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Tag: Counter protests

A group of armed young men at a gas station in Kenosha, Wisconsin, during protests in August 2020.

How can this be legal?

By G. S. Norwood

“How can this be legal?” is a re-blog from The Weird Blog.

We live in crazy times. At a time when most of us are just trying to stay safe from the coronavirus pandemic and stay afloat in an unstable economy, we have seen armed counter-protesters turn out to threaten peaceful protesters in a quiet town like Weatherford, Texas. How can this be legal?

Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse, at left, and his fellow militia member Ryan Balch, walk along Sheridan Road in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on the fatal night.
Photo courtesy of Channel 3000 (no photographer credited).

Protesters and militiamen have died in places like Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Portland, Oregon, due to the presence of heavily armed militias.

The President of the United States called on a private militia group to stand back and stand by.”

We have heard rumors of armed militiamen making plans to guard polling places on Election Day.

The FBI and state authorities have arrested more than a dozen men for plotting to kidnap the governors of Michigan and Virginia.

How can it be legal to create a private army? Send heavily armed civilians to public places to “protect property” like gas stations and statues without consent or coordination with local law enforcement?

Legal Scholars to the Rescue

Turns out I’m not the only one asking that question.

The Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection has been studying the rise of illegal militia organizations in all fifty states. They have challenged militia groups in court on constitutional grounds. Filed amicus briefs in other court cases. Advised communities on how to meet the challenge of active militia groups. They even sent a letter to the chief of police in Weatherford, Texas, advising him on applicable law.

Go to their website, and search for yourself. You’ll find fact sheets on the laws governing militias in your state. These sheets include advice on what you can do to defend yourself if heavily armed civilians show up at your polling site on November 3.

The Bottom Line in Texas

A group of armed young men at a gas station in Kenosha, Wisconsin, during protests in August 2020.
Photo courtesy of Spectrum News/Sabra Ayres, via Bay News 9.

It all boils down to this: You and your buddies can meet up, take target practice, drill, and participate in private tactical exercises all you want. Wear camo like it’s high fashion, and buy body armor wherever it’s legally sold.

But if you take action—step into a public situation claiming law enforcement authority without being called up by the governor—you’re an unauthorized private militia and you’re breaking the law.

Simply put, your private army cannot self-activate. Only the duly recognized law enforcement authorities can deputize you to “lend a hand” when needed. You can’t just jump in because you think it would be a good idea.

How can this be legal?

Just to make it all clear, I’m going to contrast militia activity on the Weatherford square with the activities of a group I once belonged to: The Weatherford Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association.

The members of the Weatherford Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association, as the name implies, are all graduates of a six-week training course taught by the Weatherford Police Department. In the course you learn the basic duties of a Weatherford Police officer, undergo a background check and, if you’re interested, earn the right to volunteer for the Weatherford Police Department.

I did a lot of filing and shredding as a WPD volunteer. Other Citizen Police Academy volunteers ride on patrol with officers. They are frequently asked to help with crowd and traffic control during such large public events as the annual Parker County Peach Festival.

In a pre-Covid era, women at the Parker County Peach Festival sell locally-grown peaches from an outdoor booth with a table filled with small baskets of peaches.
Parker County Peach Festival photo courtesy of Megan Parks Photography and Durham Video and Photography.

It’s All in the Authorization

That’s the key. The Police Department asked for help. CPA volunteers are directed by, and answerable to, the Police Department. They don’t just show up in a reflective vest and start bossing drivers and pedestrians around.

A group crosses the legal line anytime they take on a law-enforcement role without being asked. Unless they coordinate their activities with the good people in real law enforcement agencies, they are breaking the law.

Go to the Georgetown website. Learn about the law. More importantly, know who to contact and how to document your experience, if you feel some guy with a gun is crossing the line on Election Day.

If you find yourself wondering “How can this be legal?” you may find out that it’s not.

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to Channel 3000, for the photo of Kyle Rittenhouse and his fellow militia-member Ryan Balch in Kenosha. We also thank Spectrum News, Sabra Ayres, and Bay News 9, for the photo of the civilians in camo and ballistic armor, also in Kenosha. And we appreciate Megan Parks Photography and Durham Video and Photography for the photo from the Parker County Peach Festival.

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?

What are they thinking?

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.

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