How to talk rationally about gun control

October 5, 2017

The slaughter in Las Vegas on Sunday was the largest since the 300 slaughtered at Wounded Knee, South Dakota in 1890 or the 250 slaughtered in the 1921 attacks in Tulsa, Oklahoma (or any of the other slaughters in which non-white Americans were the victims). The carnage has America in a brief moment of refection. Why does this keep happening and what are we going to do about it? The answer to the second question is probably nothing. If we couldn’t find the will to amend our gun laws after Sandy Hook in 2012 when Adam Lanza shot 20 small children to death, we never will. There will be many more shootings, some will be bigger Stephen Paddock’s death toll of 58 (so far), and we still won’t do anything.

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The sad reality is that our congress is owned by the National Rifle Association. They pimp out mostly Republicans but a lot of Democrats as well. (Here in Oregon, both Republican Rep. Greg Walden and Democrat Rep. Kurt Schrader have taken NRA donations.) The NRA is fiscally invested in widening the sale of all types of guns, as well as silencers and “bump stocks” that Paddock used to modify his assault rifles into automatic machine guns, greatly increasing his casualty rate. In 2015, the NRA supported the unbanning of armor-piercing bullets that have been used to kill police officers. And old white guys get angry at rap music.

We will see plenty of NRA puppets say it’s “too soon” to “politicize” the murder in Vegas. But there is another mass shooting just around the corner so it will always be too soon. So stop using that excuse. Stop using excuses period and do something.

I’ve written about the connection between men and gun violence. (It’s always men doing this. Always.) I want to talk about how to talk about gun control with two simple points.

The Second Amendment, like all rights, is negotiated.

The First Amendment is not absolute. Go into a crowded movie theater and shout “Fire!” or onto an airplane and say, “I have a bomb!” and then claim “free speech.” I dare you. Or try writing something libelous or post on your Facebook page that you are going to kill the President and try and hide behind the First Amendment. I dare you. Your goose will be cooked.

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The Supreme Court is in charge of determining what is constitutionally protected and what is not. In Virginia v. Black, the high court, in 2003, ruled that burning a cross was protected speech, unless it could be proven that it was intended to intimidate others. Our rights are constantly negotiated. They aren’t absolute and they aren’t “sacred.” The U.S. Constitution is a living document, written by humans, that the humans of the judicial branch are constantly interpreting and defining.

Case in point; the Second Amendment. It states, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” There is certainly a difference between “a well regulated militia,” and an angry 64-year-old real estate investor with 47 firearms in his possession, but let’s focus on the second part; the right to keep and bear arms. The Bill of Rights was written in way back in 1789. I used to tell my criminology students at Portland State that there were only two ways to interpret its second amendment.

  1. The Historical Interpretation: When the founding fathers wrote the amendment, they were thinking of the arms that were available to people in 1789. This would be pistols, flint lock rifles, muskets, canons, and maybe those bombs where you light the fuse and chuck them at people. And the founding fathers wrote the Constitution for white male property owners. (Jeez, women weren’t allowed to even vote until 1920.) So the the Second Amendment says white men can own muskets and that’s it.
  2. The Libertarian Interpretation: The Constitution applies to ALL Americans, including children, the mentally ill, convicted felons in prison, and, yes, even women. And the Second Amendment applies to ALL arms, including machine guns, flame throwers, nuclear missiles, and weaponized anthrax. So the Second Amendment says psychotic American serial killers have the right to own intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Obviously, the reality has been negotiated to be somewhere in between those two interpretations. Automatic assault weapons were banned in 1994 under the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act. In February, President Trump signed a law to make is easier for mentally ill people to purchase guns. SCOTUS didn’t even recognize an individual right to possess a weapon until 2008 (District of Columbia v. Heller). It’s a constantly evolving landscape of what the Second Amendment actually protects and prohibits. It’s never been static. So why think it’s set in stone now? It’s set in pudding.

It’s all about reducing harm

I love it when the the gun control debate pops up, the trolls say, “Well, if you outlaw guns, people will still kill each other. With guns! And knives!” Look, you can kill a person by pushing them off a cliff. Nobody wants a law banning cliffs. This about reducing harm. After a horrible 1996 mass murder in Australia, the country passed real gun control and both murders and suicides dropped dramatically. Obviously, there are still murders and suicides in Australia, but there are significantly fewer victims. So don’t give me this, “if you outlaw guns there will still be murder” crap.

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Conservatives are stuck in this binary thinking. Either a gun law eliminates all gun crime or it’s pointless. Look, we just want to reduce the body count. We’ll never eliminate it. Gun-related homicides dropped 59% in Australia after they changed the gun regulations.  If your loved one was one of the people who would have been killed in the 41% of murders that didn’t happen, you’d think that the gun law was the best fucking thing to happen since sliced kiwi. Here, the NRA-check cashers in congress don’t care about the 93 Americans that are killed by guns every single day. Sure, they’ll send their “thoughts and prayers,” which is the polite way of saying they’re sending smoke up your ass.

