With Election Day upon us, it is worth remembering that voting is one of the great freedoms we enjoy as Americans, a pillar of our democracy. Our Founders fought a Revolutionary War in order to gain legislative representation. Their sacrifices should never be forgotten.
We should also never forget another pillar of our democracy: The ability of the United States government to transfer power and negotiate legislative differences in a peaceful and orderly fashion (the one notable exception in our history being the bloody Civil War). Regardless of what happens tomorrow, once every vote gets counted we must all respect the results of our election, even if we wished things had turned out differently. That doesn't mean that the losing side has to sit idly by during the important policy debates to come -- far from it. But the "loyal opposition" must be just that. It must engage in the political process in a manner bound by laws and hopefully even respect. Americans saw a great example of that recently in the working relationship between President Barack Obama and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Unfortunately, not all Americans accept these principles. Some insist they have a "right" to use political violence to influence public policy. Some openly scoff at George Washington's great declaration that:
The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government ... Let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.
I was reminded of America's "disloyal opposition" two weeks ago when my organization, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, received a disturbing tweet from a pro-gun activist in Illinois by the name of Kurt Hofmann. Hofmann, a former member of the Army's 319th Field Artillery Regiment, was disabled after a serious automobile accident in 2002 and is now confined to a wheelchair. Since January 2009, he has been blogging as the "St. Louis Gun Rights Examiner" with Examiner.com. In his tweet, Hofmann directed us to a blog he published there in March entitled, "Perhaps There's Something to the Claim that Guns Alone Cannot Rein in Government."
In the piece, Hofmann pushes back against pundits who mock modern-day insurrectionists by pointing out that "against a military superpower such as the U.S. ...citizens with their private small arms would not stand a chance." For example, Hofmann quotes Jenna Myers Karvunidis, who opines, "If it just came down to a battle of arms between you and the government, you are not going to win that one. It would be like playing road chicken with a tank." Responding to these criticisms, Hofmann makes it clear that firearms are not the only weapon at the disposal of Americans who hate their government. "It cannot be denied that for some Constitutional militia applications, weapons heavier than those found in most gun safes would be very useful," he writes.
That's why I suggest that readers download Army Technical Manual 31-201, the Improvised Munitions Handbook. Other possibilities include Kitchen Improvised Explosives, Parts One and Two... The reality... is that the country is best served when oath-breaking public officials like [U.S. Senator Dianne] Feinstein are terrified of the wrath of the people. If knowledge of improvised explosives in the hands of every potential militiaman in the country helps foster that fear, so much the better.
Hofmann obviously forgot to read the Constitution, which states that the Militia's purpose is to "suppress Insurrections," not foment them.
It would be tempting to dismiss Hofmann as an aberration -- an isolated extremist with little ability to inspire actual acts of violence -- except for two important factors. The first is that Hofmann's disturbing call to use IEDs against American service members has been defended by a broad swath of the pro-gun movement. This includes statements of support from "The War on Guns" blogger David Codrea, "No Lawyers -- Only Guns and Money" blogger John Richardson, the pro-gun Calumet Foundation, "Gun Free Zone" blogger Miguel Gonzalez, "Guns Save Life" blogger John Boch, "Days of Our Trailers" blogger Roy Kubicek (AKA "Thirdpower"), "The View from North Central Idaho" blogger Joe Huffman, "Shall Not Be Questioned" blogger/NRA election volunteer coordinator Keith Milligan (AKA "Sebastian," "SnowflakesInHell") and "Of Arms & the Law" blogger David Hardy, among others.
Second, and more important, is the man that Hofmann himself cites in his blog (on four separate occasions) as the inspiration behind his scheme to empower "budding militia ordnance engineers": former Alabama militia leader Mike Vanderboegh.
By now, Mike Vanderboegh is a familiar name to many. He first appeared in national headlines in March 2010 when he called for the vandalism of Democratic offices during Congressional debate over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. On his blog "Sipsey Street Irregulars," Vanderboegh wrote:
Break their windows. Break them NOW. Break them and run to break again. Break them under cover of night. Break them in broad daylight. Break them and await arrest in willful, principled civil disobedience. Break them with rocks. Break them with slingshots. Break them with baseball bats. But BREAK THEM.
Sadly, some took his advice. Windows were indeed broken at Democratic offices, including that of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz.
In early 2011, two disgruntled agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) put Vanderboegh in contact with whistleblowers from ATF's Phoenix field office who were concerned about investigative tactics used during "Operation Fast and Furious" on the southwest border. During this time, Vanderboegh was promoting a conspiracy theory that the government intentionally ran guns into Mexico so that the ensuing violence would justify additional gun control regulations. He began to correspond regularly with the offices of Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and California Congressman Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Committee on Government Oversight. Issa launched a full-scale investigation into "Fast and Furious" based on Vanderboegh's original "intelligence," and his staffers met personally with the former militia leader. The investigation ultimately resulted in a House vote to hold U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, despite the fact that there is no evidence to indicate he was personally aware of the operation's tactics.
