September 16, 1991. Today it finally began!
After all these years of talking-and nothing but talking-we have finally
taken our first action. We are at war with the System, and it is no longer
a war of words.
I cannot sleep, so I will try writing down some of the thoughts which are flying through my head.
It is not safe to talk here. The walls are quite thin, and the neighbors might wonder at a late-night conference. Besides, George and Katherine are already asleep. Only Henry and I are still awake, and he's just staring at the ceiling.
I am really uptight. l am so jittery I can barely sit still. And I'm exhausted. I've been up since 5:30 this morning, when George phoned to warn that the arrests had begun, and it's after midnight now. I've been keyed up and on the move all day.
But at the same time I'm exhilarated. We have finally acted! How long we will be able to continue defying the System, no one knows. Maybe it will all end tomorrow, but we must not think about that. Now that we have begun, we must continue with the plan we have been developing so carefully ever since the Gun Raids two years ago.
What a blow that was to us! And how it shamed us! All that brave talk by patriots, "The government will never take my guns away," and then nothing but meek submission when it happened.
On the other hand, maybe we should be heartened by the fact that there were still so many of us who had guns then, nearly 18 months after the Cohen Act had outlawed all private ownership of firearms in the United States. It was only because so many of us defied the law and hid our weapons instead of turning them in that the government wasn't able to act more harshly against us after the Gun Raids.
I'll never forget that terrible day: November 9, 1989. They knocked on my door at five in the morning. I was completely unsuspecting as I got up to see who it was.
I opened the door, and four Negroes came pushing into the apartment before I could stop them. One was carrying a baseball bat, and two had long kitchen knives thrust into their belts. The one with the bat shoved me back into a corner and stood guard over me with his bat raised in a threatening position while the other three began ransacking my apartment.
My first thought was that they were
robbers. Robberies of this sort had become all too common since the Cohen
Act, with groups of Blacks forcing their way into White homes to rob and
rape, knowing that even if their victims had guns they probably would not
dare use them.
Then the one who was guarding me flashed some kind of card and informed me that he and his accomplices were "special deputies" for the Northern Virginia Human Relations Council. They were searching for firearms, he said.
I couldn't believe it. It just couldn't be happening. Then I saw that they were wearing strips of green cloth tied around their left arms. As they dumped the contents of drawers on the floor and pulled luggage from the closet, they were ignoring things that robbers wouldn't have passed up: my brand-new electric razor, a valuable gold pocket watch, a milk bottle full of dimes. They were looking for firearms!
Right after the Cohen Act was passed, all of us in the Organization had cached our guns and ammunition where they weren't likely to be found. Those in my unit had carefully greased our weapons, sealed them in an oil drum, and spent all of one tedious weekend burying the drum in an eight-foot-deep pit 200 miles away in the woods of western Pennsylvania.
But I had kept one gun out of the cache. I had hidden my .357 magnum revolver and 50 rounds of ammunition inside the door frame between the kitchen and the living room. By pulling out two loosened nails and removing one board from the door frame I could get to my revolver in about two minutes flat if I ever needed it. I had timed myself.
But a police search would never uncover it. And these inexperienced Blacks couldn't find it in a million years.
After the three who were conducting the search had looked in all the obvious places, they began slitting open my mattress and the sofa cushions. I protested vigorously at this and briefly considered trying to put up a fight.
About that time there was a commotion out in the hallway. Another group of searchers had found a rifle hidden under a bed in the apartment of the young couple down the hall. They had both been handcuffed and were being forcibly escorted toward the stairs. Both were clad only in their underwear, and the young woman was complaining loudly about the fact that her baby was being left alone in the apartment.
Another man walked into my apartment. He was a Caucasian, though with an unusually dark complexion. He also wore a green armband, and he carried an attach_ case and a clipboard.
The Blacks greeted him deferentially
and reported the negative result of their search: "No guns here, Mr. Tepper."
Tepper ran his finger down the list of names and apartment numbers on his clipboard until he came to mine. He frowned. "This is a bad one," he said. "He has a racist record. Been cited by the Council twice. And he owned eight firearms which were never turned in."
Tepper opened his attach_ case and took out a small, black object about the size of a pack of cigarettes which was attached by a long cord to an electronic instrument in the case. He began moving the black object in long sweeps back and forth over the walls, while the attach_ case emitted a dull, rumbling noise. The rumble rose in pitch as the gadget approached the light switch, but Tepper convinced himself that the change was caused by the metal junction box and conduit buried in the wall. He continued his methodical sweep.
