The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

Second Amendment Vigilantes

By Guest on January 24, 2013 - 10:16 am, Posted in Antigovernment, Militias, White Supremacist

Editor’s note: The author of this guest column, Ron Carver, is a former field organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He is currently an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPC). This piece was distributed via OtherWords, a nonprofit editorial service operated by the IPC.

I don’t hunt, but I have nothing against hunters or owners of rifles, bows and arrows, or boomerangs. However, I am against vigilantes and those, like the NRA leaders, who encourage them.

I had my own run-in with vigilantes when I joined the movement to end segregation and guarantee all citizens the right to vote.

After weeks of death threats delivered by phone to our Freedom House in Starkville, Mississippi, I was alone on a November night in 1964 when three armed and drunken Klansmen banged on the door of our two-room shack. I demanded to know who was there, and a chill ran through my body when the white men responded, “just us niggers.”

There wasn’t a stick of furniture I could use to defend myself, only the bar across the door. But lift and wield it, and the front door would swing open. And who could I phone for help? The sheriff? The chief of police? For all I knew, they were waiting out front, too.

Terrified, I slammed through the nailed-shut back door and slid on my belly down the hill into the darkness, as fast as I could.

That was one incident in a violent, bloody year.

Armed Klansmen burned 50 African-American churches and kidnapped and killed three civil rights activists in an infamous attack that became a pivotal moment in the civil rights struggle. During the search for Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner, Lyndon Johnson sent Navy sailors to scour Neshoba County’s riverbeds. They didn’t find them, but they uncovered the corpses of dozens of African American men. It was a time and place where any crime was tolerated if it preserved the segregationists’ “way of life.”

In the previous hundred years, thousands of African Americans had been lynched, as documented in scores of gruesome photos that were proudly sold as souvenirs.

It is no surprise to me, then, to learn that James Madison’s reason for proposing the Second Amendment in 1789 was to preserve the state militias, the white population’s “principal instrument of slave control.” As documented in The Hidden History of the Second Amendment, an article published in 1998 in the University of California, Davis Law Review, these militias (often called “slave patrols”) were tasked with periodic sweeps of plantations to seek runaway slaves and intimidate any who dreamed of freedom.

Today, the proliferation of armed hate groups, which sometimes call themselves militias, is at least as dangerous as isolated, unbalanced, and gun-toting men with scores to settle. The number of anti-government so-called Patriot groups, such as armed militias, grew by 755 percent in the first three years of President Barack Obama’s first term, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The number of these groups rose from 149 at the end of 2008 to 1,274 in 2011, the SPLC reports.

Hate groups have expanded into every state but Hawaii. They are in everyone’s backyard.

The atmosphere today is toxic. Radio talk jocks promote armed struggle and one security industry executive boasts on YouTube that he would “start shooting people” in response to new gun controls.

For more than a hundred years the NRA promoted sportsmanship and responsible gun ownership — period. But since extremists seized control in 1977, the organization has forced a stranglehold on Congress while promoting the myth that the Second Amendment was enacted to facilitate armed rebellion against our own government, should it become tyrannical.

I support the right to own guns, but we don’t need 30 rounds in a semi-automatic weapon — or a well-armed militia — to bag a deer. I draw the line when my fellow citizens turn their homes into armories and begin training for insurrection. We used to call that treason.

  • Derek Wilson

    We have not become a very violent society, concernedcitizen. (name obscured because of fear, obviously) The crime statistics put out by the Federal Government of the United States of America show that violent crime has come down in the last several years. It is only in places like Chicago, where honest, law-abiding citizens are not allowed to protect themselves that violent crime is the worst.

  • concernedcitizen

    It’s true Bill reducing and stopping violence is the goal. We have become a very violent society. Perhaps reducing the advertisement of it will help to eliminate the growth of it as well.

  • concernedcitizen

    There are church burnings that have taken place recently so to the poster who claims that the church burnings were from 50 years ago, check out the most recent ones that happened in Texas and are still under investigation. Some of been some of been solved as hate crimes while others are still suspected to be…

  • Beverly Bandler

    Before I respond to Ron Carver’s comments: “Second Amendment Vigilantes.” January 24, 2013, a personal note: my brother, Kenneth Paul Kruger (1944-2012) was one of the “Navy sailors” sent to scour Neshoba County’s riverbeds for the missing civil rights workers. He remembered it as a most painful experience.

