AT THE READY: Black people, social unrest & guns for safety
By Stephon Johnson and Cyril Josh Barker | 12/3/2020, midnight
According to the most recent report by the Pew Research Center, Blacks are more likely to see their race and ethnicity as central to their identity. Some would argue that America never forgets to remind Black people of said race and ethnicity.
In these times, some Black people believe weapons are necessary to protect that identity.
The mainstreaming of white supremacist groups like the Proud Boys and other members of the so-called “alt-right” coupled with the politics of President Donald Trump’s administration have kept everyone who wasn’t white on edge. Whether it’s separating families attempting to immigrate at the Mexican border or cracking down on police brutality protests, more Blacks feel the need to protect themselves.
Statistics released earlier this month from the FBI about a rise in deadly hate crimes backs up the fear that many Black Americans have. Of the over 7,100 hate crimes reported in 2019, nearly 60% were motivated by race. Over half (52.5%) of the offenders of hate crimes were white and almost a quarter (24.6%) of offenses occurred in or near the victim’s home.
“Unsurprisingly, the new numbers do not tell the full story,” said Southern Poverty Law Center
President and CEO Margaret Huang. “Hate crimes are consistently underreported due to the federal government’s failure to mandate hate crime data collection at the state and local levels.”
America’s social climate is one of unrest, upheaval and uprising. President-Elect Joe Biden defeated Trump in the 2020 presidential election; Trump insists that voter fraud contributed to his loss and had lawyers target big cities in swing states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia. Dozens of lawsuits were issued but Trump’s lawyers focused on state counties that housed cities such as Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Milwaukee. All of these cities have a significant Black population and it looked like the administration was seeking to disenfranchise the Black vote.
President Trump looked for state electors he thought had the power to delay certifying results and for potential electors to go rogue and vote for Trump as president at the Electoral College meeting next month. This attempted power grab led to people labeling it a coup by Trump and conservatives to assert one-party, white-minority rule. One website created by Dissect & Company (a group of designers and organizers who work with social justice and pro-Democracy groups) wanted to measure when/if people need to sound the alarm that danger was near.
Isthisacoup.com uses a scale/meter going from green (democracy) to red (coup) to yellow and orange (prepare for a coup and attempted coup respectively). With the scale firmly in the middle of the preparation meter, it suggests that American isn’t out of the woods yet. The AmNews spoke to one of the people behind the meter and how it came to be.
“People we worked with before created Choose Democracy [a short-term organization devoted to maintaining democracy in America],” said Common Practice CEO and Founder Jethro Heiko. “They reached out to us and said they were looking to do something that would help people understand what was happening on the ground.
“Initially, we talked with academic people in the field of studying coups internationally and nationally,” continued Heiko. “There’s not a huge number of examples in United States history whereas globally, you can learn more about it.” Heiko also said that they expanded their reach to activists and those in the political world as well as academics to help with updates on the “Coup-o-meter.”
“It kind of depends,” Heiko said. “I think what’s emerged more and more over time is that attempting a coup requires a number of elements to be in place. One of the biggest ones is finding people with the power to change the outcomes. What they haven’t found are people with the power to do so. It’s a team sport, so right now the team acknowledging that President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris won is significantly larger and has more momentum towards a democracy than a coup…for now.”
White supremacist groups want to put Trump back in the White House. Some not necessarily because they like Trump, but because they hope the president can assist them in sparking the race war they desire. According to Talia Lavin’s recently published book “Culture Warlords: My Journey into the Dark Web of White Supremacy,” in far-right chatrooms on apps like Telegram, white supremacy can be found in every message and meme coupled with “the idolization of ‘Saint’ Dylann Roof, the hail of ‘Heils,’ the endless rhetorical scourging of kikes and niers.”
One of those messages involves a concept known as “Day of the Rope.” The day, according to the Anti-Defamation League, comes from a section of Andrew McDonald’s book “The Turner Diaries” where “white supremacist rebels, having taken control of California, engage in mass lynchings of purported ‘race traitors’ such as journalists, politicians, and women in relationships with non-white men.”
