When the Tea Party movement was at its pinnacle, there were a great number of signs to be seen bearing a particular quote raised in the air by middle-aged fists. The quote was a paraphrase of Thomas Jefferson: “When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” Here stood thousands of protestors who feared the clout of legislators and regulators, those who possessed the power to threaten the life and livelihood of these protestors and of businessmen via socialization, taxation and economic restriction. Tyranny was afoot.
Fastforward to today, when much of the Tea Party has been osmosed back into neoconservatism and Republican party politics. The people of Ferguson, Missouri assemble in the streets to protest, albeit rambunctiously, a pattern of extrajudicial killing by the local police department, to wit, the government. These are people who, like many others across the country, fear for their life and livelihood from the government. The police, who systematically deny killing citizens even when faced with hard video evidence corroborating the opposing claims, respond in a way that is entirely apropos given their history but still sends the jaws of many to the floor: by donning military body armor, equipping “assault weapons” deemed unfit for civilian ownership, and shooting at and gassing protestors or threatening overtly, “I will fucking kill you!” The National Guard—the federal government—has even joined to support the police.
The vast majority of former Tea Partiers unequivocally place their support—nay, allegiance—with the police. After all, it is a dangerous job. They put their lives on the line every day to protect us. Their first job is staying alive. Or so go the common sentiments. Who are we to suggest from the armchair how the increasingly-militarized police officer ought to handle his job? You would not tell a fry cook how to do his job. Unless, perhaps, the fry cook and his coworkers had a record of killing the people they are meant to be serving, usually without reprimand but instead with paid vacation. It is clear that, in the mind of the Tea Party Republican (and many outside this classification, surely), while elected officials and bureaucrats are a priori suspect, predisposed to be liars and scoundrels, members of the corruption-prone State who ultimately enforce all law are beyond reproach. Even if you spit on a politician as he climbs the stairs to vote for egregious legislation, you are always to thank for his service the armed government employee who enforces the legislation.
The second half of the aforementioned quote reads, “The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.” That is to say, the people ought to use violent means to defend themselves against agents of the government when the latter overstep their proper bounds. This is the answer to the question “When should you should a cop?”—a question that Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze.com found too ludicrous even to deserve an answer when an essay bearing that title was found being distributed at an Occupy event in Phoenix. “What part of ‘shall not be infringed’ do you not understand?” (a reference to the Second Amendment) reads a bumper sticker, often found next to a Gadsden flag, a favorite icon of Tea Partiers, on the back of a Ford F-250. This right to defend oneself against tyrannical government, it is argued, is god-given, inalienable and unconditional. Or is it?
Does this right not extend to certain people? Or is it suspended when the police are involved? Would those who witnessed the death of Michael Brown at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson (who, a new, privately conducted autopsy of Brown suggests, used excessive force) have been justified in defending their neighbor against tyranny and shooting the officer when he drew his weapon? Does the Tea Party conservative recognize any scenario in which violently opposing a police officer, mostly likely with deadly force, is permissible? There is a dystopian idyll in his imagination of resisting the oppressive socialist régime of the near future as a member of a Second American Revolution. But this fantasy is a delusion, as it is not politicians and bureaucrats who will have their rifles trained on the armed revolutionary, but rather police officers and military men and women. Self-defense against tyranny entails willingness to violently resist the armed agents of the government, the same armed agents who “protect and serve” today.
The Huey P. Newton Gun Club, namesake of the beret-wearing cofounder of the Black Panther Party, is the embodiment of consistency in the Tea Party’s rhetoric of resisting tyranny. The nascent Dallas organization protests police violence by exercising their right to openly carry shotguns and rifles. The group asserts, as the website reads, “the right of the people, particularly those of color, to bear arms and protect themselves where local, state, and the federal government have historically failed to do so.” The group intends to conduct patrols of the city’s neighborhoods in order to curb police brutality.
Will Tea Party conservatives stand behind the #BlackOpenCarry effort, or will they be scared senseless by this seemingly foreign application of their own limited-government laconisms? Will they join the Ferguson protestors in their jeremiad against the instrumentality and indicator of tyrannical government that is a militarized police force, or will the frog sit still in increasingly hot water, budging only to scream at the toad on the other side of the pot for complaining about the heat? I don’t know. But hey, I’m just a normal kid, like you, except that I ask questions.