by Mike Vanderboegh
10 August 2008
"What is to be done?"
Since the brouhaha created by my letter to the Collectivist Times of Madison, or whatever that newspaper's name was, and the scalded-dog reaction to it by the Brady Bunch, I have been fairly inundated with requests by my fellow Three-Percenters to lay out in detail just how I think the future of our struggle will, or should, go. I have been asked to write declarations, proclamations and other -ations to the same end. The 'Net meanwhile has been full of discussion by both "absolutists" and "pragmatists" over what constitutes "the line." My friend Peter at Western Rifle Shooters Association has, I think, delineated several of the greater challenges we face, and suggested profitable avenues of inquiry, debate, and action, in his series entitled, "What is to be done?"
I must tell you that I have no crystal ball, no master plan, by which the American constitutional republic of the Founders will be restored. Anyone who tells you that they do is selling something. Like all of you I am groping toward an answer as best I can. Some things, it seems certain, I see more clearly than others. But every illuminated truth I arrive at is clouded by the uncertainty of future events.
History, as I have repeatedly observed in past essays, never exactly duplicates. Human behavior, for good or ill, remains a constant from generation to generation, but the faces change and the details of the causes shift, twist and turn. Indeed, history often tells us more about how to get where we don't want to go -- the terror of the French Revolution, the collectivist butchery of the Soviets and the Nazis -- than how to succeed in taking the best parts of the past and building a free future upon them despite all enemies and all odds.
In the end, I am forced back to the only revolution that I know worth emulating -- our own. So it was that, in response to the questions I have been given these past few days, I returned once again to the Founders' example. Yet even the Founders did not have to deal with the multiplicity of threats to their liberty and safety that seem to loom so imminently, so perilously, over our divided nation.
To paraphrase the old lover's ditty, "How do they hate us? Let us count the ways."
Let's see - there's the Muslim fascist jihadis, still seeking WMDs to punish the Great Satan America. There's the Chinese itching to reclaim Taiwan and eager to shove us from the world stage. Let us not forget the revanchist Soviets represented by Putin and Co., whose tanks are even now rolling into Georgia, encouraged by the tepid response of the US and Europe. Then there's the millenialist Iranian Shi'a, salivating at the prospect of stacking up enough bodies (Israeli, ours and their own) to herald the return of the 12th Imam. Oh, and then there's that obnoxious socialist toad Chavez in Venezuela, the never-dying geriatric Castro Brothers, the poisonous evil dwarf Kim Jong Il and Junior Assad of Syria.
If you widen your definition of 'hate' a bit, there's just about every other mother's son on the planet who despises us in some form, shape or fashion. Plus there is the prospect of all of them forming a Lilliputian alliance to take down the American Gulliver - certainly a future not outside the realm of possibility.
Then, of course, we have those "domestic enemies" who seek to finish gutting the Constitution and the rule of law, and substitute their own rule of man.
Not to mention criminal gangs of varying races, ethnicities and just plain old opportunist looters waiting for the next hurricane, earthquake, power outage or (fill in the blank) disaster.
Oh, yeah, and then there's that specter of economic dislocation unlike (and maybe worse than) anything we've seen since the Great Depression.
And did I mention possible food shortages?
The Founders, I dare say, had it easier in determining what threat was next going to barrel down the road at them. When the alarm bell for the present day armed citizenry finally tolls, we'll have to ask, "Which enemy? And from which direction?"
Still, we have the slimly comforting thought that whatever the threat, the most effective counter to it will be a well-trained, well-equipped, (dare I say "well regulated"?) and wide-awake armed citizenry.
Unfortunately that also ought to scare the crap out of us, for we are certainly NOT at the moment any of those things.
Even so and even now, we may have the time to remedy many deficiencies if we begin now.
You know, like yesterday.
Of course there are some systemic roadblocks to that "well-regulated" militia which have been erected by the enemies of the Constitution in the last 70 years. Chief among them is the lie sold by the advocates of big government and bigger tyranny that the government, and ONLY the government, is the proper remedy for any threat. This flies in the face of modern experience with a variety of disasters -- both man-made and natural.
