On Monday, Tucker Carlson interviewed Seattle radio host Dave Ross – who ran for Congress (unsuccessfully) as a Democrat in 2004 – on the topic of Ross’s theory about why James Hodgkinson shot up Republicans at a ballfield in Alexandria, VA on 14 June.
As noted by many commentators, Hodgkinson’s political history was one of far-left interests and themes, including participation in the Occupy movement, campaign support for Bernie Sanders, and an obsession with making tax policy as “redistributionist” as possible. Hodgkinson steeped himself in MSNBC talk shows (like Rachel Maddow’s), and the writings of Robert Reich.
Hodgkinson gave some pretty good clues of his own as to what his motive was for shooting at GOP congressmen playing baseball, including writing on Facebook that “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.,” and having an “assassination list” of six Republican members of Congress found on him after the incident.
But while Dave Ross acknowledged some of this in a radio commentary he recorded afterward, his thesis is that what really radicalized Hodgkinson was the view espoused by the political right that the purpose of the people’s right to keep and bear arms is to guarantee against a tyrannical government.
To be fair, we must note that the commentary was made on 15 June, one day after the shooting. Not all of the facts we have now had come out yet.
But on the other hand, Ross stuck by his analysis in the interview with Tucker Carlson on Monday evening. (The video is below; start at the 20:10 mark.) It appears that the additional information hasn’t caused him to reconsider.
Here is the relevant portion of the 15 June commentary:
[Hodgkinson’s] Facebook post that reads, “Trump is a traitor… It’s time to destroy Trump & Co” – could imply violence. That rhetoric could easily have come from left-wing sites or from the comment section of just about any website.
So then we would also have to ask what radicalized him to the point that he would buy a military-style rifle and use it against members of Congress? Where would he get this extreme idea to use a gun to eliminate elected officials?
Well, actually, from a lot of respectable websites, which explains that it’s not at all an extreme idea. It’s actually embedded in our Constitution; that the purpose of a weapon is for self-defense, yes, but also to protect the nation from a tyrannical government.
Alexander Hamilton, now our best-known Founding Father, talked about the right to bear arms “against the usurpations of the national rulers.” And I found that on the website of the National Review!
So on the question of what radicalized him, I suppose it could have been left-wing rhetoric, but it could just as easily have been his interpretation of American history.
Tellingly, Ross doesn’t do the one thing he should have done to un-confuse himself, and that’s determine what kinds of actions Alexander Hamilton and the other Founders had in mind, when they spoke of the right to bear arms protecting against tyranny.
They didn’t propose that anyone take up arms to assassinate lawmakers. That has never been the purpose of an armed people or a militia, in the American philosophy.
Nor is that the idea anyone carries today, when using the “defense against tyranny” argument for the Second Amendment.
A couple of good discussions of the purpose of a militia and the meaning of the Second Amendment can be found here and here. This is just to get you started, if you’re not familiar with the topic; there’s a lot more out there.
But the philosophical premise of the “defense against tyranny” argument is even more basic than the process of translating it into organized militias. Probably the best touchstone from history, other than the American Revolution itself – which was a war of territory and armies, not a campaign of assassinations – is the signing of the Magna Carta in the England of 1215. King John’s armed barons forced him to sign the charter, in which he vowed to accept the constraints of law in dealing with the people.
As the British Library put it, the “Magna Carta established for the first time the principle that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law.”
The political crisis the king faced was that his armed gentry were capable of defying him through violent action, and were going to if he didn’t sign. But the barons acted in an organized and purposeful manner, preferring to preserve the existing political order, and holding off armed action in favor of a negotiated settlement of commitments from the king.
Their ability to assume arms on their own say-so, and defend themselves against a despotic monarch, has in the centuries since been seen by the English-speaking world as the basis for a truly respectful, enforceable contract between the people and their government. The point of an armed citizenry is not to facilitate assassinations. It’s to remind government that the people are its authors – not its subjects.
It’s worth noting in passing that it is very much a “leftism” to reflexively see disorganized terrorism as the expression of dissatisfaction with government. Alexander Hamilton most certainly did not see it that way, nor do right-wing supporters of the Second Amendment (like “National Review!”). It’s the left that sees the issue only through that prism – and then excuses the pointlessly destructive actions of groups like Antifa and Hamas as extreme expressions of, let’s face it, justified dissatisfaction, while accusing law-abiding Second Amendment supporters of being Timothy McVeigh.
In conclusion, a final point. Ross’s reference to Hamilton as “now our best-known Founding Father” is cute. But I don’t think George Washington and Thomas Jefferson really have anything to worry about.