Political Animal


January 11, 2013 9:43 AM Who Gets To Decide?

By Ed Kilgore

It’s not fair or right to attribute the views of random extremists to those who share a general political orientation. But sometimes the crazy people will come right out and express a sentiment that is implicit in the positions taken by “mainstream” folk, as is becoming ever more evident as we have an actual national debate over regulating the private possession of military weapons.

You may have heard yesterday about the CEO of a Tennessee firm that offers firearm and “tactical” training publishing a video in which he threatens to “start killing people” if the Obama administration proceeds with executive orders regulating guns. Now there’s a new video out from the same terrorist, named James Yeager, that expresses his second-thought opinion that he doesn’t advocate an armed uprising against the United States government “until it’s necessary,” though he’s personally drawing “a line in the sand” against any future encroachments on his Second Amendment rights. [Note: if you watch these videos, be forewarned that this dude’s language is no more civilized than his belief-system].

Yes, I know, Yeager is an isolated self-promoting kook looking for attention (and maybe customers). But his very existence illustrates the problem with the point of view, articulated by writers for respectable publications and more than occasionally expressed by gun lobby activists, that the whole purpose of the Second Amendent and the reason it protects even weapons designed for use by the armed forces is to preserve the right of insurrection against the state should it institute “tyranny.”

Who gets to decide when “it’s necessary”—when the police officer patrolling one’s neighborhood or the neighbors at the local Guard armory become not objects of respect but targets? James Yeager? Kevin Williamson? Wayne LaPierre? You or me? Certainly the normal mechanisms of the legal or political systems—you know, the systems that have produced and enforced the “tyranny” of Obamacare or the “injustice” of “confiscatory” taxes cannot be trusted to protect any right of revolution, can they? So apparently it’s up to heavily armed, seething-with-rage individuals and groups to figure out when “it’s necessary” to start shooting cops and members of the armed forces, and presumably advocates or beneficiaries of “tyranny.”

This is the fundamental problem not only with Second Amendment absolutists but with the Tea Party Movement’s “constitutional conservative” stand that there is a permanent—perhaps even divinely instituted and eternal—scheme for self-government that electoral majorities and legislative deliberations and court decisions cannot be allowed to modify. When those are dismissed as “tyrannical,” who gets to decide when “it’s necessary” to take extralegal action? Add in the hard (but still respectable) Right’s taste for military and revolutionary metaphors and the tendency to treat fellow-citizens as enemies of every fundamental liberty, and you’ve got a dangerous playground for the James Yeagers of the world.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Josef K on January 11, 2013 9:57 AM:

    When those are dismissed as “tyrannical,” who gets to decide when “it’s necessary” to take extralegal action?

    That's easy: whoever has the most firepower, which Yeager and ilk presumably think is themselves. They also probably still think "The Turner Diaries" are a useful model for future action.

    Same as it ever was in this country, I guess.

  • martin on January 11, 2013 9:57 AM:

    Who gets to decide when “it’s necessary”—when the police officer patrolling one’s neighborhood or the neighbors at the local Guard armory become not objects of respect but targets? James Yeager? Kevin Williamson? Wayne LaPierre?

    Nat Turner? John Brown? John Wilkes Booth? Lee Harvey Oswald? Ted Kazinski? The CSA? The SLA?

    This current bunch of wanna be freedom fighters are just blowing so much smoke. Get us a manifesto to review and we'll get back to you. In the meantime, STFU, you are making yourself look ridiculous

    stances ndntpu adds Captcha

  • David in NY on January 11, 2013 10:04 AM:

    Timothy McVeigh? The problem is, maybe not "blowing so much smoke."

  • Pee Gee1 on January 11, 2013 10:06 AM:

    Where was this crapsicle Yeager when Cheney and Bush were pissing all over the Constitution, letting our fellow citizens die in New Orleans, spying illegally on Americans, torturing people in violation of national and international laws, promoting extraordinary rendition, and suspending habeas corpus rights? 6th and 14th Amendments Mr. Yeager? Where was he when Bush/Cheney were locking up protesters in fenced cages, and mockingly calling those areas "Free Speech Zones"? 1st Amendment anyone? anyone? Bueller? Yeager?

