TRT: Building On Success
by Ari Armstrong, March 5, 2001
It came out of nowhere. On February 3, 2000, over 300 civil rights advocates marched on Governor Bill Owens' mansion, demanding that Owens fulfill his campaign promises and protect the rights of self-defense and gun ownership. The group evolved into the Tyranny Response Team, which protested Owens' policies on numerous other occasions and rallied to defend civil arms wherever disarmament meetings were arranged.
That first night was electric. Very often the TRT has participated in successful rallies and has made a noticeable impact in politics and in the media. Sometimes, though, the TRT has degenerated into hostility and counter-productive approaches. I believe the TRT needs to build on past successes and shed some less-responsible practices in order to fulfill its potential.
On January 8, 2001, the TRT rallied at a press conference held by Sane Alternatives to the Firearms Epidemic at the capitol. The results were mixed. On one hand, the TRT earned press for the civil rights side of the issue. On the other hand, the actions of some distracted from the message. Some hurled obscenities and blasted the police. At one point I asked for restraint, saying "the press is here!" One reporter added, "Forget the press, there are families here!"
I recently read a telling comment by Ed Crane of the CATO Institute. In the March 2001 edition of Liberty Magazine, Crane writes,
[L]ibertarianism is a radical, in the sense of fundamental, political philosophy. Most of its adherents explicitly or intuitively understand this. Libertarians are out to fundamentally change the political culture in America. The question is, how do you do it? Too often, we think of a radical as someone who dresses in black and stands on a hill waving a black flag yelling "smash the state!" But that person isn't being radical, he's being silly. The true radical is the one who's most effective in changing the direction of society, or at least at changing the nature of the debate. (26)
NYU scholar Chris Matthew Sciabarra argues that radicalism must work within the system in order to change the system. No, that doesn't mean we have to pursue traditional political activity. But it does mean that we must be sensitive to the culture around us and we have to build on what's already good in society.
Remember that most disarmament activists think in stereotypes and cliches. When they think "gun owner," they often think of some redneck hiding out in the woods. In reality, gun owners are on average highly educated and financially successful. (This is true probably because collecting guns is an expensive hobby and because civil arms carries with it a rich intellectual tradition.) I've found that wearing a suit and tie and sticking to substantive issues is more likely to break through to a disarmament activist. It certainly appeals more to the vast undecided middle.
It's a mistake to think that we can intimidate anti-gunners into going away. When we face intimidation, we only fight harder. Why should we believe the other side will react any differently? The better strategy is simply to wear down victim disarmers by a constant barrage of civil dialogue and facts. All the logic, all the evidence, all the history is with us -- if we'll use it.
On the other hand, it can be useful to politically intimidate Republicans, who rely on gun owners' support to retain power. The protests against Owens were highly successful. In addition, it can be useful to get "in the face" of anti-civil rights politicians. While physical threats and purely personal attacks are always inappropriate, protests against individual politicians can garner good press and make the politician's job less rewarding. I'm all for "street theater" in this regard.
Obviously, I disagree with commentators like Norm Resnick (1360 am) who believe the TRT is beyond repair. (Resnick's show has become devoid of interesting content since he excommunicated TRT leaders like Bob Glass.) On the other hand, TRT members should be careful with the argument, "If you don't get off your butt you have no right to complain." Individuals pursue activism in their own ways. While I've been to most TRT rallies, I've spent much more time working on my web page and with Libertarian projects. Even someone who has never attended a TRT rally might have an insightful criticism to offer.
In addition, it simply isn't true that "doing something" is inherently better than doing nothing. If that were true, then all the disarmament laws would be a success. People should get active, sure, but they should do so in ways that actually help society become more free, not in ways that alienate potential allies and confuse the message.
The press coverage of January 8 did not present our message, because the TRT did not present its message to the press. Instead, stories in the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post focused on the bad manners of some TRT members and the resulting embarrassment of others. Isn't the point of rallies to get our substantive message out to the public?
I've noticed a trend at TRT rallies. It seems like at every rally there is a family or two. But the same families never come back. Maybe that's because the TRT's image is not appealing to parents who want to bring their children. In general, I believe many former TRT participants have stopped coming because of the needless rough edge of the group.
Perhaps most disturbing at the January 8 rally and at previous events were anti-police comments. Yes, some police officers are "bad apples." However, most are good people who basically agree with the positions of civil arms advocates. After one TRT rally, I spoke with an officer who said, "I thought I agreed with your positions, but after the way some of you behaved I may have to reconsider my opinions." Most police officers I've spoken with have remained supportive and have indeed treated the TRT very courteously, despite the anti-police rhetoric coming from a few TRT members. Obviously I'm all for rooting out police corruption and holding officers accountable for wrong actions, but I'm also for recognizing the majority of good officers on the force.
I was struck by a passage in James Hogan's sci-fi novel Voyage from Yesteryear. In the story, the Chironians are humans defending their planet from an invasion from earth. "The Chironians understood that taking it out on the soldiers [or police] wouldn't help their cause. A soldier who might have been an ally became an enemy when he saw his friends being carried bruised and bleeding away from a mob [or even merely verbally abused]. Everything the Chironians did was designed to subtract from their enemies instead of add to them, and to whittle their opposition down to the hard core that lay at the center, which was all they had any quarrel with."
Apparently, since January 8 there has been something of a "shake up" with the TRT. I'm not really in the loop, so I don't know exactly what that means. Hopefully, though, the TRT will learn to build on past successes and shed the nonproductive behaviors. If other TRT members would like to comment on the matter, please contact me at email@example.com. I'll see you on the streets!