Is an armed march on Washington D.C. a good idea for liberty?

Adam Kokesh
Adam Kokesh

The media is buzzing with talk of a planned armed march on Washington D.C. and has identified the source as libertarian activist Adam KokeshKokesh is famous for being violently choke-slammed to the marble floor of the Jefferson Memorial for the crime of dancing in public. It was an unbelievable display of brutality shown by police, who thuggishly arrested peaceful activists celebrating Jeffersonian ideals at the foot of his monument. Kokesh and his activists acted heroically and their behavior in that context was very much in line with libertarian principles.

Although Kokesh’s previous event was a peaceful display of non-violent civil disobedience, his next event does not carry the same peaceful theme. Instead of dancing, the marchers will be openly carrying loaded weapons in the District where it is a “crime” to do so. And although the former Marine has claimed he wants peace, many on the event pages and on social media are calling for a new Lexington and Concord. That is a far cry from peaceful civil disobedience.

“Peaceful” protestor

D.C.’s strict gun control laws come at a high price for her citizens. In addition to being the nations capital, it is also the nations murder capital where FBI data confirms that D.C. has the highest murder rate per 100,000 people. Every 12 out of 100,000 people are murdered in the capital and DC also claims first place in gun related robberies. 242 out of 100,000 people are robbed at gunpoint in Washington. Clearly there is a problem here. But what is the solution?

It should be the right of every American to open carry their weapons in public, or to conceal them. However, it doesn’t make it an obligation. And certainly property owners have the rights to restrict the allowance of weaponry on their own private property. Adam Kokesh is not a resident of the District, nor are many of those registered to attend this march. So it’s not clear if the purpose of the armed march is to extend gun ownership rights to the citizens that have decided voluntarily to live in Washington, or if it is meant to stop the political leaders in Washington from aggression against the rights of the states. Both of these causes would be just, however. But how you achieve liberty is measured not by intentions, but by results.

Libertarians main complaint against politicians is despite their best intentions, they don’t account for unintended consequences. Strategically, an armed march on Washington is ripe for unintended consequences that might lead to stricter gun controls and the turning of the tide of the democratic opinion against liberty, as it was when Ronald Reagan and Jim Brady were shot. The unintended consequences of the assassination attempt was that a new regulatory system would be created that further restricted 2nd amendment rights. The regulations in the Brady Bill brought on punishing restrictions on firearm ownership by anyone who is; an unlawful user of a controlled substance, is an illegal alien, or has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions. Adam Kokesh missed that last regulation barely when he received his own general discharge instead of honorable one from the military.

Judge things not by their intentions, but their results.

black-panthers_1968In 1968 armed Black Panthers staged a similar protest when they stood with weapons held aloft on the steps of the capitol in Sacramento. Despite their bravery, their cause failed to halt the march of legislation that has since banned the open carry of rifles in public in California. Their actions did not halt the push towards gun control and the Black Panthers cease to be much of an influence on the national scene.

Should citizens have the right to open carry all the way up to the DC capitol building? Yes.  Do they? No. Is it something worth dying for? That remains to be seen.

Despite the fact that what the Black Panthers did was both brave and morally correct, it did not result in less government. It wasn’t effective enough to stop the ban. Just as how government leaders often propose bold legislation that fires up their base, harsh tactics often have the opposite effect of creating a negative reaction from the greater population. Libertarians might do better for themselves by putting their energies into positive activities that create goodwill amongst the people, not creating negative will that would invite retaliation.

Screen Shot 2013-05-06 at 10.37.51 PMTake Rosa Parks for example.

img_mlk_malcolm_xHer non-violent act of civil disobedience is iconic in American history. Despite forced segregation of blacks on the public bus system, Parks decided to defy authority and refused to move to the back of the bus. Her act of bravery and refusal to comply a bad law made her a civil rights hero and advanced her cause by winning the hearts and minds of the people. She was not a cult leader who demanded others sacrifice for her cause. She was a civil rights leader who sacrificed herself first as did Martin Luther King and Gandhi who were also advocates of non-violence. This was in contrast to their fellow activist Malcolm X, who inferred that MLK was an Uncle Tom. Malcolm believed that Dr. King was a sellout for advocating non-violence as a means to restore civil rights. Today American history remembers and honors Dr. King because of his honorable behavior. It does not look as kindly on brother Malcolm.

