Springtime for Militia

By CHRIS FARAONE  |  April 21, 2010

The 9 am start time arrives, and, with roughly 50 troops (and about as many journalists) present, organizer Daniel Almond approaches the makeshift podium and attacks the current administration for enacting health-care reform and authorizing bailouts. Tom Fernandez, founder of a group that claims it will “respond and alert its members” regarding “government activity that is contrary to this countries [sic] founding documents,” follows. With an assault rifle slung over his shoulder, Fernandez offers a prayer, then guides his all-white disciples through the Pledge of Allegiance and “My Country, ’Tis of Thee.”

With the crowd riled, Bob Wright, leader of the New Mexico–based Constitutional Militia, decries his fellow gun enthusiasts who will participate in this afternoon’s unarmed NRA rally. Without citing specific names, he implies that the Oath Keepers — a loose association of cops, jakes, and servicemen who have pledged to disobey orders that they deem unconstitutional — were cowardly in their appeasing the likes of MSNBC host Rachel Maddow and disassociating from the Fort Hunt gathering. “I’m not angry,” says Wright, countering what he claims are unfair, liberal-issued stereotypes. “It’s just that I’m going to have what’s mine.”

In the morning keynote, Mike Vanderboegh, an Alabama-based militia superstar, delivers the caliber of vitriol that all expected since he wrote on March 19 that people should launch bricks as a final measure before having “to resort to rifles” in combating the tyranny of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Comparing his followers to the Spartans at Thermopylae, Texans at the Alamo, Jews at Masada, and rogue Holocaust victims who rose up against the Nazis, Vanderboegh wraps by casting his “manifestation of righteous resistance” as the victim. “I don’t know why I scare them,” he says, waving his cane and accusing President Barack Obama of initiating civil war. “I’m just a fat old scribbler with heart failure and diabetic feet.”

National Mall
As Vanderboegh and his clan relocate to Gravelly Point Park on the Potomac for afternoon programming — carrying their weapons as close to Washington as legally possible — a much larger group of gun owners enjoys campier festivities behind the fittingly phallic Washington Monument. But soon after I arrive, the serenity is shattered by an outspoken party crasher who stomps through the crowd accusing everyone of treason. In minutes, the eccentric Cambridge-style lefty and her two passive hounds are chased away by a young man screaming: “People in China get shot for saying things like that!”

The disruption stirs things up a bit, and perhaps leads to the reaction minutes later when a helicopter hovering above the Mall causes much paranoia. Despite the visible label of a local news team, attendees point their middle fingers at the suspected gestapo in the sky; one woman wearing a bright orange GUNS SAVE LIVES sticker and holding a MY GUNS MAKE YOU SAFER sign laments to her family: “I can’t believe they’re really taking pictures of us — I never believed that it would get this bad.” Making light of the perceived CIA surveillance, her husband jokes: “It’s probably [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid.”

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