also, by the way, the philosophy behind terrorism). She goes on screaming about the dangers of “anti-government extremists” as though they were breathing down our collective neck, as alarmist as Chicken Little (though, let’s admit, she could be Cassandra, who after all was right—but then so could Glen Beck). Secondly, she is totally dismissive of the simple fact that the militia movement has a legal basis in the constitution, and that the free exercise of the right to keep and bear arms, the right to association, and other rights protect militia activities as much as the 1st amendment protects free speech. But most importantly, and worse, in a way she proves the militias correct. By sounding the alarms against the militias she is proving to them that liberal intellectuals like her (and like me) want to enslave them, take away their guns, and perhaps even declare martial law and make President Obama a dictator. And it goes further. Tongith she once again mocked gun owners who wear their guns in public to political rallies, the "open carry movement". By mocking the open carry movement she is proving not only to those already in it but to moderates who might not have cared much, that the movement is indeed necessary. As often as people talk about limiting gun rights it becomes more necessary to exercise them.
I wonder if she has thought through the implications of her position. I suspect that she would say that these groups are dangerous and need to be investigated as possible threats to the government and citizens of the United States of America. But would she also condemn, as many liberals often do, the investigation and infiltration of the anti-war movement during the sixties and seventies? I suspect that the FBI is investigating and even infiltrating the Tea Party movement, and perhaps they should. But what is the difference, really, between investigating the strident anti-government Tea Party movement and the strident anti-government Students for a Democratic Society? Or the Black Panthers? How about the terrorist Weather Underground?
Really, there’s no difference where the Tea Partiers and the SDS are concerned (the original SDS from the 60s, not the new one). Both represent or represented a philosophical and perhaps even a physical danger to the government of the United States by challenging the government’s legitimacy and by fomenting unrest. Both run in the same circles as extremely violent terrorist groups, can help to foster them, or at least represent recruiting opportunities for them—the various militias in the case of the Tea Party, the Weather Underground and (later) SLA in the case of SDS and the anti-war movement. There is, in fact, little difference between the radicalism of the sixties and early seventies and the reactionism of today.
And, as a long time admirer of Huey Newton’s—at least on the subject of gun rights—I have to ask, what is really the difference between the open carry movement coming armed to the edge of Washington D.C. and the Black Panther’s showing up armed at the California State Capital, an action which led to many of the Golden State’s current gun laws? (Don’t want to go there? Raise to many racial flags? Don’t want to admit that the sight of a black man with a gun might be as frightening as, or even more frightening than, the sight of a white man with a gun? Ok, we can let that one pass). But really, what’s the difference? Not a damn thing, that’s what. Yet the left romanticizes the Panthers and mocks and vilifies the open carry movement. Hypocrisy, anyone?
So should the FBI be infiltrating the Tea Party? The militias? And if so was it wrong for the FBI to infiltrate the Black Panthers or the Weather Underground in the sixties and seventies? How about the SDS or other anti-war groups?
Goose and gander and all that.