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Militias in America: Be afraid, be very afraid

By
April 20, 2014

Militia member and protestor Eric Parker takes aim at Bureau of Land Management agents at Nevada standoff. (Reuters)

Militia member and protestor Eric Parker takes aim at Bureau of Land Management agents at Nevada standoff. (Reuters)

Flat on his belly in a sniper position, wearing a baseball cap and a flak jacket, a protester aimed his semi-automatic rifle from the edge of an overpass and waited as a crowd below stood its ground against U.S. federal agents in the Nevada desert.

He was part of a 1,000-strong coalition of armed militiamen, cowboys on horseback, gun rights activists and others who rallied to Cliven Bundy’s Bunkerville ranch, about 80 miles (130 km) northeast of Las Vegas, in a standoff with about a dozen agents from the federal Bureau of Land Management.

The rangers had rounded up hundreds of Bundy’s cattle, which had been grazing illegally on federal lands for two decades. Bundy had refused to pay grazing fees, saying he did not recognize the government’s authority over the land, a view that attracted vocal support from some right-wing groups.

Citing public safety, the BLM agents retreated, suspending its operation and even handing back cattle it had already seized.

No shots were fired during the standoff, which Bundy’s triumphant supporters swiftly dubbed the “Battle of Bunkerville.” But the government’s decision to withdraw in the face of armed resistance has alarmed some who worry that it has set a dangerous precedent and emboldened militia groups.

“Do laws no longer apply when the radical right no longer agrees?” asked Ryan Lenz, a writer for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors militia group activity.

Armed Americans using the threat of a gunfight to force federal officers to back down is virtually unparalleled in the modern era, experts on the militias said. But the BLM, which says it is now pursuing legal and administrative options to resolve the dispute, has won praise for stepping back and avoiding violence.

Energized by their success, Bundy’s supporters are already talking about where else they can exercise armed defiance. They include groups deeply suspicious of what they see as a bloated, overreaching government they fear wants to restrict their constitutional right to bear arms.

Alex Jones, a radio host and anti-government conspiracy theorist whose popular right-wing website, Infowars, helped popularize Bundy’s dispute, called it a watershed moment.

“Americans showed up with guns and said, ‘No, you’re not,’ ” before confronting the armed BLM agents, Jones said in an interview. “And they said, ‘Shoot us.’ And they did not. That’s epic. And it’s going to happen more.”

In interviews militia experts said they could not think of another example in recent decades where different militia groups had banded together to offer armed resistance to thwart a law enforcement operation.

Few people had heard of Bundy and his ranch until a few days before the standoff. Right-wing websites and advocacy groups such as Americans for Prosperity, founded by one of the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, cast his tale in a folksy David and Goliath light and helped spread it online.

Someone who has known Bundy since his early 1990s fall-out with the BLM is Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff who founded the militia group Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. Mack is also a prominent member of Oath Keepers, a similar group of serving or former soldiers, police and firefighters who view themselves as defenders of the Constitution. More than 100 Oath Keepers headed to the desert, Mack said.

Mack, who proposed putting women on the front line of the standoff with the agents, said armed resistance was a justified response to a “totally unnecessary” show of force by the BLM.

“It was so obvious it looked like it was going to be another Waco or Ruby Ridge,” Mack said, referring to two bloody sieges in the 1990s involving federal agents and armed civilians that fueled the militia movement. “We weren’t going to let that happen again.”

A number of Bundy supporters wearing military fatigues and carrying rifles and pistols had traveled from California, Idaho, Arizona, Montana and beyond. Most kept their handguns in their holsters. Mack, who wore his gun on his hip, and other Bundy supporters interviewed said they would not shoot first but would retaliate if fired upon.

“We did not want anything to get out of hand,” Mack said.

The showdown last weekend marked the latest resurgence of violent, anti-government sentiments that have existed in rural U.S. regions for centuries, said Catherine Stock, a history professor at Connecticut College who specializes on the subject.

“The question is whether we’re going to see sustained flame-up now. We could see more of that if they actually think that the federal government is going to stand down,” she said. “It’s not the groups, it’s not their concerns, it’s not their anger, all of that is old, but the federal government backing down? I was like, wow! Seriously?”

Stock said the rise of right-wing media outlets and websites and the election of Republican politicians who have shifted the party further to the right have given a new legitimacy to groups that were once dismissed as being on the fringe.