  • DRF on January 11, 2013 10:07 AM:

    No doubt about it, people like Yaeger are potentially dangerous and a real threat, not so much to the existence of the nation but certainly to individuals.

    The Constitution is a great document, but the fact that it is over 200 years old and comes from a very different era does create some problems. In its day, the notion that the Second Amendment was necessary in order to protect the citizens' ability to take up arms if the government became tyrannical may have seemed to be an important protection; the nation was new, no one could be sure if the new, constitutional government would be successful, there undoubtedly remained a real possibility of one man or a small group seizing power. But today, given the overwhelming force controlled by the Federal government, our protection against tyranny lies, not in citizens possessing guns but in the strength and stability of our political institutions and the culture of respect for the rule of law.

    As a protection against tyranny, if that is what the Second Amendment was it has long since outlived its usefulness.

  • Lance on January 11, 2013 10:10 AM:

    They are already doing it.

    Re the murder of cops in Pittsburgh, the flying of a plane into a IRS office, and as David in NY points out, the Murrow Building bombing.

    But we ought to retain this thought. The Federal government retains lethal capacity upto and including the obliteration of cities, and we NEVER want Militia wingnuts to have that. So really, there is no 2nd Amendment Rememdy, to quote one Tea Bagger candidate.

    There is the ballot box. Of course, when you know what wingnuts actually want to do, you end up not voting for them, as a majority of U.S. voters did this last time.

  • Lance on January 11, 2013 10:14 AM:

    By the way, another thought.

    Both the Tuscon shooter and the Newtown shooter seem to have adopted the NRA's belief system that gun violence (murder) is the ultimate solution to their problems.

    Whatever their problems were.

    For the Tuscon guy, it was a wingnut belief that the grammar of the English language enslaves us. I don't suppose we'll ever know the Newtown shooter's reason.

    But Yeager is purer. His 'problem' is that the government might take away his guns, so he needs his guns to fight off the government.

    Self justifying paranoia...

  • c u n d gulag on January 11, 2013 10:19 AM:

    I'm sure that to James Yeager himself, and to the people who think like him, and have the same belief's, he is a Patriot - with a capital "P."
    And, oh, why the hell not? - a capital, "ATRIOT!"

    To me, he's either an unhinged person with severe paranoia, among a number of psychiatric problems, or a Terrorist.

    Or, like Ed suggests, he may just be some guy who's figured this is a good way for him to become famous, and for him and his company to make money.

    But, then, even if that's the case, isn't using terroristic threats against other people either against the law, and/or a sign of mental illness?

  • Bostondreams on January 11, 2013 10:27 AM:

    Some of the things I have read suggest that this gentleman was a contractor in Iraq...and that it didn't go so well. A google search on him is disturbing.

  • James on January 11, 2013 10:28 AM:

    If Yeager and Jones and LaPierre weren't white, they'd be doing their seditious ranting from a prison cells for making terrorist threats and calling for armed insurrection. Does anyone doubt if Yeager were Muslim or black he wouldn't be in prison for advocating violence against the government?

  • Peter C on January 11, 2013 10:32 AM:

    The problem with the 'second amendment solution' argument comes from the text of the second amendment itself. The second clause reads: "being necessary for the preservation of a free state". It DOESN'T SAY, "being necessary to preserve the potential for popular uprising against the existing government". The ownership of weapons was granted in sevice of a free state, not in opposition to a free state.

    The right to bear arms was established within a context. The other clauses in the amendment matter. The languange is tricky, but we must grapple with the full text, not dismiss the bits we don't like or don't understand. Gun enthusiasts need to present how their preferences fit the complete text. In what ways do they intend to operate within a 'well regulated militia'? What regulations in support of the preservation of our free society do they advocate in order to fall within this context?

    It is time we had a discussion, not a shouting match.

  • david1234 on January 11, 2013 10:46 AM:

    If the purpose of 2nd Amendment is to allow armed revolt, why have any limitations on what a private citizen can own? Morters, rocket propelled grenades, suface to air missles and land mines would all be useful for an insurrection. The posession of a nuclear bomb might help as well. Al Queda would like these items as part of their war on what they see as American tyranny.
    I think the question to ask is how much killing power should a person be allowed to have. Should people be able to kill 5 people, 10 people, 30 people or over 100 people before they can be stopped?

