Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
February 10, 2020

Under MAGA, the Convergence of Militia and State

Photos: Bryan Woolston/Getty Images. Caption 1: FRANKFORT, KY - JANUARY 31: A gun rights activist carrying a semi-automatic firearm stands in the Senate Chamber of the Capitol Building on January 31, 2020 in Frankfort, Kentucky. Advocates from across the state gathered at the Kentucky Capitol in support of the Second Amendment. Open carry of loaded firearms is permitted throughout the Capitol, except in the chambers of the Supreme Court. Advocates from across the state gathered at the Kentucky Capitol in support of the Second Amendment. The rally will include speeches from Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and former Washington, D.C. Special Police Officer, Dick Heller.

You’re looking at a member of a group called “We Are KY Gun Owners” standing in the main legislative hall of the state Capitol building in Frankfort, Kentucky. He was allowed by security personnel to walk right into the building, even though he’s equipped with enough ammunition to blow the place up.

Thanks to Getty’s Bryan Woolston, who was there to photograph what was billed as an act of protest against proposed legislation that would limit access to firearms in Kentucky, we have yet another visual account of how gun rights advocacy is adopting a terroristic stance in the MAGA era. The black mask and extra clips are meant to intimidate, and the overall mood here leaves us wondering if it is or is not this man’s intention to empty the chamber.

FRANKFORT, KY - JANUARY 31: Gun rights activists carrying semi-automatic firearms walk through the Capitol Building on January 31, 2020 in Frankfort, Kentucky. Advocates from across the state gathered at the Kentucky Capitol in support of the Second Amendment. The rally will include speeches from Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and former Washington, D.C. Special Police Officer, Dick Heller. (Photo by Bryan Woolston/Getty Images)

And the prospect of that possibility, that citizens will take up arms before giving them up, is the risk that stunts like this one are designed to emphasize. Men who show up to the Kentucky statehouse armed to the hilt are turning the right to carry into a show of force, making sure everyone knows that in response to steps that would limit access to firearms, there won’t be much room for a civilian approach.

FRANKFORT, KY - JANUARY 31: Gun rights activists carrying semi-automatic firearms pose for a photograph in the Capitol Building on January 31, 2020 in Frankfort, Kentucky. Advocates from across the state gathered at the Kentucky Capitol in support of the Second Amendment. The rally will include speeches from Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and former Washington, D.C. Special Police Officer, Dick Heller. (Photo by Bryan Woolston/Getty Images)

That’s the wide-eyed version, anyway, of what these theatrics are meant to convey. The fact of the matter is that these men are on a field trip to Frankfort where they were welcomed into the Kentucky Capitol — where waving guns in the air was reciprocated just outside by an insider like State Representative Thomas Massie. All that bearing of arms up in the balcony isn’t only a threat of future retaliation, then, it’s also a show of solidarity.

If, as some legal experts suggest, the Second Amendment was ratified with at least one eye toward outfitting slave owners with a way to resist insurrection, then in these photographs from Kentucky it makes sense to see the cooperation between lawmakers and demonstrators as a special operation of whiteness.

FRANKFORT, KY - JANUARY 31: Calvin Pinkston, 61, of Louisville, Ky., speaks with state legislatures in the rotunda of the State Capitol while carrying a semi-autoimaric rifle on January 31, 2020 in Frankfort, Kentucky. Open carry of loaded firearms is permitted throughout the Capitol, except in the chambers of the Supreme Court. Advocates from across the state gathered at the Kentucky Capitol in support of the Second Amendment. The rally will include speeches from Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and former Washington, D.C. Special Police Officer, Dick Heller. (Photo by Bryan Woolston/Getty Images)

That is, instead of hands up, don’t shoot, it’s a very interesting perspective you have there. Please, tell us more. We’re listening.

FRANKFORT, KY - JANUARY 31: Marcus Olmstead stands below a statue of President Abraham Lincoln in the rotunda of the State Capitol carrying a semi-automatic firearm on January 31, 2020 in Frankfort, Kentucky. Open carry of loaded firearms is permitted throughout the Capitol, except in the chambers of the Supreme Court. Advocates from across the state gathered at the Kentucky Capitol in support of the Second Amendment. The rally will include speeches from Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and former Washington, D.C. Special Police Officer, Dick Heller. (Photo by Bryan Woolston/Getty Images)

In all the photos linking Kentucky’s white militiamen to the halls of state power, I was struck by this pose in particular. The impression is of a man who is mimicking the grand posture of Abraham Lincoln, the bronze figure standing on the marble plinth in the center. But in idolizing Honest Abe, G.I. Joe offers a profile in the militaristic perversion of political expression. The helmet, the headcam, the holster, (are there hand grenades?) — all that surplus equipment speaks not to a preservation of the Union, but to the burden of fear, alienation, and phobia among a population that is turning its back on democratic ideals.

That Lincoln presided over a bloody civil war is a wrinkle unlikely to be lost on those toy soldiers who threaten to circle back to resolving differences through force. That regression is the basic premise behind demonstrations like this one in Kentucky, even if the threat is still just in its performance stage.

–Philip Perdue

Photos: Bryan Woolston/Getty Images. Caption 1: A gun rights activist carrying a semi-automatic firearm stands in the Senate Chamber of the Capitol Building on January 31, 2020 in Frankfort, Kentucky. Advocates from across the state gathered at the Kentucky Capitol in support of the Second Amendment. The rally will include speeches from Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and former Washington, D.C. Special Police Officer, Dick Heller. Caption 2: Gun rights activists carrying semi-automatic firearms walk through the Capitol Building on January 31, 2020 in Frankfort, Kentucky. Advocates from across the state gathered at the Kentucky Capitol in support of the Second Amendment.  Caption 3: Gun rights activists carrying semi-automatic firearms pose for a photograph in the Capitol Building on January 31, 2020 in Frankfort, Kentucky. Caption 4: Calvin Pinkston, 61, of Louisville, Ky., speaks with state legislatures in the rotunda of the State Capitol while carrying a semi-automatic rifle on January 31, 2020 in Frankfort, Kentucky. Caption 5: Marcus Olmstead stands below a statue of President Abraham Lincoln in the rotunda of the State Capitol carrying a semi-automatic firearm on January 31, 2020 in Frankfort, Kentucky. 

Comments Powered by Disqus

Refresh Archives

Random Notes