Political Animal


May 06, 2013 10:04 AM None Dare Call It Treason

By Ed Kilgore

As Brother Benen notes this morning, the National Rifle Association’s new president, James Porter of Birmingham, Alabama, likes to talk about the importance of the Second Amendment as a way to ensure the American people will be able to “resist tyranny”—i.e., shoot and kill law enforcement officers, members of the U.S. armed services, and presumably anyone else (you know, like their neighbors) who might disagree with their definition of their essential “liberties”—at some undefined point in the future. And while I’ve not yet seen evidence of him calling Barack Obama a “tyrant” (though he has called him a “fake president”) I’d be shocked if it doesn’t exist.

So let’s put it this way: Porter seems to be highly representative of the amazingly common type of contemporary “conservatives” who combine extremist language about their political opponents with violent language about their political options—who in effect point their guns at “liberals” while making it known they and they alone will decide what “liberties” to surrender, democracy or laws be damned.

It makes it worse that Porter is one of the old boys who thinks it ha-larious to refer to the American Civil War as the “war of northern aggression” (as “we” put it “down south,” he said to a New York crowd recently). Since that war, whatever else it represented, was without question an armed revolution against the government of the United States, you have to wonder if the Confederacy—or as it was commonly referred to in the north for many decades, “the Rebellion”—is Porter’s model for defense of oneself against “tyranny” (you may recall that John Wilkes Booth shouted “Sic semper tyrannus“—“thus always to tyrants”) after shooting Lincoln.

Am I perhaps being unfair to these people in suggesting that they are behaving like America-haters and are flirting with treason? I don’t think so. Porter and those like him could dispel this sort of suspicion instantly, any time they wanted, by just saying: “Let’s be clear: the kind of ‘tyranny’ we are arming ourselves to forestall is something entirely different from anything Americans have experienced since we won our independence—a regime engaged in the active suppression of any sort of dissent, and the closure of any peaceful means for the redress of grievances. We’re not talking about the current administration, or either major political party, as presently representing a threat of tyranny.”

I’m not holding my breath for any statements like that to emerge from the NRA, or indeed, from the contemporary conservative movement. It’s ironic that people who almost certainly think of themselves as patriots—perhaps as super-patriots—are deliberately courting the impression that loyalty to their country is strictly contingent on the maintenance of laws and policies they favor, to be achieved if not by ballots then by bullets. Republican politicians should be repudiating such people instead of celebrating them, accepting their money and support, and even adopting their seditious rhetoric.

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.


  • esaud on May 06, 2013 10:17 AM:

    Republicans should be repudiating them, but won't because
    the media will either 1) let all this go under the radar scree or 2) accept non-distancing excuses, like he's an entertainer, or I don't agree with everything he says, etc. or 3) blame democrats, too.

    This kabuki always plays out this way. In fact, I am hard pressed to come up with single example of real distance between Republican and the worst of the worst of the right wing.

  • Cap'n Chucky on May 06, 2013 10:35 AM:

    Heck, Ed, if nobody else will, I'll be happy to call it treason. It's treason, pure and simple. I'm glad you've called out these America-hating wingnuts for what they are.

  • boatboy_srq on May 06, 2013 10:37 AM:

    Porter's whinging about "tyranny" and his 2nd-Amendment-shouting are immediately proven false: he makes these very anti-government statements (one step removed from incitement to armed rebellion, in my book), and isn't immediately hustled off on charges of sedition to be reeducated by the state.

    Until the day comes when these people are immediately arrested and silenced, then all their panic attacks about IslamoFascistSocialism being imposed on them by that Blah Man running things in Warshtin, or about the UN carting them away to implement Agenda 21 and sieze all their private property for bike paths and communal gardens, then all their whining is nothing more than a (potentially very dangerous) temper tantrum from people used to getting their own way and being given another pony just to shut them up.

  • Zorro on May 06, 2013 10:41 AM:

    Irony alert: while the NRA was, indeed, formed in part as a result of the Civil War, it was formed by former Union generals who lamented the poor marksmanship of their troops.



  • Matt on May 06, 2013 10:43 AM:

    That "War of Northern Aggression" line has not been trotted out with any degree of earnestness since George Wallace was governor.

    It is pure schtick at this point, strictly and exclusively for use on sympathetic Yankees whom you genuinely believe are dumber than dog shit--which is exactly the context in which this guy said it, speaking to an NRA crowd in New York.

    I'm not saying the South doesn't have serious lingering issues, 150 years later. But if you hear that phrase, you are being condescended to like never before in your life.