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30 Responses to Militias in America: Be afraid, be very afraid

  1. Tim Unes

    April 20, 2014 at 8:24 am

    Here is a up close look at those crazy radicals. http://bambuser.com/v/4547468

    Some background on the situation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNGJXDuLkdI&list=UULoNQH9RCndfUGOb2f7E1Ew

  2. SDRSr

    April 20, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    Personally, I do not care if some rancher uses near by Federal land to graze stock, but they better dam sure pay rent for the privilege.

    Looks like another Whiskey Rebellion is brewing, time for the Revenuers? Or maybe bring in the bean counters to take they down?

  3. Mike

    April 20, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    Bundy needs to pay taxes like everyone else or he can take his cattle to another country and let them graze there. Also, all his armed “supporters” better think twice about standing up to the US Government. If the government wanted to, they’d take all of them out in mere seconds. All they’re doing is making it worse for everyone else who owns weapons…

  4. Feltre

    April 20, 2014 at 7:46 pm

    This guy was not aiming at much with his sights folded down and his field of fire would have been extremely limited through that crack. I think that he wasn’t aiming at anyone and this was just a publicity photo. The standoff climaxed when an unarmed cameraman approached the BLM and was threatened with deadly force. They didn’t back down because of the militia but because they feared BLM would do something that would look very bad on the news.

  5. SDRSr

    April 21, 2014 at 12:26 am

    Another observation and another reason to ban assault weapons and multi-round magazines, look at his assault weapon it has a 40 round mag. Now, why would a “normal person” need a weapon with that many rounds, Hell the M-14 and M-15 I carried in Nam only had 20 round mags, dam sure would have loved to of had several banana clips like his.

    The militias actions could be viewed as armed insurrection. Last guy that tried that lies a-moldering in his grave…

    In most place I have been, you point a gun (loaded or unloaded does not matter) at another person it is a felony and can be construed as intent to do bodily harm or attempt murder.

    • woody188

      April 21, 2014 at 7:07 am

      It’s probably a 30-round magazine. I have several. I like them because I’m a bad shot and can bag quite a few varmints without having to reload. I’ve never considered myself “normal” so I guess my “normal” rural scenario of shooting rabbits, moles, ground hogs, squirrels, raccoons, possums, skunk, fox, badger, and coyote wouldn’t apply or even be considered by the typical city slicker that isn’t allowed to shoot within city limits. Have to protect the livestock and the children.

      Also, these “weapons” are glorified .22 caliber type firearms. They won’t shoot through cover like the M-14 with the 7.62 round you probably carried, and they can’t be switched to 3-round or fully automatic like the SWAT team firearms can.

  6. Pablo

    April 21, 2014 at 4:52 am

    @Feltre

    There are other pictures on the ‘net of that guy from behind him. Just in front of him (100 yards or so) are dozens of people that he had clear field of fire on, and that small crack offers a huge swivel are for a small rifle like his. That jackass needs to be locked up for a few years, along with most of the Bundy supporters that were out there that day.

    It’s like other people are reporting, for some reason a white Christian can’t be considered a terrorist these days, but a black kid just waiting for a school bus can.

  7. woody188

    April 21, 2014 at 6:43 am

    The BLM was right to stand down. Why does the BLM have a SWAT team to begin with?

    In fact, why does the State Department, Department of Education, Department of Energy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service, as well as 69 other Federal agencies all have SWAT teams as well?

    The escalation was due to the BLM sending in armed teams. They have a bad habit of using their SWAT teams in non-violent scenarios. This one could have quickly turned violent. So the BLM pulled out their SWAT team to pursue the case AS IT ALWAYS SHOULD HAVE BEEN PURSUED IN A NON-VIOLENT MANNER.

    • Danny Adams

      April 21, 2014 at 4:15 pm

      Woody, Bundy had nearly a year’s notice that the BLM would be coming for his cattle. He got the warning in the summer of last year. Plenty of time for a non-violent solution.

      • woody188

        April 22, 2014 at 7:24 am

        Remember that when an armed SWAT team shows up to take your possessions.

  8. Jon

    April 21, 2014 at 8:12 am

    The land belongs to all of us. He was taking it and its resources for his own personal profit.

    I just cannot see how that’s a ‘freedom’ issue. Tragedy of the Commons issue, perhaps.

    And this, Woody188, is *exactly* why the BLM has a SWAT team. When your opponents are heavily armed and apparently perfectly happy with wielding deadly force, a SWAT team is called for. That’s what they’re for.

    Granted, they are often misused, but this was NOT one of those times.

