Carrying a gun to a political meeting is an obscenity. Anyone who does it, even if they are within their legal rights, should be ashamed. Our founders fought a revolution (and, yes, took up arms) to build a society where political disputes are not settled through force or intimidation--and that's the only purpose of bringing a weapon to a political discussion: to intimidate.This is the reality that responsible members of the press are going to have to confront: these protesters showing up to townhall events with guns (about twelve showed up at Obama's latest) are anti-democratic extremists who are making an implicit threat of violence if the democratic process does not yield the result they favor.*
It is utterly unacceptable, and every politician should have the guts to say so. What worries me is that the people bringing weapons are hoping to have their weapons taken away, forcing a confrontation that will escalate; many of them, after all, quite frankly proclaim them "revolutionaries."
I worry about people bringing guns to political meetings because some time soon a law enforcement officer will responsibly attempt to disarm them, and the person disarmed (if they don't shoot first) will be turned into a martyr, exponentially increasing the danger of insurrectionist political activity.
Journalists don't even have to speculate since they openly explain that they are threatening to "forcefully resist" if their fellow citizens do not vote the outcome that they desire.
Gotta love our mirror version of the Communist ideologue: the Rand-bot libertarians unable to recognize a distinction between taxation with and without representation.
I consider such behavior to be early stage brownshirtism. Ironic, given many of the Townhall protesters consider the Obama administration itself to be "fascist," but when you show up at events with guns threatening to kill your fellow citizens and elected officials if they don't do what you want, you are behaving like a brownshirt. As Pearlstein put it (again, I'm editing together different responses)
Rick Perlstein: The point I would make to Blitzer, Andrea Mitchell, and Chuck Todd is that authoritarian takeovers of nations happen, they happen slowly, and it's a process. I would ask them, if they were reporters in Weimar Germany when Nazi street thugs starting using violence as a way to settle political disputes, when would you begin to report--not opine, report--that democracy was under threat? (Because that is the definition of democracy: the ability to settle political questions without violence.) How far down the road to authoritarianism does a nation have to get before you drop the he-said, she-said paradigm?It's also fairly disturbing when Republicans rationalize and legitimize this sort behavior, white-washing out the extremism or outright depicting it as patriotic, civic engagement. And when a Republican senator starts saying that Congress has "earned" proto-fascist armed protesters threatening revolutionary war, we're dangerously close to the sort of dynamic that Robert Paxton warned is one of the steps that is necessary for a fascist movement to start taking hold in a society.
Godwin's Law: Got to smack that one on you, Rick. You simply can't equate town hall protests to the brownshirts running amok in Weimar Germany. For you to do so delegitimizes your case -- the same for the people equating Obama with Hitler. For you to do that is just as much of an obscenity as those you call out for bearing arms in THMs.
Rick Perlstein: Brownshirts weren't brownshirts at first. They were just angry people who felt dispossessed by the course Germany took after World War I. This kind of entropy--angry people exploited by elites--is a pattern in history, and it shouldn't be denied. We all have to draw the line as to what kinds of expression of dispossession are illegitimate. People who believed in democracy in Germany didn't have "Godwin's Law" to throw at each other in 1925, and 1928, and 1930. They just had to figure out for themselves when things were getting out of hand. We share that same responsibility. I intend a historical parallel to the 1920s in Germany--not a claim that my political adversaries "are" Nazis. They aren't. But they are beginning to violate the bonds of civility that hold a healthy democracy together.
Bringing guns to political meetings is where I draw that line.
I'd also like to note something that I received some criticism for arguing back during the '08 presidential campaign: that Ron Paul's campaign provided a platform for extremist white nationalist interests to be presented in a more palatable and more generic form, where libertarian ideology substituted for outright racism. In essence, despite Paul having some genuinely important views on Constitutional issues, his campaign served as kind of a springboard for proto-fascist political elements.
I bring this up because we've now seen at least two showing up with guns at these protests being Paul supporters. I also suspect that a good deal of these armed protesters are on the fringes of proto-fascist groups like the Constitution Party and/or the white patriot movement. We know that William Kostric was an admirer of Randy Weaver, for example. And yet as you saw in the video, one of the two men carrying an assault rifle at the Obama townhall is a black man spouting Randian dogma about all taxation being theft that he is willing to fight with arms.
Nothing warms the heart like seeing black libertarians and white supremacist sympathists uniting with guns to fight the socialist Marxist liberal fascism of the Obama administration that irresponsible media figures like Glenn Beck, inadvertently through his promotion of the Tea Parties, helped bring them together to resist.
*Pearlstein makes a very important point. If violence happens to break out at one of these events and one of these armed "revolutionaries" gets shot or assaulted by law enforcement, extremists and many in the conservative movement are going to spiral into hysteria about persecution. They will interpret it as a new Boston Massacre type event, and will continue their self-fullfilling fantasy of re-living their version of the American revolution, reinterpreted through the prism of movement ideology, in order to rebirth the nation, saving it from the alien, "liberal" forces which they perceive to be ruining the country.