Browsing the archives for the firearms category.


Sometimes Guns Do Kill People, Actually

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firearms

This story is a genuine tragedy, but it also must be filed under WTF was this guy thinking?

A 9-year-old girl from New Jersey accidentally shot and killed her instructor with an Uzi submachine gun while he stood to her side, trying to guide her. A video of the shooting, which her parents recorded by cellphone, suggests that the girl, in pink shorts and with a braided ponytail, was unable to control the gun’s recoil; the instructor, Charles Vacca, 39, was rushed to a hospital in Las Vegas, where he died Monday night.

The parents turned the cellphone video over to the sheriff’s department, which released it publicly. As they spread online and on television, the images of a small girl losing control of a powerful war weapon during a family vacation created a worldwide spectacle, prompting some commentators to castigate parents who would put a submachine gun in the hands of a child.

The Times has the video, if you want to watch, and the 9-year-old girl is quite small, as one would expect. I assume the weapons instructor could have refused to allow the child to fire an Uzi, although the article said that the parents were knowledgeable about guns. Anyone with any knowledge of firearms ought to have realized that the recoil on an automatic submachine gun would have been too much recoil for a 9-year-old girl to control.

In the video, the girl, whose name has not been released, positioned herself before the target at an outdoor shooting range in this outpost in the Mojave Desert — one leg in front of the other, torso turned to the left, hands clutched around the grip of the Uzi, which appeared compact and light enough for her age and small build. When the girl fired her first shot, a puff of dust rose as the bullet hit the knoll behind the target. Mr. Vacca let out a celebratory “all right,” and then shifted the gun to fully automatic mode. She again pulled the trigger, but could not hold the gun straight as bullets came flying out at a rate of 600 rounds per minute.

A man is dead, and that poor child has to live with that memory.

News flash: 9-year-old girls are not famous for their upper body strength. I remember probably being about 12 and at Girl Scout camp, and being taught to shoot a .22 caliber rifle, which I guess is about as tame as rifles get. Even then we girls were all taught to shoot in a supported prone position so that we we were not trying to bear all the weight of the rifle and control the recoil at the same time. And it wasn’t that hard, but it was a flippin’ .22. And we took turns firing just one round.

The thing is, gun “enthusiasts” are always trying to say they know what they are doing around firearms and we should trust them, but then something like this happens. And then they wonder why we’re so nervous about seeing men with assault weapons standing in line for fast food. Because time and time again we see that at least some of these guys don’t have the sense to put the sock on before the shoe. Seriously.

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NRA Sets a Low Bar for “Responsible”

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firearms

Katherine Hoover, newly married and five months pregnant, died Sunday from a gunshot wound to the head. The fetus died also.  On Saturday Hoover and her husband were visiting a friend who showed them his gun collection. A .22-caliber revolver fired, resulting in Hoover’s death. Police are still investigating, but so far they are saying the shooting appears to be accidental. It’s unlikely any charges will be filed.

Once again, we see that gun deaths are not treated the same way as other deaths. If you kill someone while driving a car negligently, in most states you could be convicted of manslaughter. This is true of Florida, where Hoover lived. In many states, if you leave a small child home alone you could face felony charges even if the child is not physically harmed. But if an adult leaves a loaded firearm somewhere a child might reach it, and a child dies as a result, that’s just an accident. Too bad.

Small children really shouldn’t be left alone, of course. But you may have heard of the recent story about the South Carolina mother who was arrested for allowing her nine-year-old to play in a public park while she was at work at McDonald’s.  By all accounts the child was fine. Last year in South Carolina a three-year-old died in his own bedroom while he and his sister were playing with a pink handgun that looked like a toy. No charges were filed. The shooting was an accident.

Guns may not kill people, but apparently guns can get to places children can reach all by themselves.

And it may very well be that the adult whose negligence was responsible lives with grief and loss for the rest of his or her life. And it may very well be that person will never leave a loaded gun within a child’s reach ever again. But this never seems to deter the next bozo who gets somebody killed.

I agree with Tom Levenson:

The NRA, ammosexuals, and all their enablers in politics and the media tell us that the term “responsible gun owners” has actual meaning.  It doesn’t, as this case demonstrates .  I’ll update this post if it turns out that Mr. DeHayes faces actual consequences for taking another person’s life, but until then, I’m going to vent:

Responsible means that whatever happens with your gun is your fault.  Period.  You accidentally discharge it and no-one gets hurt? How’s this:  big fine, confiscate the weapon involved, lose the right to bear arms for a year for the first incident, forever if you repeat.  Someone gets hurt or dies?  Jail. Civil liability.  Loss of gun rights for life.  That’s responsibility.