Was it the cops or the National Guard who were the first line of defense in the LA riots of 1992?
Neither. Just ask any Korean grocer.
Was it the cops or state and national military forces who protected neighborhoods after Hurricane Andrew that same year?
And who protected the law abiding from the looters in New Orleans after Katrina?
Why it was the law abiding themselves, despite being the targets of government thug disarmament teams.
And who, we may ask, kept Flight 93 from crashing into its intended target in our Capitol? The FBI? The FAA?
It was American militia, albeit tragically and stupidly disarmed by government regulation, who frustrated the Jihadi's plans at the cost of their own lives.
Which brings us to our next roadblock. There is an idea abroad in the land, one that seems to have been imbedded in the heads of local and state law enforcement officers, that all "disasters" are federal jurisdictions and must be equal disarmament opportunity zones. From Katrina to the Kansas tornadoes, the first impulse of cops these days is "secure the area of operations" by seizing everybody's guns.
Yet it is this perversion of the Founders’ vision (born of the federalization and militarization of our police over the past three decades of the ill-named "war on drugs") that may be the Leviathan's Achilles heel that allows us to remove this roadblock and all the others.
Blowing Past the Roadblocks
Some states have already passed laws against this practice, but we should take it one or two steps beyond that. The fact of the matter is that in a conservative state like Kansas, or even Louisiana, no law enforcement officer should have an incentive to obey such unconstitutional orders.
Yet they did.
Because they haven't been called on it by the populace who elects the sheriffs and the politicians who appoint the police chiefs.
So let us do this. Let us craft a pledge, one using simple language affirming that the Second Amendment is not suspended by natural or man-made disasters. Let us then make that pledge part of our vetting process for political campaigns. And we shouldn't even wait for the sheriff to get re-elected, but approach him now, asking for his signature on this pledge, swearing that he will abide by it no matter what.
This accomplishes three things. First, it identifies who the friends and foes of the Founders’ Republic are in your local area.
Second, it gives you an opportunity to discuss with the police chief, the sheriff or even the state leader of public safety how the armed citizenry might be trained and integrated into their sheriff's posse, police reserve or state defense force as a force multiplier in the event of a disaster.
Third, it identifies you to both the law enforcement hierarchy and the populace as good guys who merely want to make sure that the community is secured, in their rights, their property and their physical safety. This will make it harder for either side to consider the other suspiciously as an unknown quantity or even as potential enemies.
If we are to stand against the shocks that portend, we must do so as communities, not isolated individuals. “We must all hang together,” said Ben Franklin, “or we shall surely hang separately.”
We are the Unorganized Militia of the United States, by Jehovah, and not some cringing survivalists awaiting the fall of civilization. We are, last I checked, still codified in federal law. We may be lawfully called upon by the county sheriff or the governor of the state for service in its defense.
Let us act like the integral part of the community the Founders insisted we were.
We have been marginalized by the fear-mongering liars of the Brady Bunch and the Southern "Poverty" Law Center for far too long. With the Heller decision at least nominally supporting the individual right to arms, now is the time (before it is overturned by the next election) to use its logic to roll back this Praetorian mentality which has taken root in our law enforcement. To the extent that we are successful, this will also have the concomitant effect of denying willing local allies to predatory Feds cruising for undeserving victims.
There is another benefit which will accrue to us if we do this. The principal danger today to the armed citizenry is buying into the Bradyista lie that we are the rightfully despised minority. The atomization of our society, even the encouraged anonymity of the Internet, promotes a feeling on our side of being inadequate to the task of maintaining our own liberty. Pushing ourselves and our ideas out into the public arena using this narrow wedge, will help us make contact with other gunnies, within and without law enforcement, and enhance our sense of the real nature of things -- that we are far more powerful than we fear, or our enemies wish.
And it is only by attaining that sense of power and ability that we can begin to act like the Founders who laid the basis for our liberty by the threat of controlled violence. Consider, if you will, the Powder Alarm of 1774.