  • Robb on January 11, 2013 10:47 AM:

    Ah, the insurrection nutjobs.

    They ignore the bit about the regulated militia... being that the point of a militia is to defend against foreign enemies.
    Not to mention that the Founders themselves have been known to put down armed uprisings by those claiming their freedoms were jeopardized.

  • Shane Taylor on January 11, 2013 10:49 AM:

    National Review clearly objects to some insurrections:


    ... which is not to say they have reconciled this objection with Williamson's doctrine...

  • zandru on January 11, 2013 11:01 AM:

    It's frankly insane to be branding your democratically-elected federal government as some hostile, alien force. It's beyond insane when the faction that YOU ELECTED is effectively controlling said government.

    Keeping guns out of the hands of the "clinically insane" folks is one thing, and it's important, but it will also be critical to address the wide-spread, Reagan-engendered belief that YOUR GOVERNMENT is your enemy.

  • Shane Taylor on January 11, 2013 11:02 AM:

    And remember Leon Czolgosz. To we "statists," he was a terrorist. But to Emma Goldman, he was a freedom fighter:

    "It is true, the Philosophy of Anarchy does not teach Invasion, but it does teach self-defence, and Czolgosz's act was an act of self-defence and nothing else. [...] those in Power are the Invadors, and McKinley certainly was one of them."


  • mrgavel on January 11, 2013 11:11 AM:

    Excellent question and one that should be voiced often by progressives. It would be very easy to present the people opposed to gun regulations as also wanting to engage in violent civil insurrection. Here's the thing: Like McVeigh showed, violence against the government, just like violence by the government, often leads to injuries and death to bystanders.

  • John Robert BEHRMAN on January 11, 2013 11:23 AM:

    "Second Amendment" gun-nuttery is a fundamental problem with the original constitution. Remember, that was a compromise and compromised document from the beginning. Ben Franklin skeptically described the constitution as providing for "a republic, if you can keep it". Well, we didn't and haven't in several respects.

    Federalists and Republicans, recall, never really agreed on either the franchise or the nature of our armed forces.

    The institution of slavery was central to those original disagreements. But, exorcising that one institution did not, itself, resolve the related problems of suffrage or of provision for a well regulated militia.

    So, we have what we have and do not have today: That includes what Alexander Keyssar calls "a contested right-to-vote" and long-term hire military institutions like those of the British empire complete with privileged, sometimes practically hereditary, entrance into the officer corps as a "cadet".

    We have scarcely a vestige of the Swiss-Roman militia institution that was as exotic as the new republic in 1789. That institution is precisely a universal right to vote coupled with a uniform obligation of military service. It is not the Anglo-Saxon fryd, English Yeomanry, or the British "light-cavalry", "Boy Scouts", and "imperial" militia that figure in recent "legal scholarship" or generations of Confederate romance.

    Besides low and biased rates of political participation and cohort survival rates, especially in the Deep South, the US today has a plutocratic military-industrial-academic complex, an agro-military pork barrel, and an unpatriotic gun culture. The latter was around theories that originated with the Second KKK after the 1917 Race Riots. These have been sanitized racially somewhat but have otherwise been perpetuated for generations by all three levels of the gun lobby

    We ended the last legal vestiges of slavery in 1964.

    Now, Americans need to begin reconstruction of institutions that were distorted by the Great, World, and Cold War. Our unpatriotic gun culture, Edwardian Fleet, Victorian Armies, and Anglo-Austrian arsenals are among the institutions so obsolete today that they are a threat to that republic which has endured, on paper at least, but that was never quite realized in the first place.

  • Joanne Aboud McGahagan on January 11, 2013 11:23 AM:

    Doesn't this clown deserve a visit from the FBI for his threats against the government ? Should he not at least be given a mental health test before he is let back on the street? Should he even be allowed to keep his guns?

