By G. S. Norwood

When armed civilians take to the streets, what are they thinking?

The news out of Kenosha, Wisconsin, is bad. A 17-year-old boy, armed with an assault rifle, killed two protesters and wounded a third. I wanted to finish up this cycle of protest-related blog posts by trying to answer the question: What are they thinking?

Peaceful Protests or Armed Militia?

To get to that answer, I’ll recount a conversation I had online with two men who appeared to support the presence of heavily armed civilians at otherwise peaceful protests.

Before we get any deeper, I want to make clear that in the protests I discuss in this post, people marched peacefully in Weatherford, Texas, and other small towns around the Dallas/Fort Worth area. It was broad daylight. Nobody broke windows, toppled statues, or looted places of business. Nobody announced any intention to commit such acts of destruction.

The local police were both aware of the protesters’ actions and in place to keep the peace. Conditions might be different in other parts of the country, but this is what I saw, and learned from others who were present at the protests, including law enforcement officers.

Online Rumors

After a July 25 march in Weatherford, Texas, to protest the Confederate statue on the Parker County Courthouse lawn, rumors began to spread on the internet. They whispered that the group was going to march again at 3:30 pm on Saturday, August 8.

What are they thinking? Several men ride in the back of a black pickup truck with dark-tinted windows. A large black rifle and scope is tripod-mounted on top of the truck’s cab, next to a large Confederate Battle Flag. Behind them is a limestone storefront from the square in Weatherford Texas.
Photo by Trice Jones, via Dallas Morning News.

As early as 8:30 am, Facebook commenters had spotted some guy in a heavily armored pickup truck with a trailer parked on the square, apparently waiting for the marchers. Others appeared as the day rolled on. Local law enforcement was out in force, detouring traffic away from the square, and calling in reserve officers to monitor the situation.

Right about here you might wonder, “What are they thinking will happen?”

No marchers appeared and, according to a friend within the D/FW progressive community, no march was ever planned. Perhaps it was another example of someone trolling the militia, as happened at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on July 4.

Asking For A Friend

I asked another friend, one of the reserve law enforcement officers called to the square that day, what the official line was on vigilante policing. That is, “private armed citizens threatening other private, possibly armed, citizens in public places.”

He said he couldn’t speak for the officials, but personally he was not a fan. His response echoed the opinion expressed by other former law enforcement officers I know.

That was the point at which one of his other Facebook friends said state statutes and the Constitution allow “protection of property, including that of others.” He said they were there to protect the statue, in case the protesters tried to pull it down.

A stone statue of a man with a goatee, dressed as a Confederate infantryman with a rifle, stands atop a stone base dedicated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy “In honor of the United Confederate Veterans of Parker County, 1861-1865.” The statue stands on the grounds of the Parker County Courthouse in Weatherford, TX.
Photo by Tony Gutierrez, via Dallas Morning News.

While my reserve officer friend agreed that state law allows private citizens to protect property, he offered a more nuanced response. “Her question was about ‘private armed citizens maintaining order by threatening other citizens . . .’ which is NOT allowed by statute or otherwise. I doubt seriously that a citizen that tried to justify the use of force ‘protecting a statue’ would stand much of a chance in court.”

As a former law enforcement officer, who has to maintain his state law enforcement certification to continue to serve as a reserve officer, he has actually studied these questions.

Then a second person commented that, “For a lot of them, [the armed civilians] they’re not specifically protecting the statue. The BLM and Antifa are known to destroy the surrounding area of statues.”

Which isn’t significantly different than just protecting the statue, so still isn’t a legally defensible excuse for armed civilians to threaten protesters. But I wanted to understand the rationale for coming out armed.

What Are They Thinking?

So, I asked one of the commenters, “Isn’t it the job of the Weatherford Police Department and the Parker County Sheriff’s Office to prevent that kind of property destruction? Not the job of private citizens? Do you have any credible information that the WPD and PCSO are incapable of doing the job taxpayers pay them to do in an effective and professional manner? I have always found the professional law enforcement officers in Parker County to be well-trained and highly capable.”

The commenter responded, “I never said the law enforcement agencies here were incapable of doing their job. I personally think that it would serve all concerned much better if there were no armed citizens looking like they were ready for a battle on the town square. I think that there should be a good number of people prepared, however, if things got ugly, to be there quickly to back the LEO up. Some of the folks parading around down there are not helping Weatherford, Parker County, or themselves look good.”

Five white men in matching t-shirts, at least three of whom also wear military-style tactical vests and appear to be armed, stand together and exchange looks with four black men who stand across from them, wearing matching T-shirts of a different design bearing the words “#UNITY #JUSTICE #PEACE.” What are they thinking about this encounter?
Photo by Jason Janik, via Dallas Morning News.

Then I asked, “Isn’t that what reserve officers are for? Trained and TCOLE certified? They would operate in coordination with, and under the command of, WPD, PCSO, and/or DPS. Otherwise you just have a bunch of freelance cop wannabes, operating on their own ‘best judgement’ with no accountability. Seems to me that just makes the whole situation harder for the actual cops to contain.” Nobody responded to that one.

What are WE Thinking?

What are they thinking? It appears to be that they’ll take their guns and go to the protest to “uphold the law” with no real training in what the law actually says, and no grasp of the fact that cops have to let the BLM people march and speak too.

The cops can’t take sides or they undermine the rule of law for everybody. If a bunch of freelance wannabes ride into town to enforce the law as they see fit, they are just winging it on the back of their self-aggrandizing hero fantasies. They make things worse for the real cops, who are trying to do their real jobs.

George Fuller, the mayor of McKinney—another Dallas suburb about 100 miles north and east of Weatherford—put it a different way when a small militia group showed up on the town square there. “As far as those outsiders that are coming in; get on the damn bus and go home. You are not wanted here, you’re not liked here, you don’t add anything other than division, and you look silly. Go play G. I. Joe somewhere else.”

A summer of protests, marches, confusion and disinformation now promises to plunge us into an autumn of more protests, marches, confusion, disinformation, unasked-for Federal responses, and a divisive election. On The Weird Blog and on my sister Jan’s “Artdog Adventures” blog, we’ve spent much of the summer commenting and exploring the issues that have arisen. Anyone who’s read them knows where we stand.

So the themes of Jan’s posts will vary for a while. At least until something else happens to make us ask, “What are they thinking?”

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to the Dallas Morning News for all three of the images in this post. We’d also like to salute photographers Trice Jones (a local activist?), for the photo of the guy in the truck with a gun in Weatherford TX, Tony Gutierrez, for the photo of the Parker County Confederate Veterans Memorial on the courthouse grounds in Weatherford TX, and Jason Janik, Special Contributor and an AP-affiliated photographer, for the photo of typical-for-2020 militia and protesters. These appear to have been in McKinney, TX, but they represent their compatriots well.