As he swept over the left side of the kitchen door frame the rumble jumped to a piercing shriek. Tepper grunted excitedly, and one of the Negroes went out and came back a few seconds later with a sledge hammer and a pry bar. It took the Negro substantially less than two minutes after that to find my gun.
I was handcuffed without further ado and led outside. Altogether, four of us were arrested in my apartment building. In addition to the couple down the hall, there was an elderly man from the fourth floor. They hadn't found a firearm in his apartment, but they had found four shotgun shells on his closet shelf. Ammunition was also illegal.
Mr Tepper and some of his "deputies" had more searches to carry out, but three large Blacks with baseball bats and knives were left to guard us in front of the apartment building.
The four of us were forced to sit on the cold sidewalk, in various states of undress, for more than an hour until a police van finally came for us.
As other residents of the apartment building left for work, they eyed us curiously. We were all shivering, and the young woman from down the hall was weeping uncontrollably.
One man stopped to ask what it was all about. One of our guards brusquely explained that we were all under arrest for possessing illegal weapons. The man stared at us and shook his head disapprovingly.
Then the Black pointed to me and said: "And that one's a racist." Still shaking his head, the man moved on.
Herb Jones, who used to belong to the Organization and was one of the most outspoken of the "they'll-never-get-my-gun" people before the Cohen Act, walked by quickly with his eyes averted. His apartment had been searched too, but Herb was clean. He had been practically the first man in town to turn his guns over to the police after the passage of the Cohen Act made him liable to ten years imprisonment in a Federal penitentiary if he kept them.
That was the penalty the four of us on the sidewalk were facing. It didn't work out that way, though. The reason it didn't is that the raids which were carried out all over the country that day netted a lot more fish than the System had counted on: more than 800,000 persons were arrested.
At first the news media tried hard to work up enough public sentiment against us so that the arrests would stick. The fact that there weren't enough jail cells in the country to hold us all could be remedied by herding us into barbed-wire enclosures outdoors until new prison facilities could be readied, the newspapers suggested. In freezing weather!
I still remember the Washington Post headline the next day: "Fascist-Racist Conspiracy Smashed, Illegal Weapons Seized." But not even the brainwashed American public could fully accept the idea that nearly a million of their fellow citizens had been engaged in a secret, armed conspiracy.
As more and more details of the raids leaked out, public restlessness grew. One of the details which bothered people was that the raiders had, for the most part, exempted Black neighborhoods from the searches. The explanation given at first for this was that since "racists" were the ones primarily suspected of harboring firearms, there was relatively little need to search Black homes.
The peculiar logic of this explanation broke down when it turned out that a number of persons who could hardly be considered either "racists" or "fascists" had been caught up in the raids. Among them were two prominent liberal newspaper columnists who had earlier been in the forefront of the antigun crusade, four Negro Congressmen (they lived in White neighborhoods), and an embarrassingly large number of government officials.
The list of persons to be raided,
it turned out, had been compiled primarily from firearms sales records
which all gun dealers had been required to keep. If a person had turned
a gun in to the police after the Cohen Act was passed, his name was marked
off the list. If he hadn't it stayed on, and he was raided on November
9-unless he lived in a Black neighborhood.
In addition, certain categories of people were raided whether they had ever purchased a firearm from a dealer or not. All the members of the Organization were raided.
The government's list of suspects was so large that a number of "responsible" civilian groups were deputized to assist in the raids. l guess the planners in the System thought that most of the people on their list had either sold their guns privately before the Cohen Act, or had disposed of them in some other way. Probably they were expecting only about a quarter as many people to be arrested as actually were.
Anyway, the whole thing soon became so embarrassing and so unwieldy that most of the arrestees were turned loose again within a week. The group I was with-some 600 of us-was held for three days in a high school gymnasium in Alexandria before being released. During those three days we were fed only four times, and we got virtually no sleep.
But the police did get mug shots, fingerprints, and personal data from everyone. When we were released we were told that we were still technically under arrest and could expect to be picked up again for prosecution at any time.
The media kept yelling for prosecutions for awhile, but the issue was gradually allowed to die. Actually, the System had bungled the affair rather badly.
For a few days we were all more frightened and glad to be free than anything else. A lot of people in the Organization dropped out right then and there. They didn't want to take any more chances.