    Jon

    • woody188

      April 22, 2014 at 7:29 am

      The land ownership is in dispute, and the BLM is using questionable and violent tactics. The BLM showed up with military grade firearms provoking the response from the ranchers. They weren’t armed until the BLM threatened them with violence.

      And the land actually belongs to China now. We’ve collateralized it as part of our debt package to foreign governments, which is probably why the BLM is now so interested in forcing others off the land, so those foreigners can take possession. How’s that make you feel?

  9. SDRSr

    April 21, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    Sorry woody188, the 5.62mm round is a very nasty bullet, it is balanced, it tumbles when it hits and inflicts massive damage. It was and is designed to do just that cause massive damage to a human body not a varmint’s. It has been described as hitting the little finger and exiting the body on the opposite side of the upper body.

    A 22/.223/.225 is a deadly round in the hands of someone that knows how to shoot.

    Still, I fail to see the need for anybody to load a weapon with 30 or 40 rounds just to shoot varmints. To my way of thinking if you (generic you) have that many, maybe some varmint predators should be re-introduced.

    Yes I am a “city slicker/suburbanite” who likes the outdoors, done some gun and bow hunting in my time, supports gun rights (does not own any) and is very opposed to military grade weapons and ammo in the hands of the public. As many others, I have used those weapons and know they are designed for only one purpose – to inflict damage and death on another human being.

    • woody188

      April 22, 2014 at 7:31 am

      Mine is loaded with .223 but I could convert it to a 5.62. I was speaking only for myself. Try to quickly load and magazine and it’s easy to see why one might like to have more rounds per magazine. Loading those things are a pain in the patoot.

  10. Danny Adams

    April 21, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    “Do laws no longer apply when the radical right no longer agrees?”

    That’s not a rhetorical question considering that Bundy said in pre-standoff interview (from 2012, the first time the BLM tried taking his cattle) that he would never obey any federal law. Of course, he said that he would obey local and state laws, but when Clark County told him not to graze on that land (when they turned down his offered payments to the county) he ignored them too.

  11. Danny Adams

    April 21, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    “We could see more of that if they actually think that the federal government is going to stand down…”

    I’ve been seeing a lot of people posting things like “This is the RIGHT way to use the 2nd Amendment!” and “The federal government will back down when an armed populace stands up for its rights!”

    Folks, the federal government is not afraid of you. Two Apache helicopters would have obliterated all of the militia there in three or four minutes. Assuming that the feds actually were interested in turning the situation violent – and so far the militias and radical conservatives are the only ones who have been talking about doing violence – they’re not afraid of your guns, they’re afraid of footage of a civilian massacre being shown on the news night after night.

    • Jon

      April 22, 2014 at 12:30 am

      Which implies, oddly enough, that a far greater weapon against an overreaching government is a video camera.

      Far more effective than a gun.

      No wonder the cops love videotaping everyone else and loathe being videotaped themselves.

      Jon

      • woody188

        April 22, 2014 at 7:34 am

        How much film has been lost pried from the hands of the dead and destroyed. One might want to carry both a camera and a firearm.

  12. Pablo

    April 22, 2014 at 12:38 am

    There is some excellent irony here regarding militias and the 2nd Amendment. To follow our Founding Father’s intent, all of these gun-waving zealots that were not facing off against the Feds there should have been “called up” to face those that were. After all, one of Constitutionally-defined duties of our armed citizens was to be called up in times of need, to bear those arms, and to put down insurrections. I think this qualifies.

  13. SDRSr

    April 22, 2014 at 1:04 am

    Pablo, that would be ironic. Wonderful idea.

  14. SDRSr

    April 22, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    Hi woody188.

    From my experience it takes seconds to drop a mag and load in another. Your being able to convert your .223 (which was the M-16 round, miss spoke with M-15 above, fumble fingers :-} ) to a 5.56mm, I assume NATO Ball, I am opposed to. A new barrel chambered for 5.56 and you have a military assault weapon with one of the nastiest rounds in the world; a round specifically designed and manufactured to inflict massive trauma and death on another human being. No civilian should have a weapon or ammo like that.

    As for trying to quickly load a weapon with a magazine, I have, it just takes seconds – one finger to drop, one hand to insert. To load a mag, just 2 or 3 or 4, 10 round stripper clips, again a few seconds when you really gota get it done quick.