Laws save lives. The seatbelt law has saved hundreds of thousands of lives. Not everybody wears one, but the tally of 33,000 people killed in crashes each year would be vastly greater without the law. A gun law that clamps down on internet gun sales, or limits ammunition sales, or makes it harder for wife-beaters to buy handguns won’t stop crime, but there will be fewer casualties. If that means someone you love won’t get shot, I bet you’d think that law was worth pissing off the NRA and their deep pockets.

We don’t want to take your guns away

The hysterical right love to play this old song that somehow liberals want to take their guns away. “Out of my cold dead hands,” they bleat. Plenty of liberals and/Democrats have guns. They want to protect their families and go hunting, and shoot trap (whatever that is). I’ve shot plenty of guns. I used to keep a shot-up gun range target in my office, hoping to intimidate any grade-grubbing undergrads. Some of my shooting has been pretty high-powered. I did a weapons training course with the FBI in 2005 and scored this hot pic of me squeezing off a few rounds from an MP5. I don’t own a gun (as far as you know) but I have fired two Glocks from each hand, Matrix-style. Definitely not like the movies. I respect guns. I want to keep these things away from lunatics.

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The majority of Americans want stricter gun control laws. According to the most recent Gallup poll on the topic taken last October (you know a new one is coming any minute), 55% of Americans want stricter gun laws and only 10% want less strict laws. You’d never know that this week as congress is expected to loosen access to gun silencers. What Americans want is some reasonable legislation that keeps the Second Amendment somewhere between white property owners with muskets and convicted felons with nukes. Something that might drop the body count by any meaningful percentage.

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Gun nuts often say that gun laws only serve to punish law abiding gun owners because of the actions of a few criminals. It’s worth pointing out that most murderers aren’t actually criminals until they choose to commit murder. Stephen Paddock, 64, had no criminal record until he smashed out the windows in his suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel and unloaded hundreds of rounds into a crowd of concert-goers, in the greatest act of single shooter mass violence in our lifetime.

How do we stop the next mass murder? The answer is complex, but a slack legal system that allows an individual to assemble an arsenal of high power weapons, that have nothing to do with home protection or hunting, has to be addressed. It’s time to, again, revisit what the scope of the Second Amendment means and what we can do as a nation to reduce the body count in this war against Americans, NRA be damned.

Support: Everytown for Gun Safety

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“You’re gonna need a shotgun” Raising a daughter in a rape culture

September 7, 2017

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I was speaking at a civil rights conference in Michigan this week and over lunch I was having a conversation with a jovial guy who worked in law enforcement. Since it’s always a unifying topic, we began chatting about our children. I showed him a cute pic of Cozy milking a cow at the Oregon State Fair. “You’re gonna need a shotgun,” he said.

I wish it was the first time I’d heard that line. Even before Cozy was born, when friends, family, or strangers heard we were having a girl, the calls for “better get a shotgun” came from men of all ages.

I understand that these men are trying to be cute, but it always injects two thoughts into my head; 1) I don’t want a gun, and 2) thanks for reminding me that boys and men will try to rape my daughter.

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I mean, isn’t that what that line means? If Cozy is hanging out with a boy that she likes, it’s her time, her body, her choice. Right? It’s only if said boy crosses some boundary into nonconsensual douche-baggery that hero dad is supposed to rush in with his 12-gauge Remington to rescue his damsel in distress by threatening to blow this kid’s head clean off. “Do you feel lucky, punk?”

I’m not buying it.

What patriarchal vision has a father guarding his daughter’s window, weapon loaded, to make sure sex-crazed boys don’t rob her of her precious virginity? Cozy can arm herself with the wisdom to surround herself with the type of boys who can use the front door. I’m trying not to think too much about her inevitable transition into a sexual being, but my hope is she will own it responsibly without the anxiety of a father who wants her locked in a chastity belt, or who is lying in wait, with a Winchester across his lap.

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The cute line about shotguns is more an acknowledgement of the rape culture we must raise our daughters in. I can trust that Cozy will make good choices with the boys (and/or girls) in her life and know how to shut down any unwanted advances (and accept the wanted ones). We will load her up with lines from TLC (“I don’t want no scrub.”) and bell hooks (“There can be no love without justice, asshole.”) But the harsh reality is that there will probably be boys and men than blast right though those defenses.

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Self-report studies have found that one in four women in America will be raped in their lifetime, many numerous times. The numbers are even more bleak for the more broadly defined “sexual assault.” He may not force his penis into her, but “just” grabbing her breasts may be enough to demonstrate who is boss. The same research shows that only 22% of rapes are committed by strangers, the majority are men known to the victim. This might happen in a dormitory, on a date, at a family gathering, or all of the above. It could be a boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, or thinks-he’s-a-boyfriend, or all of the above. There is no place that girls and women are safe from the potential of unwanted sexual contact; not home, not work, not school. So I know this, and it kills me that Cozy will know this, too.

We’ve tried raise a generation of girls who can defend themselves. We’ve given them guns, pepper spray, German Shepherds, and rape whistles. We’ve taught them how to walk in groups, cover their drinks in bars, and trust their guts about guys who give off rapey vibes. But we haven’t done a very good job teaching boys and men not to rape. When their presidents and faux-medieval TV heroes do it, you can understand why they might think they are entitled to women and girls’ bodies. According to a 1998 study by the National Institute of Justice, 1 in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. A recent University of North Dakota survey found that 1 in 3 college males would rape a female if they knew that would not face any consequences. Boys will be boys, right?