But of course, I dream.  That’s not how we roll.  Instead, we’ll just water the tree of liberty with a newlywed, and celebrate life by burying her fetus — and wait (not long) for the next red harvest.

I would add that if the NRA or Open Carry Texas or any other 2nd Amendment absolutist organization actually cared about responsible gun ownership, they’d support holding people responsible for gun negligence. But, of course, they don’t.

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Open Carry in DC: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

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firearms

A federal judge ruled that the ban on citizens carrying handguns in public in the US capital is unconstitutional.

In a 19-page opinion, Judge Frederick Scullin ruled on Saturday that “there is no longer any basis on which this Court can conclude that the District of Columbia’s total ban on the public carrying of ready-to-use handguns outside the home is constitutional under any level of scrutiny.

I take it that in DC one still can’t openly carry assault weapons to shop at Home Deport or stand in line at family fast-food restaurants, so where’s the fun? But while I don’t want to see anybody shot — seriously, not even Darrell Issa — something in me wishes the beltway politicians did have to mingle with random citizens they don’t know personally who are openly armed with big, scary weapons.

Long range, high caliber weapons. Clearly visible. Carried by strangers who may or may not be sane and who may or may not like you. How does that feel, Mr. Big Shot Politician?

One suspects some of them might rethink their positions on 2nd Amendment issues. Or else they will openly display what weenies they really are by writing some kind of special rule that provides open carry can be banned in D.C. but nowhere else.

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Guns Not Always Wanted

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firearms

Lake of the Ozarks is a big man-made lake smack in the middle of Missouri. The Osage River was dammed up ca. 1930 to create a hydroelectric plant, and the resulting lake stretched across four counties and became a tourist attraction. I haven’t been there in a gazillion years, but when I was a young ‘un for summer vacation my family used to rent a cabin on the lake where there was fishing and swimming and boat riding. Happy memories.

There are also resort hotels with city slicker amenities like swimming pools, golf courses, restaurants, bars, and even some spas. It looks like there’s a fancy-schmancy luxury resort about where I think those old rental cabins used to be. And I’m sure there are still some cheap motels and cabins and plenty of places selling live bait and tackle. So the area draws tourists from all over the Midwest, and tourism is pretty much the whole economy there.

One of the communities depending on that tourism is Lake Ozarks, and Lake Ozarks has a problem with guns. Missouri is a gun-lovin’ state, mostly, and apparently the folks at Lake Ozarks decided that strangers walking around with rifles scared away the tourists.

The Lake Ozark, Missouri Board of Alderman voted last week to ban gun owners from openly carrying firearms, even if they have a concealed carry permit, because they were afraid that armed individuals would chase away tourists. “We’ve had a tough time over the years promoting Lake Ozark as a family area,” Alderman Larry Buschjost explained. “We want you on the Strip with families, everywhere in Lake Ozark with families. We want you to bring your kids down here and let them loose. For the life of me, I don’t understand why I would have to carry any type of gun, concealed or otherwise.”

The ban was initiated by the local police chief, in part due to concerns raised by business owners.

However,

Lake Ozark’s efforts to keep people with guns from scaring tourists and other patrons away from local businesses, however, may be short-lived. The Missouri state legislature recently passed a bill that will allow concealed carry permit holders to openly display their guns, regardless of local ordinances. The bill is currently awaiting Gov. Jay Nixon’s (D) signature or veto.

So the people of Lake Ozarks may not get to decide for themselves what’s best for their community, because freedom. I wonder also how that ordinance is going to work in Saint Louis, which is kind of like an actual city, last time I looked. I just hope a bunch of second-amendment yahoos don’t take it upon themselves to vacation in Lake Ozarks and terrorize everyone.

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Impulse and Ideology

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conservatism, firearms, Religion, Social Issues, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Some guy at MSNBC argues that it makes “little sense” to call Jerad and Amanda Miller, the Las Vegas shooters, “right-wing extremists.”

He said right-wing extremists typically focus their anger on federal authorities, not local law enforcement officers like these.

“They weren’t the ATF, they weren’t the FBI. They couldn’t be seen as the representatives of a repressive government,” Levin told NBC News. “There are some militia group members who believe that the only valid authority is at the county sheriff level. In fact, many right-wing extremists love the police. They feel kinship to local law enforcement.”

