Judge This: Are The Guns At The Protests And Town Halls A Form Of Terrorism?

David Sirota makes the case:

In early August, a protester came to a raucous Tennessee congressional forum packing heat. Days later, President Obama’s healthcare event in New Hampshire was marred by a protester posing for cameras with a pistol and sign reading, “It is time to water the tree of liberty” — a reference to a Thomas Jefferson quote promising violence. And this past week, 12 armed men — including one with an assault rifle — not only showed off their firearms at Obama’s Arizona speech, but broadcast a YouTube video threatening to “forcefully resist people imposing their will on us through the strength of the majority.”

These and other similar examples are accurately summarized with the same language federal law employs to describe domestic terrorism. Generating maximum media attention, the weapons-brandishing displays are “intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population.” Yes, the gun has been transformed from a sport and self-defense device into a tool of mass bullying. Like the noose in the Jim Crow South, its symbolic message is clear: If you dare engage in the democratic process, you risk bodily harm.

With that implicit threat, the incessant arguments about gun ownership have been supplanted by a more significant debate over which should take precedence: The Constitution’s First or Second Amendment?

Based on America’s history, the Founders’ answer to that question clearly lies in the Bill of Rights’ deliberate sequencing.

The First Amendment ethos guarantees people — whatever their politics — a fundamental right to participate in their democracy without concern for physical retribution.

What do you think?  Is this an issue of the first two amendments clashing or is it just a matter of appropriate times and places for exercising each of them?  Is it a form of terrorism to simply to hold up your guns as a symbol at political protests and encounters with congressmen?  Is that a fair characterization?  Are there defensible reasons to bring guns to protests and town halls?

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://aeroslin.wordpress.com/ aeroslin

    I don’t think it’s bullying or terrorism that’s going on here. While the gun-toters are certainly making people uncomfortable, I believe they are using their 2nd amendment rights in exactly the way that it was meant: as a threat and a reminder to those in power of the principles that our country was founded on. Unfortunately, this type of display should have been happening over the last 8 years, not now.

  • Neil

    This got a bit long and ranty, but it’s such a rich subject-Apologies.

    I came here to say almost exactly what aeroslin said in the last sentence of the comment. Every republican politician in the country needed a big taste of this medicine. I appreciate the sentiment of the first two sentences, but I believe there is a very serious, problematic double standard going on here that should be obvious to anyone after the last decade. I would ask-do you think that republicans would have been as accomodating if protesters had brought guns to government functions and made open threats at anti-Bush, anti-war demonstrations? If people had “reminded” Bush of their right to revolt? Horsefeathers! They would be in a military prison on charges of terrorism or treason, or at least they would have been pre-emptively raided by the police and arrested without even having been seen by the public(as happened). Republicans and other conservatives pretend to be anti- large government and pro- individual rights, yet they can hardly handle even peaceful protests without calling people traitors and radicals, crying treason, and using the force of law to silence dissent. They only believe in rights for people who are just like themselves. Second Amendment rights are only encouraged and allowed in reality if you are a faithful swallower of right-wing Kool-Aid. Threaten Obama with death, and you are a patriot to Fox News and the Party, and there will be no consequences at all. Threaten the constitution-shredding war criminal and profiteer Bush with death, and you are traitorous pinko commie socialist loony liberal scum who hates America, even by so-called “liberal media” standards.
    I don’t think that these actions quite fill the “terrorism” bill, but if it goes beyond redneck grandstanding and becomes threatening to citizens trying to participate, then it is certainly terrorism in the broad sense of the word.
    The only reason I don’t consider it terrorism currently is that I reserve the right to make the same statements to right-wing authoritarians and warmongers. In fact, while it cannot be considered legal, I would have considered open armed resistance-including violence-against the Bush administration quite patriotic and completely moral. The problem of course, is that most of the rest of the country outside of the right-wing fascist bubble is made up of mostly peaceful people who are too forgiving and too complacent to hold violent right-wing zealots accountable to the same degree that we regularly hold left-wing activists accountable. This country, through ignorance, jingoism, base tribalism, and thirty years of republican fearmongering and manipulation has drifted so far to the authoritarian right that we treat groups like Greenpeace as if they were running concentration camps-yet if you are a right-wing zealot, you can wave guns, run prison-like religious compounds, and even threaten the president with almost no consequences at all.
    After eight years of pissing all over every American ideal and the backlash afterward we still can’t debate a simple healthcare bill-the most basic social safety net in every other civilized country- without direct threats of violence and constant lies, screams, and propaganda campaigns from the ignorant, hateful right-wing cannonfodder masses and their billionaire warmonger owners. Maybe it’s not terrorism, but it is certainly sad and pathetic.

  • http://aeroslin.wordpress.com/ aeroslin

    “I would have considered open armed resistance-including violence-against the Bush administration quite patriotic and completely moral.”

    As would I have and I expected to see it but it never happened. It made me question the America I was living in like it did many others.

    The moment one of these protesters with a gun pulls the trigger, the game will change and I can only imagine that something like a civil war _could_ start. Again, this is something that should have happened 7-8 years ago when there was a legitimate problem. Their cause now seems to be sparked by the health care debate which is by far the most immoral cause they could have chosen.

    So yes, while I do support their rights to do it, I have to shake my head in pity at such terrible timing.