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If there’s any good news it’s that the rates of rape and sexual assault have been falling (along with the violent crime rate in general). Rape victims coming out of the shadows and sharing their stories have surely been a part of that decline. Every man has at least one woman in his life who has experienced this horror. Maybe boys need to hear these stories as well, from their mothers, sisters, teachers, doctors, neighbors. It makes all that Game of Thrones rape a bit less entertaining. I do know the decline in what is still an epidemic of sexual violence has nothing with dads chasing aspiring rapists off with shotguns.

So here’s how that conversation is going to go next time:

“You’re daughter’s very cute. You’re gonna need a shotgun”

“Why?”

“Because she’s going to have boys all over her.”

“What if she wants boys all over her?”

“What if she doesn’t?”

“So, you’re saying she’ll have guys harassing her and trying to rape her.”

“It happens.”

“And she won’t be able to take care of it herself?”

“She might not be. I’m just saying you might need that gun.”

“How about you teach your boy not to rape her and we spend that gun money on something else?”

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Postscript: A friend pointed out that also coded in this is that only pretty/skinny/cute girls are targets of rape, as if rape was an act of sexual attraction. All types of girls and women are rape. It’s about power, not sex.

Sometimes you really need a moment.

June 12, 2016

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Since I started writing this blog, I’ve been pretty good at least one piece each week. I kind of got overwhelmed last week. First, my last piece on rape culture cosmically intersected with the revelations of the sentencing of Stanford rapists Brock Turner and his pathetic parents.  I also had a truckload of work reviewing research proposals for the National Institute of Justice for a big meeting in our nation’s capital. Now I’m in Washington DC just glued to the news from Orlando. Sometimes you just don’t get much of a chance to collect your thoughts (especially when you waste valuable life time arguing with people on Facebook).

I’ve written about how gay pride events have helped me move away from my own homophobia. I’ve also written about how being a media “expert” on mass violence is a double edge sword. I had planned on finally giving an update on Cozy’s gender evolution as she approaches 22 months old. A chance to move from the macro back towards my domestic micro.

But right now in my hotel room in Arlington. I was going to go to the gay pride parade in DC. I probably should. I’m sure it will be a somber emotional event as we remember the 50 dancing souls that were exterminated this morning by a madman (again, a man). I think I’m just going to close my eyes and imagine a world without hate that I so desperately want to deliver to my child. No prayers or thoughts, just a quiet dedication to make it so.

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A Zombie Ate My Baby! Social anxiety and the Walking Dead

March 28, 2016

As we all get ready for next week’s season finale of The Walking Dead it is understandable that our collective thoughts turn to zombies. I’ve loved the zombie genre ever since I saw the low-budget 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. It was at a midnight movie in Stone Mountain when I was 13 and I didn’t sleep all night. But as a parent, my consumption of zombie media has changed a bit. After the last Walking Dead episode I had a flash of stepping into the nursery and seeing a ravenous walker chomping on my daughter. Cozy had a look on her face that just said, “Daddy help me.” The horror. And if you know anything about the undead then you know by that point it’s just too late.

Let me point out before I go any further that there is no such thing as a zombie. Sure there are some people wacked out on bath salts or haunting 80s dance nights that might seem like they are zombies. And of course there are kids who “die” on the operating table and their parents convince them they went to heaven and should write a book that might technically be zombies for a moment. But other than some meth head that thinks your arm is a corndog, there are no zombies. So don’t waste a second worrying about World War Z.

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But the question remains; What is up with zombie-mania? And is there a feminist take on it? We’ve got movies, TV shows, video-games and comic books. You can buy zombie toys, costumes, t-shirts and even doorstops. We’ve gone zombie crazy! Are we hoping for the zombie apocalypse as a preferable alternative to a Trump presidency? Or is it perhaps an excuse to unleash our inner Rick Grimes and kill at will? What’s the appeal?

Not surprisingly a “sociology of zombies,” has been around for awhile. I would recommend Todd Platt’s “Locating Zombies in the Sociology of Popular Culture” (2013) for a recent overview. Usually, the explanation is rooted in some type of social anxiety, whether it was the Cold War and the fear of a nuclear apocalypse or now, in a post-9/11 world, it is a fear of the collapse of western society. We play out these “What If?” scenarios and imagine how we would respond when the shit hits the fan for real. Would we recreate a new authoritarian hierarchy, form a collectivist team response, or just devolve into every man for himself? (Women and children don’t usually fit anywhere in that last one, at least not in a good way.)

One of my right-wing pals told me yesterday that we don’t need illegal immigrants. And I said, “Who is gonna pick your food?” His response was that there was a time in America when most Americans worked on farms. I said, “Yeah, maybe 1816. In 2016 kids don’t even know what a fucking tomato looks like.” Face it, most of what we eat is processed. After your Kroger gets looted, next on the menu is your family pet. We would not do well in an apocalyptic setting where the food delivery app on your phone stops working.

So maybe the zombie thing is a reflection of our fear that society could collapse at any moment and we would be tested on our social survival skills. It seems like we are perpetually on the verge of the big flame out. Would you just blow your brains out or “man up” to fight the undead? Ah, there is a little clue to another explanation.