    I would not want anyone around him when he finally acts out his fantasies.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on January 11, 2013 11:31 AM:

    More evidence that the far-right yahoos are feening for a third-world banana republic in the good ol' US of A...

    Maybe I'm just a namby-pamby pansy-ass lefty with no spine, but I happen to like living in society where everybody isn't armed to the teeth waiting for someone to look at him funny. Nor do I want to live in society where whoever has the most generous stockpile of arms can overthrow whatever government happens to be in place at the time. NO--I really don't want to live in FUCKING SOMALIA!!!!

    Seconding zandu. We can't exactly revolt against our own government if it is basically a for-us-by-us institution. This isn't some 3rd-world dictatorship by a small bloodline and their cronies (at least in the literal sense). At the local, state, and federal levels there are too many competing interests. One man's governor is another man's friend or family member. I like to believe that though we might not be above blowing up the other, we tend to be empathetic to our own...

  • PTate in MN on January 11, 2013 12:01 PM:

    Who gets to decide is exactly right.

    Peter C points out what I want to second, that the point of the 2nd amendment was NOT to protect American citizens against the American government. It was to protect American citizens against tyranny from outsiders, such as King George. The new American nation did not have a standing army, and, thus, the Constitution gave its citizens a mechanism to defend the nation should it be attacked. When the alarm was sounded, the citizens were supposed to slap on their perukes and tricorns, grab their muskets, and gather on the village green, prepared to defend their nation.

    Forty years after the Republicans set out to undermine American's confidence in their institutions of self-government, we see this sort of paranoia about government and confusion about what it means to be a citizen of a democracy. What made democracy so radical in 1783 was the institution of majority rule by citizens. It follows that in a democracy, the minority will disagree with the legislative actions of the majority, but disagreeing with the majority does not define the legislative direction of the majority as tyranny. Majority rule is how democracy works.

    So these thugs fail the first test for citizenship in a democracy, namely, that citizens agree to respect the will of the majority. Their claim that the Constitution gives them the right to rise up against the US government if they disagree with the legislative action of the majority (aka, what they call tyranny) is nonsense. It should be considered sedition since they are claiming the right to be ungovernable. But since the first amendment gives them the right to be idiots and spout drivel, and the second amendment gives them the right to own guns, they do have the right to be undemocratic gun-hugging idiots. But the rest of us don't need to listen to them. In fact, we should ridicule them and feel free, for the good of the nation, to limit the number and kind of guns these unAmericans own.

  • Howlin Wolfe on January 11, 2013 12:12 PM:

    DRF - "In its day, the notion that the Second Amendment was necessary in order to protect the citizens' ability to take up arms if the government became tyrannical . . ."

    That wasn't the purpose of the second amendment. It was to assure the states that the right to bear arms would be preserved so that the state could have "a well-regulated militia," as the amendment says. The federal government had no standing army, so the states had to have a way to defend themselves from foreign invaders, NOT the federal goverment. This myth is used by the NRA all the time, and it's wrong. It's outmoded now because there is a standing army, and the states have National Guards.

  • oldswede on January 11, 2013 12:34 PM:

    In 1792, Congress passed the Militia Act of 1792.
    The first section states, "Section 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That whenever the United States shall be invaded, or be in imminent danger of invasion from any foreign nation or Indian tribe, it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, to call forth such number of the militia of the state or states most convenient to the place of danger or scene of action as he may judge necessary to repel such invasion, and to issue his orders for that purpose, to such officer or officers of the militia as he shall think proper; and in case of an insurrection in any state, against the government thereof, it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, on application of the legislature of such state, or of the executive (when the legislature cannot be convened) to call forth such number of the militia of any other state or states, as may be applied for, or as he may judge sufficient to suppress such insurrection."

    The militia exist to suppress insurrections, not to support revolt.

    Further, the second section makes this even clearer, "Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That whenever the laws of the United States shall be opposed or the execution thereof obstructed, in any state, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the marshals by this act, the same being notified to the President of the United States, by an associate justice or the district judge, it shall be lawful for the President of the United States to call forth the militia of such state to suppress such combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed. And if the militia of a state, where such combinations may happen, shall refuse, or be insufficient to suppress the same, it shall be lawful for the President, if the legislature of the United States be not in session, to call forth and employ such numbers of the militia of any other state or states most convenient thereto, as may be necessary, and the use of militia, so to be called forth, may be continued, if necessary, until the expiration of thirty days after the commencement of the ensuing session."

