October 7, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
How the right wing uses the Constitution and the Supreme Court to squeeze liberty out of Americans they don’t like
The right to harass, intimidate and threaten whomever they want.
Yesterday, I described a situation in which local boards of education are being squeezed between two separate but related forces. On the one hand are shadowy nonprofit organizations funded by the very obscenely rich that are staging “protests” against masks, vaccines, the teaching of anti-racism and other things they don’t. I call them the death-threat squads. They harass, intimidate and threaten board members in such numbers as to trigger waves of resignations. Their goal isn’t changing minds. It’s silencing enemies. The tactic works.
But it only works due to the help of a tandem force in question. On the other hand are local law enforcement officers, even whole police and sheriffs’ departments, who do not or will not enforce the law in order prevent such crimes from being committed. Why? Because they are sympathetic to the interests of those who are committing the crimes. For this reason, a national school board group called on the president to help. The US attorney general is now taking steps to investigate.
I used to say the Republican reaction to the Sandy Hook massacre was the rapid expansion of laws deregulating access to firearms and their use. I was wrong. Those laws, including concealed carry laws, were a reaction to Barack Obama’s reelection.
I’m summarizing yesterday’s column, because I want to stress this pattern — the squeeze play — that’s between active agents of the very obscenely rich and passive agents of the state. I want you to be aware of how these lawless forces work in tandem, though not necessarily in explicit coordination, to shape not only our views of politics but our understanding of freedom, too. I want you to see more fully that what they are doing now is how they want America to be, a nation in which the in-group can harass, intimidate and threaten the out-group, and the out-group is legally and constitutionally bound to put up with it.
Consider an upcoming case to be heard before the United States Supreme Court. It’s the biggest case on Second Amendment rights since Heller in 2008. Heller established the right to self-defense. The state is forbidden to outlaw guns for personal use and safety. In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, plaintiffs hope to take Heller a step further to establish the right to conceal one’s weapon.
It’s important to understand the context of Bruen. Heller was decided before America elected its first Black president. After the election, the “gun-rights” movement sprang into action. I said this yesterday, but didn’t say why. It’s because democracy “unexpectedly” empowered non-white people. For many white people, empowered non-white people, especially Black people, means disempowered white people.
Something had to be done. Since American democracy could no longer be trusted, they turned to their guns. They turned to tactics to fight the feeling of being “enslaved.” Thanks to Heller, they could legally carry their guns in public, in places where they’d never need a gun, like the library. They said they were exercising their rights. They were lying. They were doing exactly what the school board death-threat squads are doing now. (Local law enforcement officers said then as now that nothing can be done.) They were harassing, intimidating and threatening people they don’t like. They were doing that because harassing, intimidating and threatening people makes them feel free.
Here’s the tip jar!
The need among some white people to feel “free” in the face of a treacherous democracy that empowered non-white people — thus robbing white people of their freedoms — was so fierce that a day that might otherwise have triggered a national reckoning on gun violence was barely noticed. While most Americans saw the slaughter of 20 innocents at Sandy Hook as an overwhelming reason to increase gun regulation, the “gun-rights” movement was focused on something else: the 2012 reelection of Black president and chief avatar of tyranny.
I used to say the Republican reaction to the Sandy Hook massacre was the rapid expansion of laws deregulating access to firearms and their use. I was wrong. Those laws, including concealed carry laws, were a reaction to Barack Obama’s reelection. They were a reaction to American democracy betraying white people for a second time. (The good guy with a gun is not just a good guy who shoots back. He’s a white guy who’s “free” to shoot whomever he pleases. That’s what makes him good.) It is the expansion of these laws, and all they symbolize, that’s set to be heard by the Supreme Court. I don’t have reason to doubt this court will establish a concealed carry right. Once that happens, the right to military weapons might not be far behind.
Thus the high court will do its part in squeezing freedom out of Americans. On the one hand, the in-group gets to harass, intimidate and threaten the out-group with guns, concealed and/or open. On the other, local law enforcement gets to shrug, pointing helplessly to the Supreme Court and its interpretation of the Constitution. The out-group does indeed have the right to equal protection. What we’re seeing, in stages, is a slow-motion conspiracy to pretend otherwise.
Which is the point. Freedom for the out-group is equal to tyranny for the in-group. More accurately, freedom for the in-group is dependent on the out-group living in fear of the in-group. Without that fear, the in-group just doesn’t feel free enough. That’s why freedom isn’t and can’t only be doing whatever you want. Freedom must mean harassing, intimidating and threatening the out-group while enacting laws and interpreting the Constitution so the out-group can’t fight back.
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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.