August 30, 2013

It's been fascinating to watch Republicans in Missouri attempting to pass "nullification" laws intended to negate federal authority on gun control -- because in doing so, they are demonstrating themselves fully in the thrall of the far-right "Patriot"/militia movement of the 1990s, and are indeed enacting some of its fondest fantasies.

The New York Times has the story, though of course not the whole story:

Unless a handful of wavering Democrats change their minds, the Republican-controlled Missouri legislature is expected to enact a statute next month nullifying all federal gun laws in the state and making it a crime for federal agents to enforce them here. A Missourian arrested under federal firearm statutes would even be able to sue the arresting officer.

Lawmakers are considering whether to override a veto of a gun bill by Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri, who considered the bill unconstitutional.

The law amounts to the most far-reaching states’ rights endeavor in the country, the far edge of a growing movement known as “nullification” in which a state defies federal power.

The Missouri Republican Party thinks linking guns to nullification works well, said Matt Wills, the party’s director of communications, thanks in part to the push by President Obama for tougher gun laws. “It’s probably one of the best states’ rights issues that the country’s got going right now,” he said.

So this is an official Republican effort. And sure enough, the story eventually gets around to hinting at where this is all coming from:

Still, other states have passed gun laws that challenge federal power; a recent wave began with a Firearms Freedom Act in Montana that exempts from federal regulations guns manufactured there that have not left the state.

Gary Marbut, a gun rights advocate in Montana who wrote the Firearms Freedom Act, said that such laws were “a vehicle to challenge commerce clause power,” the constitutional provision that has historically granted broad authority to Washington to regulate activities that have an impact on interstate commerce. His measure has served as a model that is spreading to other states. Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down Montana’s law, calling it “pre-empted and invalid.”

A law passed this year in Kansas has also been compared to the Missouri law. But Kris W. Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, disagreed, saying it had been drafted “very carefully to ensure that there would be no situation where a state official would be trying to arrest a federal official.”

Longtime C&L readers may recall just who Gary Marbut is. He first popped up on our radar here in 2009, when he appeared on a Glenn Beck show on Fox promoting these same "nullification" concepts (see the video above). But he has been on the radar of people who monitor far-right extremists for many long years, because he is in fact one of the founders and earliest proponents of the "militia" concept:

Marbut, you see, has been a fixture on the far right in Montana for many years. He's never actually been elected to any office at all, though he has run numerous times, because Montanans are all too well aware just how radical a nutcase the guy is.

For instance, Marbut in the 1990s tried organizing Patriot neighborhood watches:

Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association (MSSA), outlined the basics of his plans in an message distributed by the Militia of Montana's e-mail list. He suggested that when "patriots" form groups they shouldn't call themselves gun clubs. Instead they should adopt the label of neighborhood watch. Marbut said this title will not "raise nearly as many red flags" in communities. Neighborhood Watch could also be used for "organizations formed for RKBA [right to keep and bear arms] political-action."

Marbut, a frequent contributor to MOM's e-mail list, didn't stop with just gun issues. He said firearms, along with "communications, organizations, and supply" could also be incorporated into Neighborhood Watch. Within Marbut's concept, being a good neighbor appears to takes on a certain level of survivalist mentality. Marbut urged people to coordinate these activities with the local sheriff. Randy Trochmann, one of the militia's co-founders and the moderator of MOM's e-mail list, said Marbut's suggestions were "good advice."

MSSA has promoted several other interesting ideas over the years. In 1994, MSSA proposed an initiative to revitalize the Montana Recall Act. The act would have allowed voters to "throw the rascals [public officials] out" in Marbut's words. MSSA was trying to recall Sen. Max Baucus because of his support for a ban on certain assault weapons. Later that year, MSSA suggested Montana secede from the United States because the federal government had banned the possession of assault rifles by civilians. In 1995, MSSA supported a resolution that would have legalized "unorganized militias," another term for groups like the Militia of Montana. MSSA's public battle against Baucus returned in 1996 when it ran a full-page advertisement in the Helena Independent Record. The ad featured a picture of a saluting Adolf Hitler with the words "All in favor of 'gun control' raise your right hand" printed underneath. The ad then ridiculed Sen. Baucus, inaccurately comparing his position on gun control to Hitler's and asking readers to "Ban Baucus, Not guns."