So we’re just supposed to ignore the white supremacist literature, the shooters’ attempt to join the crew at the Bundy ranch and the “don’t tread on me” flag.

I wrote in my first post about the Las Vegas shooting that I doubted the shooters were working with the Bundy crew, who have decided only the federal government is evil. But the remarks at MSNBC reflect a basic misunderstanding of the connection between ideology/belief, whether political or religious, and violence.

This is something I spend a lot of time on in My Book, Rethinking Religion: Finding a Place for Religion in a Modern, Tolerant, Progressive, Peaceful and Science-affirming World, because I think understanding this connection and how it functions is critical to dealing not only with our ongoing domestic violence problem but also with understanding religious violence around the world.

My thinking on this issue is very much influenced by Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind. Very simply, Haidt makes a strong argument that our moral choices — including the choice to be violent — and our political and religious beliefs are rooted deeply in the subconscious. We are born pre-wired to interface with the world in particular ways, and this pre-wiring disposes us to leaning left or right, say, or determines whether we are likely to be dogmatists or open-minded. And, of course, the way we perceive, interpret and experience ourselves and the world also is very much influenced by cultural and other conditioning.

As we meander through our lives and bump into myriad phenomena, including religious and political beliefs and moral issues, all of this pre-wiring and conditioning and whatnot clanking around in our psyches churns up emotional responses. These include feelings of comfort and discomfort. We naturally want to affirm those things that make us feel good while denouncing the stuff that frightens or disgusts us. We then call on our rational minds to craft a narrative that justifies our feelings. These narratives are merged into our primary narrative, or personal myth, which is the ongoing story we tell ourselves about who we are and what the events in our lives might mean.

Another factor is what Buddhists call “mental formations,” or our states of mind, which can become habitual. This (in part) refers to the way some people tend to easily become defensive and critical, while others in the same situations are understanding and accepting. This also speaks to our basic orientation toward the world and whether we feel integrated with it or estranged from it.

By the time we are adults this wiring/conditioning “stuff” has become extremely complicated, and I doubt any two human beings who ever lived have identical inner stuff. But it’s important to understand that, ultimately, we are drawn to our beliefs and ideologies because of the stuff, not because it appeals to our rational mind. For this reason, what an ideology or political position represents to an individual on a subconscious or even metaphorical level is more critical than intellectual consistency.

This is what the guy on MSNBC doesn’t get. From their own words and actions, it’s obvious that right-wing anti-government rhetoric and the Bundy ranch drama resonated deeply with Jerad and Amanda Miller and represented something enormously significant to them, even if how they understood the “movement” differed in some particulars from most of the rest of the Bundyites.

More crudely, they wanted to kill police because they wanted to kill police, and in their minds the militia anti-government movement gave them permission, and even made killing police a righteous and praiseworthy act. They weren’t being logical, no. But does anyone seriously think the crew in the desert pretending to be at war with the federal government got there because of logic?

This is why the “he did it because of mental illness” excuse for Elliot Rodger didn’t fly for me. Crazy is a continuum, and we’re all on that continuum. None of us are entirely rational. Everyone feels a violent impulse now and then. But except for those who are demonstrably psychotic, we are capable of choosing to not act on those impulses. And Rodger was not psychotic. His writing was ordered and organized, even if the ideas he expressed were outrageous. This means he was rational enough to choose to not do what he did, as were the Millers. They all knew perfectly well they were breaking laws. Had they lived, it’s enormously unlikely they would have gotten off on an insanity plea.

But what Rodger and the Millers had in common was that they had seduced themselves into believing that their impulses were righteous and justified. And this is where public rhetoric and hate-group subcultures really do get people killed. Within the misnamed “men’s rights” subculture, talk of violating and killing women meets with social approval. Women as a class are perceived as evil and dangerous; violence against women is therefore justified, even heroic. Likewise, the right-wing anti-government rhetoric permeating American society can make killing government officials seem justified, even if some are a little hazy about the distinction between state and federal government officials.

I don’t think extremist right-wingers are inherently more prone to violence than extremist left-wingers. But at this moment in American history, the “extremist” Left is the fringe of the fringe, and it is absent from mass media. I’m not even sure it has much in the way of an internet presence. The applicable political spectrum here goes from a liberal/progressive Left that is well within the mainstream of American political traditions to a Right that stretches deeply into the tin-foil-hat section of the Twilight Zone.

And while you can find individuals on the Left expressing violent impulses, on the Right it’s not just individuals; it’s major media personalities and politicians serving in high-level state and federal offices. It’s coming from positions of authority, in other words.