    Now to the Second Amendment:

    Thanks to Ron Carver for pointing out “the myth that the Second Amendment was enacted to facilitate armed rebellion against our own government, should it become tyrannical.” It is shocking that so many Americans believe this untruth. Belief is getting confused with evidence these days, unfortunately.

    I am concerned about leaving the impression that James Madison’s intent (“main purpose”) behind the Second Amendment was “slave control.” Let me see if I can shed a little more light on this issue.

    Ron Carver writes: ”It is no surprise to me, then, to learn that James Madison’s reason for proposing the Second Amendment in 1789 was to preserve the state militias, the white population’s “principal instrument of slave control.” Yes and no.

    I don’t pretend to be a constitutional or Madison scholar, but I have been studying this issue earnestly [See my related articles on and bio below]. It is correct to say that the Second Amendment was proposed to preserve state militias, but slave control was not the only issue: insurrections were a major concern period.

    One has to be careful about language anytime, but particularly during these turbulent, polarized times. We must avoid jumping to conclusions and to distinguish fact from argument, and parts from the whole, and also from depending on only one or few sources.

    The abstract of Mr. Carl T. Bogus’s 1998 UC/Davis paper (Social Science Research Network) states:

    “Professor Bogus argues that there is strong reason to believe that, in significant part, James Madison drafted the Second Amendment to assure his constituents in Virginia, and the South generally, that Congress could not use its newly-acquired powers to indirectly undermine the slave system by disarming the militia, on which the South relied for slave control. His argument is based on a multiplicity of the historical evidence, including debates between James Madison and George Mason and Patrick Henry at the Constitutional Ratifying Convention in Richmond, Virginia in June 1788; the record from the First Congress; and the antecedent of the American right to bear arms provision in the English Declaration of Rights of 1688.”

    Prof. Bogus makes an argument in his 1998 paper, using the aforementioned significant sources. “A strong reason to believe…in significant part,” however, is not the same as an undebatable conclusion: “James Madison’s reason for proposing the Second Amendment in 1789 was to preserve the state militias, the white population’s ‘principal instrument of slave control.’ ”

    What is beyond debate, of course, is that: a. The South was concerned about the possibility of slave insurrections. b. The federalists were having a hard time selling the resistant Southern slavery states the proposed Constitution during the 1787 convention and the ratification process (and the resistant anti-federalists), the period in which the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments of which the Second Amendment is part, were proposed in September of 1789 and came into effect on December 15, 1791.

    Madison, himself a Southerner from Virginia, and the federalists wanted and needed the South “on board” or there would have been no U.S. Constitution. Compromise on the slavery issue (there were Framers against slavery) and other economic and moral issues was unavoidable if the Constitution was to be approved.

    What we need to remember is not only the concern that the South had about slave insurrections, but the concern that the framers had about insurrections period. This appears to be the central reason for their defining of the Militia in Article 1, Section 8. The new nation, trying to recover from the trauma of the Revolutionary War and the stresses and strains of the ineffective Articles of Confederation, was politically fragile and in dire straits financially—it was faced with an enormous debt from the war, was out of money, was experiencing a post-war economic depression, a credit squeeze due to a lack of hard currency, and among other debts, was unable to pay its revolutionary soldiers.

    Readers may be familiar with Shays’s Rebellion (1786-1787) and also the Whiskey Rebellion (1791). The former were revolutionary soldiers from western Massachusetts (but they were not alone in their extreme difficulties) who had not received the payment they had been promised and were suffering from not only the lack of money, but harsh tax and debt collection policies; the latter were tax protesters. The framers were faced with these insurrections, but were also concerned that the fragile new nation could face threats from foreign nations, most notably, of course, the power it had just defeated to gain its independence—the British. The framers had every reason to believe the humiliated and vanquished British might take advantage of any weakness of the very new United States of America. I believe some of the policies of the new nation, and the states therein, can be criticized, but starting a new nation is no easy nor tidy business.

