United States citizens have the Constitutional right to bear arms with a few restrictions. Some argue that the second amendment was written so citizens could protect themselves from a tyrannical government and that the January 6 insurrection was an effort to overthrow an illegitimately elected president.
But two Oath Keepers, including Stewart Rhodes, a Yale law school graduate, were convicted on November 29th of seditious conspiracy in the January 6 insurrection… and are going to prison for organizing armed protesters to come to Washington.
Here’s the takeaway: Those who want to overthrow a tyrannical government better have enough firepower to win because prosecutors won’t have sympathy with their patriotism or interpretation of the intent of the 2nd Amendment.
The right to overthrow a tyrannical government is actually recognized by the United Nations. But the United Nations also won’t be stepping in to help Mr. Rhodes, who surely has read 18 U.S. Code 2384:
“If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.”
As a practical matter, the federal government will probably have the upper hand in the tyranny argument.
The implications of the conviction of Mr. Rhodes, however, go beyond the obvious conclusion that invading the Capitol to stop an election certification is a seditious conspiracy. Though the seditious conspiracy law is seldom used, it clearly states that the use of force “to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law”…” or seize, take, or possess any property of the United States” is a violation of the law.
Mr. Rhodes convicted himself by recording himself in the act of sedition. Lordy, there were tapes. But the law isn’t limited to those who physically attempted to use force to stop the transfer of power. Mr. Rhodes himself didn’t physically commit violence. We don’t yet know whether prosecutors have sufficient evidence of others, inside or outside the government, who participated in planning the insurrection and may be guilty of seditious conspiracy. But we are likely to learn more. It’s a tough charge to prove, but there aren’t many people willing to serve 20 years to protect a co-conspirator. Defendants will likely begin to talk to save themselves.
As a psychologist, I have been fascinated reading accounts of many ordinary people who were swept up by the belief that it was their patriotic duty to somehow “stop the steal,” as though they would be participating in the rebirth of democracy. Hundreds went to Washington, D.C., to protest peacefully. Still, many came armed, thinking perhaps that they were doing precisely what Oath Keepers said the Founding Fathers intended when the 2nd Amendment was incorporated into the Constitution.
Their emotional brains thwarted their thinking brains. The heroism, patriotism, and romanticism of saving the Republic triumphed over realistic thinking. After all, Stewart Rhodes, a lawyer (and others), told them what to do to save their country. Once they were there, the power of the crowd took over. And the consequences are staggering for hundreds of people with more likely to come.
I am, of course, just speculating about what was going through the minds of people who joined the mob at the Capitol on January 6. And I won’t try to diagnose Stewart Rhodes either, except to say that he impressed me as grandiose in his various videos. Such people can be charismatic and compelling, enough so that followers decide to drink the Kool-Aid…and tragedy follows.
So then, what about gun rights? We could debate endlessly whether the Founding Fathers included the 2nd Amendment so citizens could protect themselves against a tyrannical government. I’m inclined to believe that the Founding Fathers wanted organized armed militias for exactly the opposite purpose: to put down armed insurrections.
But leave that argument aside. The practical reality is that anybody who tries to use force to stop an election or the federal government from doing anything is likely to end up in prison. The romanticism of owning guns to protect oneself from the government has to lead to a proliferation of weapons in the country, resulting in nearly 50,000 gun deaths annually. Since Y2K, a million people have died and lost their liberty.
It’s a high price for a romantic notion. Ask Stewart Rhodes after he’s served a decade or two in prison.
For a good read with a countering argument about guns and tyranny, take a look here.
George A. Harris, Ph.D.
Harris is a licensed psychologist in Kansas City. He previously worked in vocational rehabilitation and corrections. He was a consultant to the National Institute of Corrections and was an associate professor of criminal justice at Washburn University before entering private practice providing pre-employment evaluations for police and correctional agencies and expert witness evaluations for attorneys.
He is the author of numerous books and articles for professional and public audiences, including Counseling the Involuntary and Resistant Client and Broken Ears, Wounded Hearts, which was awarded best book of 1984 by President Reagan’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped. He served on the reader advisor panel for the Kansas City Star. He was a founding board member of L’Arche Heartland, a group home organization for people with developmental disabilities, and along with then police chief Jim Corwin founded a task force on homelessness in Kansas City.