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I was in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program and my little brother was a sweet kid who had a touch of the developmental disability. He loved video games and taught me how to play Halo (which I found infinitely boring). His big fantasy was a zombie apocalypse so he could kill thousands of zombies. He would go into great detail of how he would shoot them, behead them, and set them on fire. It became clear that the zombies were stand-ins for all the people in his life who he wanted to dispatch with a sharp blade or a shotgun blast. He had a whole list of people he dreamed about killing.

In war movies, we don’t kill human beings. They are nips, gerrys, gooks, and hajis. In Westerns it’s savages. Science fiction body counts are aliens and robots. And in zombie shows, films, and games it is the undead. Each one a less-human than human enemy that we have permission to kill. For its time it is the act of dehumanization that allows us to vent our violent bloodlust against those who threaten our world somehow. Indians and Muslims and Zombies, the infected. Much was written about how the westerns of the 1960s used Native Americans as stand-ins for African Americans who threatened whites living on the urban frontier. Guns and blades allow us to re-establish the white male order over the chaos of the “diseased” other. And if we can bring a few women and people of color (and Michonne) along, all the better.

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If you watch The Walking Dead, you know (and probably love) the character Daryl Dixon, played perfectly by Boondog Saint Norman Reedus. I’ll admit I have a man crush in Daryl and would give anything if my hair could be that greasy (without my under-carriage being equally rank). And here’s why. Daryl is the iconic strong silent type and on a steel horse he rides. He’s best on his own. He doesn’t talk about his feelings or much of anything. He squints and kills in a primal way. He is Clint Eastwood in the the first 20 minutes of High Plains Drifter (1973). He is everything that is right about a film or show set in an apocalypse. He is also everything that is wrong with masculinity in our culture. (And Norman Reedus is absolutely nothing like this fictional character.)

In the real world, men don’t need to kill, abandon the group (Oh, there goes Daryl again.) and keep their emotions buried deep behind their “I don’t give a fuck about you” (sultry) eyes. I love Daryl because he is who I was told I was supposed to be when I was a boy. I used to practice squinting like Clint Eastwood when I was a kid. I tried to be silent and menacing. It sucked (or I sucked at it). That way is pain and loneliness. Feminism gave me permission to be a human instead of a cartoon character male. I don’t want to ride into the sunset. I want to hang out with my friends and family. No slaughter necessary.

The same right-wing friend asked me what I would do if some guy called my wife a “cunt.” I told him I’d tell the guy that vaginas are awesome and probably let my wife take it from there. He (and a very confused female friend) were horrified. How could I not immediately respond with violence? What would Daryl do?

I will continue to be a zombie fan. I live for the post-episode discussions of The Walking Dead on reddit. TWD fans are brilliant and clever and can find humor in deep meaning in the handle of Carl’s gun. (Oh, Carl.) I just wonder how much of the appeal is based on the push to use of violence against those who would challenge the existing order. Maybe I should be rooting for the walkers. Just don’t eat my baby!

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What does the Bundy militia really want?

January 25, 2016

What does it mean to be a patriot? Does it mean upholding the laws of the land without question? Does it mean wrapping yourself in a flag and singing that dreadful Lee Greenwood song? Does it mean claiming an allegiance to the principles of the founding fathers and nothing else? Is Donald Trump a patriot? Is Barrak Obama a patriot? There are as many definitions of patriotism as there are flagpoles. That’s why the specter of the “patriot militia” is both comical and perplexing. I first interviewed militia members in Montana in 1998 and Oregon is now experiencing a new chapter in this both exciting and frightening American story.

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If you live outside of Oregon you might’ve missed the rogue group of militia MEN who took over a Central Oregon wildlife refuge on Saturday, January 2. Since then the Malheaur National Wildlife Refuge has been occupied by a small group of armed men (and the women who have come to cook for them), claiming they have a right to the federally protected land (that originally belonged to the native Paiute people).

Their goal is to “return” the land to the ranchers who can profit financially off grazing on an area that has been designed to protect wildlife, including threatened migratory birds. These men have begun to tear up the land for roads, they have disrupted Native American artifacts, they have prevented biologists from having access to their worksites and have blocked the land from use by the citizens they claim to speak for. So what do they really want?

Not the Dildo Militia

It’s easy for us city people to laugh at these rural activists, mailing them sex toys and branding them as “Y’all Qaeda.” We protest the government with clever signs and they protest it with rifles. Both sides sport beards but ours are worn ironically. While there is plenty of local opposition to the Bundy Militia, led by a “car fleet manager” from Phoenix named Ammon Bundy, there is also some local support. At the root of that support is the wording of the tenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I know you probably know the 2nd pretty well by now, but do you know the 10th?

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There is a great debate about the reach of the federal government into our lives that crosses political boundaries. Remember how the left pushed back against George W. Bush’s Patriot Act or how the right pushed back against Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act? This debate is as America as apple pie made from GMO apples that were grown with federal subsidies. If you take a literal reading of the tenth amendment, the federal government has no business doing either, and both the left and right are correct. Bundy’s group believes the federal management of this Oregon land for the American people is unconstitutional.