“The Turner Diaries” was first published in 1978 by William Luther Pierce under the pseudonym Andrew McDonald. The plot involves its protagonist, Earl Turner, leading an American revolution through violence and the overthrowing of the government. He eventually assists in nuclear war and in a race war where all nonwhite people are killed.
According to former U.S. Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, there are people in Trump’s orbit who believe in the concept of a “deep state” who read books such as “The Turner Diaries” and “didn’t care who they hurt as long as their agenda was furthered.”
As Trump paved the way for white supremacists to come out of the shadows, his presidency also saw a rise in whites being radicalized, mostly online. In 2020, far-right extremist groups have been thriving digitally during the COVID-19 pandemic as millions of young people have been home spending hours online.
“The tremendous insecurity brought on by crises can make the kinds of simplistic solution offered by far-right extremists more appealing,” said Cynthia Miller-Idriss, director of American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab. “For extremists, this is an ideal time to exploit youth grievances about their lack of agency, their families’ economic distress, and their intense sense of disorientation, confusion, fear and anxiety.”
Radicalization knows no age in the digital landscape. White supremacists’ propaganda lives in social media spaces like Parler where misinformation spreads with little regulation fueling post-election conspiracy theories. Founded in 2018, Parler has become a haven for Trump supporters, conservatives and right-wing extremists with a reported 10 million users.
Amidst the aftermath of the presidential election and reaction from Trump supporters, including blatantly brandishing weapons at recent rallies, first-time gun ownership among African Americans is on the rise.
With the residue of racial tension left by the Trump presidency and the COVID-19 pandemic, gun sales among Blacks have skyrocketed with many unsure what to expect as Trump supporters forcefully resist the results.
According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a record 10.3 million firearm transactions were processed by retailers nationwide in the first half of 2020. Data indicates that 9.3% of gun buyers were Black men and 5.4% were Black women. Black Americans gun purchases increased by 58.2% during the first six months of 2020 versus the same period last year.
Black Lives Matter Greater New York Chairperson Hawk Newsome said he’s not surprised by the increase in gun sales among African Americans. He says Black people should protect themselves from racial violence and even law enforcement.
“History shows that the racist white American man is the most dangerous creature on this planet,” Newsome stated. “The expectation of us is to march and sing songs and not respond how white people are encouraged to respond. I believe that Black people should protect themselves from police violence. Police violence is sanctioned by the state. I would rather see a Black person be planning for a self-defense trial then planning for a funeral.”
The AmNews recently spoke to several leading voices on Black gun ownership who confirm that there’s a growing movement for African Americans to arm themselves and exercise their right to open carry.
National African American Gun Association founder Phillip Smith said that the Black community is no longer sitting back to be intimidated and does not have the victim mentality. NAAGA is a non-partisan organization with members across the political spectrum. The organization was founded in 2015 and boasts a membership of over 35,000 with 75 chapters nationally.
“The days are over of somebody thinking they can come by, put on a sheet, grab an AR gun and think they’re going to scare us back into our homes,” Smith said. “Black folks are buying guns in mass. People are beginning to recognize the reality we are in right now. Gone are the days where we sit back and somebody says, ‘You folks don’t need to have a gun.’ Yet, you look around us and every other community has a slew of guns.”
Smith added the reasons why Black people are buying guns is because of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising racial tensions in America. Constant images in the media of social unrest, mob violence and potential food shortages have Black Americans turning to firearms.
“I’ve had many conversations from Black folks who say because of the racial tensions they feel like something’s going to pop off,” Smith said. “They say that they can’t prove anything but under the current administration and what they’re spewing, Black people don’t feel comfortable walking around without something being able to protect them.”
NAAGA’s Detroit Chapter, the Black Bottom Gun Club, was founded by Chad King. With recent demonstrations in Michigan over the results of the presidential election in the state and COVID- 19 restrictions earlier this year, where white men were seen bearing arms and Confederate flags, King said more African Americans are buying guns for self-determination.
The Black Bottom Gun Club has 200 members and King holds gun training classes every weekend.
“What I’m seeing from the ground level is that people want to become more fluent in the use of firearms for protection of themselves and their family,” he said. “Historically, Black people have kept and maintained arms for significantly different reasons than most others have. We do it because we defend against violence that’s already present, not to create violence. I’ve been training a lot of people this year and I’ve had some people who you probably would not traditionally see taking classes from me.”