    Read these Acts and you will see the absurdness of the ludicrous idea that the 2nd Amendment encourages insurrection.


  • ErikaF on January 11, 2013 1:33 PM:

    Like McVeigh showed, violence against the government, just like violence by the government, often leads to injuries and death to bystanders.

    Violence against the government leads to injuries and death of people (who make up the government). Government is not a separate entity staffed by unknown forces; government is a layer of agreed-upon legislation that is administered by citizens - neighbors, friends, family, co-workers.

  • Roddy McCorley on January 11, 2013 5:23 PM:

    Y'know what? We have in our recent history an excellent example of ordinary citizens taking it upon themselves to stand up the tyrannical abuses of government. That'd be the Civil Rights Movement, of course. Two things come to mind about that movement.

    1) No guns. (duh.)

    2) Unlike our firearms enthusiasts, the people who marched and demonstrated for the rights guaranteed to them by the United States Constitution did so with the certain knowledge that they would be attacked, jailed, beaten and possibly killed. In other words, they waged their "insurrection" with an eye not on the price others would be made to pay, but with full awareness and acceptance of the ordeal they themselves would have to endure.

    Just sayin.

    One other thing comes to mind about the Civil Rights movement: It's one of the reasons our well-armed friends insist on maintaining their arsenals. For them, the answer to your rhetorical question is almost certainly "white guys."

  • jefft452 on January 11, 2013 6:34 PM:

    DRF on January 11, 2013 10:07 AM
    “In its day, the notion that the Second Amendment was necessary in order to protect the citizens' ability to take up arms if the government became tyrannical may have seemed to be an important protection”

    Not in 1789, and not today

    Peter C on January 11, 2013 10:32 AM
    “The second clause reads: "being necessary for the preservation of a free state". It DOESN'T SAY, "being necessary to preserve the potential for popular uprising against the existing government".”

    Game, set, and match

  • James M on January 12, 2013 10:43 AM:

    Very interesting thread. The gun debate seems to encapsulate all of the major political problems facing the U.S. today:

    1. The obstructionist Republican minority
    2. The proper role of government
    3. The Civil War engendered lingering North/South dichotomy
    4. The rural areas vs. urban areas conflict
    5. The question of the correct power balance between the state and the individual

    Even, beyond that, in some quarters the 2nd Amendment seems to have reached the level of founding myth. I bet that if you got all but the most rabid 2nd Amendment gun advocates alone over a beer they would admit that armed resistance by citizens against the U.S. government is no longer a realistic option. However, it still remains a source of psychic comfort.

    Despite the irrationality that it spawns, worship of the 2nd Amendment may serve a valuable role as a psychic release valve for millions of Americans. I am even beginning to think that keeping assault weapons might not be so bad from that perspective. However, I am convinced that any meaningful legislation must restrict high volume clips.

  • CommanderOgg on January 12, 2013 4:55 PM:

    The Tennessee DOS suspended Yeager's Concealed Carry Gun Permit

    Mr. Yeager would be well advise to consider the fate of Schaeffer Cox another Militia wanabe. The FBI does not ass around witth these thugs.

  • Bob Bennett on January 16, 2013 3:49 AM:

    Miranda v Arizona (384 U.S. 436, 1966) has had many unintended consequences. While this does vary from County to county, in large cities it has often included A. Police no longer give suspects an opportunity to clear themselves.
    B. More suspects are arrested.
    C. Plea Bargains have largely replaced Trials.
    D. Crime is encouraged and rewarded.
    E. The innocent, and those with mitigating circumstances often scapegoated.
    F. Police errors and abuse are often covered up.
    Then there is REHBERG v. PAULK No. 10–788( Argued November 1, 2011—Decided April 2, 2012), as well as Imbler v Pachtman, (424 U.S. 409, 1976) in which the U.S. Supreme Court encourages malicious prosecution.