There is, according to the Washington Post, “A fast-growing U.S. movement armed with guns and the constitution [that] sees a dire threat to liberty.” As the Post reports in Primed to Fight the Government:
Deep in the heart of a vast U.S. military training ground, surrounded by spent shotgun shells and juniper trees blasted to shreds, the Central Oregon Constitutional Guard was conducting its weekly firearms training.
“The intent is to be able to work together and defend ourselves if we need to,” said B. J. Soper, 40, a building contractor who is an emerging leader in a growing national movement rooted in distrust of the federal government, one that increasingly finds itself in armed conflicts with authorities.
Those in the movement call themselves patriots, demanding that the federal government adhere to the Constitution and stop what they see as systematic abuse of land rights, gun rights, freedom of speech and other liberties.
This is absolutely the wrong way to fight for freedom in America. This is not to say our freedoms aren't threatened by statism. But so long as we have strong protections for speech and press freedom, freedom of religion and conscience, freedoms of association and petition, as well as free and legitimate elections and a strong, independent judiciary—intellectual freedom—we must fight with the pen.
Let me be clear that armed rebellion is a legitimate tool against oppressive government. BUT, armed struggle is a last resort. The Declaration of Independence itself urges extreme caution in regard to taking up arms: "Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed."
Even if we reach that "last resort," we must know what we are fighting for, not just against. The battle between statism and liberty is primarily intellectual and philosophical. The Central Oregon Constitutional Guard, part of the "national movement rooted in distrust of the federal government," sees "systematic abuse of land rights, gun rights, freedom of speech and other liberties." There is truth to that claim. But remember that the growth of statism came about in the full daylight of America's First Amendment and by politicians put in power by the citizenry through free and open elections.
The Post reports that the “militia” trend arose “amid a wave of anger at the government that has been gaining strength since 2008, a surge that coincided with the election of the first black U.S. president and a crippling economic recession.” But the threat to liberty, though it has accelerated since 2008—actually, since 2001—has been growing for decades. This is not some dark plot. Nor is it related to “the election of the first black U.S. president.” It is the result of ideas accepted, on some level, by many Americans. Fundamentally, for we freedom fighters, it is not the federal government that is selling us down the river. It is our fellow citizens. To change the statist direction, we need to defeat the statist ideas in the culture, on the battleground of ideas.
Despite a persistent and long-running statist trend, we are a long way from the need to resort to the radical tactics of the Oregon group. Cuba, North Korea, and Venezuela are examples of situations where the regimes have become so repressive that armed rebellion may be considered a legitimate avenue for freedom-fighters. Our responsibility now is not to imagine that we are Cuba or North Korea or Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany. Our job is to make sure that, first, we never become them—and second, to reverse the current philosophic trend that, if left unchecked and unchallenged by better ideas, leads to those ends.
On some level, Soper seems to understand this:
“I was very disappointed with myself,” he said. “I realized that we’re here in the predicament that we’re in as a country because my generation, and my parents’ generation, have done nothing. We let this happen. We got used to our cushy lives where everything’s easy. We have forgotten what’s really important. We’ve forgotten what liberty and freedom really mean.”
That last statement is true of many, and probably most, Americans. So, why the “weekly firearms training?” Guns are hopeless in an intellectual battle, and these alleged “freedom fighters” do the cause of liberty no good. In fact, they harm it by giving statism’s defenders a chance to tar all advocates of liberty with guilt by association—and worse, to discredit the legitimate intellectual case for individual rights and limited rights-protecting government:
Tom Gorey, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the lead agency at the Bundy ranch, said Soper and the others have “taken an aggressive anti-federal, anti-BLM posture because of [their] bizarre and discredited interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and paranoid views of the federal government.”
Said [Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center]: “People having nutty ideas is of very little importance except when those ideas begin to affect their actions. An awful lot of people have acted violently in defense of some of these ideas.”
There is no shortcut. It’s not enough merely to oppose the government—certainly not with cracker-barrel armed confrontations with federal law enforcement officials. We need to intellectually challenge the obscene notion that the ideas of liberty are “nutty.” We need to resurrect the Founding principles of the Declaration of Independence that animated the original constitution, and put them once again in the forefront of Americans’ consciousness so as to resume the progress toward a fully free society that the Founders initiated. The Founding Fathers were primarily intellectuals, not soldiers. These paramilitary groups’ tactics do more to discredit the cause of liberty than the statist politicians. To re-secure freedom in America, we must change the culture with ideas, not bullets.
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