Dr. Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham University and co-host of FAQ NYC podcast, said that the increase in Black gun ownership isn’t a new concept. According to Greer, historically, the issue of Black Americans and guns were looked at differently than with whites.
“There’s a long history of Black gun ownership. It’s just the framing has never been as ‘gun toting 2nd Amendment defenders,’” said Greer. “My southern grandfather had several different types of guns: pistols, shotguns, and rifles used to hunt. Many Black people have a long history of guns in their families; however, in this moment the increase in gun sales likely has more of a Black Power/ Black Panther element to the desire to purchase guns.
“As we see people like Kyle Rittenhouse travel from Illinois to Kenosha, WI to kill innocent protestors with the protection of the police, more Black families feel the need to protect themselves knowing they cannot rely on police departments to defend them against white vigilantes inspired and seduced by the rhetoric of the sitting president,” continued Greer.
Black Americans have a history of not contacting the police to help solve crimes against them (one can point to the “Stop Snitchin” movement of the 2000s as an example). This history of police behavior and brutality towards Black people deters collaboration with law enforcement. According to Pew Research, Black adults are about five times more likely as whites to say they’ve been unfairly stopped by police because of their race or identity (59% of Black men, 31% of Black women). Black Americans (33%) are also less likely than white people (75%) to give police officers high remarks on the way they do their jobs.
This is why some Black Americans have taken matters into their own hands. In Austin, Texas, Michael Cargill is one of a handful of African American gun shop owners. He runs Central Texas Gun Works and has been in business since 2011. An Army veteran, Cargill was inspired to open his own gun shop after his grandmother was mugged and raped at a bus stop. He said that at that point he realized that Black Americans can’t always wait on police for help.
Cargill teaches the most license-to-carry handgun courses in Texas, seeing 120 students a week. He says he noticed a spike in firearm purchases among African Americans in 2016 when Trump was elected and his supporters became increasingly aggressive.
“When I first started doing this it was all white males and white females but now it’s starting to change,” Cargill said. “I’m seeing a lot more Black males and females that are educating themselves and know what the law is. They are shocked by the history of gun control laws. The first gun control law in Texas was freed slaves could not have access to guns. When you talk about gun control and gun law, it’s always been racist. Ever since the 1800s gun laws were about keeping Black people in check and away from firearms.”
Cargill, Smith and King all said they see a rise in gun purchases among Black women, who make up 60% of NAAGA’s membership. The police killing of Breonna Taylor and a desire to feel safe have more Black women exercising their Second Amendment right.
“There are more Black women who join our organization than Black men,” Smith said. “That
speaks to the structure of Black women within our community. A lot of our women, unfortunately, are single and heading a family. To replace that male presence, a lot of them are buying guns. Black women are becoming very empowered with firearms and they are doing it in a positive way.”
Racial strife. A global pandemic that’s, in your country at least, killing your people at higher rates. The trauma of the Donald Trump presidency. All of this can take a psychological toll on the average Black American. A group of people who have generations of trauma to work through are still bombarded with hate.
With the increase in gun purchases, some Black people believe they need to go the extra route to protect themselves against what’s “out there.”
When the AmNews asked psychologist Dr. Jeff Gardere about these complications, he didn’t mince words about the tension guns bring into the home and how it can exacerbate mental health issues.
“For their own safety, they should not have a gun,” Gardere said. “I’ve worked with many families where having a gun in the home is enough of a stressor that is has caused disruption in the home.”
According to a 2019 High School Youth Risk Behavior Data Survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Black people are more likely to attempt suicide than white people (9.8 percent and 6.1 percent respectively). Another CDC health survey revealed that Black adults are more likely to feel sad, hopeless and worthless than white adults.
Despite the conceding/not conceding nature of Donald Trump, Gardere understands what the past four years have done to the minds of Americans in general and Black Americans in particular. Yet he still said, “People should question whether a gun is the answer to what they’re feeling and dealing with. Is the danger they feel in proportion to the threat?”