The Powder Alarm
I can tell the story no better than two historians of note have already, so bear with me, while I let them tell the tale.
If it is a long recounting, it is worth the time and I think answers the question, if parallels can be found to today's events (and I think they can) , as to "what is to be done":
The Showdown at Worcester
On August 27, 1774, the new Governor of Massachusetts . . . penned a furious report to his superior, Lord Dartmouth, Secretary of State for the Colonies. Gage usually wrote his letters to Dartmouth in a clipped, reserved hand but in this one his anger boils behind every line: "In Worcester they keep no terms; openly threatening resistance by arms; have been purchasing arms; preparing them; casting balls; and providing powder; and threaten to attack any troops who dare to oppose them. Mr. Ruggles, of the new council, is afraid to take his seat as judge of the inferior court, which sits at Worcester on the 6th of next month; and, I apprehend, that I shall soon be obliged to march a body of troops into that township, and perhaps into others, as occasions happen, to preserve the peace." After three frustrating months of attempting to restore peaceful Crown government to a confused and violent province swept by disorders, Gage was on the point of giving up the idea of a settlement without resort to arms. He had seven regiments of regulars in Boston njow, and he was preparing himself to take a fateful step: to pit his 2,500 troops against the unknown power of the Massachusetts countryside. . .
In May the British Parliament passed "An act for the better regulating the Government of the Province of Massachusetts-Bay" and "An act for the more impartial administration of justice in said province." These new laws removed from Massachusetts the right to name the Governor's Council, to elect judges, sheriffs, and justices of the peace, to summon juries and to hold town meetings . . . In addition, colonists accused of crimes could be carried out of Massachusetts to Admiralty Courts in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for trial. Few acts could have done more to destroy hope for a peaceful settlement of differences; these new acts virtually wiped out all old allegiances to the Crown. It was a massive attack on the old charter -- and it was, of all the moves and countermoves leading to the revolution, the point of no return.
Needless to say, this made Samuel Adams a very happy man. Adams had many irons in the fire, and one of these concerned the militia of Massachusetts. For many years he had been trying to improve the militia, knowing that in any emergency it would side with the province, since only the ranking officers (and a dwindling number at that) could be considered strong Loyalists. In 1770 he had risen in the court to ask for a strengthening of the militia regiments. He described in detail the poor state of training, the lack of junior officers, and the deficiencies in arms and ammunition. The militia was being neglected, said Adams, and the governor ought to do something about it right away. Three years later he was still agitating, getting a committee appointed to draft a bill for improving the militia, and Governor Hutchinson, being nobody's fool, was still ignoring Adams. But now, in the fall of 1774, things were different. . .
(With the Intolerable Acts) the quiet Committees of Correspondence exploded with the news and in a matter of days there were conventions scheduled in the counties of Berkshire, Middlesex, Essex, Suffolk, Hampshire, Plymouth, Bristol and Worcester. The whole province was now ready to challenge Gage with mobilized power, and Gage knew he had to answer the challenge or lose what control remained to the Crown in Massachusetts. . .
At the next Worcester meeting 130 delegates were present, representing nearly every town in the county. They chose a committee to "take into consideration the state of public affairs," and the next day, August 31, after listening to a report of this committee, the convention voted to refuse to allow the Court of General sessions to sit at Worcester because the judges had been chosen by the governor rather than by the province. Gage, as governor, already had announced that this court would open at Worcester on September 6; the resolution of the convention was in direct opposition to the orders of the Crown. The delegates felt that if Gage ever intended to march against them, it would be now. But by this time Worcester County was in an uproar, and only a few days earlier, on August 26, over 2,000 provincial soldiers had marched into Worcester and paraded on the common -- some of them in companies and led by their militia officers -- in a gesture of defiance aimed at intimidating the new judges. . .
