The National Rifle Association courageously placed a full-page advertisement in a major daily newspaper calling to attention actions of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and other federal agents that it said makes them "jackbooted government thugs."
George Bush, who headed the CIA before becoming Vice President and then a one-term President, sent the NRA a public letter resigning his membership.
To its credit, the NRA did not back down, but replied to George with a public letter supporting the fact that ATF agents are, indeed, jackbooted government thugs.
The letter in its entirety is reproduced below.
May 10, 1995
Dear President Bush:
I was surprised and saddened to see your letter of May 3, 1995. I can understand and sympathize with the deeply emotional consequences you are enduring as a result of losing a close friend in the Oklahoma City tragedy. We, too, have NRA members who were victims and rescuers that were scarred by that most horrendous crime.
I'm sorry that you have chosen to unequivocally condemn NRA's words without first seeking an explanation. Surely, a private exchange between us might persuade you to at least reserve a final opinion until all the facts are examined. Such a course of action, I believe, would have better served the country than what now will become a public disagreement that can only lead to more polarization in these troubled times.
Within hours of the bombing, NRA issued a statement declaring that "The National Rifle Association of America has nothing but contempt for terrorists or hate groups that attempt to disguise themselves as patriots." Deploring the monstrous act, we called for the death penalty for those found responsible, praised federal, state and local authorities and declared that law enforcement has "... no stronger ally than the NRA."
Following the President's call on Sunday, April 23 for a "lowering of voices," NRA began the week of April 24 with no intention of seeking political advantage from such a calamity. By nightfall, Mr. Clinton, Congressman Schumer, anti-gun groups and members of the media had begun a full frontal assault on so-called "hate-speech." Our offices in Washington were immediately flooded with press inquiries demanding that we defend numerous statements we had made in recent months with regard to the conduct of the BATF.
Each day continued to bring new participants in the NRA bashing frenzy that today grips the national media. NRA has been accused of contributing to an atmosphere that encourages unstable people to commit violent acts. Our words have been characterized as grievous, defamatory, insensitive distortions of truth. In return and with respect for the heartbreaking aftermath the nation has witnessed, we have tried to respond with a measured tone. We have argued calmly and responsibly that our position has merit and that a fair, unbiased analysis is the only way to address these issues. After exhaustive interviews with The New York Times, The Washington Post, NBC, CBS, ABC, Time and dozens of others, it is disheartening to see such enthusiasm for stories on NRA rhetoric and so much reluctance to balance those presentations with fact. As someone who has been victimized yourself by such media tactics, I would have expected you to allow us to offer information that was not being provided by the press.
On January 10, 1994, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the NRA and other organizations appealed to President Clinton for the appointment of a national commission to "... investigate serious allegations of abuse by federal law enforcement agencies and to recommend steps that must be taken to reduce constitutional and human rights violations by federal law enforcement personnel." Citing "... serious allegations of abuse, including the improper use of deadly force...", our letter offered specific examples of black suited, masked, massively armed mobs of screaming, swearing agents invading the homes of innocents:
On August 25, 1992 at about 10:30 p.m., Donald Carlson returned to his home in Poway, California, opened his garage door with a remote control device, simultaneously illuminating the garage so that Drug Enforcement Administration agents conducting surveillance from nearby could see inside. Just after midnight, when Carlson was asleep, a group of DEA agents burst into his house. Thinking they were robbers, Carlson grabbed his pistol to defend himself. He also dialed 911 for help. The agents shot Carlson three times, twice after he was down and clearly disabled. Carlson spent seven weeks in intensive care, fighting for his life. No drugs were found on the premises.
It was later learned that the Federal Customs Service, the DEA and the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Diego had relied on an informant who was known to be untrustworthy and who claimed Carlson's garage contained 2,500 kilograms of cocaine (a large amount which would have taken up most of the garage) and four armed guards. The agents conducted the raid in spite of the fact they could see the informant's information was erroneous.
As of this writing, none of the federal agents involved in the incident have been sanctioned nor has Mr. Carlson been compensated for his injuries.
Just after dawn on September 5, 1991 some sixty agents from the DEA, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), and National Guard, complete with painted faces and camouflage and accompanied by another twenty or more National Guard troops with a light armored vehicle, raided the homes of Sina Brush and two of her neighbors near Montainair, New Mexico. Brush and her daughter were still asleep. Hearing noises outside, Ms. Brush got up and was only halfway across the room, when the door was kicked in by the agents. Clad only in their underwear, Ms. Brush and her daughter were handcuffed and forced to kneel in the middle of the room while the agents searched the house. No drugs were found. Just as in the Carlson case, the police had obtained a warrant using information furnished by an unreliable informant and had entered Brush's home without knocking first.
