In the aftermath of 2016, Missouri progressives seek means of defending themselves.
By Justin Germeroth
(St. Louis, MO) After Jim S. spent 6 months abroad in 2004 working with English anarchist communities, he had settled into a career of social work when he heard familiar chatter during the 2016 election.
“When Trump started saying ‘America First’ it perked my ears up. I’d heard nationalist bullshit like that before in London from [fascist] groups like Britain First,” said Jim S. “It re-woke my anarchist tenancies, and I started seeking out like minded folk, but didn’t find the crew until after the election.”
Jim S. is a member of the Mid-Missouri John Brown Gun Club. They have withheld their last names to protect themselves and their loved ones from online harassment.
The club is named after abolitionist John Brown, whose armed resistances against Kansas slavers escalated tensions prior to the Civil War. It was founded in 2009 as a leftist response to the Tea Party movement. In 2016, it reconnected with its offshoot Redneck Revolt, acting under its banner.
Redneck Revolt works to counter-recruit far-right groups in order to promote values of tolerance and workers’ rights. It also dedicates itself to community defense and firearm training to encourage people to defend themselves against exploiters. Alan B, another member, is proud of how they protected counter-protesters at the Unite the Right protest in Charlottesville, Va. last year.
“Redneck Revolt was able to protect a great many peaceful people who were there to counter the open fascists rallying that day, but Heather Heyer died and a lot of other people were seriously injured,” Alan B. said. “You have to measure that kind of success against what might have happened if you didn’t act.”
“[Charlottesville] showed a lot of folks the benefit of being armed,” Kropotkin said.
Kropotkin sees the 2016 campaign as a motivator for the growth of the organization.
“[The SRA] really picked up after the 2016 election happened,” Kropotkin said. “Trump’s election started radicalizing folks.”
Similar trends exist in other left-wing gun groups. The National African American Gun Association, founded in 2015, gained 38 chapters over 14 months and boasts almost 25,000 members. The Liberal Gun Club’s membership has doubled since the election.
Kropotkin finds the increased activity of leftist organizations inspiring.
“Antifascist Action has done a good job of disrupting the Alt-Right, and John Brown Gun Club is making inroads with the [Three Percent] folks,” Kropotkin said.
The Three Percent is a paramilitary movement founded in 2008. According to their website, they want to “utilize the fail-safes put in place by our founders to reign in an overreaching government and push back against tyranny.”
Alan B. and Jim S. encountered members of this group at a Second Amendment rally in Jefferson City.
“To quote George W. Bush: ‘That was some weird shit,’” said Jim S. “Making real connections with the threepers requires some patience and diplomacy. Initially, it’s all about breaking down the artificial walls between us, give them back the dignity of being recognized as an individual human being and not part of an ‘other’ group.”
However, SRA and Redneck Revolt differ from more mainstream Democrats regarding gun control, a topic reignited since the Parkland shooting. A poll conducted in March by Associated Press and the National Opinion Research Center found 90 percent of Democratic voters polled support of stricter gun laws. This fact does not sit well with Kropotkin.
“I tried to be a Democrat but they have been dead set at the national level to roll things back to the 1990’s and remove more access to the right to keep and bear arms as part of a seemingly concerted effort to concentrate power in the State,” Kropotkin said.
Alan B. and Jim S. praise the actions of the Parkland teens, with special admiration for their ability to organize. However, they have reservations about any gun control.
Jim S. would rather focus on other issues, such as money in politics and healthcare. Alan B., on the other hand, wants to address the societal conflicts inherent to to the existing gun control system.
“We have extremely serious class and race problems in the US, and the way the laws are enforced can make a law that seems like a good idea into a real horror for people of color and people with less money,” Alan B. said.
Cydney Johnson, running for Missouri State Representative as a Socialist Democrat, finds the movement toward gun proficiency worrying.
“I respect my comrades’ right to defend themselves, but I prefer an inside-outside approach,” said Johnson. “I’d want the people on the street to know we can solve the problems they’re defending against.”
However, Kropotkin doubts any change successfully coming through government reform.
“Over the several decades that I have been able to vote, I have seen time and time again where the statements made to get elected were rarely followed through if the candidate was elected,” Kropotkin said. “Direct actions ‘get the goods.’”
The political landscape has rapidly changed since 2016 with the growth of an organized left. Alan B. sees the core concept of this movement as empathy, where people break the hierarchies that pit them against each other and work toward the betterment of all. Jim S. agrees.
“Sometimes the most anarchisty thing you can do is to rebel against your own ego,” Jim S. said.