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How Much Political Violence Can We Absorb?

A few years ago, I spent a day with the Michigan Militia at a campground where they were holding their monthly meeting and shoot. This is the group that Timothy McVeigh hung out with before he went down to Oklahoma City and blew up the Murrah Federal Building in 1995.

What impressed me most of all was the pizzas – quantity and quality. The cheese with extra mushrooms and onions was – non pareille!

I was thinking about that experience yesterday while I joined a seminar on ‘The deadly intersection of white supremacy and firearms,’ hosted and planned by the gun research group at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Much of the contributions by various researchers involved issues directly related to the behavior of armed militia groups like the Michigan Militia, a topic of almost obsessive interest following the involvement of various militia groups in the January 6th insurrection.

What did I learn about the intersection between white supremacy and guns over the past couple of years? To be blunt – not a goddamn thing. That militia members who run around in their camo outfits waving their assault rifles are on the far, far right when it comes to their political beliefs? Gee, that’s a discovery. That most gun owners are conservative and will exclaim the importance of the 2nd Amendment at the drop of a hat? Another new discovery, okay?

One of yesterday’s presenters was Garen Wintemute, who published an article based on walking around 78 gun shows in 19 states. I quote: “Perhaps the most disturbing political activity at gun shows, because of its content and high prevalence, concerns identity politics.”

What are these politics? I quote again: “New Nazi materials (as distinct from memorabilia) are very common.”

Wintemute visited these gun shows between 2005 and 2008. Most of the persons attending the shows were white men of 50 years old or older. Did it occur to Wintemute that most of these men were the sons of World War II veterans?

My father was a Navy vet from World War II. When I was growing up, Dad and his buddies spent every weekend reminiscing about the war. They never talked about anything else because those years were the greatest years of their lives. And by the way, if Wintemute were to revisit those gun shows today, I guarantee you that he would find that a lot of the vendors who were selling Nazi crap in 2005 and now selling crap from Viet Nam.

Wintemute’s presentation yesterday was based on a survey he has just conducted with 8,200 respondents covering their political views and identity politics today. He has found that ‘support’ for violent political change is strongest among gun owners, except there’s only one little problem.

Wintemute never asked his respondents to define what they meant when they used the word ‘support.’ Does it mean that when someone calls them up and asks them if they like the Boogaloo Boys they’ll say ‘yes?’ Does it mean they’ll send in a few bucks to help some asshole who was arrested for stealing Nancy Pelosi’s desk calendar cover his legal costs? Does it mean actually showing up at a rally of some militia group and marching down the street?

We don’t know, and Wintemute made no attempt to explain this issue in yesterday’s commentary at all. But what we got from virtually every speaker was the belief that violence committed by armed, alt-right militia groups is bad and will get worse.

One of the presenters reported that she had interviewed 60 public figures and 40 reported that they had received some kind of violent threat from someone on the alt-right. How many of these threats actually involved the appearance or brandishing of a gun? None.

\Another researcher has been studying data collected by an outfit called the Armed Conflict Location and Advanced Data Project (ACLED) which tracks violence which occurs at political events. I wrote a column about this issue back in December, and I noted that there were some 30,000 political demonstrations in the U.S. between January 2020 and June 2021, of which less than 2 percent involved the appearance of a gun.

During this same period, there appears to have been 9 deaths of demonstrators or onlookers at public, political events. Other than the 2 poor bastards shot by Kyle Rittenhouse (who was not a member of any militia group), it’s not even clear how many of the other 7 victims were killed by someone using a gun, and according to an article in The Guardian, these deaths may have actually been deadly crimes committed during political demonstrations which had no connection to any political activity at all.

What yesterday’s seminar demonstrated is that liberal academics who study gun violence seem to have political violence allegedly tied to gun ownership on the brain. But I can’t blame them, given the degree to which this theme runs through the liberal news media as well. I wish I had a nickel for every story which ran prior to the 2022 election predicting that Election Day would be rife with violence and attempts by armed groups to create a sense of intimidation and fear.

Know what? Here’s what the Christian Science Monitor had to say about what happened last November at the polls: “There was no violence. At least for now, the serious threats that loomed over democracy heading into Election Day – domestic extremist violence, voter intimidation, and Republican refusal to respect election outcomes – did not materialize in any pervasive way.”

Obviously, when we had a President who promoted and glorified political violence on a non-stop basis for five years, nobody’s going to argue that the rhetoric surrounding politics and political activity is the same as it used to be. But the whole point of doing academic research is to make clear and convincing distinctions between what really happens as opposed to what we would like to believe.

Yesterday’s online seminar presented by the Bloomberg Public Health School was an exercise in advocacy which wasn’t backed up by valid research and therefore just added to the cacophony of liberal complaints about how Americans own too many guns.

Shouldn’t we be able to get at least a little bit beyond that idea?

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