The Oath Keepers have plans for Ferguson

Armed Black Panthers on the steps of the California State Legislature, June 1967.
Armed Black Panthers on the steps of the California State Legislature, June 1967.


According to a story at Red Dirt Report, the leader of the St. Louis County, MO. chapter of the Oath Keepers and his squad …

… will test state law with a unique experiment by arming 50 blacks with AR-15 rifles while marching through downtown Ferguson, Mo.

Sam Andrews, head of an Oath Keepers group in St. Louis County, Mo., confirmed the event will occur within the next “couple of weeks” to demonstrate to local enforcement officials the meaning and intent of Missouri’s open carry law.

“It will be an iconic event,” he said, comparing it to the raising of the American flag at Iwo Jima or the Martin Luther King, Jr.-led March on Washington, D.C.

According to Andrews, the group’s plans are motivated by two factors. First, he says the group was told by the St. Louis County police officials, who were otherwise cordial, that the group could not carry long-barreled rifles, like the military-grade weapons the group was armed with, inside Ferguson city limits.  That, Andrews said, is a misinterpretation of Missouri’s open-carry laws.

The second factor, though, is far more interesting and, historically speaking, far more provocative.  According to the website The Root, Black Lives Matter protesters challenged the all-white Oath Keepers about their ability to openly carry arms without fear in the middle of Ferguson’s huge police presence.  So in response, Andrews says his group wants to specifically arm black residents because:

Every person we talked to said if they carried they’d be shot by police. That’s the reason we’re going to hold this event and it will be a legal demonstration.

This is truly significant.  As Adam Winkler argued in his 2011 article in The Atlantic, “The Secret History of Guns,” gun control in the United States was for generations driven by fear of armed African Americans. This is why, for most of their respective histories, both the Ku Klux Klan and the NRA both worked hard to limit civilian access to firearms.

Much of this came to a head in California in 1967 when, as Winkler writes:

THE EIGHTH-GRADE STUDENTS gathering on the west lawn of the state capitol in Sacramento were planning to lunch on fried chicken with California’s new governor, Ronald Reagan, and then tour the granite building constructed a century earlier to resemble the nation’s Capitol. But the festivities were interrupted by the arrival of 30 young black men and women carrying .357 Magnums, 12-gauge shotguns, and .45-caliber pistols.

The 24 men and six women climbed the capitol steps, and one man, Bobby Seale, began to read from a prepared statement. “The American people in general and the black people in particular,” he announced, must …

“… take careful note of the racist California legislature aimed at keeping the black people disarmed and powerless Black people have begged, prayed, petitioned, demonstrated, and everything else to get the racist power structure of America to right the wrongs which have historically been perpetuated against black people The time has come for black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late.”

Seale then turned to the others. “All right, brothers, come on. We’re going inside.” He opened the door, and the radicals walked straight into the state’s most important government building, loaded guns in hand. No metal detectors stood in their way.

What followed, less than a year later, was the passage of the Mulford Act, which repealed the California state law which allowed the public carrying of loaded firearms. It was signed into law by Gov. Ronald Reagan, today the patron saint not just of the Republican Party but of the gun rights movement generally.

Into this fraught confluence of gun rights, racism, and fear now tread the Oath Keepers. I’m not sure anyone can predict the outcome.