This most notorious case has stunned the sensibilities of millions of Americans. According to The Wall Street Journal, "...the BATF showed up at the Davidian compound with two cattle trucks full of agents in battle gear and a plan for 'dynamic entry'." The siege that followed the initial assault included terrifying, psychological warfare tactics and ended when a second attack, utilizing tanks and gas, led to conflagration. "Weird cultists" (your words)? Some of the adults, but certainly not the children.
For two years now, thousands of calls and letters of outrage have been received by government, the media and yes, the NRA. The cries of "thugs", "Nazi" and "storm trooper" came first, not from the NRA, but from the minds and mouths of Americans describing what they had seen on television.
This debacle at Ruby Ridge continues to fan a seething backlash in the country. A fourteen year old boy was shot in the back and killed. A mother was shot by a sniper in the head and killed while holding a baby. A jury found BATF guilty of entrapment and the defendant was acquitted. How does it all add up to justifiable behavior by, once again, black shrouded forces with armored personnel carriers, helicopters and snipers all arrayed against a family in a cabin? Hundreds of good people have told me that scene reminds them of what this country once fought against and should never stand for.
Mr. President, there are more names and more abuse;
Janice Hart pulled up to her house from grocery shopping with her daughters to find her house being ransacked by ATF agents who had kicked in the door. Agents searched her home, throwing dishes, pulling clothing from hangers and emptying drawers on the floor (she photographed the damage). Some eight ATF agents interrogated her in the basement for an hour before reading her her rights. She asked to call an attorney and the agents refused. When they finally asked her if she was Janice Marie Harrell, she told them no, that she was Janice Hart. ATF agents mocked her, accused her of selling firearms and cocaine, then arrested her. The Portland Police, who she commended for their professional demeanor, took her downtown for booking and, within thirty seconds of fingerprinting her, realized ATF had the wrong person.
Louis Katona is a police officer in Bucyrus, Ohio. When shouting and cursing BATF agents rushed into his home to seize his firearms collection, they grabbed his pregnant wife, Kim, and shoved her into a wall. Within days, she suffered a miscarriage. A federal judge threw the government's case out of court and ordered BATF to immediately return Mr. Katona's guns or face jail themselves. The Katonas are presently pressing civil charges against BATF.
I could go on to tell you about Harry and Teresa Lamplugh, Ron and Elaine Miller, Howard and Sandy Wittenberg and many others. All victims of forceful, abusive and often vicious assaults on their homes and businesses by BATF agents who turned out not to have a case. You would hear about cancer medicines thrown all over the floor, family pets stomped to death, terrified children separated from their parents, tires slashed, threatening and hang-up telephone calls and other such behavior that has nothing to do with the America I grew up in.
If all the above is not bad enough, just 62 days ago, on Wednesday, March 8, 1995 USA Today reported that "...a group of black agents has sued the 4,200-employee agency (BATF), charging widespread discrimination." The special agent in charge of ATF's Houston office, Donnie Carter, said, "There's institutional racism" inside BATF. The article continues: "The suit charges ATF officials have routinely ignored racial abuses while funneling blacks into low-paying, but dangerous street assignments with little career potential. The black agents' legal documents cite numerous racial problems, including how: White agents in Oklahoma City in 1991 plastered their walls with a Confederate flag, a 'State of Oklahoma Nigger Hunting License', and a Ku Klux Klan business card. Black agents at the ATF office in Chicago in 1991 went to the photocopier and found a picture of civil rights activist Jesse Jackson with the words 'jungle bunny' scrawled on it."
Mr. President, if you watched any of NRA's recent appearances on national television, you know that we did not use this article to deflect criticism of our own language. Nor did we refer to the "60 Minutes" report that appeared on Sunday, January 12, 1993 in which female BATF agents themselves described a sickening pattern of sexual harassment, intimidation and retaliation in their own ranks. One agent reported, "I was held against the hood of my car and my clothes ripped off by two agents." Another said a male agent had "... repeatedly left dildos on my desk." She then reported that, "... he trapped me in a room and told me he would screw me in a New York minute."