Marbut wasn't merely involved in the militias -- he also played footsie with Christian Identity activists:

One of Marbut's columns appeared in the January/February issues of The Jubilee. The Jubilee is a white supremacist newspaper which caters to Christian Identity followers. Christian Identity, based on a racist interpretation of the Bible, holds that Jews are the literal children of Satan, and people of color are subhuman "mud people."

Attributed to the Sierra Times, Marbut's article is about Montana rejecting the Gun Free School Zones Act -- the federal law that made it a criminal offense to travel within 1,000 feet of a school while possessing a firearm. Marbut claims the MSSA drafted a successful bill declaring that the Montana Constitution guarantees the right to keep and bear arms to all law-abiding adults thus exempting them from the federal law. Marbut writes that "the people of Montana remain protected from the silliness of the Congressional act by the intervention of the Montana Legislature." He also said the new law "pulls the rug out from under any would-be federal prosecution."

In February, a column by Marbut was published by the Sierra Times. Based in Nevada, the Sierra Times is the newest project of long-time militia activist J.J. Johnson. In the mid 1990s, Johnson was a regular in militia circles. He was the main force behind the Ohio Unorganized Militia, and, since he is African American, the militia movement uses him to deflect charges of racism.

And he's actively promoted tax-resistance-style jury nullification:

Gary Marbut, founder of the Montana Shooting Sports Association (MSSA) and Republican candidate for Missoula's House District 69, wants people to educate themselves in anti-government ideology. MSSA now includes a link on its website to the Fully Informed Jury Association, along with a note from Marbut saying FIJA is "the last peaceable barrier between innocent gun owners and a tyrannous government." FIJA promotes "jury nullification." The concept says individual jurors can judge, not just the evidence in a court case, but the constitutionality of law. In essence, it allows jurors to ignore laws they don't like, undermining the judicial system. The Militia of Montana has sold videos by FIJA "experts" like anti-Semite Red Beckman of Billings.

You can also see Marbut in this video:

As you can see, he remains very active in the "Tea Party" front, and indeed uses that platform as a significant way of promoting his extremist ideas into the mainstream.

One of the originators of this legislation in the 1990s was a fellow named Charles Duke, as we explained then:

This legislation is neither new nor innovative. It was first proposed in the 1990s by Charles Duke, then a Republican state senator from Colorado. Duke's blueprint has been picked up by all of these would-be legislative insurgents. If you look, for example, at the Minnesota effort, you'll find that Duke's thinking is guiding them on this.

Who is Charles Duke?

A Colorado electrician turned politician, Charles Duke was truly the militiaman's representative. Serving six years in the state House and almost four in the state Senate, the Republican from Monument was also honorary chairman of the National State Sovereignty Coalition, a Patriot outfit. He wrote a weekly column for a key Patriot publication, The Free American.

CharlesDuke_a3e94.JPG Duke once outraged constituents by asking a crowd how many thought the federal government was behind the Oklahoma City bombing. He told The Wall Street Journal that "an executive order is being prepared by President Clinton to suspend the Bill of Rights." He suggested that GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich was involved in bugging his home. And he tried to broker an end to the Montana Freeman standoff.

Then came an epiphany. After a summer in a cabin hidden deep in the woods, Duke emerged to say "the Lord God almighty" had suggested that he drop out of politics and instead learn "how to survive in a country devoid of freedom."

For a time, he did. But last year, he was spotted at "America's Tea Party 2000," a kind of conspiracy theorists' convention.

As you can see, the "Tea Party" idea isn't exactly new, either. But even more disturbing was how Duke went about promoting his proposals. The Anti-Defamation League has a rundown:

Duke, a Republican State Senator in Colorado, has spoken at rallies of far-right anti-government activists and has made supportive statements about the activities of militia groups. Duke has been described as a leader of the Tenth Amendment Movement, which refers to a provision of the Constitution that addresses the relationship between the Federal Government and the states. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Tenth Amendment Movement is "an amalgam of small-town populists, gun enthusiasts, old Ross Perot supporters and private militias who share a deep distrust, almost a hatred of the Federal government."

Duke has stated: "The few militia people I know practice a policy of nonviolence... not altogether different from a Boy Scout kind of idea."

He has described himself as a "zealot" and a "revolutionary."