This is why public rhetoric has consequences (see, for example, Paul Waldman, “How much does right-wing rhetoric contribute to right-wing terrorism?“). We’ve been having this conversation since Columbine, and the hate-speakers on the Right simply refuse to acknowledge any responsibility for the ongoing right-wing domestic violence. I have no solution to this impasse. I fear it will have to get worse before it can get better.

But this is why splitting hairs over whether the Millers were truly “right-wing extremists” because they killed local cops instead of federal BLM agents is stupid.

I’m seeing the same misunderstanding among western “Buddhalogists” in academia. There is a faction of western religious studies professors who are combing through Buddhist doctrines to find the “cause” of the Buddhist violence against Muslims in Burma, and some other places. And they are “finding” it by misinterpreting scriptures and even projecting meaning into scriptures that just plain isn’t there; I walked through an example of this in My Book.

The plain fact is that the violence violates everything the Buddha taught. The impulse is not coming from Buddhist teachings, but from racism and jingoism, and it’s being fueled by political expedience. “Buddhism” is not just a religion to the majority in Burma; it’s part of their ethnic and national identity. And a faction of monks has been cranking out rhetoric that justifies violence as “defending Buddhism.” So in spite of what it teaches, Buddhism has become a symbolic permission slip for violence in Burma.

And weirdly, in America, “patriotism” has become a symbolic permission slip for sedition. Looking for logical reasons for this is a fool’s errand.

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Thoughts on the Mass Shooting du Jour

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firearms, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Initial reports are notoriously unreliable, and it may take a few days before we can sort fact from rumor. But some of alleged details of Sunday’s mass shooting in Las Vegas really need clarifying asap –

The Las Vegas Review-Journal says the murdered police officers were covered with a Gadsden “don’t tread on me” flag. According to neighbors, the alleged shooters have been talking about the Bundy ranch and how they planned to kill police officers.

The Review-Journal says the pair exchanged gunfire with a bystander carrying a concealed weapon. Other accounts say they exchanged fire with police before retreating into the Wal-Mart and killing themselves.

Several stories have said a lot of white supremacist literature was found in their apartment.

Again, initial reports are unreliable. None of the above may be true. But let’s go with the theory that the two shooters, a man and a woman, were anti-government white supremacists.

I’d be really surprised if they were affiliated in any way with the meatballs sovereign citizens who made a cause out of siding with cowboy/welfare kingpin Cliven Bundy. I doubt that crew could plan/organize itself out of a wet paper bag, but never mind. The meatball fantasy war is with federal agents, not Las Vegas cops.

The shooters may have had no affiliation with anything but their own fantasies, but it appears right-wing anti-government rhetoric had inflamed their un-tethered imaginations. Will the sovereign citizen crowd take a page of the NRA and dismiss what the shooters did as “mental illness” (e.g., their ideology had nothing to do with the shootings; the pair was just crazy)? Watch for that. This shooting appears to be right-wing domestic violence, and if the facts support that appearance this must be publicly acknowledged. No sweeping reality under the rug.

Notice to gun nuts: You cannot possibly argue that these shootings took place in a “gun free” zone.

General notice: When your scary neighbors who are always angry and live in camouflage pants talk a lot about killing police or anyone else, you might want to let local law enforcement know about this.

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The Heart of Darkness

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Feminism, firearms, Women's Issues

It shouldn’t surprise you that the “manosphere” is blaming the Isla Vista shootings on feminism and western anti-male culture generally. Here is an actual blog post from just two days ago:

Rodger should have checked his male privilege at the door and atoned for the sins of thousands of years of “male patriarchy.” He was likely exposed to infantile “trigger warnings” during the course of his education. He received direct propaganda that insinuates all men are potential rapists. American universities are becoming firmly anti-male with their extreme left ideology and policies. Just recently, the Justice Department has ushered in directives that attempt to restrict the definition of consensual sex, making any attempt by Rodger to fornicate with a female at a college party a potential rape encounter that would have gotten him kicked out of school without a trial. Pro-female policies now dominate most American universities. Rodger would definitely not have received a sympathetic ear to his plight. . . .

. . . Seven people are dead because society has decided that shy and awkward men like Elliot Rodger do not deserve a girlfriend and that there is absolutely no way to improve his loneliness and loserdom through learning game or any other social behavior. At the same time men like him are ostracized, there is no legal means for him to solicit prostitution (in California) to release his biological and very pressing urge for fornication. Current cultural dogma wants to sweep the millions of lonely men like Rodger under the rug while instead focusing on gay marriage, “street harassment,” lack of empowered girls in video games, “rape culture,” and the horrors of letting young girls wear pink and play with dolls.