A male BATF agent who had come forward to support the charges of the female agents summed it up this way: "They violate the basic principles and tenets of the Constitution and the laws and simple ethics of morality. That's what disgusts me."
Just last Thursday, May 4, The New York Times, in an editorial stated that BATF, "...has had its share of problems, including inexcusable errors leading up to the tragedy at Waco." The editorial went on to say that BATF, "... is badly in need of internal reform. Waco was merely the most spectacular in a series of lapses in which the BATF became too aggressive." They referred to BATF's, "...woeful record of sex and racial discrimination." They said, "BATF is struggling with a legacy of mismanagement and large, visible mistakes that have undermined the public's confidence in its ability to do its job." And finally, the editorial declared that, "...if the agency is to survive, it must face its demons." Toward that end, the editorial concluded that congressional hearings, "...can serve a useful purpose." That is exactly what NRA, ACLU, BATF's victims and millions of concerned citizens have been demanding for the last two years.
The same editorial reminded its readers that, "Representative John Dingell has called its agents 'jack-booted American fascists' and Representative Harold Volkmer has called BATF 'one of the most Rambo-rogue law enforcement agencies in the United States'."
Let me also call to your attention that the last time BATF abuses were investigated was in hearings before the Subcommittee on Treasury, Post Office and General Appropriations of the Senate Appropriations Committee in July 1979 and April 1980, and before the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the Senate Judiciary Committee in October 1980. They concluded, "Based upon these hearings it is apparent that enforcement tactics made possible by current federal firearms laws are constitutionally, legally, and practically reprehensible. ...These practices, amply documented in hearings before this Subcommittee, leave little doubt that the Bureau has disregarded rights guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States. ...It has trampled upon the Second Amendment by chilling exercise of the right to keep and bear arms by law abiding citizens. ... It has offended the Fourth Amendment by unreasonably searching and seizing private property. ...It has ignored the Fifth Amendment by taking private property without just compensation and by entrapping honest citizens without regard for their right to due process of law. ... The rebuttal presented to the Subcommittee by the Bureau was utterly unconvincing. ...Evidence was submitted establishing that approximately 75 percent of BATF gun prosecutions were aimed at ordinary citizens who had neither criminal intent nor knowledge...."
Following the lead of the Senate, it was the Reagan-Bush Administration that cracked down on BATF and cleaned up the way they conducted themselves throughout the ensuing decade. Have you forgotten, President Bush, your previous passion for justice and fairness for all law-abiding citizens?
The facts are there, Mr. President. No American citizen can be proud of this agency's record in the last four years. Certainly, there are many fine, professional and heroic BATF agents who have served our nation with great distinction during this period, but their professionalism and honor are being overwhelmed by an increasingly angry and outraged American public that will not tolerate fear of their own government. That's why The Wall Street Journal in an editorial last Tuesday, May 2, 1995 said "...recent history suggests that the people in charge of this country's system of law, order and justice had better get their acts together pretty darn quick." And, in a little noted and largely ignored Time/CNN poll conducted eight days after the bombing in Oklahoma City, fifty-two percent of those questioned agreed that "...the federal government has become so powerful that it poses a threat to the rights and freedoms of citizens." That so many Americans actually fear their own government is a storm cloud on this country's horizon of unimaginable proportions.
Are NRA's words to blame? Are John Dingell's? Is it the rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh or Bill Clinton or David Letterman? I don't think so. I believe more and more Americans see an emerging double standard that disgusts them. Again, I quote from The Wall Street Journal editorial of May 2, 1995, "Allowing for the dilemmas of the real world, we seem to have a double standard today: It says that law enforcement officials can do what they want with unpopular defendants like religious fanatics and white supremacists. But in dealing with suspects who might charge racial prejudice, they have to be careful indeed. Even in the wake of Oklahoma City, we are about to have the release of a Mario Van Peebles film making the Black Panthers into entertainment, guns and all."
President Bush, NRA never intended for its words to offend your sense of decency and honor or your concept of service to country. I firmly believe that after a thorough congressional examination of BATF, you will agree that our words have been more truth than slander. I believe you will judge too much of what BATF has done to be inexcusable and deserving of your personal repudiation. Therefore, I respectfully ask you to reconsider your resignation as a Life Member of the National Rifle Association until all the facts are known. Then, if you still feel that NRA has been wrong in the way it has confronted this issue, NRA will deserve your resignation. Until then, I believe we and the American people deserve your help in getting to the truth.
National Rifle Association of America