Less than a week after 17 people were killed in Parkland, Florida, RidersUSA hosted their annual Second Amendment rally as planned in Phoenix.
The 60-odd attendees — including bikers, gun enthusiasts, Oath Keepers and a few enterprising Girl Scouts selling cookies — heard from speakers that included prominent antigovernment extremists Richard Mack and Stewart Rhodes, and entered a raffle for which the grand prize was an AR-15.
It was pure coincidence that this rally, which the motorcycle/activist group RidersUSA (Riders United for a Sovereign America) puts on every year, went on in the shadow of a horrific school shooting. But most speakers in the lineup paid only cursory respect to the victims. They hastened to a matter of greater import: Not what the shooting means for the victims and their families, but what the shooting means for their guns. Even the RidersUSA chaplain, opening the event with a prayer, asked God only once to aid the victims. He spent the rest of the time asking God to not let this tragedy impact policy.
School teacher and former Arizona Sheriff Richard Mack is prominent in the antigovernment movement as a leading proponent of the “Constitutional Sheriff” governing philosophy. This antigovernment extremist view holds that local sheriffs are the highest law in the land, and the ultimate executors of the Constitution inside their jurisdiction. Federal law enforcement, therefore, is subordinate to the sheriff’s authority. Mack founded the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, to promote this idea.
Mack famously opposes any and all gun control laws, and his absolutism was on full display at the rally as he suggested his own preference for dealing with mass shooters.
“There’s two sides here, complete gun confiscation and gun control,” he told his cheering audience, “or, we shoot the hell back!”
In other words, Mack sees only two ways to end tragedies like the one in Florida: Either transforming America into a gun-free zone, or turning mass shootings into mass shootouts. Gun policy isn’t the only place where Mack rejects a happy medium. He also took a moment in his speech to lambaste traffic safety regulations. He said DUI checkpoints were illegal, and with a startling lack of perspective, compared them to “Nazi checkpoints.”
Mack is a teacher at a charter school in Arizona, and told Hatewatch last week that he’s not armed, and though he likes the idea of teachers being armed generally, he didn’t know if he personally wanted to be armed in class. Arming teachers, he said, is not the “only answer.” In Phoenix, he was more open about his passion for firearms. He’s never been hunting in his life, he told the crowd, and would rather go golfing instead, but he has guns, “for freedom.”
Far right activist Alan Korwin followed Mack, and after opening with a plug for his latest book, dove right into his theories about what’s causing mass shootings — or mass murders, his preferred term. Korwin said “the Left,” comprised of “bottom-feeding maggots,” uses the term “shooting” and “shooter” – as opposed to “murder” or “murderer” — intentionally after events like Parkland to incriminate law-abiding American gun owners. His explanation for the tragic American phenomenon had nothing to do with guns. Instead, Korwin said, Big Pharma and the media — including the TV, movie, music and video game industries — were conspiring to “propagandize and brainwash” children into thinking that murder is acceptable. Korwin did not elaborate as to how such a diabolical plot would possibly benefit those interest groups.
He also said the news media shouldn’t spend so much time covering mass shootings. He even suggested the massacre of 17 Americans in a public school isn’t worthy of making the national news. A brief mention would be acceptable, he said, and then the anchors should move on to “Muslim jihadis training in Chad.”
Stewart Rhodes spoke last. Rhodes is the founder of the largest radical antigovernment organization in the country, the Oath Keepers, which Rhodes said has had as many as 30,000 members. The group’s name comes from the oaths that law enforcement and military members take before they serve. Rhodes recruits heavily from these populations, and has members take a pledge of 10 “Orders We Will Not Obey.” That is, if a tyrannical federal government directs law enforcement or the military to violate citizens’ constitutional rights, Oath Keepers will refuse. These 10 orders, things like disarming all citizens or converting American cities into “giant concentration camps,” reveal the out-of-touch conspiracy theories at the heart of the organization.
Rhodes told the audience that any governor or mayor who has declared their state or city a sanctuary is in “direct insurrection against the laws of the Union.” “They are all felons,” Rhodes said, and urged Donald Trump to send in the National Guard and the “militia,” which he identified as Oath Keepers and similar privately organized groups, to bring them to heel. Coincidentally, that recommendation is in conflict with the fourth “Order” the Oath Keepers pledge not to obey: “We will NOT obey orders to impose martial law or a ‘state of emergency’ on a state, or to enter with force into a state, without the express consent and invitation of that state’s legislature and governor.” Rhodes also said immigrants crossing the southern border are part of a “Communist subversive invasion,” a belief that may render the earlier pledge moot.
Finally, Rhodes shared his solution to the crisis of school shootings in the United States. He directed Oath Keepers in the audience, as well as any other gun-owning American, to bring their firearms to their local schools and offer their services as “security.” If the staff is not amenable to that arrangement, or if state or local laws prohibit strangers with guns prowling inside schools, he advised them to “post up” as far away as the law requires. So far, at least one Oath Keeper has taken that charge seriously. Mark Cowan, of Indiana, has been spending time parked just outside the grounds of a Fort Wayne high school with an AR-15, and he says he’s reached out to other Oath Keepers to get more people to join him.
In a statement, Fort Wayne Community Schools said of Cowan’s presence, “We take the security of our schools very seriously. We understand he has a right to be out there, but we do not believe it adds to the safety of our students."