“Second Amendment Remedies”

I’ve been writing a lot about Blackwater recently.

One of the passages in Jeremy Scahill’s incredible book on Blackwater that has always haunted me is actually only tangential to the company itself.  In outlining, and giving proper context to, Erik Prince’s worldview by showing his connections to the hardcore, right-wing Christian conservative movement, Scahill examines Prince’s relationships with Christian conservative heavyweights such as Charles Colson, Gary Bauer and Richard Neuhaus.  Neuhaus established a journal called First Things which published a “symposium” titled “The End of Democracy?” in November 1996, the same month President Clinton easily won re-election.

Scahill noted that The First Things symposium asked:

“whether we have reached or are reaching the point where conscientious citizens can no longer give assent to the existing regime”

Notice that language.  You hear strikingly similar language used all over the right-landscape these days.  They couch what is basically a call to insurrection in “moral” terms.  They choose derogatory, and pointedly condescending, and demeaning language in the attempt to de-legitimize a Democratic president, branding the Clinton administration a “regime.”  Unfortunately President Obama’s background has given them a vast wealth of non-sensical, outrageous fantasy to embarrass themselves with.

Scahill continues, on page 30 of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, noting that the symposium seemed to “predict a civil war scenario or Christian insurrection against the government.”  The First Things symposium explored options “ranging from non-compliance to resistance to civil-disobedience to morally justified revolution” (emphasis mine).

There it is stated plainly: “morally justified revolution.”  We’ll consider resorting to bloodshed, ‘morally justified’ bloodshed, if we don’t get our way at the ballot box in a Democratic society.  This was in 1996.  It cannot be overstated that the essays in this symposium were not written by fringe characters like Terry Jones, but by “mainstream,” supposedly respectable, figures like judge Robert Bork who was famously defeated in his confirmation hearings after being nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan.

The unsigned introduction to the symposium bellowed that:

“The Government of the United States no longer governs by the consent of the governed…What is happening now is the displacement of a constitutional order by a regime that does not have, will not obtain, and cannot command the consent of the people.”         First Things, November 1996

The hubris and dangerous arrogance contained in that statement is stunning.  In 1996 Bill Clinton won re-election with 379 electoral votes and over 8 million more popular votes, yet ominous things are written about the “displacement of the constitutional order” and the President’s inability to “command the consent of the people.”   This is how Democracy functions.  Yet, the silence four short years later, when a conservative was installed into the Presidency by the Supreme Court under questionable circumstances after losing the popular vote, was deafening.  No veiled threats of insurrection from the Charles Colson’s of the world when a strong case could be made that the Bush Administration did not have the “consent of the people.”   Scahill’s reporting on this helped me discern a pattern, which is, that religious and otherwise extremist conservatives immediately start trying to de-legitimize Democratic, and Democratically elected, Presidents; in conjunction with that they start whispering about imaginary offenses against the Constitution (while real ones silently piled to the sky during the reign of George W. Bush) and threatening insurrections and revolutions, which brings me, finally, to Sharron Angle.

Sharron Angle, Senate candidate in Nevada, steeped in the exact same extremist religious conservative milieu that shaped Erik Prince, infamously remarked that:

“I’m hoping that we’re not getting to Second Amendment remedies. I hope the vote will be the cure for the Harry Reid problems.”

Besides the linguistic similarities of Angle remarks to the ones by the authors of the First Things symposium, these dangerous, irresponsible words fit squarely into the right-wing narrative that if fundamental Democratic principles and methods, such as free and fair elections, produce outcomes unfavorable to conservatives then it becomes to OK to start advocating “morally justified revolution,” with guns of course.

This language and rhetoric has finally started to unsettle fellow conservatives, which may be one of the only ways to stop its spread.  The Huffington Post reported, via the Las Vegas Sun, that Nevada Republican Danny Tarkanian, who lost in the GOP primary to Angle, took the rare step of speaking out publicly against the dangerous and irresponsible notion of “Second Amendment Remedies” saying:

“Now, I’ve been on the campaign trail, and I heard a lot of people say to me, you know, why do we have our Second Amendment rights, it’s to, so the public can overthrow the government if they fail to respond to the government’s will. That may be all good and well, but I’m not going to take the position that we need a civil uprising to overthrow our government.”

This is the corrosive effect of such language, over the course of years, writ large.  Thanks to the tireless efforts of people like Charles Colson, advocating the violent, religiously sanctioned overthrow of our government when you don’t like specific election results, to a public official nonetheless, is now apparently so widespread that Tarkanian was rattled and/or moved enough by this realization to publicly inveigh against it.  Tarkanian continued, saying explicitly:

“You know, we have a process where you go out and you vote for your elected leaders, and if you don’t like them then you’ve got to get enough people to vote against them, and then they’ll get out of office. I don’t believe you go out and you start shooting people… I don’t believe the vast majority of Americans are going to agree with having a civil war because our elected leaders aren’t voting the way we want them to. That’s why we have elections and you vote them out of office the next time.”

It is unbelievably sad that a grown-up has to actually come out and re-state such basic, structural Democratic principles in this manner.  Tarkanian is obviously not a national figure with a lot of stature, but I view his going public with these comments as a positive development.

Backlash against this incendiary rubbish has to come from moderate conservatives as well as from independents and Democrats.  I hope this is a step in that direction.


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