  15. Feltre

    April 22, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    Hello SDRSr,

    I am not sure where you got your info about the 5.56 but it is actually very close to the 223 in dimensions and pressures. You can fire a 5.56 round in a weapon chambered for 223 in a pinch but I wouldn’t do it with a new rifle or do it regularly. You can fire 223 in a 5.56 chambered gun all day long. The damage to flesh would be very similar with either round. What differentiates a civilian 223 or 5.56 from a military assault rifle is select fire. If your rifle is not capable of fully automatic fire, no matter how nasty it looks or what it shoots, it is not an assault weapon. A civilian can own a fully automatic assault weapon with a class 3 tax stamp ($200).

  16. SDRSr

    April 23, 2014 at 12:54 am

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5.56%C3%9745mm_NATO

    Sorry it is a Wiki article, but it should do and I believe it counterpoints almost all of your issues.

    Yes, a civilian can own an assault weapon, but why do they need one? Are they going to war? With who? Who are they going to going to assault? What animal could be hunted where you would need 30 or 40 round magazine loaded. Additionally, I never said civilians could not own; I said, I am very opposed to any civilian owning/having a military grade weapon. Furthermore, I question the reasons that are given as to why a civilian should have a military grade weapon.

    Working from memory here, but I believe that there is an conversion kit or instructions available for any military style weapon on the market, to make it automatic or function close to.. And those adapter kits do not require a license or a tax stamp or a permit to purchase in many states. Thus all those “single shot, military style” weapons are easily converted to automatic weapons faster that it took me to type this.

    • woody188

      April 23, 2014 at 7:20 am

      It was a hellfire trigger kit that got the Branch Dividians targeted by the government in Waco, TX those many years ago. That was what the original warrant was issued for, a mail order conversion kit. And it’s not even fully auto, but fires two rounds with each trigger pull.

      There are two things keeping other nations from invading the USA. First is our nuclear deterrent. Second is our civilian arms. You might change your tune should a Sino-Russian army invade.

      • kerry summers

        April 27, 2014 at 7:50 pm

        Guess some never learn from history do they……..
        Catch them when they are weak, such as history goes…….

    • woody188

      April 23, 2014 at 7:29 am

      Want to add, I choose how to best defend my home. You choose how to best defend your home. You are not prepared to defend your home from more than one armed intruder and are condemning others for being more prepared. That’s pretty short sighted when one looks at the multitude of recent home invasions where there are multiple perpetrators. You can’t see the danger. I hope for the best but plan for the worst.

      We have 5 sheriff deputies at any given time of day in my county. A call to the sheriff could take over 20 minutes before they arrive. If five armed perpetrators are trying to enter my home, do you think I might need a 30 round magazine given my poor shooting ability and their use of cover?

  17. SDRSr

    April 23, 2014 at 1:03 am

    Oh forgot

    Where did I learn about the .223, 5.65mm, the 7.62mm, 9mm, 45 cal, 50 Cal.

    20 years military, a stretch in Viet Nam.

    Does it make me an authority, not by any stretch of the imagination, it just my experience with the above rounds and their bullet launchers.

  18. Feltre

    April 23, 2014 at 6:40 am

    @SDRSr

    You clearly didn’t read the whole article. I supports my statement about dimensions and pressures. It doesn’t speak to the damage caused by a .223 but both can use the same full metal jacket bullet and both will yaw on impact with soft tissue. The adapter kits you talk about will get you a felony conviction in any state.

    If you question the reasons a civilian should be able to own an AR then you question the US Constitution. I too have served and retired (O-5) and I took an oath to support and defend that Constitution.

  19. SDRSr

    April 23, 2014 at 11:20 am

    Yes, I do question the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, my religion, my leaders, my wife, my children. Speaking nothing of my right to question these and others, if they are not strong enough to withstand the questioning then some thing is fundamentally wrong with them.

    I also took the same oath, … To support and defend … against all enemies, foreign and domestic…, to obey the “Lawful Orders” (you remember that part?) of my superiors and those appointed over me. No where in the oath I took did is say or imply that I could not question.

    We have gotten way off topic here, thus I am ending it. In closing, Lieutenant Colonel do not mistake taking an oath to support and defend as a proscription to question those very same documents and leaders, and never again attempt to intimidate me by trying to impune my patriotism or love for this country.

  20. Feltre

    April 23, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    Wow! I wasn’t questioning you patriotism, just your “facts”. If you study what the founding fathers said about civilian gun ownership and why they wrote the second amendment, it will become clear that their wisdom was much better than our current politicians. I did receive an order that I considered unlawful and I asked my CO for that order in writing.,,no more order. That to me is part of the oath. Questioning your leaders is expected. I would not have taken the oath,as I read and understand it, if I questioned the Constitution.