To paraphrase the Washinton Free Beacon‘s Stephen Gutowski on today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co, I’m happy to see more Americans exercising their Second Amendment rights, but that doesn’t mean I’m thrilled for the reasons why. In Provo, Utah, groups on both sides of the Black Lives Matter protests have been arming up, which is good, but they’re doing so in mutual distrust of one another, which is not great.
The Guardian‘s Nicolle Okoren reports that in the weeks since a protester shot and wounded a motorist nearly a month ago at an anti-demonstration in downtown Provo, a group called the Utah Citizens Alarm has been standing guard at protests organized by Black Lives Matter and the local group Insurgence. UCA was founded by 47-year old Casey Robertson as an ad hoc response to the shooting.
“I was like, ‘We need to stand together as citizens and go down there and show these people that we’re not going to allow violence, and that we are not going to allow these anarchist violent groups to tear down Provo,” Robertson told the Guardian. “It’s not going to happen without a fight.’”
Utah Citizens’ Alarm has since organized regular military-style trainings for its members. Robertson says he has been tipped off “by secret sources within the government and law enforcement” that underground organizations like antifa are being funded by Isis, and are using groups like BLM to wreak havoc in the community to destroy American cities and ideals. Even if none of these theories stand up to scrutiny, he is dead set on not letting it happen.
Robertson was born and raised in Provo. His dad was a Provo police officer and his mother a police dispatcher. He has voted both sides of the political aisle – he voted for Clinton and Obama, although he now considers himself a conservative. To him, this is not about politics, but good and evil, and he is ready to die for this cause.
“My biggest fear, probably, is my children being brought up and having to grow up in a country that has completely lost its freedom, and that is under attack, and that is turning into this cesspool of violence and chaos,” he said. “Our enemy is now within, and that’s really scary to me.”
Insurgence USA’s founder, 26-year old John Sullivan, meanwhile, has started carrying a gun of his own and advocating for more armed demonstrators.
“Basically, nobody in our group owns a gun except for me; nobody was planning on ever shooting anyone. So the fact that I bought a bulletproof vest and more magazines and our people are buying guns should say a lot. It shouldn’t be that way.”
[Josianne] Petit, who also organizes alongside BLM and Insurgence USA, has recruited ex-military to train and arm her protesters, because she feels the threat is real as long as Utah Citizens’ Alarm is showing up.
“The only way forward is to make sure we are prepared, because at this point the options the only options available to us are when things go crazy we lie down and die, or we fight back.
“And I’m sorry, I’m not lying down for anybody.”
Petit is the founder of Mama and Papa Panthers, and another local activist in Provo. I can’t help but be struck by the similarity between her statement about “not lying down for anybody” and Robertson’s vow that he is “ready to die for this cause.” Both individuals seem pretty committed to the idea that the other side poses an existential threat, yet when Petit and Sullivan held a small open-carry protest at the Utah State Capitol the other day and Robertson showed up with a couple of dozen UCA members, the two groups had a (mostly) civil discussion that was eventually disrupted by several other anti-police activists who heckled the UCA guys.
There’ve been other signs in Provo that the rhetoric is getting in the way of actual dialogue. The night after that motorist was shot in Provo, both sides ended up talking with each other instead of yelling at one another. In the month since, however, positions seem to be hardening and there seems to be less room for conversation and a growing expectation of confrontation. Yet if you were to talk to both sides individually, I’m sure they’d each say that they don’t plan on instigating violence and are simply exercising their right of self-defense because of their concerns about what the other side might do.
It’s worth pointing out, though the Guardian failed to do so, that Sullivan of Insurgence USA was actually arrested earlier this month and accused of rioting and making violent threats on the night that the motorist was shot. The Desert News quotes liberally from the Provo police affidavit describing the protest organized by Sullivan.
“The protest traveled on the roadways blocking motorists who have the right of way. John Sullivan blocked vehicles from freely moving lawfully. During the course of the protest, two handguns were brandished and two shots fired toward a motorist traveling to Home Depot. Vehicles were damaged by protestors as well as by John Sullivan,” the affidavit states.
“As a protest organizer John Sullivan is heard and seen as he is promoting protesters to block roadways, keeping motorists from traveling lawfully and freely.”
Sullivan was also captured on video threatening to beat a woman in an SUV, according to the affidavit, and then kicking her door, leaving a dent.
Sullivan was seen with Jesse Taggart — the man charged with shooting the motorist — throughout the protest, the affidavit states.
“As a protest organizer, John Sullivan is heard talking about seeing the shooting, looking at the gun and seeing smoke coming from it. John did not condemn the attempted murder nor attempt to stop it nor aide in its investigation by police.”
The Guardian‘s ideological bent undoubtably prevented them from presenting this information to their readers, but it’s an important part of the story. Sullivan is portraying himself as a non-violent protester who’s only picked up a gun because he’s concerned about counter-protesters targeting him and his allies, but according to police he seemed to have no concern whatsoever when one of his fellow protesters opened fire on a motorist, leaving him injured. I’d say that’s pretty important information for someone reporting on the rise of the Utah Citizens Alarm, wouldn’t you?
My fervent hope is that cooler heads on both sides of the conflict can continue to talk with one another instead of screaming at each other. Exercise your Second Amendment rights, but don’t forget about the importance of the First Amendment as well.