Also not defined as a federal authority is preserving land and protecting animals. Based on this rhetoric, the federal government has no business creating and operating national parks. If you want to march into Yosemite and start grazing your ironic sheep herd, you have that God-given right. I’ve been thinking about building a spa next to Old Faithful in Yosemite myself.

If that sounds crazy, it is. The Constitution was designed to be a living document. The first ten amendments, codified in 1789, are the backbone of our free society, but there have been seventeen amendments since then that give us the flesh and bones. (Although the 27th is pretty self-serving for the federalists.)

The problem is that many militia members (I don’t know if this includes the Bundy gang), don’t believe in anything that follows the original ten (aka, the Bill of Rights). That includes some biggies, like #13 (freeing slaves), #14 (birthright citizenship), and #16 (authorizing federal income tax). They talk about “Supreme Law” and the “Organic Constitution” because there is a belief that the 1789 document was handed down from God (similar to the 1215 Magna Carta and my 1962 Spiderman comic book). Now it’s certainly patriotic to think the U.S. Constitution is “sacred,” but it was written by imperfect men who disagreed as much as modern Republicans and Democrats. And most Americans would disagree with the Bundy militia’s extremist interpretation of the Constitution, making them a lot more like ISIS than they’d probably like to admit.

The Supreme Law folks don’t recognize most federal authority, including the FBI and federal courts. That’s why they think they can hold these “common law grand juries” to “indict” their opponents. They have zero legal power but they can make life hell for the targets of militia members by the filing of endless property liens. It completely subverts constitutional due process protections but the threat of the this action has kept many of the critics, including myself, wary from speaking out against them.

But as much as we might disagree with their macho tactics, this issue about the power of the federal government to infringe on our personal liberties is at the core of the American conversation. It was in 1789 and it is in 2016.

Conspiracy City

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After the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, we began to pay a lot more attention to patriot militias. One of the best books on the topic is Kenneth Stern’s A Force Upon the Plain: The American Militia Movement and the Politics of Hate (1997). Stern accurately describes the militia world as a giant funnel.

  • At the top level are a lot of issues that many Americans can find common ground on, including gun rights, tax protests and land use regulations (which would include the debate over the best use of the Malheaur National Wildlife Refuge). People’s first contact with militia is usually rallying around these types of “Don’t tread on me” issues.
  • Then the movement becomes focused on anger at the “tyrannical” federal government as the enemy, not as a democratic form of governance by and for the people. Whether it’s old school “revenue collectors” or federally funded botanists, all federal agents are portrayed as enemies of the people (unless they are defending the country against foreign enemies or brown people crossing the border).
  • The next level is where the conspiracy theories kick in. Now that The X-Files is back on the air, these dark theories have whole new audience. The federal government is controlled by a secret cabal (The illuminati, Freemasons, aliens, etc.) working to deprive average Americans of their basic rights to life and liberty. The conspirators control the media, both major political parties, and the banks, so every time you use your debit card you are giving them data to run your life.
  • Below that, that conspiracy theory becomes a very familiar face, the Jews. That cabal is now ZOG (the Zionist Occupation Government), working globally to destroy white Christian society. The global banking system is the arm of their new world order and they have you eating bagels at McDonalds without even knowing it.
  • At the bottom of the funnel are the revolutionaries who believe a “second American Revolution” is needed to banish the Jewish occupiers and restore the supreme law of the founding fathers. This is where we found Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the militia men behind the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 Americans (including 19 children).

There are fewer and fewer militia activists the farther your descend the funnel. However, Stern posits that the more folks who come in at the top on broad issues, like 2nd Amendment gun rights, the more who will make it down to the bottom and a see events like Oklahoma City (and the standoff in Oregon) as a call to violently overthrow the evil federal government.

End Game

What is their endgame? Well, it’s safe to say the Bundy militia wants a federal government that does little more than sail aircraft carriers around the oceans, but they’ll settle for the Bureau of Land Management handing protected lands over to any white man who asks. “I got some cattle!” Ammon Bundy’s father is Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who’s cows have been ripping off taxpayers for years.

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So it shouldn’t be that surprising that there is significant overlap between the federal government-hating militia world and the federal government-hating white supremacist world. Timothy McVeigh’s guidebook was The Turner Diaries, a poorly-written novel about Neo-Nazis killing “race-mixers,” bombing a federal building, overthrowing the government and launching nuclear missiles at Israel. They want to make America great again by taking us back to 1789, when the authority of (straight) white Christian men went unchallenged, before all this “political correctness” encroached on God’s chosen leaders. It all sounds like Donald Trump’s wettest dream.

It’s not clear what the racial beliefs of the white men hold up the Malheaur refuge are. One member has posted several tweets and videos about “Zionists” and nuking Israel. Their website. www.defendyourbase.net, had plenty of wild conspiracy theories (including some about Hilary Clinton) but was just taken down. I don’t know if they wisely unplugged it or it was the oppressive feds (or an anonymous Smoking Man), but it gave us a glimpse into their bent world views.

How to diffuse a stand off

After the disastrous standoffs in Ruby Ridge, Idaho (1992) and Waco, Texas (1993), authorities now know how to manage a siege with white activists (I’ll let others present the data on standoffs with black and Muslim activists). Those events showed the heavy hand of militarized federal law enforcement agencies and children were sadly killed in each.