Gage, however, seized the initiative once again on the first day of September, moving quickly to catch the provincials completely by surprise with a march of the British regulars out of the town of Boston. It was a perfectly executed operation. The towns around Boston had been quietly withdrawing town-owned gunpowder from the powder house on Quarry Hill in Charlestown, and the provincials had their eye on "the King's Powder," the government-owned powder not specifically intended for the militia, over 200 half-barrels of it. Gage was informed by General Brattle, the Loyalist commander of the Massachusetts militia, that "the King's Powder only" remained in the magazine -- the town of Medford had just taken away the last of the supply belonging to the province. When Gage heard this, he decided it was time to clean out the powderhouse. . .
At dawn on September 1 the regulars marched down to the foot of the common, embarked in thirrteen boats . . . and rowed up the Mystic River to . . . Charlestown. They landed and marched across country to the knoll on which the powderhouse stood, where Loyalist Sheriff Phipps handed over the keys. The removal of the powder . . . was carried out without resistance and the troops were back in quarters in Boston almost before anyone knew what had happened. . . Gage had a right to be pleased; his first march on the provincials, limited though it may have been, was a complete success.
The reaction of the province, however, was astounding. News of the "raid" traveled rapidly from town to town, distorted by messengers into a tale of aggression and carnage . . . By noon the next day over 4,000 men from the surrounding towns had gathered on the common in Cambridge. As the companies of armed men arrived they discovered that the reports had been exaggerated, that although the powder was gone, no provincial had been killed or even molested. Confronted with this fait accompli . . . they were not sure what to do next.
At this point some of the members of the Boston Committee of Correspondence took over leadership of the group, convincing the men that they should take the occasion of this gathering to demonstrate their disapproval of those Crown-appointed judges who had not resigned their commissions. Under the direction of the Boston committee the provincials sent word to Judges Lee and Danforth, requesting them to appear before the crowd on the common and state whether or not they would resign. Both men were property owners, and evidently understood well the temper of the times. They came and spoke to the assemblage, agreeing to step down.
Lieutenant Governor Thomas Oliver, another of the new judges, observed the arrival of company after company of provincial minute men and militia, and got off a hasty note to General Gage, begging him NOT to send any regular troops to the town. Oliver was not sure he could survive if an incident were to occur between the Crown soldiers and the provincials. . .
(Oliver subsequently also resigning his judgeship) the provincials, at last satisfied that nothing more could be accomplished for the time being, started back for their homes. . . What might have been can only be conjectured; what did happen is that the move toward a provincial army was given its greatest push forward, the morale of the Whig opposition soared, and for the first time many provincials began to believe that a revolution was indeed possible.
-- The Minute Men, by General John R. Galvin, Pergamon Brassey's, 1989, pp. 42-49
Another Revolutionary War historian summed up the important lessons of the Powder Alarm thusly:
"A Preview of Controlled Violence"
Revolution is a scare word. Its political meaning is "a complete overthrow of an established government or political system." It brings mental pictures of maddened mobs roaming the streets, and of wholesale killing, burning and pillage.
However, thoughts of the American Revolution fail to evoke the same bloodstained images that are associated with other revolutions -- the French and Russian ones, for example. Instead, we tend to view our revolution with nostalgic affection. It has become a folktale of American courage and idealism, featuring an heroic cast of characters. Although debunking historians have stuck their thumbs in the eyes of some of our popular Revolutionary leaders, we can forgive our heroes their human foibles. How has this image persisted down to the present generation? We have seen that during the Revolution there was an all-too-human interplay of animosity, greed, ambition, willful stubbornness and political maneuvering that eventually culminated in open warfare. Nevertheless, aware as we are of the realities, the aura of idealism remains.
American actions during the period of the Powder Alarm furnish a clue to the reason for this persistent image. The potential for violence was present, but it was always under control. The patriots who participated were, in Gage's words, "not a Boston Rabble, but the Freeholders and Farmers of the Country." They obeyed their leaders, left their arms at a distance when requested, and dispersed peacefully when assured that they had been misled by false rumors.