The Art of Fighting by not fighting

“Remember: Best block? No be there.” Mr. Miyagi The Karate Kid

Screen Shot 2013-05-07 at 1.07.02 PMSelf defense training means learning the art of fighting so you understand how not to get into a fight. It means learning the beginning of the de-escalation of conflict. Self defense courses offer training to teach citizens how to stop a conflict before it begins and most conflicts can be stopped with simple prudence and situational awareness. The first thing you will learn is how to use your voice to halt a potential attacker by saying “If you do x, then I will be forced to do y“. I have personally employed this technique when I lived in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the nation. I remember perfect examples when walking a date home, we were being followed too closely by strangers. A simple “Stop following us” was effective 100% of the times I employed it. No violence necessary.

But knowing self defense does mean understanding the art of violence. For example, traditional Japanese karate has intricate fighting forms known as katas. These forms are taught to instill the knowledge of how to use combinations of blows to combat your attacker. But in traditional karate, every kata begins conspicuously with a block. That is because karate is for defense only. Karateka are trained not to use their power to bully others. We are taught that we learn how to fight so we may defend ourselves. Bruce Lee immortalized this philosophy and strategy in the opening scene of his famous film Enter the Dragon. In it, Lee teaches the art of fighting by not fighting. He taught that it is better to outsmart your opponent, instead of resorting directly to violence as the first means of defense.

Fighting by not fighting is the way of the master.

 “You’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists.” George W. Bush

img_george_w_bushLibertarians criticized Bush when he argued in black and white terms that there was no middle ground when it came to supporting his War on Terror. Bush’s Manicheaism has been echoed by many of the “libertarian” supporters of the armed march. They claim that to not support the march is to betray the principles of the 2nd amendment. “You’re either with us or against us” they claim. No, I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. It was wrong when Bush said it, and it is wrong when you say it. There is room for nuance in this debate. You can be a devout defender of the 2nd amendment and not have to support every foolhardy action of those who also defend those same principles. We will better serve our shared cause by tempering our radicalism with reason, lest we be responsible for enabling the next Timothy McVeigh.

The philosophy of liberty is one of peace, free trade and limited government. If we desire the latter, we must demonstrate the former.


The Liberty Movement in the United States faces a serious challenge in the coming years.

While this grassroots army has built an impressive social media and institutional framework, the coming years will prove a terrible challenge to duplicate previous gains made in the growth of civic activism groups. Social media has played an enormous role in that. It was the catalyst that led to the most libertarian show on television, FreedomWatch to be aired and broadcast a message of limited government, peace, free markets and a non-interventionist foreign policy. The liberty movement can accomplish great things when it takes positive energy from positive leadership and puts it in a positive direction. But when the energy of the liberty movement is fed from a negative source, it sours and creates unnecessary infighting and loss of gained ground for common causes. There is not much time to waste restoring the principles that were espoused in shows like Judge Andrew Napolitano’s FreedomWatch and to create new ones to better inform the public. Mr. Kokesh does a great deal of education in this manner with his show. Why would he want to put himself and others in danger when he has better tools with which to advance his cause? With so many groundbreaking and positive projects for liberty lovers to devote their energy towards, why participate in an armed march if the likely consequences are going to be less liberty in the end? With Bitcoins, JAGTV, Laissez-Faire Books, Mises.org, FreedomWorks, The Tea Parties, Young Americans for Liberty, Students for Liberty and a possible presidential run by Senator Rand Paul in 2016; aren’t there better uses of our time than making a quixotic stand that is likely to end in bloodshed?

Don Quixote tilting at windmills he believed were dragons
Don Quixote tilting at windmills he believed were dragons

I fully support the right of citizens to keep and bear arms, unmolested by the government even up to the steps of the capitol building itself. There is no right of the government to restrict the citizens natural rights to bear arms. Porcupines have quills for a reason and libertarianism is not pacifism. The citizens of Washington D.C. would be better served if they were allowed the same gun rights as everyone else in the nation. However, the end goal of liberty is peace. And we can either truly come in peace with an open hand (karate), or we can come bearing a lance and tilt at windmills, haranguing the people for their ingratitude at our “public service”.

Which will be the more effective strategy for liberty in our lifetime? The words and actions of Dr. King? Or Malcolm X?

I will leave that to you to decide.