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Gun Rights Advocates, 'Patriots' Mix in April Protests

A few hundred people showed up this April 19 for two pro-gun rallies in and near Washington, D.C.

A few hundred people showed up this April 19 for two pro-gun rallies in and near Washington, D.C., events filled with the usual antigovernment "Patriot" movement themes of the perceived erosion of personal liberties and a tyrannical federal government. If the largely male, nearly all-white crowds attending the two events saw the irony of openly carrying guns in one rally and harshly denouncing a government they claim is repressive, they didn't let on.

Low attendance helped scuttle high expectations for drama at the "Restore the Constitution" rally that began at Fort Hunt National Park near Arlington, Va. No more than 60 people showed up with pistols on their hips and rifles slung over their shoulders. It was legal to do so because of a recent law signed by President Obama — who some gun enthusiasts insist without evidence is planning gun restrictions — that permits firearms to be carried in some national parks.

Event organizers said they chose the date because it was the anniversary of the shots that opened the Revolutionary War in Lexington, Mass. Critics noted that it was also the anniversary of the deadly 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

Bob Wright, who has participated in border patrols with the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, told the armed audience that both major political parties are guilty of eroding citizens' rights. "Freedom is ours," he said. "We will take it if we must."

Just miles away at the Washington Monument, heroes of the Patriot world including Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, one-time Arizona sheriff Richard Mack, Gun Owners of America Executive Director Larry Pratt and Georgia congressman Paul Broun addressed 350 to 400 people.

Broun, who may be the U.S. congressman closest to Patriot ideas, referred to his fellow lawmakers as "domestic enemies" and bemoaned a "tyrannical government. Socialists have been taking away our freedom and liberty."

No speaker's words were more eagerly anticipated than those of Mike Vanderboegh. He's the former Alabama militiaman who urged people in a March posting on his blog to break the windows of Democratic Party offices to protest health care reform. Portly and pugnacious, Vanderboegh delivered a fiery speech at the Fort Hunt rally, relishing his new notoriety. Still, it didn't go as well as he hoped. "Do the press outnumber us?" he asked a reporter in a men's room.

Vanderboegh's speech was received enthusiastically by the meager crowd, but his appearance ended on a sour note. Answering reporters' questions afterward, he angered three bystanders who were listening to the give-and-take.

"You're a terrorist," shouted a man. "You're an anti-American bully," his wife added. With that, Vanderboegh ambled away.