“Absolved”: A Twisted Journey of Gun Lobby Fantasy

A while back, while browsing through the always informative Southern Poverty Law Center Extremist Files, we came across this reference to a “novel” written by gun extremist Mike Vanderboegh:

Suffering from diabetes, hypertension and congestive heart failure, Vanderboegh has had plenty of time for movement activities, including writing his unpublished E-novel, Absolved, in 2008.

So, as we are want to do, we did some more digging and found another discussion in a Media Matters blog post:

Four alleged members of a Georgia militia group were arrested yesterday relating to their alleged plot to kill numerous government officials. According to the complaint, one of the arrested repeatedly cited as the source of their plan the novel Absolved.

Well, we thought, this story is starting to get more interesting. Strangely though, both discussions of the novel only discussed the most basic elements of the plot and a few sentences of the introduction. That seemed like an oversight to us (we later realized that it wasn’t, but more on that later). Maybe there was more to be discovered buried in the text.

It took a while, but eventually, after scouring Vanderboegh’s blog and a number of other sites and internet archives, we found around 300 pages accounting for 19 chapters and multiple versions of the introduction. We read every last word of it.

And Absolved is far worse than we expected.

But, before we get to why that is, we ought to clarify one thing. Mike Vanderboegh is not out of touch with the rest of the gun lobby. His rhetoric is not far from that of the NRA; in fact, Vanderboegh’s complaints about government tyranny and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tabacco, Firearms, and Explosives are remarkably similar to those of Wayne Lapierre and his “jackbooted government thugs” fundraising letter. Vanderboegh doesn’t hide from the rest of the gun lobby; he has been rolled out as an expert by Fox News on more than one occasion, and his blog and other writings are there for everyone to see. Nor does the rest of the gun lobby hide from him; from an Oath Keepers rally in New York to the Bundy Ranch and an anti-background check demonstration in Washington State, Vanderboegh travels and speaks widely. We say all of this to make a single point: Mike Vanderboegh’s extremist views are not external from the gun lobby, but are an integral part of their philosophy and, on the occasions when he is demonstrably different from the NRA and more “mainstream” groups, his thoughts are simply the logical conclusion of the rest of the gun lobby’s expressed concerns.

We ought to begin our discussion of the novel itself with the basics of the plot. After that, we will discuss some of the more philosophical elements of the text. Beforehand, we should note that the plotline is incomplete; according to a chapter list Vanderboegh posted on his blog in 2009, we have almost all of the novel’s first third, and about half of the rest. We suppose that there could be some huge change hidden in those chapters, but, given the lack of literary complexity evidenced in what we do have and our knowledge of Vanderboegh’s other writing, we can’t imagine there is any such thing.

The story begins with the slaughter of almost 100 federal agents at the hands of Phillip Gordon, a man who, in the opinion of any reasonable person, could only be described as a domestic terrorist. From there, it goes about where is expected: a Native American (Vanderboegh prefers the term “Indian”) violently kills a dozen more agents; a man uses a crop duster to bomb over 5,000 contractors; a group of militiamen, confusingly assisted by a Taiwanese general (Taiwan having been invaded by China at this point) and the Israeli military, institute a campaign of terror against the federal government and their Mexican drug cartel allies; Philip Gordon’s son, a one-time Army officer, begins to build a nuclear weapon in Arizona; the US Army, apparently sympathetic to the federal agent killing militiamen, refuses to assist the government; the State of Alabama (the setting of most of the novel) more or less declares war on the United State; and, perhaps most confoundingly of all, a group of Irish Republican Army members begins assassinating elected officials, government agents, and celebrities in California, or maybe Colorado (Vanderboegh is less than clear).

This all combines to describe what is, essentially, a second Civil War; most sources, including sometime Vanderboegh himself, describe it as a second American Revolution, but we strongly disagree with the portrayal of the novel’s war. Vanderboegh’s southern states, supported by external powers and industrially overpowered, revolt against the imposition of the federal government. Last time we checked, Alabama didn’t revolt against the US government during the Revolutionary War. In Absolved, Alabama does exactly that.

In the introduction to the “novel,” Vanderboegh presents the text as a “cautionary tale” for federal agents. In other places, he has claimed that “another civil war is the last thing he wants”. In response to both of these, we would point out that Vanderboegh presents the militiamen, domestic terrorists, and killers of federal agents as the heroes of his novel. Equally importantly, he has the revolting militiamen win.