    Prof. Bogus’s argument (and his sources) should be considered seriously indeed, but it is an ARGUMENT. Readers might find his “The History and Politics of the Second Amendment Scholarship: A Primer” (2000) of interest as well. Also to be considered is a long list of additional scholarly works (arguments) on the Second Amendment, most importantly the work of historian and James Madison scholar Garry Wills (Wills states emphatically that:

    “Madison did not address [the question of the private right to own and use firearms] when drafting his amendment.” Mr. Wills does not deny that there is any private right to own and use firearms. “Perhaps, that can be defended on other grounds—natural law, common law, tradition, statute.” His point is: the Second Amendment does not provide that right),

    Other important scholars among others: Jack N. Rakove, and Robert J. Spitzer. Robert A. Feer’s paper on Shays’s Rebellion (1969) is provocative. I suggest readers check out investigative reporter Robert’s Parry’s related articles on his website, which also carries two of my articles in which I provide lengthy bibliographies.

    It is important as well to do our homework as to what writings influenced the Framers. To what extent did English law (1688 Declaration of Rights, etc.] influence the Framers? We must remember that the Framers did not depend solely on English law, but on the Enlightenment philosophers, on Greek and Roman classicists (see Carl J. Richards’ books.)

    The history of the Second Amendment is most interesting—and complex as is the history of the Constitution and all the Bill of Rights. There were 13 states, many individuals and many agendas (and consider the communication challenges). (I can only raise the question, not answer it.)

    Sometimes I despair of all the current turbulence over the Constitution and the Second Amendment, etc., but then I think it does inspire us to read American history—ever complex, ever fascinating. The U.S. is no simple nation, and looking for truth is no simple task.
    We just have to remember to think critically and remind ourselves that we charge the U.S. Supreme Court with interpreting the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Constitutional scholars spend LIFETIMES studying the Constitution.

    Whether the Court’s justices reach a consensus, whether the Court meets the highest standards—are other matters altogether, of course.

    Beverly Bandler’s public affairs career spans some 40 years. Her credentials include serving as president of the state-level League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands and extensive public education efforts in the Washington, D.C. area for 16 years. Bandler attended Sarah Lawrence College (‘59) and has a master’s degree in Public Administration from George Washington University (‘82). She writes from Mexico.

  • Erik O

    For the first time in my adult life I am on the other side of the SPLC.

    I am a gun owner and have one of the ‘assault weapons’ that are being railed against.

    Does this automatically make me ‘the enemy’ now?

    I have ‘high capacity’ magazines (the same sized ones that Eugine Stoner designed in the 1960’s), an AR rifle – the same sort of rifle that Colt sold to the civilian market BEFORE the M-16 was ever ordered by the US government.

    Why do I need these items? It’s not a question of need.

    I have done nothing to block my access to my right to keep and bear arms. That is why I have this rifle, as well as other reasons.

    At no time has any thoughts of hatred against my fellow man ever entered into my heart. At no time have I used my rights as a middle-class middle aged white guy to block the rights of folks outside that demographic and have actually supported groups such as SPLC in the past.

    We have a Bill of Rights that protect our access to our rights. Denial of rights through no actions of any individual is a denial of rights for all of us.

    As many have stated before me, I am not an NRA member. I am a Director-level member of the Liberal Gun Club and a paying contributor to the Second Amendment Foundation. Until the ACLU and the SPLC can agree that the Right to Keep and Bear Arms is an individual right protected by the Second Amendment I can not support those groups.

    Please, come back to protecting all of the rights of all of the people, especially those whose voices are routinely drowned out which is what the Southern Poverty Law Center was set up to do. We can’t do this on our own but we still will if we do not get support from your organization.

  • clay

    I’m a lifelong liberal Dem who owns and shoots guns for fun and for self defense and home defense. I carried concealed for my job for over 40 yrs. I know guns.

    Here’s some reasons why shooter buy the AR15 etc..
    (1) Target practice. The ability to shoot 5 bullet holes within a quareter-szed circle at 100 yards requires the same kind of hand-eye co-ordination, muscle and breathing contol as any quarterback, batter or other shot maker.
    (2) Self defense. If you live in the city, a shotgun is an efficient deterent for home defense but its not so good in the country. Why? Because some bad guys who wants to invade your home and rob you can sit 300 feet away waiting for you to poke your head out the door and shoot you. Your shotgun is worthless at long range whereas an AR15 is effective at long range. Furthermore, the average home invasion involves 3-4 thugs (FBI stats) and you may well need a 20 or 30 round magazine in the gravest estreme.