  • TheOtherJim on May 06, 2013 10:46 AM:

    Am I perhaps being unfair to these people in suggesting that they are behaving like America-haters and are flirting with treason?
    No, not at all, and I think it's high time we started calling out these massacre apologists for who they really are. People who scream "Do it my way, or I'll..." and then follow it up with a threat (hold my breath until I turn blue; take out my gun and point it at you) are children. Just because the massacre apologists are older and can use more sophisticated terms, like "liberty" and "constitutional rights" doesn't change their message. They want the rest of us to do things their way, or else.

    I find it hard to reconcile that kind of attitude with the guiding document of this country, the Constitution. The only conclusion, then, is that these people hate America. Oh sure, they might like the real estate, but they sure do hate the law of the land. Except for that one poorly understood last-minute addition to the Constitution, of course.

  • Ken D. on May 06, 2013 10:50 AM:

    "The Civil War" is actually a compromise term. In the 19th Century, folks here up north called it the Rebellion or the Great Rebellion. For now I say we stick with the compromise. If necessary, however, we could always to back to those terms. Or maybe, "The War of the Slaveholders Treason."

  • david1234 on May 06, 2013 10:51 AM:

    The NRA appears to be an organization advocating the violent overthrow of the United States.

  • J on May 06, 2013 10:55 AM:

    Ken D.: Or alternatively 'the war of Southern impertinence'!

  • c u n d gulag on May 06, 2013 11:03 AM:

    You'd think Obama curtailed their civil liberties by listening in to everyones conversations, and keeping them; and when he was giving speeches, his goons threw people out for wearing t-shirts that are anti him and his party, or even drove-up to the event with bumper-stickers like that; and when he, or his VP, are in an area, made people hold their protests in "Free Speech Zones" - cause, you know that would be one of the first signs of tyran...


    Let's call that war what is was - "The War of Southern Secession, and Aggression, 'Cause They Fired the First Shot, and Where, Even Though It Took the North 4 Years, We Finally Kicked Jeff's 'n Bobby Lee's F*ckin' Asses, Freed Their F*ckin' Slaves, and Should Have Hung All Of the F*ckin' Traiterous SOF*ckin'B's, and Their F*cking Families, Burned Every F*ckin' Thing To the F*ckin' Ground, and Then, Seeded the Ground With F*ckin' Salt!!!?

    And don't let me hear what I heard it called in SC, once - "The War On Manners."

  • DavidNOE on May 06, 2013 11:11 AM:

    Just for the record, it's "Sic semper tyrannis," not "...tyrannus." You need the dative plural to mean "to tyrants." The nominative singular you used would translate "Thus ever a tyrant," if it meant anything.

  • MuddyLee on May 06, 2013 11:13 AM:

    I think it's fine to call it TREASON. What else can you call it? But what do I know? I'm just a southern white male over 60 who used to tell his aunt that it was unpatriotic to belong to the Daughters of the Confederacy because the "civil war" was a war against the United States of America. We can't let these crazy conservatives (and that's a redundancy these days) take the White House in 2016. Let's give them Texas and let them secede. That would get rid of both Rick Perry and Ted Cruz. Austin can be sort of a Berlin. Also, let them have CAPTCHA. . .

  • Max Bramel on May 06, 2013 11:32 AM:

    I think you're on to something important, Ed. Has anyone asked these guys to spell out in more detail the conditions they think would warrant armed insurrection? When the notion is bandied about as an abstract idea, everyone can project their own meanings onto it. But what, exactly (if there is an exactly), are they talking about?

  • Mimikatz on May 06, 2013 11:34 AM:

    The favorite sport of fat white conservative guys who don't otherwise have a lot going for them is to taunt and twit liberals. It is playground behavior, pure and simple. So don't rise to the bait. But do use them as examples of why we need gun safety laws including proper storage and no guns marketed to children.

    The FBI, Secret Service and Justice Dept should keep a close eye on domestic terrorists and militias and nutcases, but quietly, so as not to feed their egos and apocalyptic fantasies. They will settle down in 2017 if there is a white in the White House again.

  • paul on May 06, 2013 11:36 AM:

    I think "insurrection" might be better as long as they're simply declaring the individual right to ignore the laws and legitimate officers of their country. It doesn't advance to "treason" until an organized group gets together with the intent of committing violence against the rest of the nation.

  • mrgavel on May 06, 2013 11:37 AM:

    Here's the problem with that kind of language: Republicans feel free to use it because Democrats don't denounce it in strong terms so that the media isn't required to report on the possibilities that such language sets forth. For example, when is the last time a Democratic politician got up and said something like this about the incoming NRA president: "He is advocating violence against the government, which means he is advocating violence against the men and women of the United States Armed Services even while they are engaged in fighting overseas extremists." Such language on our side would go a long way toward stopping that kind of language on their side.

