A patriot is someone who feels strong support for their nation, its government, and people who share unquestioned loyalty to their homeland. There is a misconception in America playing out since the election of President Obama that being a patriot is wrapping oneself in the American flag while clutching a bible to one’s bosom with one hand, and a firearm in the other, while at the same time threatening the domestic tranquility of citizens and peaceful existence of the legally elected government. Over the past four years, and especially the past year, there has been a rising chorus of conservatives calling for, or threatening, revolution or civil war against the government because they oppose the democratically elected President, and to cover their seditious speech, they cite the First Amendment’s right of free speech as justification for inciting armed conflict against the government.
It is true that speech is protected by the First Amendment, but the Supreme Court has ruled there are restrictions on speech that endangers the public or threatens the government. In 1919, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., writing for a unanimous High Court, ruled in Schenck v. United States that it was a violation of the Espionage Act of 1917 to distribute flyers opposing the draft during World War I, and argued this abridgment of free speech was permissible because it presented a “clear and present danger” to the government’s recruitment efforts for the war. Holmes wrote, “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.” However, the ruling in Schenck was later overturned by Brandenburg v. Ohio in 1969, which limited the scope of banned speech to that which would be directed to and likely to incite imminent lawless action.”
There are those who claim the recent statements by hardline conservative “patriots” claiming any attempt to enact gun-control legislation such as requiring registration of firearms will drive them to “start shooting people” are not guilty of sedition, but according to 18 USC § 2384 – Seditious conspiracy, they are making seditious speech. Specifically, section 2384 says, “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.” But, the gun defenders claim, there has to be more than just words in order for a charge of sedition; they are wrong.
Instead of considering 18 USC § 2384 as it was written to be applied, gun and free speech activists cite the Constitution’s framers and their intention in the First Amendment, or what the Founders considered sedition, and claim (again) that the rules of free speech supersede making overt threats against the government. According to the Sedition Act (An act for the punishment of certain crimes against the United States), the definition of sedition is “To write, print, utter or publish, or cause it to be done, or assist in it, any false, scandalous, and malicious writing against the government of the United States, or either House of Congress, or the President, with intent to defame, or bring either into contempt or disrepute, or to excite against either the hatred of the people of the United States, or to stir up sedition, or to excite unlawful combinations against the government, or to resist it” (Section I). The Sedition Act was approved July 14, 1798 and signed by President John Adams; the most recent case of “seditious conspiracy” was March 2010.
The recent threat by a gun-fanatic that he would “start shooting people” if the government went “one inch further” to enact gun registration laws, assault weapons ban, or even discussing such controls released another video ramping up his seditious speech. The fanatic, James Yeager, CEO of Tactical Response, reiterated his “call to action” to other gun-fanatics and boasted that the myriad calls, emails, and texts asking him to tell them “when and where” to take action emboldened him, and that he inadvertently assembled “a quite formidable army.” Yeager’s message to other gun-fanatics was that “it was time to get ready and to start practicing, talking to like-minded friends, and start coordinating at the local level because he has drawn a line in the sand and will not tolerate “one more inch.” Remember, that any utterance, writing, or cause against the government of the United States is sedition, and it applies to gun fanatics, former and current members of Congress, state Republican officials, and state-based gun advocacy organizations who threatened in a letter to President Obama that new safety measures could foment the next American revolution.
What one finds interesting is that none of the so-called leaders of the Republican Party, conservative pundits, national neo-conservative news organizations, or National Rifle Association have made any attempts to tamp down the seditious rhetoric inciting civil war, revolution, or violent action against the government over legally enacted laws such as the Affordable Care Act or discussions about gun safety measures. It is not that they advocate for violence or a new American revolution, but they do encourage opposition to this President and any agenda not originating from neo-conservatives at any cost; even sedition.
It is possible that many of the people calling for revolution or civil war are just ranting and raving at election results they disagree with, but for every irate, disaffected gun-fanatic with a public forum, there are thousands of heavily-armed Americans just waiting for a signal to start shooting people, and like yelling fire in a crowded theatre, are creating a clear and present danger they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. Sadly, since Republicans advocate any means of advancing opposition to the legally elected President of the United States, it is safe to say that not only will they never condemn seditious speech and calls for a new American revolution, their silence is tacit consent.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.