As we approach sort-of-normal, at least for sane St. Louisans who’ve been vaccinated, theater is back. The Muny. Shakespeare in Forest Park. White nationalists pretending to be victims when it comes to crime and gun laws.
As Prof. Carol Anderson of Emory University points out in her new book “The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America,” the Second Amendment was inserted in the Constitution by Virginians George Mason, James Madison and Patrick Henry as a way to guarantee that state-run militias could be created to put down any nascent slave rebellions quickly.
As everyone from Vanderbilt Prof. Johnathan Metzl, in his 2019 book “Dying of Whiteness,” to filmmaker Michael Moore in his 2002 film “Bowling for Columbine” have documented, the “gun rights” movement in the United States began in the early 1970s as fearful whites reacted to armed African-Americans in the Black Panther Party.
Backed by that sort of pedigree, the White Victim Players put on a performance last week at the Frontier Justice Gun Shop starring Gov. Mike Parson, staged in the Kansas City exurb of Lee’s Summit, a town named both for a bluff overlooking the town and Robert E. Lee, an irony that may or may not have been lost on the 15 white pro-gun advocates cheering in the background.
They presented a dramedy called the Second Amendment Preservation Act, and SAPA featured plenty of saps trying to do improv to get around the U.S. Constitution. SAPA nullifies all federal gun laws – past, present and future – in Missouri, and makes it illegal for any Missouri law enforcement agency to co-operate with the feds on any level when it comes to guns. Any Missourian can sue any cop working with the feds, and subject individual officers to a $50,000 fine.
Under SAPA, local Missouri cops now have to let domestic abusers keep their guns, even though a 1996 federal law forbids access to guns by people convicted of domestic violence. Since Missouri has codified what amounts to the O.J. Simpson Relief Act, you can only imagine the rush of wife-beaters nationwide thumbing through real estate listings in Branson and Wentzville.
The new law also makes it illegal for local law enforcement to assist federal probes into interstate gun trafficking, even though statistics from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives analyzed by gun violence investigators at The Trace shows that, in 2018, 447 guns purchased in Missouri were used to commit crimes in Illinois (which has much tougher gun laws), with one-fifth of them being used in an Illinois crime within a year of being purchased.
But the real crowd-pleaser in this bit of demented political theater is that SAPA makes it illegal for any Missouri law enforcement agency to cooperate with DHS, ATF or the FBI’s Counter-Terrorism Task Force if they try to go after the guns owned by any of the 19 domestic terrorist organizations Homeland Security says operate inside Missouri.
None of this is legal. Article VI, Paragraph 2 of the Constitution makes it clear that federal law takes precedence over state law, period. It’s called the Supremacy Clause for a reason, even though Missouri’s trying to nullify it with what amounts to a White Supremacy Clause.
Many of the same lawmakers supporting this gibberish staged their own theater of the absurd in St. Louis a week earlier to complain about the very gun crime their loose gun laws have helped to flourish. Pro-gun right-wing state Rep. Nick Schroer, from white-flight St. Charles, was joined by the mayor of white-flight Wildwood, Jim Bowlin, to complain that their white constituents no longer felt safe coming into the city.
Their production, titled “Eek! Negroes!,” was more of a classic farce, but with a sinister subtext. White right-wing officials crept into the city long enough to complain about socialism and police budget cuts while sending the message to their constituents that city crime is a Black phenomenon, and that police need to crack heads on the African-American community. The venue they chose for their production, the racist-adjacent St. Louis Police Officers Association “union” hall, amplified the nudge-nudge wink-wink dog whistle.
Make no mistake: All of this performative assholery is racist in nature, racist in intent and aimed directly at St. Louis. As Metzl was researching “Dying of Whiteness,” he asked rural Missouri whites why they needed guns for self-protection. Many answered with one word: Ferguson. To them, Ferguson wasn’t a place so much as a substitute for the n-word.
The extremist lawmakers supporting this nonsense are just symptoms. For them, it’s about power, money and ambition. Grifters gonna grift, and supporting illegal gun “freedom” measures is simply a way to separate the gullible and racist from their money and votes. The fact that the Republican party in Missouri is now simply a white nationalist enterprise makes their scheme easier to pull off.
The actual disease is white nationalist rage and fear among voters — our fellow Missourians — coupled with the abject collapse of the Missouri Democratic Party outside of St. Louis and Kansas City.
State Rep. Hardy Billington of Poplar Bluff, one of SAPAQ’s original sponsors, is a homophobic bigot who has campaigned against “the homosexual lifestyle.” He also sponsored measures to make Rush Limbaugh’s birthday a state holiday, to severely curtail voting by mail, and to make public the names and addresses of anyone who ever sues seeking to enforce separation of church and state.
In 2018, Billington got 70 percent of the vote in his district. In 2020, he ran unopposed because Missouri Democrats couldn’t find anyone to run against him. Billington thus joined 51 GOP state Representatives who ran unopposed in 2020. Fifty-one.
As long as outstate Missouri Democrats are too demoralized or intimidated to run, and as long as rural and exurban white Missourians support white rage above any other issue, we can expect to see a lot more political theater produced by the White Victim Players.