If, we wonder, Vanderboegh really wants to present a “cautionary tale,” why are the terrorists heroic and why seem they win? Why are federal agents described as “[evincing] a certain predisposition to the slavish obedience of orders, combined it with a vicious disdain for the legal niceties in carrying them out and possessed on top of it all an insatiable appetite for advancement”? And why are they portrayed as immoral, murderous, conspirators against the American people? We think the answer is simple; Vanderbough’s tale is not cautionary, but merely a retelling of his other theories, designed to reinforce his own disturbing vision of federal tyranny.

Most tellingly of all, Vanderboegh’s heroes regularly describe the murder of federal officials as a duty. We can’t be sure about you, but we find the idea that killing federal agents is a specific duty of “patriots” is disgusting, disturbing, and absolutely vile.

And, if “another civil war is the last thing he wants,” why does Vanderboegh describe the practical side of starting one? Almost half the text we have is dedicated to describing how to build improvised explosives, modify firearms, steal weapons, and the merits of various kinds of ammunition for penetrating body armor. In fact, most of the technical portions are presented by a character who, Vanderboegh admits and obvious to those familiar with his biography, is based on Vanderboegh himself. We simply don’t understand the value of a technical manual for civil war if the intent isn’t to help people start a civil war. Vanderboegh, through his novel and a character who is clearly Vanderboegh’s foil, seems to disagree with his own claims; why tell people how to kill federal agents, using your own experience and knowledge as a guide, if you don’t want people to actually kill federal agents?

That said, we will move onto the philosophy that underlies the novel as a whole; that philosophy is contatined, in its most coherent forms, in Vanderboegh’s introduction and two sections we think of as the novel’s manifestos (these two sections are available in full here). Similar to our large compendium of quotes from Absolved, we have organized a series of quotes by subject.

The Current (Obama) Administration

The present administration acts as if chaos propagation – the destruction of the American economy (including the debasement of its fiat currency by monetizing the incredible national debt), the compromise of our national security interests, the appeasement of our traditional enemies, the selling-out of what few friends we have in the world, the willing discard of our national sovereignty – were going to get them re-elected. No one is that stupid. Which leads me to wonder if, like the Russian Bolsheviks and the German National Socialists before them, the Obama regime – the “gangster government” as Michael Barrone rightly called them at the time of the auto “bailout” — intends that the last election actually be the LAST election.

The Federal Government in General

It is they who, by their conduct, will absolve us of the necessity of any further obedience to an oppressive regime. As I point out in Absolved, if the law no longer protects us, then they will find to their sorrow that it no longer protects them either. The choice is theirs. So I dedicate Absolved to them and their thuggish fellow gang members of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. As Ho Chi Minh once observed, “Cherish your enemies, they teach you the best lessons.”

Political Polarization Or, Perhaps, The Evil of “Liberals” and The Good of Conservatives

One side believed that the Constitution was a “living” document and could be changed to suit “modern circumstances.” Consequently, things such abortion, gun control and homosexual marriage were perfectly constitutional if a majority of Supreme Court justices said they were . . . Their critics derisively referred to them as “the anointed” and that wasn’t far from the truth . . . Pedophilia, necrophilia, and any other kind of philia? Well, they might swallow nervously, but, yes, who were they to question anyone’s morality or presume to tell them how to live? Who indeed? Not that the anointed didn’t insist on telling others how to live. They specialized in it. It was just that there were two standards. One for those with whom they agreed, and another for all the rest.

The other side held an older vision of what America had been and should be. For one thing, they believed in the rule of law: for everyone, applied equally, without fear or favor. To them, the Constitution was a fundamentally sound document as written by Founders who, having experienced oppression themselves, knew exactly what they doing when they limited the central government’s powers in the Bill of Rights. They also believed that all true law, sometimes called natural law, was derived from God, and that the Constitution merely codified that which God had ordained. They believed in God, this half of America, and it was the God of Abraham and Isaac, of Moses and David . . . They believed that almost 50 million abortions was state-sanctioned mass murder that put the German Nazis to shame. They believed that the Old and New Testaments were pretty explicit that homosexuality was an abomination, and they were universally certain that the federal government didn’t have the right to prohibit either their public prayers or the display of the Ten Commandments. Nor, come to that, could it lawfully demand that their sons’ Boy Scout troop leader be a member of the North American Man-Boy Love Association.

