For all the media hype about Monday’s open-carry gun rally outside DC, and promises from organizers that “hundreds” of armed protesters would come out to saber-rattle, the event was poorly attended. Barely two-dozen guys (and a few gals) with guns showed up at Fort Hunt Park early Monday to “restore the Constitution” and demand more gun rights in a state that already allows the carrying of concealed weapons. But there was one highlight: the appearance of Mike Vanderboegh, the Alabama blogger and former militia leader who called for “patriots” to throw bricks through the windows of Democratic offices after the health care reform bill passed last month.
Vanderboegh didn’t disappoint. He came to the rally carrying a brick with the Roman numeral III etched on it, to symbolize the “Three Percenter” movement he’s trying to spearhead through his radical blog, the Sipsey Street Irregulars. The Three Percent refers to the “active forces in the field against the King’s tyranny” during the American Revolution, which, Vanderboegh claims, “never amounted to more than 3% of the colonists.” To illustrate the power of Three Percenters, Vanderboegh told a story about Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, and how a number of them collaborated with the Nazis to try to secure food for the staving residents. He claimed that 3 percent of the ghetto residents fought back against the “bad Jews,” and a few even lived to tell about it.
Vanderboegh’s blog post calling for activists to vandalize the offices of Democratic lawmakers attracted national media attention after reports emerged of smashed windows and doors at Democratic offices in several states. Vanderboegh said he has received death threats as a result of Democrats denouncing him for his blog post, including an Easter card filled with white powder from a Virginia resident calling himself Dick Cheney. He seemed to take great pride in being criticized by Rachel “Madcow” and dubbed “unhinged” by “Billy Jeff” Clinton. “When you’re denounced by a serial perjurer you know you have arrived,” he thundered. “Across the political spectrum I think I scare them. I don’t know why. I’m just a fat, old scribbler with congestive heart failure and diabetic feet.” He added that he was simply trying to “get the attention of people who are pushing the country towards civil war and that they should back off before someone gets hurt.”
To underscore this point, Vanderboegh went on to tell a story about how he and a friend had seen a guy beating his dog with a broken fan belt. His friend had intervened after exclaiming, “Oh hell no!”—a phrase Vanderboegh claimed was a quintessentially Southern exclamation signaling that someone is about to get “beat, shot or stabbed, and the guy who gets beat, stabbed or shot had it coming.” He used the story to lead the (albeit small) crowd into frenzied chants of “Oh HELL no!”
“The slave gives consent to his master to be enslaved. But we are Americans. We are the folks who say, ‘Oh HELL no!’”
Vanderboegh said that the country’s leaders don’t understand that there are people who are willing to die for a principle, adding, “I think I see some of them here today.” It was a chilling comment, coming on the anniversary of the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building by Timothy McVeigh. “They think we will never seriously push back against their infringement,” he said.
After the speech, Vanderboegh gave interviews to some of the many reporters in attendance. In one, he claimed that eventually the government would “lose patience with us and send people to our doors to kill us, and only then will we take up arms.” A skeptical cameraman asked him if he really thought the government would try to kill him, to which he replied, “Ask a Davidian, if you can find one alive,” referring to the 76 Branch Davidians killed during the FBI siege on the Waco compound in 1993. Behind every law, he argued, is the implication that “you will do this or we will Waco you.”
Vanderboegh said that he had lost so much faith in the government that he was sure he would never get a fair trial in any conflict with the government. “If I don’t have the right to a fair trial, at least I have the right to an unfair gun fight,” he said.
When a reporter quizzed him about whether he was inciting violence, and whether he had tried advancing his views via the political process, Vanderboegh suggested that this was like telling a Jew getting into a cattle car on the way to a concentration camp to consider finding a political solution to his problem.
The comment prompted an anti-gun counter-protester to shout, “Brownshirt!” Les Sonnenmark, who was there with his wife Laura, said he was the child of Holocaust survivors, and that his grandparents had both been killed in concentration camps. The couple, who lived near Fort Hunt park, said they were deeply offended by Vanderboegh’s remarks, and they engaged in a heated exchange with Vanderboegh. As things got testy, a US Park Police officer came over to nudge them along, at which point Vanderboegh stalked off, yelling at the protesters, “I’m sorry you missed the whole point of the Holocaust. You should talk to the Israelis.”
The fiery southerner gave an abridged version of the same speech from the banks of the Potomac River at Gravelly Point park, the closest the protesters could get to DC and legally carry a gun. But the day’s final speaker was not a militia leader or Second Amendment activist or even a politician, but a US Park Police officer. The jack-booted representative of the tyrannical government that the activists had been protesting all day long reminded protesters—many of whom came from out of town—to be careful not to take the first exit out of the park. Otherwise, she counseled, they’d end up in the District, where all those guns in their cars would definitely be illegal.