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January 23, 2013

What would Jesus do? Buy a gun, of course!

Irrational rhetoric, paranoid conspiracies fuel Second Amendment rally in Frankfort

A group of 400 heavily armed Kentuckians rallied on the steps of the state capitol on Saturday, part of a nationwide “Guns Across America” day of action for Second Amendment advocates opposed to the Obama administration’s new gun control proposals.

The rally began with a prayer by the Rev. Lee Watts — the self-proclaimed chaplain of the Kentucky legislature — who implied that if Jesus was in the commonwealth, he’d be right alongside them carrying a Bushmaster rifle, too.

“(Jesus) says, ‘If you’re not armed, be armed!’” Watts said. “Christ himself says that you have a right to be armed and use it. ‘He who hath no sword, go out and buy one.’”

National organizers proclaimed Saturday “Gun Appreciation Day,” with their chairman adding that it would “honor the legacy of Martin Luther King,” two days before the national holiday in his name.

Such an odd co-opting of the two great pacifists — including one who was murdered with a gun — was complicated even more by the fact that the national Gun Appreciation Day organization was sponsored by American Third Position, a white nationalist organization.

If that logic seems confounding, it was nothing compared to the wave of factual misinterpretations, paranoid conspiracies and hyperbolic comparisons made by speakers at the Frankfort rally.

Obama’s legislative gun control proposals — such as closing the gun show loophole for background checks and banning the sale of high-capacity ammo clips and military-style assault weapons — are shown to have broad support through public polling, and his 23 executive actions are extremely modest, such as nominating B. Todd Jones for the long-vacant position of ATF director and general calls for research, training and recommendations from executive agencies.

But according to the speakers and many in the crowd on Saturday, Obama was actually shredding the Constitution and initiating a campaign to confiscate all privately owned firearms — drawing comparisons to Adolf Hitler and genocidal dictators — as they braced for SWAT raids and a despotic dystopian future in which their freedoms and lives would be in jeopardy.

While this might be written off as the rantings of the paranoid fringe, the rally’s cries of oppression seemed to feed off similar over-the-top rhetoric this week by Kentucky Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul.

Whether the senators’ concerns over new gun measures are genuine, or merely politically calculated fear-mongering to whip up their Republican base, there is no doubt that tension and fear are high among thousands of Kentuckians who are armed to the teeth with guns, if not facts.

Jim Franklin of Hopkins County emceed the two-hour rally, which often resembled an open-mic airing of grievances and conspiracies.

He and other gun-toting speakers in the crowd made clear that the Second Amendment wasn’t designed to protect hunting, but to protect from a tyrannical government they insist is now prepared to confiscate their guns, as well as the rest of their constitutionally protected freedoms.

Despite the fact that Obama signed rather benign executive actions, Franklin and the crowd insisted the president’s “executive orders” — far-different measures — had already ushered in ATF raids of flea markets in Kentucky, with more nefarious schemes involving the United Nations soon to come.

Franklin warily told the crowd he read a story on the Internet that claimed Homeland Security signs reading “Martial Law in Effect” were recently discovered, warning this would soon sweep the nation. The story is based on an easily debunked and decade-old urban legend that continually pops up on message boards.

Such fears were repeatedly aired, along with warnings that the coming dictatorship would threaten their very lives.

“We’ve seen it every time in history, not once or twice, every time,” Franklin said. “The powers that be take your weapons, you die.”

Another speaker warned of extermination by the government, saying, “I don’t intend to be kneeling in front of a trench someday waiting for a bullet in the back of the head. The only way we’re going to do that is to not let yourself be disarmed.”

Chris Musgrave, a field representative for Sen. Rand Paul, did nothing to ease such fears, accusing Obama’s “executive orders” of repealing the Constitution and comparing them to the actions of genocidal dictators.

“In Nazi Germany, they took away the Jews’ guns to be able to defend themselves, and what happened?” asked Musgrave. “They were rounded up and exterminated. Same thing happened under Stalin in Russia.”

Musgrave later yelled out, “We can hang together or we’ll hang separately!”

The crowd made special note of the prescience of one hand-held sign, which featured Hitler saluting and read, “All in favor of ‘gun control,’ raise your right hand,” with others yelling “He was a socialist, too!” and “Gestapo!”

Speakers said recent mass shootings had nothing to do with access to assault weapons or high-capacity ammo clips, but instead were the result of a host of cultural factors, such as the liberal media, Hollywood, the lack of Bible study and prayer in public schools, gay marriage and government entitlements.

Joey Burke, the president of the Kentucky Concealed Carry Coalition, advocated getting rid of gun-free school zones in Kentucky — which the NRA used to support — and putting guns in the classroom to prevent another Newtown tragedy.

“President Obama, if you want to save another child’s life, arm the teachers,” Burke said. “Arm the school officials. Allow the parents — responsible legal adults — to bring arms on school property,” eliciting a cry of “Get a posse!” from the crowd.

The crowd gave law enforcement — whose national organizations are generally receptive to stricter gun control — several rounds of applause for protecting them. But one has to wonder if the crowd realizes who they would be shooting at if the fictional gun-grabbing dystopia they fear actually comes to being, even if only in their own minds.

Sen. Rand Paul immediately grabbed headlines after the Obama administration announced proposals to curb gun violence, comparing the president to a “king” and promising to “nullify” his Constitution-defying executive “orders.”

Paul, who has made no secret about his interest in running for president in 2016, also used the issue to attack his probable opponent in that race, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, for having the gall to criticize the NRA for an ad that targeted Obama’s children.

Paul is no stranger to pandering to the far-right wing on gun issues, long expressing dubious warnings about the threat of the United Nations confiscating the guns of Americans. He has also been a frequent guest on the radio show of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who constantly tells listeners the government will soon round up and kill citizens.

In his 2010 Senate race, Paul spoke at a Second Amendment rally in Frankfort that featured a speaker from the Ohio Valley Freedom Fighters militia who advocated the violent overthrow of the government and the lynching of liberal journalists.

While Sen. McConnell was initially hesitant to weigh in on Obama’s new proposals, that ended in grand fashion last weekend.

On Saturday, The Courier-Journal reported that McConnell issued robocalls to gun owners around Kentucky, calling Obama’s action an attack on the Second Amendment. His Senate campaign followed up Sunday with an over-the-top email to supporters stating Obama was “coming after your guns” with “full-scale confiscation,” using militaristic rhetoric of Obama’s “assault” on our freedom.

McConnell, who is still viewed with deep suspicion by many Tea Partiers back home, is desperate to shore up the right wing of his Republican base in order to avoid a primary challenge in 2014.

Rep. John Yarmuth, a supporter of Obama’s proposals and co-sponsor of a bill to ban high-capacity clips, tells LEO Weekly that McConnell’s email was an irresponsible and dishonest ploy to stoke irrational fear for his own political gain.

“I didn’t think it was possible for Sen. McConnell to set a lower bar on honesty,” Yarmuth says, “but he did it with that email.”

Yarmuth argues that even lawyers for the gun lobby admit Obama’s executive actions are well within the president’s law enforcement authority, and he warns that such paranoid rhetoric is potentially dangerous if people believe it.

“This to me is pretty much as low as you can go in terms of being irresponsible as a public official,” Yarmuth says. “He knows that’s not true, he’s making it up, and he’s using it for his own political benefit.” 

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