Racists Turn Open Carry into the New White Hood
The Hidden History of Guns and the 2nd Amendment
Racists Turn Open Carry into the New White Hood
Whoever has experienced the power and the unrestrained ability to humiliate another human being automatically loses his own sensations. Tyranny is a habit, it has its own organic life, it develops finally into a disease. The habit can kill and coarsen the very best man or woman to the level of a beast. Blood and power intoxicate . . . the return of the human dignity, repentance, and regeneration becomes almost impossible.
—Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The House of the Dead
For decades after the failure of Reconstruction, Klan members in white hoods commonly showed up at southern polling places to intimidate black Americans. Through intimidation, white racists in the South could suppress black voter turnout and discourage votes for radical Republicans who wanted to see the South transformed away from its slaveholding roots. Intimidating voters was a way for the Klan and other racists to guarantee that the racist foundations of the American South were never seriously threatened.
In November 2016 there were no hooded figures at polling places, but there were plenty of white gun owners hanging around and brandishing their guns right out in the open. CNN described one such scene in Loudoun, Virginia, in November 2016:
A Trump supporter showed up to a Loudoun County polling station in Virginia, sporting a handgun in his waistband as he offered sample Republican ballots to voters outside.
“And as a voter, I felt intimidated,” Erika Cotti told CNN. “As my son and I walked away, I heard the man with the gun say . . . you’re voting for Crooked Hillary.”
But elections officials say the man broke no laws, as Virginia is an open carry state—meaning that individuals are generally allowed to carry an unconcealed weapon in public.1
Considering the racist and genocidal history of the Second Amendment and gun culture in America, it’s hardly surprising that open carry has become the new white hood.
On August 11, 2017, thousands of white supremacists streamed into Charlottesville, Virginia. They were there to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee from Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park. Many of the white supremacists were armed with AR-15-style rifles along with tactical military and police gear.
It’s not a coincidence that gun-toting white supremacists rallied in 2017 to protect a statue of Robert E. Lee. Robert E. Lee’s claim to fame is that he was the general who led a traitorous revolt against the United States to preserve slavery in the South. As we’ve seen, the Second Amendment was ratified to enable genocide and to preserve slavery.
And the Civil War was fought, explicitly, to preserve slavery in the South. The South Carolina articles of secession laid it out clearly:
The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.
We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.2
Similar language can be found in the secession documents of the other southern states. Georgia, for example, proclaimed the following:
For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic.
This hostile policy of our confederates has been pursued with every circumstance of aggravation which could arouse the passions and excite the hatred of our people, and has placed the two sections of the Union for many years past in the condition of virtual civil war. Our people, still attached to the Union from habit and national traditions, and averse to change, hoped that time, reason, and argument would bring, if not redress, at least exemption from further insults, injuries, and dangers. Recent events have fully dissipated all such hopes and demonstrated the necessity of separation.3
Probably not entirely unaware of the history of the region, the heavily militarized police of Charlottesville responded calmly to the mob of armed white supremacists. This was, again not coincidentally, in sharp contrast to the police response to protesters who had demanded justice for Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland, two years earlier in 2015. Or three years earlier in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.
The police response in Charlottesville makes sense considering that police departments in the South are descended from slave patrols. The “antifascist protesters” in Charlottesville were reactionary, the police thought, expressing “Northern sentiments,” and were protesting at a statue of a Confederate general, who’d fought to preserve the institution of slavery and, by extension, the institution of the slave patrol, from which modern American police departments, in many cases, descended.
Despite the abundance of guns and high tensions, the Charlottesville rally did not end with anyone being shot. It ended when James Fields Jr., a member of the alt-right, crashed his car through the crowd, injuring several counterprotesters and killing antifascist protester Heather Heyer.
There’s need to wonder what would happen if Black Lives Matter activists organized, armed themselves with rifles, and marched the streets in any city or town across the country. The media have shown many recent instances of what happens when black Americans arm themselves and organize.
In 2018, members of the Baltimore Police were found to have carried BB guns with them to plant on black suspects in case the police “accidentally hit somebody or got into a shootout, so we could plant them.”4
By planting a gun on a black American, the police could plausibly claim that they felt endangered, even if the police shooting was completely unjustified. In the case of Tamir Rice, police shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice to death in Cleveland, Ohio—because he was holding a BB gun in a park and someone called the police.5 Even when it comes to toy BB guns or airsoft guns (like BB guns but with plastic balls), black Americans face potentially lethal consequences for carrying them in public.
In another case in March 2018, Stephon Clark was shot to death in his grandmother’s backyard for holding a cellphone in a manner that police claim looked like he was brandishing a gun.6
In the 150 years since the Civil War, black Americans have been repeatedly disarmed by white authorities or killed when they attempted to exercise their Second Amendment rights. As with so many other things in America, history shows that the Second Amendment has never been “color-blind.”
Actions on gun control have been swift when the people exercising their Second Amendment rights were black. Likewise, when a citizen has been killed while legally carrying a gun, the NRA has been deafeningly silent if that citizen is black.
In July 2016, a black man named Philando Castile was pulled over by the police in Minnesota, and he explained to the police officer that he had both a gun and a concealed carry permit and was going to get the permit out of his wallet. As he reached into his back pocket, as his girlfriend video-recorded the bloody incident, the police officer opened fire, killing Castile. Just months before, another African-American concealed carry permit holder, Mark Hughes, was shot to death by Dallas police who said he “looked like” a man wanted for terrorizing the neighborhood with an AR-15. The NRA said and did virtually nothing about either killing.
This double standard has allowed white supremacists to rally into motley groups that are clearly identified by one salient characteristic: they are armed, frequently with rifles, sidearms, and body armor . . . and are white.