As regular readers know, nothing much makes me angrier than “defenders of the Constitution” who claim the right to stockpile arms in case they decide (and only they, of course, get to decide) their rights also require violent actions to resist enforcement of laws they dislike. Josh Horwitz of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence watches this phenomenon a lot more closely than I do, and has written a highly instructive piece for HuffPost on the recent example of a Pennsylvania police chief who regularly issues threats of violence against those who dare disagree with his exotic concepts of “freedom.”
National Rifle Association (NRA) CEO Wayne LaPierre once famously told a CPAC gathering that “the guys with the guns make the rules.” In the town of Gilberton, Pennsylvania, he might have finally found the perfect test case for his insane vision of America.
What is happening in Gilberton should be a warning to all those who value our basic, inalienable rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The story there centers around Police Chief Mark Kessler, who drew attention by posting a series of profanity-laced videos to YouTube in which he attacks “libtards,” fires fully automatic assault weapons, and threatens, “If you f***ing maniacs want to turn this into an armed revolt, knock yourselves out.”
This is no idle threat the chief is making. Kessler is the head of a private militia called the Constitution Security Force (CSF) whose members swear an oath to “respond to the call if… needed to resist tyranny that seeks to destroy our republic.” Kessler recruits CSF members at his website ChiefKessler.com, combining his personal and professional identities in one neat little package.
CSF openly affiliates with anti-government extremist groups like Oath Keepers and the “Three Percent” movement, which was founded by former Alabama militia leader Mike Vanderboegh. Vanderboegh made his own headlines in 2010 when he urged supporters to throw bricks through the windows of Democratic offices nationwide following Congress’ passage of health care reform. Many offices were vandalized in response, including that of then-Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.
Kessler recently made news by calling on his militia friends to show up with their shooting irons at a Borough of Gilberton meeting where petitions urging that he be dismissed from his position were to be presented and discussed. They did so, and while Kessler was suspended for thirty days for his social media ravings, Gilberton officials fretted about offending him.
As Horwitz notes, what makes Kessler especially scary is that he possesses both revolutionary aspirations and official authority. His militia is affiliated with the Oath Keepers, that sinister group of military and law enforcement officials who contend their allegiance to the Constitution empowers them to violate and resist laws they consider “tyrannical,” with the definition of “tyrannical” being largely up to their own discretion.
If Horwitz (and for that matter, yours truly) is suspected of overstating the influence of dudes like Kessler, it’s important to understand that what we most want is for them to be denounced and isolated by mainstream conservative politicians and opinion-leaders. That rarely happens, and in their shrieking hyperbole about Obama as a “tyrant” and Obamacare or mild gun regulations being an unprecedented threat to fundamental liberties, they walk the very same road.
And even among those who don’t give heavily armed “patriots” aid and comfort, there’s too little concern about those who are implicitly and sometimes explicitly making their obedience to basic democratic norms and the rule of law contingent on their own political preferences prevailing.
Too many of our leaders have indulged insurrectionists as if they were bullying in-laws — unpleasant but not really dangerous. Mark Kessler has shown us a grimmer reality: How democracy is compromised when access to the political process is blocked through brute intimidation and dissenters become an endangered species. Thanks to the gun lobby and its minions, armed political violence is no longer just something we see in the news in some far away third world country, but a contagion that is beginning to inflict our culture right here in the United States.
It really does need to stop.