Ernest Hancock: In 1994, I learned that holding a sign, "Legalize Freedom ... Register Libertarian," at a Janet Reno speaking event would get you arrested by Phoenix police. I was quickly released with no charges and returned to the event, but it was clear to me as a young man that we were on a very dark path.
Libertarian activist and radio host Ernest Hancock fired up concern about right-wing extremism around the country last week after he revealed to CNN's Rick Sanchez that he had planned the interview with someone who carried an AR-15 rifle to the protests outside of President Barack Obama's Aug. 17 appearance at the Phoenix Convention Center. At the Tribune's request, Hancock explains his motivations.
In 1994, I learned that holding a sign, "Legalize Freedom ... Register Libertarian," at a Janet Reno speaking event would get you arrested by Phoenix police. I was quickly released with no charges and returned to the event, but it was clear to me as a young man that we were on a very dark path.
One tool to illuminate this dark path was the filing of ballot initiatives that would inject into the political discourse some concepts, such as Second Amendment rights, otherwise ignored during election cycles. One of those 1994 initiatives was "unrestricted concealed carry of firearms," which evolved into Arizona's permit system. SAFE (Second Amendment is For Everyone) was the political action committee that was created in support of this initiative.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio called to inform me that SAFE and I were at the top of a state-by-state listing of militias created by the Southern Poverty Law Center that had been sent to every local law enforcement agency in the nation. Fortunately, Arpaio knew me well enough to know I was not a danger. Ironically, it was after this that I bought my first gun.
Then, I saw a very close friend incarcerated for more than five years in the infamous "Arizona Viper Militia" case of 1996. Those of us who knew the defendants knew they were an easy target because their views were considered too far out of the mainstream. But it would take lies and a willing media to accomplish the demonizing, and conviction, of a friend we knew to be peaceful.
The "Viper Reserve" was created to document the case and to archive it on the Internet. This included a $5 million lawsuit in 1998 against Janet Napolitano for her role as prosecutor in the case. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed by a federal judge.
William Kostric's decision to bring a firearm to a protest outside of President Barack Obama's Aug. 11 health care town hall in New Hampshire was enough of an opportunity for the same people surrounding the "Viper" case in Washington, D.C., to repeat the rhetoric of "threats" from the Arizona militia. Rahm Emanuel was a senior adviser to President Bill Clinton at the White House from 1993 to 1998, and Napolitano (now head of Homeland Security) was the "Viper" prosecutor. The Southern Law Poverty Center made a Phoenix visit recently, and I was getting a very strong feeling of deja vu.
When making my plans for Obama's Phoenix visit, these recent events prompted a call from me to the Phoenix police's "Confrontation Prevention Squad." People I respect in the Phoenix Police Department understand why I would be concerned about the same rhetoric we all experienced 13 years ago - with the same people, in even more powerful positions of government, with new unchecked powers. Our respect for each other has improved over the years, and we have come to understand each other's concerns.
I would bring my personal firearm to the planned protest outside of the Phoenix Convention Center, broadcast my radio show live, and the Phoenix police would protect my right to do so. This inspired others to do the same, including a peaceful young black man with an AR-15 who wanted to make it clear that the increasing financial enslavement of his generation would eventually be resisted.
As expected, the "Viper Militia" case was resurrected, and for all of our protection it needed to be. And the perception that local law enforcement and individual rights are now on the same side makes us all more secure.
Ernest Hancock of Phoenix is publisher of FreedomsPhoenix.com and hosts a syndicated radio talk show.