In capsule form, their behavior was representative of the conduct that would be displayed by American forces in the conflict that was to come. Although there were bullies and sadists among them, who delighted in rock-throwing, house-wrecking, and clothing Loyalists in "the current Boston mode" of tar and feathers, their number was comparatively small. The great majority were men with an ingrained respect for law -- men who thought of themselves as free men fighting for rights they believed were guaranteed by English law and custom. To restore these rights, they were willing to wage a war that became not only a war for independence, but also a civil war that set father against son, brother against brother.
If the country people who met on Cambridge Common had been an undisciplined mob, it is probable that September ,1774, rather than April 19, 1775, would be recorded as the date when hostilities began. Or if their leaders had seen fit to block the powder seizure by Gage's troops, the same shift in dates could have occurred.
The patriots' decision to treat the incident as a propaganda exercise was a wise one. It avoided the danger of direct confrontation, for which the people were not yet psychologically prepared. At the same time, by pointing up the fact that a similar incident could easily lead to combat, it forced wavering colonists to recognize that the time had come to take a definite stand. The intensity of feeling displayed in the Powder Alarm further depressed the already-low morale of Gage's troops. It provided tangible proof of the support given to Massachusetts by the other New England colonies. And it was perfectly timed to forward the cause of the more militant members of the First Continental Congress.
These advantages would have been sacrificed if combat had begun on September 1. The time was not right. Organization of the Minutemen, a militia force surrounded by careful safeguards to keep them a civilian institution, had not yet been accomplished. George Washington was still a regional figure, who had not yet had the opportunity to impress his personality on the Continental Congress. Gage's troops were legally removing powder that was under the jurisdiction of the royal governor, so that a pitched battle at this time might only have accellerated the movement of more troops to America.
The skillful direction demonstrated by the patriots in the Powder Alarm is characteristic of the leadership which was to guide America through the dark days to come.
-- Powder Alarm 1774, by Robert P. Richmond, Auerbach, 1971, pp. 106-108
"The Accidental Historian"
In the wake of the Madison letter, Tom, one of my blogging Three Percenters, called me an "accidental historian." The description is a good one, for I have only delved into my country's history for these past thirty years or more to answer the question of my own place in it. I am certainly not a trained scholar by any means.
But if I may, as an accidental, amateur historian, let me sum up this critical moment in the Founders' history so as to shed light on the answer to "What is to be done?"
The Founders, outraged by new royal diktats, which although "legal" overturned their understanding of their rights as Englishmen, used existing institutions (the militia, the sheriffs and constables, the town councils) and new institutions they invented in the crisis (committees of correspondence and safety) to confront, confound, and frankly, frighten the Crown forces into immobility and retreat. In addition, the lessons learned in the Powder Alarm were grasped by the revolutionaries and any deficiencies fixed, by the time the next foray out from Boston occurred on 19 April 1775.
By then, the alarm system had been perfected, the Minute Men trained and ready in sufficient numbers so that when fighting did break out, it was the regulars who fled back into Boston, leaving a bloody trail.
The militia system, invented and adapted to provide security for the colonies from attacks by native Indians and other colonial powers, was thus forged into an instrument of liberty.
There is no reason why we cannot repeat this model, especially given the other imminent threats to our lives and property presented by all the other challenges that loom over us today. Indeed, if we adopt the Founders' actions, and judgment, as a guide, it may be that our domestic enemies will be confounded in their attempts to pry any more of our God-given liberties out of our hands.
Who knows - we may even reclaim some rights we have given up without a real fight these past 70 years.
Of course, we must hurry our own preparations on whether we succeed in this public campaign or not. Regardless if we convince our fellow citizens – or the law enforcement community -- of our usefulness in the short term, they will be instant converts later when confronted with events beyond their normal ken. If the LA riots are any gauge, even antigun liberals will "come to Jesus," as we Baptists say, when faced with the monster of public chaos outside their previous experience.
Let us start with demanding a "No Gun Seizures" Pledge from our elected and appointed local and state officials. Perhaps we'll find out in the process that we've reclaimed the Founders' concept of the armed citizenry as the ultimate guarantor of the people's liberty, safety and property.
If not, what have we lost?