    3) Hunters don’t need a high capacity magazine. In NY state the law limits any gun capacity to 6 rounds. I you hunt with an AR you carry the 5 round mag. That’s all you need.

    4) Every cop in NYC carries a Glock Mod. 19 pistol with a 14 round mag. They also carry 2 additional mags on their duty belt. That’s over 40 rounds. The recently passed NY law requires bans most pistols. Why should civilians carry guns that are half-loaded?

    I’m not a militia guy and I don’t belong to the NRA. I do value the 2nd Amendment. Most folks in the country have guns to protect themselves. We don’t brag about it. We know that 911 responses is too long to wait in a real emergency. Guns are part of the culture and just another tool – but a valuable tool, to be sure. .

  • Alan Aardman

    “But if someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, he said, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun. Not at the head, where a fatal wound might result. But at some other body part, such as a leg. “- The Dali Lama, 2001

    Buddhism takes a nuanced view of self defense and gun control. Of course, what may be an appropriate policy for a rural, agrarian society like Tibet could be entirely inappropriate for a modern, densely populated city such as Chicago.

  • Aron

    It sure is nice that we have big, strong keyboard kommandos like Shifu C to protect us with their deadly, deadly pencils.

    If you are actually a Buddhist, you strike me as having more in common with the Buddhists calling for the massacres of Burmese Muslims than the Buddha Siddartha.

  • Shifu C

    This is the most ridiculous anti-2nd amendment hit article I have seen in a good long while. It is racist, it is inaccurate, and it is full of hatred for American Values.

    I have been around racists both white and black my whole life; and even being white been the victim of racial violence twice. I learned martial arts and support the 2nd amendment because I understand natural law and REALITY. This writer has his opinion, and I’m glad that because of the 2nd amendment he can use his 1st to post it. But I’ll be damned if I don’t stop and say you cannot call the kettle black if you’re the dag-gone pot.

    I own guns. I know how to kill with a pencil. But I also pray for world peace with Buddhist chanting weekly. The idea that the first part makes me a radical right extremist is insulting. I have more peace and tolerance in my pinky finger than what I’ve seen in this article. And the conclusions reached under the ostensible authority of being ‘right’ are simply laughable. It’s an opinion; and point for point I could destroy it as an argument. So please, do not pretend you’ve got the answers or that you’re tolerant.

    We’ve given MILES in the direction of gun control in the name of safety with the result of palpable tyranny and rising violent crime in “Gun free zones.” 20000 Gun Control laws.

    What has the LEFT given? Don’t say CC[D]W… we fought HARD for these laws with DEMOCRACY, and we didn’t use massacres of children to get them. We have public opinion on our side; but the left stands on the graves of children pretending to be sane while we’re simply heartless killing machines. It’s asanine, illogical, and an insult to the human brain.

    You double-talk out of the sides of your mouths; you cannot win any debate point for point, I can tell you that. I’ve won debates for 15 years (since I was a CHILD) and I know for a fact you will simply resort to ad hominem in a vain attempt to pretend to be winning. If you’re racist you call OTHERS racist. Ridiculous.

    There are many forms of violence. Control of others’ minds through fear, intimidation, marginalization, and elitist, jussive Voice is an evil violence of the most deplorable kind. I would spit in your general direction if it were worthy of my fluids.

    Good day, and try to recall that in the End; when the Void comes, God saves a special reward for traitors to humanity – freedom and Truth – and to their own countrymen’s safety.

  • Kiwiwriter

    My question on firearms is a little different:

    What is it about this country — as opposed to other countries — that we feel we have to live in a state of paranoia, assuming that our government is an incipient tyranny, and all of our fellow citizens and neighbors are potential deadly enemies? Why are we so bellicose?

    As Rodney King said, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

  • aadila


    First, my argument is not a strawman, so your comment is not inherent to this debate.

    I am making an analogy, not arguing against something you didn’t say or believe. It happens to be a good analogy because deaths to firearms and deaths to vehicles are in close parity. In my state it is much easier to purchase a weapon legally than it is to own or drive a car legally. For a long gun, you hand over the money and walk, that simple. No one has to present proof of insurance, or perform a competency test.

    A bad analogy would be your comparison of prescription drugs making people a target of crime. As far as I am aware someone cannot use a vial of oxycontin to gun down an elementary school.

