None Dare Call It Treason

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.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.