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After Oklahoma City bombing, the 1996 standoff with the Freemen militia in Montana turned out very differently. While many called for authorities to arrest the men, the feds waited them out for 81 days. They peacefully arrested the eight man who were later convicted for various charges, including threats against public officials.

The siege at Malheaur could go either way. You get the sense the FBI is playing the long game and hoping these guys will just get back to managing car fleets. But they may also be itching for a showdown. The militia movement hasn’t had any martyrs in a while and more than one have expressed a desire to die for the cause. There’s an assumption that Ammon Bundy, who is quite charismatic, can control all these rogue men who are just hanging out in his very unregulated militia. If one the rogues goes rogue, well, they’ll get the battle with the “tyrants” they’ve long dreamt about.

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Malheaur occupiers Ammon Bundy and LaVoy Finicum have both talked to the media and presented their case in a very calm and articulate manner. They raise some important points about about the overreach of the federal government and the lack of the balance between individual rights and eminent domain. But their logic is rooted in a version on the Constitution that is not real. It’s a cartoon verson that cowboys cling to because it’s very simple and romantic. I can see how they are swept up into its poetry. But the real world is complex. We as a society evolve with this living document. Sometimes we decide that land is best used to preserve wildlife and usually we find a way to share it with law-abiding ranchers.

We can make fun of these guys. We can see how they’ve trampled the rights of the people of Harney County while pretending to defend them. We can see them as little boy soldiers obsessed with guns and cowboy hats. We can see them as entitled whites who are the media savvy face of a racist underground. We can see them as armed terrorists who would be dead by now if the were black or Muslim. Or we could see them as sparking a discussion about our faith in and fear of the government and what we should do about it.

As a parent the images from Oklahoma City haunt me. There are now children inside the encampment at Malheaur National Wildlife Refuge, perhaps being used as human shields or perhaps, like in Waco, being set up as sacrificial lambs for their revolution. Let’s hope they feel they’ve made their point and will return the land back over to the birds and biologists soon. My sense is that Bundy’s gang wants to spark a civil war and this isn’t going to end before spring.

Regular updates on the Oregon siege here at OPB News.

 

Maybe you should sit down to pee.

October 6, 2015

I’m learning that internet trolls hate all things feminine or gay (shocker, I know). In the wake of recent blog posts on Donald Trump, fraternities, and last week’s Roseburg shooting, commenters have called me a “pussy” and a “fag” and have accused me of wearing panties and (my favorite new putdown) sitting down to pee.

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This is nothing new. If you think about how boys bully other boys, it’s typically some attempt to feminize them. They’ll accuse them of being gay or, worse, being a female, or even worse, being a vagina! I know this first hand because when I was a teenager my name was transformed from “Blazak” to “Gayzak.” I remember one bully named Ted who stopped me on my way home and announced, “Gayzak, you’re a pussy.” Being a little too quick, I responded, “Well, I guess you are what you eat, dick.” Ted then punched me in the face, not for being homophobic but for meeting his feminization with a better one. (I’ve mentioned this story before in a blogpost about vaginas but I should point out that at our 20 year high school reunion, a few days after 9/11, a very emotional Ted apologized. It meant more than he knew.)

Now I regularly get called “Ballsack” by “clever” trolls who are stuck in the fourth grade and can’t mount an actual critique of my positions. But it all fits into the larger paradigm that’s behind the toxic masculinity that drives schoolyard bullies and school shooters and I would guess explains a lot of what drives America’s favorite bully, Donald Trump. It was clearly a factor in Roseburg. The shooter was mad at the world because he was a still a virgin. If you are a 26-year-old virgin, you probably shouldn’t be angry at anybody but yourself. This theme parallels last year’s mass shooting in Isla Vista, California (six killed, fourteen injured). Don’t die like a boy, go out “like a man.”

The root behind all of this is the devaluation of the feminine, the hallmark of all patriarchal societies. Females are less than fully human. While this predates the demotion of Eve from the Mother of Humanity to the Original Sinner (that BITCH!) by ancient Hebrew priests, it is not universal. Despite the mythology of the essential nature of male dominance, not all cultures are patriarchal and cultures get less patriarchal the farther you go back in time. Cavemen did not rule cavewomen. Hunting and gathering societies were mostly gathering and evidence relays that men and women shared in both tasks.

There is a lot to be said about patriarchy but here are two quick ways that men can keep power over the women who gave them life.

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1. Create a god in your image. For most of our human history, men and women have bowed down to goddesses, the source of life. But early nomadic tribes and their warrior gods invaded goddess cultures, like Crete and Anatolia. Over thousands of years, goddesses were replaced with gods and then just one male God. And as Mary Daly said in 1973’s Beyond God the Father, “If God is man, then man is God.”

I’m going to write more about this important point later, just know if you worship a god who has a penis instead of a vagina, you are part of patriarchy. Also, is your god circumcised and if so, who did it and where is God’s foreskin now? (Sorry, I wonder about these things.)