  • Gandalf on May 06, 2013 11:38 AM:

    Gee Gulag tell us how you really feel.

  • BillFromPA on May 06, 2013 11:39 AM:

    Two obvious things about defending themselves from 'tyranny'. In relity, they're talking about blowing away their local sheriff, then the Stste Police and on up to higher forms of enforcement, all based on their definition of tyranny.

    Also, after possibly ambushing the local constable, they'd be swept away like so many cobwebs by the next folks to come along. Pathetic little men they are.

  • Michael on May 06, 2013 11:50 AM:

    That last effort gummied up his insides, give him time to recover...

  • Kathryn on May 06, 2013 11:54 AM:

    "1861- the Civil War Awakening" by Adam Goodheart is wonderful and well sourced book about the lead up to and the beginning of the Civil War and it was, as we all know no War of Nothern Agression, lots of similarities with today's nut jobs, recommend. Think I need to re-read actually.

    The cowardice and complicity of the GOP/ Tea Party, likewise the press, the drumbeat of distortions from right wing propaganda is downright alarming. This man Porter is no patriot, but I'm preaching to the chior.

  • Rick Cartwright on May 06, 2013 12:42 PM:

    For those of you wondering what standard rebellion should be measured by:
    "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. 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. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security"

    The whole gun "issue" is nothing but political theater by BOTH parties to divert the public from the sorry state of government finances caused by Democrats and Republicans of all stripes

  • rdale on May 06, 2013 1:02 PM:

    How can we not call it treason? An armed mob marches on the capitol, that fat idiot Porter uses words like "war" and "agression" and "Never surrender?" I'm sick of these phoney, bigoted, racist "patriots" writing checks with their stupid mouths that their fat butts can't cash. Let'em go for it; let them open up on some Law Enforcement types, and see how far it gets them. This is just a bunch of spoiled, whiny, baby boomers who are used to getting everything they want, and now acting like someone is taking away their binkys. And it's all a cover for thei racism that is the underpinning of the whole tea tantrum; they can't stand the fact that an "uppity n****r" is in their "white" house and haven't stopped puling about it since 2008. So yeah, dipsticks, I'll call your "rebellion" and raise you the 82nd Airborne. Hell, reducing that population would be like surgery to remove a cancer from the body politic.

  • Craig Duncan on May 06, 2013 1:19 PM:

    The comment from mrgavel on May 06, 2013 11:37 AM is EXACTLY right. I wish there was a Democratic congressperson email listserv and I could send it to.

  • lou on May 06, 2013 1:32 PM:

    as to the tyranny of the unbridled free market in arms?

    a selection for the arm a gettin'

    a lethality of voices to match the steel stampede

  • toowearyforoutrage on May 06, 2013 2:18 PM:

    This kind of paranoia about overthrowing a fascist regime that steps on the Constitution would bother me if I hadn't watch the Cheney administration tell me waterboarding was perfectly okay, because guilty people deserve no sympathy as "unlawful combatants" as defined by the Cheney administration.

    These 2nd amendment rights may become important to liberals... if we can learn to shoot straight.
    Is there a class near me?

  • jsjiowa on May 06, 2013 2:21 PM:

    Ed, did you happen to catch this piece last week?


    Granted, it's just a college student. But in the university paper? And it closes: "And there will be no hope for resolution but through victory by force initiated by one side or the other, God help us, for we will not plow for those who didn’t beat their swords into plowshares."

    Another would-be patriot talking about "tyranny"... with no inkling of how over-the top he is.

  • Daniel Kim on May 06, 2013 2:27 PM:

    My disgust and contempt for neo-confederates and Civil War revisionists is matched by my love for this country, which has sacrificed much for my sake and has given me such freedom and opportunity. They are all traitors and sons of traitors.

    The confederate flag and all of its variants, whether embedded within a state flag, put on the logo of a product brand or imprinted on an article of clothing, has the same place in my consciousness as the swastika and its modern variants that are carried by those who admire and emulate the murdering and bloody Nazis.


  • mudwall jackson on May 06, 2013 2:43 PM:

    anyone thinking that the second amendment exists as a bulwark against tyranny by the government is delusional at best. the idea of these 2nd amendment militia clowns standing toe-to-toe with someone shooting back at them reminds of me of king arthur's command to his men when confronted by the killer rabbit in monty python and the holy grail — "run away!" except no one actually would have to give it before the stampede begins.