The new “let them eat cake” is “let these socially awkward privileged losers have xbox and pornhub.” Yet we still feign outrage and surprise when every so often one of them picks up a gun and starts shooting. The same people who attack game refuse to give men like Rodger a way to achieve sexual happiness, and for that they are indirectly responsible for these deaths, which could have been avoided if Rodger was steered into game and not shamed for it.

More people will die unless you give men sexual options

Until you give men like Rodger a way to have sex, either by encouraging them to learn game, seek out a Thai wife, or engage in legalized prostitution—three things that the American media and cultural elite venomously attack, it’s inevitable for another massacre to occur.

The author of the post also expressed outrage that anyone would find his site offensive or the “manosphere” misogynistic.

The thing is, this guy is no lone outlier. He represents multitudes of men. There are vast swarms of these guys online. Since I don’t tend to blog about feminist issues except for reproductive rights, which doesn’t seem to interest the “men’s rights” crew (except for their belief that they should have a “choice” to not pay child support if they don’t want to), they don’t often show up here. But I’ve bumped into them in countless discussion threads on other sites. There are certain topics that will draw them like ants to a picnic, and when that happens they will completely dominate the thread and make rational discussion impossible. They are quite certain the world (which, apparently, is run by women) is discriminating against them, and they are seething with hostility about it.

Beside the “men’s choice” argument, they are particularly obsessed with the belief that civil courts and the justice system discriminate against men, as well as the educational establishment and the health care system (breast cancer research gets more money than prostate cancer research). There’s also a subset of them who are convinced their lives and manhood were ruined because they were circumcised as infants, without their consent, and routine male circumcision is just as bad — maybe worse — than female genital mutilation. But only women get sympathy for their “circumcisions” because women are privileged. Check out the discussion thread on this Salon article for examples. (Don’t assume you understand their arguments until you read them. There probably is a rational argument that routine circumcision is unnecessary, but that’s not the argument the MRAs are making.)

What usually happens on these threads is that maybe one or two emotionally healthy men will comment to gently suggest that the haters are off base, and then they disappear, and the only male voices on the thread will be MRAs venting their pathological hatred of women. I’ve seen this happen countless times. And what do you want to bet there is considerable overlap between the MRAs and gun rights crowd?

Last January Jill Filipovic and Amanda Hess wrote widely read articles on women being threatened and harassed online. These articles drew much sympathy but not much action or follow up.

For more on the MRA phenomenon do check out this anti-MRA website (run by a man, bless him) and its glossary, which is as good a primer on the MRA subculture as I’ve seen anywhere.

The anti-MRA blogger linked to a paper on “aggrieved entitlement” as a factor in violence, mass shootings in particular. This is close to a point I wrote about quite a bit in My Book, which says a combination of holy cause/fanatical grievance is a common feature of violent mass movements, whether religious or political or something else. In some cases, the sense of entitlement stands in as the holy cause.

Although I doubt those who are deep into MRA/PUA culture are likely to change I do think it’s important that more emotionally healthy men get involved in standing up to the MRAs. I suspect the widespread disapproval of other men could prevent more younger men from getting sucked into MRA-ism. This is not a fight women can wage alone.

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Let’s Call It a Hate Crime

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firearms, Women's Issues

In just about any comment threat on the Isla Vista shooting you can find on the web, someone is arguing that the shooter was “mentally ill” or “psychotic,” which means that misogyny had nothing to do with the crime. I responded to this in the last post — there’s no indication he was psychotic, and it’s doubtful any court in America would have let Rodger off on an insanity defense.

A few more observations:

First, it has long seemed to me that most Americans know next to nothing about psychiatric disorders, and basic information about mental health and psychiatric disorders ought to be taught in school, maybe beginning at middle school level. If nothing else, it might be useful to know that if your reclusive offspring insists on keeping his windows taped shut and covered with black plastic bags, he probably shouldn’t be allowed access to sharp objects, never mind guns.

Second, it seems to me that if Rodger’s videos showed him ranting about gays, Jews, racial minorities or the government, we’d be seeing a different reaction.