Laws on Guns

But come January, the special interests who put you there are going to be banging on your door asking for various favors. Some of them are going to be demanding more gun control legislation, among them a law to close the so-called “gun show loophole” . . . Neither Presidential candidate mentioned the subject much during the campaign (for good reasons), but both are on record as supporting previous bills aimed at exerting complete federal control over the private sale of arms. You call this “reasonable regulation.” We call it tyranny, for not even King George III was so grasping . . . We will no longer have the possibility of stopping further attacks on our God-given liberties politically. We will not even be able to vent our frustration on talk radio. I’m sure you will also get around to “hate speech regulation” of the Internet. And in the middle of this you will try to disarm us by means of a “gun show loophole” bill, or a new tougher “assault weapons ban” or a ban on “assault weapons ammunition” and “armor piercing bullets” which will include simple hunting ammunition, or probably a combination of all three. Perhaps you will stealthily try to do these things by quietly having the ATF manipulate the regulatory process. The advocates of citizen disarmament are probably willing to fight a war down to the last dead ATF agent, but are YOU willing to fight one past the first dead politician? And how many dead editors will it take to change an editorial board policy?

Just so we’re clear, the way you sign your own target is by voting for any bill which commands the government’s seizure of power of the private, intrastate transfer of arms or for one banning the sales or possession of any kinds of heretofore legal weapons or ammunition, or for taxing them to death, or for any other combination of measures, official or unofficial which lead to the same things. Put your “Yea” on any of those, and when innocent Americans get killed by federal forces as a result, you will have placed the crosshairs over your own heart.

Liberty and Immigration

If you pass new gun control laws we will find out. It’s always important for any card player to know the rules of the game before the deck is cut. By sweeping away the sorry GOP, and stacking the deck with the Fairness Doctrine and enfranchised illegals to toil on your political plantation, you will have changed the political rules fundamentally and, perhaps, forever. Please understand that just because you can disenfranchise us, swamp us at the polls, silence us on the radio and Internet, despise us and ridicule us in the media, you still cannot take any more of our liberties without our acquiescence. And we do not, cannot and will not agree. We still get to vote with our rifles. You are welcome to believe that we are insane for adopting such a position, but even if you are right, we’re still armed — doesn’t that just complicate your problem?

Honestly, we can only summarize Vanderboegh’s philosophy with one phrase: kill them. That seems to be what it all boils down to. Vaderbough doesn’t like gun laws, so he suggests politicians who support them should be killed. The same can be said of his thoughts on marriage equality (and, it seems, LGBTQ people across the country), immigration reform (and, apparently, immigrants themselves), the Fairness Doctrine, those who support Roe v. Wade, and liberals in general. We think, given these facts, it is awfully ironic that Vanderboegh so regularly compares his opponents to genocidal tyrants.

Combine all of the above, and we can only reach one conclusion: Vanderboegh is actively encouraging armed revolt over what he conceives of as infringements on his liberty. He, despite his understandable claims to the contrary, wants his militiamen and “patriots” to attack federal agents. And, perhaps most disturbingly of all, the language and rhetoric he uses to attempt to justify all of this isn’t all that different from the rhetoric the NRA, Gun Owners of America, and the Second Amendment Foundation use to drive fundraising, membership drives, and political action.

We have, with the intent of making all of this clear, decided to create a compendium of quotes from the novel to display the kind of things Vanderboegh celebrates. We think these quotes speak for themselves, and present them without commentary, excepting where it is necessary to clarify what Vanderboegh is describing and as is necessary to organize them by subject. We have also included two longer portions of text, quoted and described above, which we think of as the manifestos of the novel and, arguably, of Vanderboegh. It is, however, worth saying that these quotes, while exemplary of the text, are generally less intense and offensive than other portions; we have, for example, not included the most graphic descriptions of the murder of federal agents or any of the “technical manual” portions of the novel.

Due to the sheer amount of content, we have uploaded those on a separate page available here.

What you will find in those selections is disturbing. It is gross and discomforting. But, and this is important to remember, it is not all that different then “mainstream” gun lobby logic. In fact, we recently got an invitation for the NRA to enter a firearms raffle before “Obama and his gun-grabbers” take everyone’s guns. And that is, of course, exactly the kind of rhetoric Vanderboegh relies on.

One final point: the slaughter of federal agents Vanderbough opens Absolved with takes place on Sipsey Street. His blog is called “Sipsey Street Irregulars” and this is, perhaps, the clearest sign of Vanderboegh’s true desires.

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