  • TheRadicalModerate on May 06, 2013 3:11 PM:

    I'm a libertarian conservative, and believe that the benefits of a well-armed populace somewhat outweigh the drawbacks. Want to add in some background checks? Sure, no problem. They're harmless. Probably feckless, but harmless.

    So I support some but not all of what the NRA is lobbying for, the same way that I support some but not all of what the pro-choice lobby advocates. The fact that both groups have extremists in them who are clearly out of their minds is unfortunate, but that's the nature of lobbying, isn't it?

    But here's the problem with what you've just written: The NRA is being pretty careful to wrap their red meat in carefully-chosen weasel words so that they aren't seditious. Is there a dog whistle in there for the crazies? You betcha. But you'd have to be nuts to believe that the NRA, one of the most competent lobbying groups in the country, isn't perfectly comfortable working from within the legally sanctioned political system.

    Now, you've chosen to discount their weasel words and, wrapping your assertion in your own carefully-chosen weasel words and dog whistles, called them traitors. Sure, sure, you didn't really call them traitors, because, just like the NRA staffers, you're a competent writer and advocate. But they're going to discount your weasel words the same way you discounted theirs.

    So let's look at what you've accomplished: By calling these guys traitors, you've pretty much managed to produce the perfect strawman of yourself for their use. "Ed Kilgore wants to lock us up for expressing our views." (Because that's what you do with traitors, right?) "How are we going to defend ourselves when the Ed Kilgores of the world come for us? Keep your high-capacity mags close, boys and girls!"

    Things are bad out there. When you've got a poll where 29% of registered voters and even 18% of Democrats are saying that armed revolution might be necessary in the next few years, inflaming the situation is kinda stupid. Congratulations! You've made things just a little worse.

  • SecularAnimist on May 06, 2013 3:46 PM:

    TheRadicalModerate wrote: "... 'Ed Kilgore wants to lock us up for expressing our views.' (Because that's what you do with traitors, right?)"

    No, that's not what you do.

    It was precisely to enable the Well-Regulated Militia to SHOOT seditionists like James Porter that the Second Amendment was written.

  • Peter C on May 06, 2013 4:20 PM:

    For me, it isn't fear of the NRA which is keeping me from calling it 'treason'; it’s my conviction that ideas and political speech cannot be criminal. If they make threats, however, that should be called, and prosecuted, as ‘assault’ (If you carry a gun, you’d better not make a threat because that threat is obviously credible). When they fire (as in the case of the Gabby Giffords shooting), then we can call it ‘murder’, ‘attempted murder’ or ‘attempted assassination’.

    The public figures who draw bull’s-eyes on Congressional photographs (Sarah Palin) or who speak of ‘2nd Amendment remedies’ (Susan Angle) should face consequences, but they should be political consequences, not legal ones; their irresponsibility should disqualify them in the minds of voters. And the Party that supports them should be rightly tainted by their irresponsibility.

    Our system has several powerful protections against tyranny. We have separation of powers and checks and balances built into our governmental structure. We have regular elections, an independent judiciary and an executive branch with strict limitations. All these things were innovations at the time. The idea that only the threat of armed rebellion is keeping us from becoming a tyranny is both deeply ignorant and dangerously paranoid.

    I wish the Republicans would stop coddling and legitimizing these kooks for political gain. Jared Loughner should have shown us how dangerous it is to stir up these people.

  • Wally on May 06, 2013 5:01 PM:

    I think Peter C's hit the mark on this (sorry).

    I agree that it is problematic elevating goons like Timothy McVeigh or Jared Loughner or Nidal Malik Hasan to the status of committing treason. They are criminals and nothing more. And their crimes should be addressed by the criminal justice system.

    That extremist Republicans and mullahs stir up these people should be addressed in a political context. But the question remains; when does James Porter or Sara Palin or Anwar al-Awlaki go over the edge in "urging" someone to commit violence?

  • Mike on May 07, 2013 12:09 PM:

    Not only these gun nuts, but the Republican Party itself, mirrors the fire-breathers of old, who threatened secession for thirty years whenever they didn't get their way and executed it the first time they lost a presidential election. This more than anything infuriated Lincoln and the Republicans of those days, the political culture of threat and ultimatum that had just about hollowed out our democratic institutions by 1860.

    These f*ckers are going to learn just like their Confederate forebears that it is possible to take a step too far, that all those seemingly quiescent people will take you on when you aspire to destroy the republic itself.

  • giantslor on May 07, 2013 7:46 PM:

    At the end of the War of Southern Treason, we should have freed all slaves, and then enslaved all slave owners and their families, indefinitely.