    Drug abuse is a physical and psychological dependency. You are right that more laws won’t stop it and they don’t — at least not punitive laws. What drug abusers need is treatement, not jail time. So again, bad analogy.

    You are correct that the mere existence of laws on the books does not stop criminal behavior; however, neither does the existence of ineffective laws mean they cannot be made more effective. Gun laws do not aim to correct the underlying evil of gun violence, but to make it less likely to happen and establish a means of redress.

    While on the topic if negligence. Since FBI estimates are of 600,000 weapons stolen from homes and cars each year, why don’t we try the owners of those weapons for criminal negligence in failing to safeguard them?

    I agree with you violence is violence, but since you are a police officer (or claim to be) why not put aside your firearm and carry a hammer, since there is really no difference between the two?

  • Bill

    That would be a straw man, or straw car crash argument. There are already laws that prohibit using any weapon to cause harm or kill. There are already laws that control types of guns and who can or cannot legally purchase, possess or use them. It’s against the law to drive with over a statutory established concentration of blood or controlled substances in your bloodstream, yet people violate that law all the time, often repeatedly. No one claims that drunk driving laws prevent or reduce drunk driving. Placing additional laws on the books, statutorily limiting magazine capacity or physical features of a firearm will not stop someone willing to violate the law from doing so, any more than the fact that many drugs are illegal to possess stop their use.

    And “gun violence” is a misnomer. An injury resulting from a negligent discharge is the result of negligence, not violence. Is a brain injury due to being hit in the head with a hammer different from that resulting from a bullet? Violence is violence, how it is committed isn’t the major issue in preventing or reducing it.

  • aadila

    “And I’m not crazy, or stupid, just a cop who sees the results of violence on a regular basis, and recognizes that it can’t be wished away if only this gun or that gun were to be banned.”

    Bill, I do not think that anyone actually believes gun control measures will end gun violence or somehow “wish it away”. That might be an ideal to work toward but it would be a reduction to the absurd to claim that is what gun control is all about.

    As you claim to be a police officer, how about we simply eradicate all traffic laws, take out all the stop signs, and just let everybody drive the way they want? After all, traffic laws can’t “wish away” traffic fatalities so what good are they?

  • aadila

    “@aadila-According to the CDC in 2010, 11,078 homocides were committed with a firearm in the US. Check your facts.”

    I did not say homicides. I said deaths to gun violence, which includes accidents and suicides. Check your facts. Also I find it noteworthy that the Bosnian war is over but we continue to have 30,000 gun deaths a year without any sign of abatement.

    That 600,000 guns are stolen per year suggests guns are not being stored properly as you claim. What is your solution? Your right to bear arms doesn’t give you the right to arm criminals through negligence and inadequate safeguards. Cars have annual inspections…why not gun owners?

    Have fun at the range with your death toy.

  • Aron

    Bill, you’re not worth my time because as I said, you obviously have no idea what SNCC stood for as an organization.

    And far be it for me to cure your ignorance.

  • Wicky

    I had always heard (and maybe I heard wrong) that the shocking thing about that search for bodies in Mississippi was the number of women’s corpses — of all colors — that were found. But, of course, the murder of women (by men of all ethnicities) is a whole different thing than a hate crime, and hardly worth mentioning. Or so they tell us.

  • Donna Marie

    @aadila-According to the CDC in 2010, 11,078 homocides were committed with a firearm in the US. Check your facts.Secondly, as to my firearms being stolen, that is highly unlikely.As a responsible firearms enthusaist, those not carried on my person concealed, are carefully locked in my refrigerator sized safe! Stop being silly and get to the range. You might have fun!
    @ Erika- The prison system in the US is the largest single employer, aside from the Federal govenment including the armed forces. It “pays” to incarcerate large segments of the population.Ask me. I know.

  • Ace

    Anyone who believes the idea that if “blacks had access to guns there would be less lynchings” forgets the institutional power that racists had. These weren’t just a small amount of men. They were the cops, they were the governments, they were in charge, and they were invested in terrorizing black people into submission. As we saw in situations like Rosewood and Tulsa, blacks with guns defending themselves often brought more angry whites who would go on to destroy entire families, even black townships, often killing dozens if not hundreds of black people, many unarmed. Any suggestion that guns might have “helped” is made from the privileged position that guns help prevent “tyranny” while conveniently forgetting how “tyrannical” racial disenfranchisement was.