Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 19, 2010
Daniel Almond, a three-tour veteran of Iraq, is ready to "muster outside D.C." on Monday with several dozen other self-proclaimed patriots, all of them armed. They intend to make history as the first people to take their guns to a demonstration in a national park, and the Virginia rally is deliberately being held just a few miles from the Capitol and the White House.
Militia movement will be packing heat at rally on the Potomac
Almond plans to have his pistol loaded and openly carried, his rifle unloaded and slung to the rear, a bandoleer of magazines containing ammunition draped over his polo-shirted shoulder. The Atlanta area real estate agent organized the rally because he is upset about health-care reform, climate control, bank bailouts, drug laws and what he sees as President Obama's insistence on and the Democratic Congress's capitulation to a "totalitarian socialism" that tramples individual rights.
A member of several heretofore little-known groups, including Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership and Oath Keepers -- former and active military and law enforcement officials who have vowed to resist laws they deem unconstitutional -- Almond, 31, considers packing heat on the doorstep of the federal government within the mainstream of political speech.
Others consider it an alarming escalation of paranoia and anger in the age of Obama.
"What I think is important to note is that many of the speakers have really threatened violence, and it's a real threat to the rule of law," Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said of the program for the armed rally. "They are calling health care and taxes that have been duly enacted by a democratically elected Congress tyrannical, and they feel they have a right to confront that individually."
On the lineup are several heroes of the militia movement, including Mike Vanderboegh, who advocated throwing bricks through the windows of Democrats who voted for the health-care bill; Tom Fernandez, who has established a nationwide call tree to mobilize an armed resistance to any government order to seize firearms; and former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack, who refused to enforce the Brady law and then won a Supreme Court verdict that weakened its background-check provisions.
Those coming to the "Restore the Constitution" rally give Obama no quarter for signing the law that permits them to bring their guns to Fort Hunt, run by the National Park Service, and to Gravelly Point on the banks of the Potomac River. Nor are they comforted by a broad expansion of gun rights in several states since his election.
The brandishing of weapons is "not just an impotent symbol" but "a reminder of who we are," said Almond. "The founders knew that it is the tendency of government to expand itself and embrace its own power, and they knew the citizenry had to be reminded of that."
Countered Horwitz: "Our founders thought they got rid of political violence with the Constitution. That was its point. The basic idea of America is one person, one vote, equality."
Vanderboegh and Horwitz both said: "We have a fundamental difference in worldview."
April 19 is the anniversary of the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 and the government's final confrontation in 1993 with the Branch Davidian cult members in Waco, Tex. But Almond said he chose the date to honor the anniversary of the 1775 battles at Lexington and Concord that began the Revolutionary War, "and that is the only reason."
So-called open-carry rallies have been sprouting across the country. Hundreds gathered in Michigan, New Mexico and Ohio last week, and rallies also are taking place Monday in Arizona.
Where demonstrations were once solely about the Second Amendment, speakers now quickly link protecting gun rights to safeguarding all other liberties and decry the new health-care legislation as unconstitutional in its mandate that individuals must buy coverage.
On April 12 in Richmond, more than a hundred people, dozens sporting pistols, cheered when Philip Van Cleve of the Virginia Citizens Defense League called for replacing the "anti-Constitution, anti-freedom, anti-gun" leadership of the state Senate and when Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II reaffirmed his vow to be "aggressive in protecting the Constitution, as it was written."
There have been no accidental discharges or arrests at the open-carry rallies, according to a review of news accounts. The Fort Hunt rally, however, has caused particular consternation and alarm in the online world where gun-rights advocates plan, recruit and discuss strategy.
Oath Keepers, which in a year has grown to 20,000 online members, signed on early as an event sponsor but abruptly pulled out on April 12. "It had gotten to the point that it would be dangerous to attend," said board member Rex McTyeire, citing an escalation of threatening rhetoric online from some participants. "There are people out there willing to do anything to create chaos in an uncontrolled situation, and [the event] is wide open for disaster."
Organizers of another April 19 rally, the Second Amendment March at the Washington Monument, want it known that they have nothing to do with the Restore the Constitution muster. "We are a peaceful, law-abiding group that will follow all local and federal laws," the march organizers' Web site says. "That group is a separate entity entirely and is not at all associated," but at least two speakers are appearing at both rallies, including Larry Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America, a key force behind the D.C. rally.
"It is our own fault that we are in this situation," Vanderboegh intends to tell those assembled, according to a draft of his remarks. "Each time these revolutionists of gradualism against the Founders' Republic took another bite out of the Constitution and shoved us back from the natural exercise of our God-given and inalienable rights, we have backed up, grumbling. We have not shoved back."
Gravelly Point, where the demonstrators will take turns going to from Fort Hunt, was chosen because it is as close to the District as they could get while carrying guns and also comply with local and Interior Department regulations.
When they stand on the river banks Monday and preach an activism that sounds to some like sedition, the armed demonstrators will have the full support of the federal government they fear, carefully detailed in the 26-page event permit, complete with the gun regulations of both Virginia and the Interior Department and a commitment to provide fencing, barricades and bike racks for the event.
"We handle tens of thousands of demonstrations of a First Amendment nature annually," said Dave Schlosser, spokesmen for the U.S. Park Police, "and we are handling this event no differently than any of the others. We assess what their needs are to allow us to facilitate a safe and successful demonstration so they can exercise their rights to free speech and free assembly without interference."