Vanderboegh wasn't only being feted by Republican Members of Congress, though. His profile would heighten when Fox News hosts including William La Jeunesse and Lou Dobbs began having him on their programs as an "online journalist" and "authority on the Fast and Furious investigation" beginning in September 2011.
Not surprisingly, Vanderboegh's new benefactors in Congress and the national media have avoided discussion of an online novel he published entitled "Absolved." Vanderboegh proudly refers to the novel as "a cautionary tale for the out-of-control gun cops of the ATF" and "a combination field manual, technical manual and call to arms for my beloved gunnies of the armed citizenry." It begins with a group of law enforcement officials ("thugs") moving in to arrest a man who has stockpiled guns and rigged his property with explosives. The man kills a large group of them before they finally take him down. On his body, the remaining officers discover a piece of paper with the phrase "Molon Labe" written on it. From there, the well-armed "protagonists" in the book--an underground cabal of insurrectionists--move forward with plans to assassinate a wide range of government officials. Their motivation is explained by Vanderboegh as follows:
They believed in God, this half of America, and it was the God of Abraham and Isaac, of Moses and David. They didn't think that God was dead or irrelevant as many of their opponents did. They believed that almost 50 million abortions was state-sanctioned mass murder that put the German Nazis to shame. They believed that the Old and New Testaments were pretty explicit that homosexuality was an abomination, and they were universally certain that the federal government didn't have the right to prohibit either their public prayers or the display of the Ten Commandments. Nor, come to that, could it lawfully demand that their sons' Boy Scout troop leader be a member of the North American Man-Boy Love Association ... They resented the identity politics of their opponents, where one minority group or another got special consideration from the government. They were suspicious of anyone who considered themselves a "hyphenated American."
The specific "Absolved" chapter cited by Kurt Hofmann in his March blog involves a character building anti-personnel and anti-tank explosives.
It turns out that Hofmann is not the only extremist who idolizes "Absolved." On November 1, 2011, four Georgia men who were inspired by the online novel were arrested by FBI agents. Court documents accused the men of plotting to obtain firearms, explosives and ricin in order to carry out the assassinations of numerous government officials, including judges and employees of the Department of Justice and Internal Revenue Service. The men took several concrete steps in furtherance of the plot, including driving to Atlanta to scope out federal buildings. During one of these trips one of the accused, Frederick Thomas, told a confidential informant, "There's two schools of thought on this: Go for the feds or go for the locals. And I'm inclined to consider both. We'd have to blow the whole building like Timothy McVeigh." Thomas even commented on Vanderboegh's blog "Sipsey Street Irregulars" in October 2009 in response to "Absolved," writing:
I understand, indeed, that what you've written is a fictional account; however, it is far from fantasy. The likelihood a scenario like you've presented would come to pass is extremely high. There are more agencies that are thuggish in our government now than ever before, not just the ATF. How about the IRS? Are they not just as destructive of Americans and our prosperity as is the ATF destructive of our God given rights to life itself? There is no question that this Congress and this administration need replaced, en masse! If we rebell against them outside the ballot box, and we are successful, they will be hung from lamp posts up and down Constitution Avenue, which is proper for the wrongs they've committed against the people; but, who will guarantee we can roll back all the damage they've done, restore America to the Constitutional Republic that was founded with the signing in 1787? Will there be an America left when the blood stops running?
This is the type of dangerous political violence that has already been inspired by Vanderboegh and acolytes like Kurt Hofmann. And let's be clear. Learning to make IEDs does not earn you a merit badge with the Boy Scouts. Theirs is a treasonous call to action that will result in attacks against our armed forces and elected leaders.
Al Qaeda and the Taliban hate our system of government and way of life and, as a nation, we decry them as terrorists for using improvised explosive devices to kill and disfigure the brave men and women in our armed forces. IEDs have claimed the lives of 2,486 U.S. service members in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Thousands more are injured by IEDs each year. In this context, it is both horrific and unspeakable to see pro-gun activists advocating the same type of violence on our own soil. Republican Members of Congress like Chuck Grassley and Darrell Issa and the crew at Fox News, who have feted Mike Vanderboegh and treated him like some kind of celebrity, should be ashamed of themselves.
The good news is that tomorrow is a great opportunity for true patriots to reject this poisoned philosophy by voting and, if it comes to pass that your favored candidate loses, by joining the loyal -- and not the disloyal -- opposition. As a soon-to-be movie star once said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." It's up to all of us to keep the foundation of our democracy unified and strong.