Low Turnout at Gun March the NRA's Fault, Organizer Says
Given the long build-up to Monday's Second Amendment March on Washington, the result was a bit anti-climactic: a couple of thousand gun-owners assembled in front of a stage facing the Washington Monument. If only the National Rifle Association had given organizers a little support, said march founder Skip Coryell, there would have been at least 10 times the number of people assembled. "They let us down on this one," he said.
The march, Coryell said, cost his group about $80,000 -- a high price for the 2,000 or so people I estimate gathered at the event's peak. That brings the cost per participant to something like
Sponsors for the march included the United States Conceal Carry Association (at the platinum level), Larry Pratt's Gun Owners of America (at the gold level), the online ammunition store LuckyGunner.com (at the silver level), and several advocacy groups at the "patriot" level, including Oath Keepers , whose founder, Stewart Rhodes, recently accused progressive reporters, including Rachel Maddow and Mother Jones' Justine Sharrock, of being in league with the federal government in a CoInTelPro-style smear campaign against his organization. (See AlterNet's report here, including our exclusive interview with Rhodes.)
Take a few minutes with Coryell, and you'll find a charming, affable man in his 40s, with straight, sandy hair cut in a mop-top style. He complained that people want to paint his gun-rights movement with a single brush, to put everybody in the same "box." The father of six -- including a five-month-old son -- is a stay-at-home dad. "My wife, she's an engineer; she supports me," he explained. "That doesn't fit in peoples' box," he said.
"I carry a gun to protect my family," he told me. "That's the only reason I do it. It isn't any fun to carry this five-pound gun around," he said, pointing to where a holster would be resting if he were not in Washington, D.C., where the District of Columbia gun laws rendered the Second Amendment March unarmed.
"Especially if you're carrying a kid around on the other hip," I offered.
I noted that the march, and his movement, appears to be composed almost exclusively of white people.
"It's not about white-black. It's urban versus rural," he said.
Yet prominently featured on the program was Larry Pratt, credited by many with being the father of the modern militia movement, who was famously kicked off Pat Buchanan's 1996 presidential campaign when it was revealed that Pratt had addressed a group of white supremacists in 1992 in Este, Colorado.
Speaking to the crowd assembled on the monument grounds on Monday, Pratt seemed to have more on his mind that simply protecting his family. He was particularly miffed at former President Bill Clinton's remarks earlier in the week that calls to violence against the government were inherently dangerous. Another figure who attracts the ire of many gun-rights advocates is Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who was that day addressing a ceremony in Oklahoma City commemorating the 15th anniversary of the bombing of the federal Alfred Murrah building by the anti-government extremist Timothy McVeigh, an act that killed 168 people.
"I look around: it's so good to see all these terrorists out here," Pratt said. "Janet Napolitano, she figured, as governor of Arizona, that we didn't have a border problem, but she knows who the real enemy is. Ha, ha, ha, ha. And Bill Clinton's been runnin' cover for her, too. Watch out how you guys speak out there, you know, words can have consequences. Remember Oklahoma City? Yeah, I do. And I also remember the Waco barbecue that your attorney general gave us. Thanks a lot...We're in a war. The other side knows they're at war, because they started it. They're comin' for our freedom, for our money, for our kids, for our property. They're comin' for everything because they're a bunch of socialists."
McVeigh contended that his murderous actions were retribution for the FBI's storming of the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas, which led to the death of 75 people, most by fire. (It remains unclear whether the fires were the result of the assault, which involved a tank, or set by the occupants themselves.) McVeigh chose April 19th for his bombing of the Murrah building because it was the anniversary of the final day of the Waco siege.
I asked Coryell whether or not he thought the NRA withheld its support because of the decision to hold the march on the controversial date of April 19th.
"No," he said. "I think it's because they see us as a competing entity. The NRA -- they're very political. They're strong, they're big, they're powerful...they have a big lobby. And they didn't want to share a piece of the pie. We went to them and said, 'You know, it's going to cost us like $80,000 to do this.' [And they said,] 'Well, sorry.'...I support them, but they let us down. They let us down on this one. There should have been 20,000 people here. If the NRA had supported us, there would have been."
NRA officials declined comment for this article. But also taking the stage at the Second Amendment March was Georgia Congressman Paul Broun, for whom the NRA was one of his top 20 contributors in his 2008 race. (It doesn't take a lot to make it into that club; the NRA's contribution was $7,950, according to OpenSecrets.org.)
Like Pratt, Broun, a Republican, sees civil war looming on the horizon. "Fellow patriots, we have a lot of domestic enemies of the Constitution, and they're right down the Mall in the Congress of the United States -- and right down Independence Avenue in the White House that belongs to us," Broun told the crowd. "It's not about my ability to hunt, which I love to do. It's not about the ability for me to protect my family and property against criminals, which we have the right to do. But it's all about us protecting ourselves from a tyrannical government of the United States."
Government workers and their union representatives are getting nervous. John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees (a union for which I worked from 2001-2005), told a gathering of reporters last month that his members are getting concerned about the degree of anti-government rhetoric. "Some of our members were killed in Oklahoma City," he said.
The NRA has so far contributed only $1,000 to Broun's re-election campaign.
As an example of the gun movement's diversity, Coryell pointed to Nicki Stallard, a member of the Pink Pistols, an LGBT gun-rights organization that Stallard told me was formed in response to gay-bashing. Given the fact that LGBT people -- or people who merely appear to be gay -- continue to be killed in vigilante murders (this recent Brooklyn case is stomach-turning) -- I found it hard not to feel a twinge of sympathy, especially as a member of the LGBT community myself. But on the stage, Stallard, after hailing the march as "a lovefest," ominously turned on a member of our own community for her criticism of the gun-rights movement.
"There's a certain reporter who made comments: Rachel Maddow," she said. "All I can say is, it's a good thing that this is a lovefest. Otherwise, we'd tar and feather you."
Even the easy-going Coryell, with his earlier insistence that his gun was all about protecting his family, later admitted, well, there was a bit more too it than that. He compared having a gun to purchasing fire insurance, even though the odds weren't high that your house would burn down. But what about the concerns speakers expressed about government, I asked. Did Coryell perceive a threat to his rights from the government?
"To some degree, yes," he replied.
"Just because they have all the guns?" I asked.
"Well, they do have all the guns," he said. "You know, the Founding Fathers, they put the Second Amendment there because they distrusted the government. I have nothing against the government, but it's like when it gets so big -- bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger -- that's what people are afraid of."
But where does it stop? Should you be allowed to keep a Howitzer in your back yard?
"Let's say 10 years down the road," he said, "they start going door-to-door to collect guns. You know, there's 80 million gun-owners. If they were to totally snip our freedom away, there would be a Civil War, without a doubt. And if that were to happen, I would be out there in the woods with my rifle. God forbid that that should happen. I'm here today so it doesn't come to that."
"Fellow patriots, we have a lot of domestic enemies of the Constitution, and they're right down the Mall in the Congress of the United States -- and right down Independence Avenue in the White House that belongs to us. It's not about my ability to hunt, which I love to do. It's not about the ability for me to protect my family and property against criminals, which we have the right to do. But it's all about us protecting ourselves from a tyrannical government of the United States." Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga.
"[T]here is a basic line dividing criticism [of the government] to violence or its advocacy...What we learned from Oklahoma City is...that words really do matter, because there's this vast echo-chamber and they go across space and they fall on the serious and the delirious alike. They fall on the connected and the unhinged alike." Bill Clinton