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2. Devalue all things associated with females, whether it’s ovaries or reproductive rights. Women are “girls” and men who you want to rank over are “ladies.” If a guy is being a pain, call him a little bitch (or the weirdly homoerotic “my bitch”) and accuse him of being on the rag. Call him anything to do with feminine anatomy; fallopian face, labial loser and the ever useful “pussy.” (The hatred of vaginas by these guys really makes you wonder.)

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There is a right-winger who posts a lot of crap on my Facebook page. This is a guy who thinks Russian dictator Vladmir Putin is a bad ass and Syrian mass murderer Bashar Al-Assad is a hero. When I called him out on his sexist language he posted an image of a woman in t-shirt that said, “Obama is a pussy.” My response was, “You must really hate pussy.” He seemed confused.

This is the weird conflicted psyche of the misogynist. In devaluing the feminine you end up looking kinda, well, gay. You think women and “pussies” suck. So what DO you like? Men and cocks? (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Holla!) I’m quite fond of the vagina and find it infinitely fascinating, so if you call me a pussy, I will take it as a great compliment. And when I think of the awesome gay people I know and what they have to go through because of asshole bigots, well, I couldn’t think of a better thing to be called. When I hear, “That’s so gay,” I translate into “Fabulous!!”

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But of course, that’s not what the He-Man Woman Haters mean. If you Google “Obama is a pussy,” you also find plenty of images of Obama as a female. That’s the put-down. Female, like your mother/wife/daughter, is the worst thing you can be. Patriarchy makes these boys and men so sexually confused, no wonder so many of them are deathly afraid of cunnilingus. According to the male God bibles, that’s nothing but a dirty devil hole. “She was bleeding from her whatever!”

One more story. Before my neighborhood got the shit gentrified out of it, there was a brothel on my block. A pimp named Freddie hung out there and the license plate on his Caddy just read “TNB.” One day I asked, “Hey Freddie, what does TNB stand for.” He answered, “That’s my street name, Trust No Bitch.” Without thinking of the time Ted punched me in the face, I replied, “Oh, does that include your mother?” That was the day I learned you don’t talk feminism with a pimp.

How anyone with a daughter can hate the feminine so much is beyond me. You have to feel sorry for any woman who is married to a guy who hates pussy and tells other men they are going to be his bitch. Don’t these men know they came into the world through a vagina? (Shout out to my C-Section peeps!) What happened to them that they loathe females so much? Oh, that’s right, they grew up in a patriarchal culture. Eve, that nasty-ass skank biotch.

I have a baby daughter. Besides the fact that keeping her vagina healthy is an important agenda item, I’ve also learned to not wake her when she is blissfully sleeping. Since the bathroom is next to the nursery, one way to achieve this is to pee sitting down. (Trust me on this one.) When you pee sitting down, you can check your email or read a few paragraphs in the latest issue of Men’s Health. It’s kind of a cool thing. (Sitting down is also handy if you are drunk, hungover, really tired, or drunk.) But I also eat quiche, watch Ellen Degeneres, sometimes I wear pink and always call myself a feminist. When I was a boy, I might have been afraid of some of that. (I think a lot of “disco sucks” crap I was into as a teenager was driven by fear of the feminine.) Fortunately, I grew up.

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The point of all this is that if boys and men started listening to women instead of hating them or only viewing them as sexual objects to be cum upon, they might learn some important lessons about how to live. All week I’ve been asking people to ask why boys and men go on these shooting sprees. Perhaps the better question would be to ask why girls and women don’t go on shooting sprees. Stop calling people pussies and start really hearing what people with pussies have to offer.

I don’t have all the answers, just this thought. Maybe men should just sit down and shut up and have a nice pee.

Note: Plenty of liberal guys engage in “bro talk.” You don’t have to be a right-winger to fear the power of pussy.

The following book was mentioned in this post and is available at Powell’s Books by clicking on the cover below.

Another Day, Another Mass Shooting in America

October 2, 2015

I’ve been writing about boys and guns for a long time now. I was writing about it before Columbine. I’m writing about it today and I imagine I will be writing about it 20 years from now. Boys (and men) love guns and shooting them. Some shoot targets and tin cans and some shoot people. A lot of people.

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I’ve been doing a lot of talking about boys and guns for the last 24-hours after a young man in my state decided to go on a shooting spree at Umpqua Community College, killing nine people. That was the 294th mass shooting this year with a body count of 380 people killed, according to the Mass Shooting Tracker. When it’s close to home, like yesterday’s shooting in Roseburg, it hurts, but if it’s not, it can be just background noise of life in America. As President Obama put it so powerfully yesterday, we have become numb. Comfortably numb.

It’s about gender first

If all these shootings had been committed by girls and women, you better believe we would be talking about gender. We are so used to boys shooting that we don’t even see it. I was a boy and I was taught to love guns. I had plastic six-shooters and then graduated to a plastic tommy gun that shot sparks out of the barrel. The movies and TV shows I loved had gun violence and so did the video games. But I didn’t become a mass murderer.

I learned that violence was a part of my maleness. If I was having a beef with another boy in school, he’d ultimately say, “Let’s go outside and solve this like men.” That didn’t mean we were going to have a discussion about our feelings. I didn’t fight much, but I did obsess over comic books where my heroes did a lot of fighting. And I did play high school football for a while because the most violent sports were the easiest way to confirm my teenage masculinity. During practice I would bang my helmet on the bleachers to make it look I got in some “good hits.” But I didn’t become a mass murderer.

