By Chelsea Parsons and Igor Volsky
Donald Trump has sought to downplay his statement that gun owners — so called “Second Amendment people” — would stop Hillary Clinton from appointing Supreme Court Justices by dismissing suggestions that he was calling for the assassination of his political opponent and arguing instead that he was simply remarking on the ability of gun enthusiasts to politically mobilize against a potential judicial nominee.
But the question isn’t just what Trump meant to say. As former head of the CIA, retired Gen. Michael Hayden, put it, Trump is also “responsible for what people hear.”
During his Tuesday speech in North Carolina, Trump prefaced his now-infamous “Second Amendment people” phrase by arguing that Hillary Clinton will “abolish the Second Amendment” if elected president and appoint judges who don’t believe Americans should own guns.
That particular conspiracy theory — which has been debunked repeatedly by fact-checkers — is a cornerstone belief of many groups the Southern Poverty Law Center considers violent antigovernment extremists — organizations that have pledged to take up arms against the federal government. Trump’s statement directly mirrors their rhetoric:
- The Oath Keepers, an association of current and former law enforcement and military who pledge to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” provides an oath for people to take when they become members that includes a pledge not to “obey any order to disarm the American people,” a pledge that is described in more detail as an affirmation “that the purpose of the Second Amendment is to preserve the military power of the people so that they will, in the last resort, have effective final recourse to arms and to the God of Hosts in the face of tyranny.” Stewart Rhodes, founder and President of the Oathkeepers and supporter of the armed standoff at the Bundy ranch in Nevada in 2014, further explained: “I think it will be a civil war, frankly,” he said. “I think it’ll depend upon whose door they go to first, but I think eventually they’re going to run into a veteran, or just a hard-core gun owner, a Three Percenter, who’s going to say, ‘I’m not going to give them to you, you’re going to get them bullets-first.’ And that’s how it’s going to go.”
- The Three Percenters are another extreme antigovernment group that has expressed a willingness to take up arms against the federal government. Michael Graham, founder of this movement: “We’ve tolerated your lies, scandals and your blatant disregard for The Constitution of the United States! If you ‘try’ to disarm us, The American People, we will no longer be so patient, tolerant nor show restraint and it will be you who forces us to fire the second shot heard around the world.”
According to the SPLC, antigovernment extremist groups in the US have experienced explosive growth during the last seven years, from 149 in 2008 to 998 in 2015. And the calls to arms encouraged by these and other groups are not always limited to rhetoric. In the decade since the terrorist attacks on 9/11, right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade and caused 254 fatalities.
One of the deadliest examples is the 2014 rampage by anti-government extremist couple Jerad and Amanda Miller — whose extreme views were well documented on social media. In a 2012 post, Jerad specifically cited the gun grab conspiracy that Trump parroted on Tuesday. “Soon, USA will be slaughtering christans and constitutionalists by the millions in an effort to bring us one step closer to a new world order. They will attempt to disarm the world in an effort to have global tyranny. I do not wish this to pass, for this will end this world as we know it.”
In 2014, after a short stint supporting Cliven Bundy at his Nevada ranch standoff against the Bureau of Land Management, Jerad turned his dangerous rhetoric into action when he and his wife shot and killed two police officers and one civilian in Las Vegas, NV.