National Review Online Defends Intimidation By Heavily Armed “Open Carry Texas” Group

National Review Online writer Charles C.W. Cooke defended approximately 40 individuals who brought guns -- including assault weapons -- outside of a Dallas, Texas area restaurant to protest a meeting of four members of gun violence prevention group Moms Demand Action (MDA). While Cooke acknowledged that protestors “got close to 'intimidation'” in one of the three articles he authored on the incident, he also excused Open Carry Texas' (OCT) conduct in other articles by suggesting that MDA may have been “lying” about feeling intimidated.

The controversy occurred on November 9 when four members of a Texas chapter of MDA conducted a meeting at Blue Mesa Grill in Arlington, Texas. As the MDA members met, members of OCT began gathering in the parking lot to protest the meeting. In Texas, it is legal to openly carry a rifle so long as it is not displayed in a menacing way. The OCT protesters were largely comprised of men with military-style assault weapons.

MDA founder Shannon Watts told USA Today that the MDA members and other patrons of the restaurant were “terrified,” and, “They felt like in an armed ambush and had no idea why it was taking place.” According to a Forbes interview with a representative of Blue Mesa Grill, a manager called police who sent a squad car but also advised that OCT members were within their rights to openly display rifles in public. According to the representative, by the time police arrived, members of OCT began to move away from the restaurant, which may explain why an MDA member was unsuccessful in filing a police complaint against OCT on November 11.

While disagreeing with their tactics, Cooke defended the right of OCT to wait outside of a gun violence prevention meeting with assault weapons largely by quibbling in three articles over whether pictures of the event supported claims of intimidation and by promoting the largely self-serving account of OCT that claimed MDA interactions with their group proved that MDA was not intimidated.

But this hairsplitting over the exact details of the confrontation ignores the larger point, that it is de facto intimidation when approximately 40 members of an extreme and insurrectionist group known for vitriolic confrontations with law enforcement mill around in a parking lot outside of a meeting of their political opponents while openly displaying guns.

In recent weeks OCT has been involved in two ugly incidents. While openly carrying a rifle in Texas is legal, almost all handguns may not be openly carried, but instead must be concealed. During an October 26 protest of this law near the Texas State Capitol organized by OCT, two supporters openly carried technically legal replica pre-1899 revolvers which fall into a small exemption to the general ban on open carrying of handguns. After police handcuffed the two men, an extremely agitated crowd of OCT supporters began hurling obscenities at law enforcement. A police spokesperson later stated, “The men were openly carrying suspected deadly weapons and were given the opportunity to leave the area, but refused.”

Supporters of OCT called a police officer a “piece of garbage,” a “fucking scumbag,” a “worthless piece of shit,” a “worthless waste of life,” and a “traitor.” One man repeatedly shouted “Fuck you, pig.”

OCT's October 19 gun rights rally at The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas featured conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and insurrectionist Mike Vanderboegh. At the rally -- where supporters reportedly called police “tyrants with badges” -- Jones told the crowd, “We're not going to lay down if you offensively attack us. If it's a war they want, it's a war they'll get.” Vanderboegh, whose anti-government views inspired a domestic terrorist plot, told the crowd, “You can kill us, if you think you can. But remember, we'll shoot back,” and, “When democracy turns to tyranny, the armed citizenry still gets to vote.”

Given that OCT's recent events have been an ugly mix of anger, violent threats and firearms, it is entirely believable that MDA members and others were intimidated by OCT's actions on November 9.

Still, Cooke acted as a stenographer for OCT, trumpeting the group's claims that interactions between MDA and OCT in the parking lot -- including disputed claims by OCT that MDA took pictures of the protest -- meant that no intimidation occurred.

Referencing a blog written by Bob Owens -- who has promoted anti-government violence and once said Media Matters should “feel threatened” by him -- and Facebook posts by OCT supporters, Cooke suggested that MDA's claim of intimidation was untrue:

As I noted earlier, some members of Open Carry Texas were claiming on Facebook and on the Bearing Arms blog that they had interacted with Moms Demand Action at a protest in Dallas, thus diminishing MDA's claim that it was so intimidated by their presence that they had to hide out in a nearby restaurant.

While Cooke sought various explanations from an OCT spokesperson in his series in order to discount the veracity of MDA's claims, the bottom line is that if MDA says they felt intimidated, then they were intimidated. And the circumstances of the protest and OCT's past conduct certainly legitimize that feeling.