Others stayed in but used the Gun Raids as an excuse for inactivity. Now that the patriotic element in the population had been disarmed, they argued, we were all at the mercy of the System and had to be much more careful. They wanted us to cease all public recruiting activities and "go underground."
As it turned out, what they really had in mind was for the Organization to restrict itself henceforth to "safe" activities, such activities to consist principally in complaining-better yet, whispering-to one another about how bad things were.
The more militant members, on the other hand, were for digging up our weapons caches and unleashing a program of terror against the System immediately, carrying out executions of Federal judges, newspaper editors, legislators, and other System figures. The time was ripe for such action, they felt, because in the wake of the Gun Raids we could win public sympathy for such a campaign against tyranny.
It is hard to say now whether the militants were right. Personally, I think they were wrong-although I counted myself as one of them at the time. We could certainly have killed a number of the creatures responsible for America's ills, but I believe we would have lost in the long run.
For one thing, the Organization just wasn't well disciplined enough for waging terror against the System. There were too many cowards and blabbermouths among us. Informers, fools, weaklings, and irresponsible jerks would have been our undoing.
For a second thing, I am sure now that we were overoptimistic in our judgment of the mood of the public. What we mistook as general resentment against the System's abrogation of civil rights during the Gun Raids was more a passing wave of uneasiness resulting from all the commotion involved in the mass arrests.
As soon as the public had been reassured by the media that they were in no danger, that the government was cracking down only on the "racists, fascists, and other anti-social elements" who had kept illegal weapons, most relaxed again and went back to their TV and funny papers.
As we began to realize this, we were more discouraged than ever. We had based all our plans-in fact, the whole rationale of the Organization-on the assumption that Americans were inherently opposed to tyranny, and that when the System became oppressive enough they could be led to overthrow it. We had badly underestimated the degree to which materialism had corrupted our fellow citizens, as well as the extent to which their feelings could be manipulated by the mass media.
As long as the government is able to keep the economy somehow gasping and wheezing along, the people can be conditioned to accept any outrage. Despite the continuing inflation and the gradually declining standard of living, most Americans are still able to keep their bellies full today, and we must simply face the fact that that's the only thing which counts with most of them.
Discouraged and uncertain as we were, though, we began laying new plans for the future. First, we decided to maintain our program of public recruiting. In fact, we intensified it and deliberately made our propaganda as provocative as possible. The purpose was not only to attract new members with a militant disposition, but at the same time to purge the Organization of the fainthearts and hobbyists-the "talkers."
We also tightened up on discipline. Anyone who missed a scheduled meeting twice in a row was expelled. Anyone who failed to carry out a work assignment was expelled. Anyone who violated our rule against loose talk about Organizational matters was expelled.
We had made up our minds to have an Organization that would be ready the next time the System provided an opportunity to strike. The shame of our failure to act, indeed, our inability to act, in 1989 tormented us and drove us without mercy. It was probably the single most important factor in steeling our wills to whip the Organization into fighting trim, despite all obstacles.
Another thing that helped-at least, with me-was the constant threat of rearrest and prosecution. Even if I had wanted to give it all up and join the TV-and-funnies crowd, I couldn't. I could make no plans for a "normal," civilian future, never knowing when I might be prosecuted under the Cohen Act. (The Constitutional guarantee of a speedy trial, of course, has been "reinterpreted" by the courts until it means no more than our Constitutional guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms.)
So I, and I know this also applies to George and Katherine and Henry, threw myself without reservation into work for the Organization and made only plans for the future of the Organization. My private life had ceased to matter.
Whether the Organization actually is ready, I guess we'll find out soon enough. So far, so good, though. Our plan for avoiding another mass roundup, like 1989, seems to have worked.
Early last year we began putting a number of new members, unknown to the political police, into police agencies and various quasi-official organizations, such as the human relations councils. They served as our early-warning network and otherwise kept us generally informed of the System's plans against us.
We were surprised at the ease with which we were able to set up and operate this network. We never would have gotten away with it back in the days of J. Edgar Hoover.
It is ironic that while the Organization has always warned the public against the dangers of racial integration of our police, this has now turned out to be a blessing in disguise for us. The "equal opportunity" boys have really done a wonderful wrecking job on the FBI and other investigative agencies, and their efficiency is way down as a result. Still, we'd better not get over-confident or careless.
Omigod! It's 4:00 AM. Got to get some sleep!