Governors: it’s time to call up your National Guard

Image credit: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images

Insurgents and terrorists threaten governors and mayors with armed insurrection over legal COVID-19 measures.

UPDATE 7/17/2020: Upon further reflection and discussions with friends, I no longer think that calling out the National Guard is the right response to the terrorism and insurrections described in the following essay. The Constitution gives the President the authority to nationalize the Guard, and as such Donald could easily take command of any Guard that a governor called up and either use it against the governor or stand it down and send it back to barracks. This would be similar to what President Johnson did with the Alabama National Guard during desegregation.

In general, I was happy with President Obama’s eight years in office. There were things he did that I disagreed with as a matter of policy, of course, and a few things he did that I thought were outright wrong, both as a matter of policy and of morality. But there were two things he did that are directly responsible for the recent rise in armed intimidation of state governors and legislatures.

He failed to confront Cliven Bundy and his militia supporters at his Nevada ranch in 2014, and he failed to confront Aamon Bundy (Cliven’s son, and a veteran of the ranch standoff) and his militia supporters at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in 2016.

In both cases, federal, state, and local law enforcement backed down in the face of an armed insurrection. In both cases, the insurgents rebelling against government authority won. And in so doing, showed that the government had little appetite for violence. To be blunt, the insurgents showed that the democratically elected government, led by the first black President, was weak.

And far right movements are fueled by racism and the perception that democratic governments are weak.

Fast forward to April and May 2020. Armed militias composed almost exclusively of privileged, racist white men have protested COVID-19 restrictions in Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Virginia, and they’ve blocked law enforcement from closing illegally reopened businesses in Texas and Michigan. And today, the Michigan capitol was closed to the public because of concerns over gun violence from armed protesters.

The purpose of all of these guns is to intimidate legislatures and to coerce law enforcement into not enforcing the laws and legal executive orders. What is it called when the threat of violence is used to coerce or intimidate people?

It’s called terrorism.

And what is it called when armed terrorists refuse to respect the authority of government, including relying on the threat of violence interfere with the legal authority of the government? It’s called an insurrection.

And most governors have the legal authority under their state Constitutions to call up their state National Guard units to suppress insurrections, rebellions, and invasions. Michigan does. Ohio does. North Carolina does. Virginia does. Texas does.

COVID-19 has terrified the white gun-toting far right. They see that their values are at risk from something they can’t reason with, effectively deny, or even shoot. They see hundreds of millions of people voluntarily staying home, helping each other, and demanding that the government do the things that the right has tried for so long to have it stop doing. They see a future where their values will be rightly laughed at and denied a seat at the governing table, sent to the kid’s table while the adults have real, important conversations. And they realize that a virus has turned their collective individualism and rejection of science against them in order to make them into disease vectors.

So instead of fighting something they can’t shoot or reject, the white gun-toting far right is targeting the legitimacy of the government instead. And they think it’ll work because Obama showed them it does.

That’s why one or more governors needs to tell the armed groups that are disrupting the state’s work that continued disruptions will not be tolerated. That if the gun-toting far right continue to engage in armed insurrection and terrorism, they will find themselves facing the state’s National Guard.

Oh, the gun-toting far right won’t believe it. They’ll think it’s a bluff. But once the threat has been issued, the next time an armed group threatens to disrupt the legal authority and operation of a state, they’ll face an actual military. Infantry, backed by mechanized units, and packing live ammunition. And if the insurgents and terrorists are unwilling to back down and disperse – permanently – then they can face the business end of the full legal authority of that actual military.

Calling up the National Guard is a massive escalation, and it carries with it great risks. While most of the gun-toting far right will back down in the face of infantry, some will not, and when they refuse to back down, people will die. Not may die – will. The governor who does this will likely never be reelected to anything and would probably be impeached or recalled for it. And with an authentic 1930s-style fascist in the White House, there’s every reason to believe that the gun-toting far right will get federal support, in the form of political and economic pressure on the governor at a minimum.

But the risk to the rule of law and the legal authority of the government as granted by the people is too great to allow the risk to go unchallenged.

And what if the governor won’t do it out of fear or some misguided belief that insurgents and terrorists will negotiate in good faith? Well, then the people of their state will have to take matters into their own hands. There will be less death, overall, if the governor uses the National Guard, and that alone should be reason enough to justify the use of the Guard. The number of dead on both sides will be far higher if average citizens have to oppose the gun-toting far right directly.

The United States is at a fork in the road. Down one path is regression, racism, science denial, and fascism. Down the other is progress, fairness, reality-based decision making, and social democracy. If the government will not stand up to and defend its authority against terrorists and insurgents, then the path toward fascism becomes far more likely. But if the government will stand up to the terrorists and insurgents, or if an overwhelming public majority tells the fascists to go home, then we’ll move toward social democracy instead.

3 thoughts on “Governors: it’s time to call up your National Guard

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  1. Brian: Excellent piece. Retweeted with hundreds of likes! (I’m a friend of Sara Robinson’s and Robert Mackey)

    1. You probably don’t remember me, but we have swapped emails in the past. Been quite a while, though. I was one of the founders of Scholars and Rogues and wrote there until we archived it in April.

      I greatly appreciate your share and follow. Thanks.

      1. Wow.I’m terrible with human names.:-) I just did a search and see are/were part of some listservs. Excellent! I’m always happy to share great thinking and writing. As of yesterday Twitter said that there were 37, 200 I’mpressions, and 1, 186 total engagements.
        I don’t have a lot of twitter followers (1,895 ) so that’s a pretty big deal.

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