From what I have read, Rodger tried to break into a sorority house, and when he failed he shot three young women who were outside of the house — two killed, one wounded — then started shooting random people, killing one young man. He had already killed three young men who were in his apartment, two of whom were his roommates. So that was personal. The fact that he killed more men than women is supposed to be “proof” that it wasn’t about misogyny, in spite of the fact that he had explicitly said he wanted to break into that sorority house and kill women in it.

Let’s consider that after killing the three not-Jewish men in his apartment, he had attempted to break into a synagogue to kill Jews. He failed to get in but shot and killed two rabbis who were outside, then drove around and randomly shot another man, who was not Jewish. He left behind videos ranting that Jews were ruining his life and he wanted to break into a synagogue and kill them. Would anyone now be seriously arguing that antisemitism was not an issue?

And as far as crazy is concerned, there are entire websites of comments from men not substantially different from what Rodger said in his videos. For that matter, look at politicians. A Florida state lawmaker was ranting last week that the Common Core curriculum would turn students gay. Has anyone checked to see if that guy owns guns?

See also Echidne of the Snakes.

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Another White Male With Guns Kills a Bunch of People

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firearms, Obama Administration

Last night, in Isla Vista, California, seven dead including the white male shooter, others critically injured. You know the drill. Right is already blaming Hollywood and liberals. Steve M shudders at the thought Ross Douhat will blame sexual permissiveness.

It’s way early to discuss why the shooter, a 22-year-old from an affluent family, did this. Police haven’t released any information about the victims. However, the alleged shooter had made some videos said to be of him ranting about women rejecting him. A Daily Kos diarist determined that the shooter was subscribed to a bunch of Men’s Rights and “pick up artist” You Tube channels. This may prove to not mean anything, of course.

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Lots of Griping on the Western Front

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firearms, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

This is what Freedom!® looks like, folks:

Yes, it looks a lot like a Monty Python skit.

It may be we won’t need reinforcements after all, as the Cliven Commandos appear to be on the brink of taking each other out.

The armed anti-government play-warriors who built a military force around a racist redneck rancher in Nevada have split into rival factions and are now at the brink of civil war, calling each other crazies and traitors and spreading rumors that Eric Holder planned a drone strike on them. . . .

. . . In this Waco-wacko Woodstock of woolly-bully mountain men, the irony and the insanity spiked last weekend when leaders of the most prominent militia group, the Oath Keepers, began complaining of armed madmen “in the camp running amok.” They eventually pulled back from their positions, claiming they had received intelligence suggesting that the Obama administration’s attack drones were incoming.

That “redeployment” pissed off other armed patriots who stayed behind in Nevada, who now call the Oath Keepers and their prominent leader, Stewart Rhodes, cowards and traitors who might actually be working for the U.S. government. “They committed a deliberate act of desertion,” Blaine Cooper—a de facto leader of the remaining militiamen—said in his own video, embedded at the top of this post.

They appear to sincerely believe Eric Holder has ordered a drone strike to take them out, and the fact that this hasn’t happened yet is attributed to the mighty power of their stalwart resolution. I’d also hate to think what they all smell like by now. I’m thinking that if they don’t shoot each other soon either the fumes or the summer heat will at least cause them to redeploy back home. No need to waste taxpayer dollars on drones.

Speaking of crazy, I’m closing in on finishing The Book, and there’s a chapter on True Believers and Mass Movements that these guys fit right into. I’ve been helped a lot by a book called The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science by Will Storr (Overlook Press, 2014). This book actually is a kind of meditation on why people believe crazy things, and it is absolutely fascinating. I just wish Storr had spent some time with 9/11 truthers, who I think qualify as enemies of science, or at least enemies of things like gravity and principles of architecture.

Storr suggests that our brains haven’t evolved as far beyond the age of myth as we’d like to pretend, and we all live inside our own personal myth. Our experiences are framed by our personal, mythical (and usually self-flattering) narratives, not data. We feel emotions and impulses, generated in the subconscious, that we cannot explain, so we make up stories to explain them. We create our stories from our biases, however, not from objective fact, and that’s how we interpret the world. And we all do this.

I would argue that some of us are better at critically examining what we want to believe, though. We may hear a rumor about X, and we may want to believe it, and we may flirt with believing it. But then we cast about for something approximating objective fact to support X, and if we don’t find it we (possibly reluctantly) put X aside, clinging to a hope that maybe it’s true while acknowledging that it probably isn’t.

Others of us, apparently, lack self-critical filters and embrace whatever we want to believe as the Holy Truth. And if you can find others who have embraced the same beliefs, you’ve got yourself a mass movement, or at least a Band of Feedback Loopy Brothers.

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