So much of the way think of “manning up” is wrapped up in violence and the best way to attack a boy or man is to attack his masculinity. But, unfortunately, the quickest way to push back against that is with violence, especially gun violence and go out like a man. When we look at the boys and men who commit these mass shootings, they usually have been emasculated in some way. They have been bullied, or had a wife leave them, or lost a job. I’ve had all the above and thoughts of retributive violence certainly crossed my mind, but I didn’t become a mass murderer.

These shooters are almost always suicidal. The ones that aren’t killed by police or their own bullet, like the Charleston church shooter, just chicken out at the last minute. When right-wingers call for putting more guns in schools, movie theaters, and churches, it sounds wonderfully John Wayne, but would have zero deterrent effect. These boys and men want to die. They just want to take as many people with them as they go out the door. They suffer from acute depression, something I have known in my own life, but I didn’t become a mass murderer.

The sociopathic boy

So we know that these shooters are males (usually white, but not always), fixated on guns and violence, who have been emasculated in some way and suffer from depression. Well, that describes probably the majority of males in this culture at some point, including myself. Gender is the funnel that moves boys and men closer to this act but there has to be something more than that.

As I wrote in my 2000 book with Wayne Wooden, Teenage Renegades, Suburban Outlaws, there is a psychological thread that connected the wave of school shooters leading up to Columbine. They tended to have evidence of sociopathic personalities. Someone with Anti-Social Personality Disorder displays the classic psychopathic attributes. They are cruel and manipulative. They are driven by impulse and act without the guilt mechanism that stops the rest of us from doing bad things. They have a big devil on one shoulder but no angel on the other to balance out those dark thoughts and impulses. If it feels good, do it.

Sociopathy in boys starts early. We get the big three red flags; bedwetting, animal cruelty, and fire starting. If you have a boy who has an issue with two of those, you are probably OK. But if they’ve regularly expressed all three there is a chance you could end up like Kip Kinkel’s parents. As we learn more about the Roseburg shooter, I expect we will find a clear case of sociopathic behavior. Some of his social media postings point in that direction.

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Sociopaths are angry at the world for not giving them what they think they are entitled to. They want others to suffer the way they do and are willing to go out in an orgy of violence so the world will remember their name. And absolutely nothing can stop them (unless they can’t get their hands on their weapon of choice).

The problem with sociopathy is that we barely understand it. Some evidence points to early childhood sexual trauma. Some newer research connects it to chromosomal damage and brain dysfunction. If we don’t understand its cause, we can’t take that psychopathic kid and treat him or her (sometimes it is a female) before something big happens. So here’s our call for more mental health interventions for young people, but the reality is that sociopaths walk among us and we really have no defense against them.

Of course guns are a factor

Let’s make this simple and complete the equation. The profile of a mass shooter = Violence obsessed male + sociopathic personality + access to guns. I suppose these potential mass murderers could blow up schools, like Christian Slater did in the 1989 film Heathers, but that requires a lot of work. Guns are easy. More than a third of all American households have a gun. That’s a decrease from the 1970s, but it’s still plenty of readily available armaments.

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There is some important information for you 2nd Amendment advocates I’d like to share. All our constitutional freedoms are negotiated. You have freedom of speech but you do not have the freedom to slander or shout “fire” in a crowded movie theater. On your next air flight, tell the attendant that you have a bomb and then try to hide behind the 1st Amendment. The same thing with the right to keep and bear arms.

The 2nd Amendment, authored in 1789, does not give you the right to keep and bear nuclear arms. It also does not give children, inmates, convicted felons the right to own handguns. The courts constantly negotiate and update our constitutional freedoms. You do not have the right to own a TEC-DC9 assault weapon unless the Supreme Court says you do. And if you don’t believe that, you don’t understand how America works.

So there is a way to have sensible gun laws that limit the access of certain kinds of people to certain kinds of (high power) weapons. The rest of the world can do it, why can’t we? I share in the president’s frustration over how hard it is to get over this hump. I thought after the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in 2012 we had finally had enough. But, apparently, we haven’t.

Get ready for more carnage

The good news is the gun violence, in general, has been on the decline in America since 1993. Things are getting better and most of can sleep at night knowing our family is not going to be mowed down by a crazed gunman. But the model of mass shooting as a glorious suicide is now part of our culture and we can chose to accept that. (The “Columbine Effect“)

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There is going to be more bloodshed and body counts. Students are going to continue to die as well as people in churches and in movie theaters and in work places. We will call for prayers and hold vigils and then forget about it until it happens again, probably tomorrow. Boys love their guns and if a few of them are sociopathic and shoot somebody else’s boys, or girls, or mommies, or dads, that’s the price we pay for “freedom.” It’s the American bloodsport that we’ve become accustomed to.

This is a complex issue that no simple solution is going to fix. But if we look at the issue of violence and masculinity, sociopathy, and gun access together, we might have a few less days like yesterday.

Note: As feminists have acknowledged, there are some very positive aspects of masculinity, like care for the family. Those are the boys we want to raise and you don’t need guns to do it.