At a meeting of far-right activists in July 1994, Duke said: "We need some ability to get some firepower to protect the citizens. I would like to see a militia... [the type] that functions as a sheriff's posse and has sufficient training."

... In March 1995, he was a featured speaker at the Voice of Liberty Patriots conference in Atlanta, Georgia. The event was planned by Rick Tyler, a leader in the anti-tax Constitutionalist movement, who has told listeners of his shortwave radio show that government agencies are "ruthless, they are cunning, they are cutthroat, and furthermore, we are their target."

In June 1994, Duke spoke at a conference sponsored by the Kansas-based "Constitutionists," whose leader, Evan Meacham, is the impeached former governor of Arizona. Duke promoted the formation of militias as an effective way for citizens to protect themselves from the government.

In June 1995, he attended a Nevada Sovereignty Committee conference in Las Vegas, where he harshly criticized the federal government: "The tyranny of King George is alive and well and living in America today."

Most notably, Duke found an ardent following with the white-supremacist Christian Identity movement, appearing on the movement's main shortwave radio program and submitting to interviews with its newspaper, The Jubilee:

Duke was a featured guest on The Jubilee's shortwave program, "NewsLight," when he promoted the Tenth Amendment Resolution. The Jubilee is a bi-monthly newspaper filled with anti-Semitic, racist and anti-government rhetoric. The newspaper is also affiliated with the Identity movement, which identifies whites of European ancestry as the "true chosen people," blacks as "mud people" and Jews as "Satan's spawn."

Duke was scheduled to be a featured speaker at The Jubilee's 1994 "Jubilation Celebration" conference. He backed out at the last minute.

Duke also was brought out to Jordan, Montana, in 1996 during the 81-day FBI standoff with the Montana Freemen to negotiate, since he was one of the few public officials the Freemen trusted. Duke failed, though of course the Freemen eventually surrendered peacefully anyway.

A third major figure in promoting "nullification" has been another far-right legislator named Charles Key, who appeared back in 2009 on Neil Cavuto's show:

Cavuto's segment featured an interview with Charles Key, an Oklahoma legislator who has been similarly involved with Patriot-movement radicalism since the 1990s.

For instance, Key was heavily involved in promoting conspiracy theories in the 1990s that claimed that the federal government was actually behind the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that was in reality perpetrated by an adherent of Patriot movement ideology. He even convened a grand jury to investigate the matter, and when the resulting investigation completely debunked his theory, he denounced it:

The county grand jury orchestrated by a conspiracy-minded former state legislator and the grandfather of two bombing victims has concluded that there was no evidence of a larger conspiracy in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Even before the report was made public in December, former state Rep. Charles Key was attacking the body he helped to create by leading a petition drive, claiming jurors had ignored evidence of a government coverup. The grand jury found no evidence that federal agents had prior knowledge of the plot; that members of a white supremacist compound in eastern Oklahoma were involved; or that two bombs, rather than one, were used — all key conspiracy theories.

The state attorney general and the local district attorney, who both had opposed formation of the grand jury, welcomed the results, as did the grand jury's presiding judge, William Burkett.

As it happens, these activities were underwritten by a rich right-winger who subscribed to the conspiracy theories.

Now, it's one thing to point out the radical origins of these "constitutional theories." But it's also important to understand where they want to take us -- to a radically decentralized form of government that was first suggested in the 1970s by the far-right Posse Comitatus movement.

They essentially argue for a constitutional originalism that would not only end the federal income tax, destroy all civil-rights laws, and demolish the Fed, but would also re-legalize slavery, strip women of the right to vote, and remove the principle of equal protection under the law.

That's what Missouri Republicans have now aligned themselves with. Indeed, the Patriot movement is being mainstreamed in front of our very eyes, and yet we have a media incapable of recognizing this phenomenon, let alone reporting on it.

As for those Missouri Democrats who voted for this abomination, well, as the NYT story says, they have one last chance to redeem themselves:

In Missouri, State Representative Jacob Hummel, a St. Louis Democrat and the minority floor leader, said that he was working to get Democrats who voted for the bill to vote against overriding the veto. “I think some cooler heads will prevail in the end,” he said, “but we will see.”

It will be as fascinating to watch how the mainstream media cover this as it will be to watch the descent of the Republican Party into the abyss.

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