Arthur Goldwag: Bullets, Obama and How a Conspiracy Theory Threatens to Become Law

Ammo 2

(Some Americans believe President Obama is trying to effect gun control by buying up all the ammunition. Ads like this can be found on U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe’s Facebook page.)

On Feb. 26, as the sequester crisis loomed, Sarah Palin took to Facebook to administer Washington a sharp tongue-lashing. “DC: Cut the Drama. Do Your Job,” she wrote. “Let’s stop the hysterics, tighten our belts, and take our medicine.”

All in all, it was a bracing tonic of good sound sense, except for one jarring note:

If we are going to wet our proverbial pants over 0.3% in annual spending cuts when we’re running up trillion dollar annual deficits, then we’re done. Put a fork in us. We’re finished. We’re going to default eventually and that’s why the feds are stockpiling bullets in case of civil unrest.

Stockpiling bullets? Civil unrest? And this from someone who’s trying to calm things down? Her three-and-a-half million Facebook friends must have been shocked.

Not at all. Most of Palin’s supporters get their news from the same sources and at that point the conservative blogosphere had been filled with stories about the Department of Homeland Security’s ammunition purchases for almost a year.

“Once Obama’s ‘Civilian National Security Force’ is unleashed on the public, due process will ‘go the way of the horse and buggy,” wrote Joseph Farah.

Writing in Natural News back in April 2012, the 911 Truther and natural foods enthusiast Mike Adams noted the suspicious quantities of hollow-point bullets, hardened checkpoint booths, and radiation pills that the agency was buying. “It’s obvious that DHS is buying all this gear to be used against the American people. But why?” He answered his own question in a subsequent column: “I have no doubt that the ultimate plan here is to arm [Transportation Security Administration] agents and unleash them across the USA as a new storm trooper force to put in place total tyranny across the country.”

Stories on Alex Jones’s Info Wars and Prison Planet followed, and soon the rumors were proliferating to the point that the National Rifle Association sent out a press release to debunk them. “As most gun owners will agree, skepticism of government is healthy,” it read. “But … there is no need to invent additional threats to our rights.”

The NRA, of course, has expended considerable ink on the idea that private gun ownership is a bulwark against governmental overreach, not to mention the “massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and destroy the Second Amendment,” but it’s a business lobby too. It didn’t want to jeopardize all those lucrative federal contracts.

Still, the rumors persisted.

Writing in WorldNetDaily on Oct. 31, 2012, Joseph Farah darkly predicted that if Obama were reelected, he would “declare a full-scale war on his domestic opposition.” Once Obama’s “Civilian National Security Force” is unleashed on the public, Farah wrote, due process will “go the way of the horse and buggy”; the independent media will be shut down and destroyed, and Obama’s “biggest critics will be rounded up in the name of national security.”

After Newtown, as Obama and the Senate seemed poised to take real action on gun control, nervous gun owners began to stockpile ammunition. By Feb. 1, bullets were in such short supply, CNN reported, that Walmart was limiting customers to “three boxes per customer per day.” On Feb. 10, A.W.R. Hawkins had a piece that connected a new set of dots. “I am not a conspiracy theorist,” he wrote, “nor do I believe that DHS is stockpiling bullets to wage war on Americans.” But those DHS purchases “are driving supply down and prices up and that’s generally a good thing for an administration that doesn’t think people should be able to own guns to begin with … sounds like gun control by another name.”

Last week, Republicans introduced the Ammunition Management for More Obtainability (AMMO) Act.

On March 8, Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s Subcommittee on National Security, sent a letter to Janet Napolitano, secretary of the DHS, demanding an explanation of the DHS’s ammunition procurement procedures “to ensure that the department does not waste taxpayer dollars.”

DHS responded at great length, explaining that its purchases were not as large as reported (“the quantity of ammunition that DHS has procured has largely remained constant relative to the Department’s employee base since fiscal year (FY) 2006”) and that the eye-popping quantities that had been so much talked about (1.6 billion rounds and more) weren’t purchases per se “but indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) type contracts. These contracts are not purchases, but rather lock in the price, specifications, and delivery costs for the specified periods of performance. They also set a contract ceiling, or maximum quantity, that can be ordered” (emphasis added in the original).

Senator James Inhofe and Representative Frank Lucas, Republicans from Oklahoma, were unconvinced. Last week, they introduced the Ammunition Management for More Obtainability (AMMO) Act of 2013, which would ban domestic agencies from buying ammunition for a period of six months if “current agency stockpiles are higher than its monthly averages prior to the Obama Administration.”

“President Obama has been adamant about curbing law-abiding Americans’ access and opportunities to exercise their Second Amendment rights,” said Inhofe. “One way the Obama Administration is able to do this is by limiting what’s available in the market with federal agencies purchasing unnecessary stockpiles of ammunition.”

And thus what began as an internet rumor became a piece of draft legislation.

 

Arthur Goldwag is the author of Isms & Ologies; Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies, and most recently The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children. Follow him at @ArthurGoldwag and @WashSpec.