Monday, August 02, 2010


Firing Line
One June morning last year, Jack Dailey drove from his home in North Carolina’s Piedmont country, through verdant, hilly farmland to a rifle range near the town of Ramseur. Eleven men and a woman had mustered there for a weeklong boot camp run by the Appleseed Project, a group Dailey started that is dedicated to teaching every American how to fire a bullet through a man-size target out to 500 yards. So far Appleseed has taught 25,000 people to shoot; 7,000 more will learn by the end of this year. Its instructors teach this skill not for the purpose of hunting or sport. They see marksmanship as fundamental to Americans’ ability to defend their liberty, whether against foreigners or the agents of a (hypothetical) tyrannical government. Appleseed frames this activity as being somewhere between a historical re-enactment and a viable last resort. I came to find out how serious they were.


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Dailey, Appleseed’s founder and rhetorician in chief, is a tall man with silver hair. He wore black sneakers, a red polo shirt tucked into jeans and a red baseball cap. Sixty-six years old, he could have been a grandfather spending a leisurely morning on a public golf course if not for his unyielding expression and his voice, which is well equipped for the stirring up of men.

In the previous day’s lecture, Dailey discussed taxes — the situation of the American taxpayer, he said, compared unfavorably with the lives of slaves in ancient Egypt. Today he got down to the matter at hand: defense against overweening government. “Look at the choice those guys made,” he said, referring to the colonial-era militia. “I’ll post you 65 yards from the road. In a few hours there’s gonna be hundreds of redcoats marching down that road. Your liberty depends on you stopping ’em.”

Two lead musket balls were passed around the clubhouse, through the hands of a camouflaged Navy midshipman, two sheriff’s deputies, a farm-owning factory worker, a college professor, a pilot, a retiree and a high-school sophomore. Those who shot an “expert” score on Dailey’s qualification test would become “riflemen,” as designated by olive-green patches. For now, most of these novice shooters were referred to as “cooks.”

“When you fire that first shot, those redcoats are gonna be mad,” Dailey said. “They’re gonna come at you with those 16-inch bayonets. There’ll be three or four of ’em before you load your second shot.” He paused. Thoughts of bayonets seemed to linger in the silent room. “Not much percentage in that choice. We know now that they won. But for them? No guarantees.”

The Appleseed Project began with commentaries Dailey writes, under the byline of “Fred,” that run beside advertisements for his surplus-rifle-stock business in the magazine Shotgun News. In 2005, he organized his first Appleseed shoots in Wyoming and Texas. The combination of military-style rifle training, star-spangled rhetoric and low cost ($70 for two days; free for women, minors and military personnel) proved catching. Word of the program spread through gun culture and survivalist Web sites. The tax filings of the Revolutionary War Veterans Association, the nonprofit group that oversees Appleseed, show that the group now has $334,000 in cash. The Appleseed Web site lists as many as 100 shoots a month on the outskirts of towns like Eureka, Kan., Pine Bluffs, Wyo., and Coeur D’Alene, Idaho.

At the North Carolina shoot, the cooks came from Georgia, Florida, Illinois and Ohio, bearing .22-caliber Rugers and Marlins outfitted with custom sights — what Appleseed calls Liberty Training Rifles. Though they were diverse in age and class, their uniformly white skin, down-home talk and traditional values suggested a common attachment to an America that had lost its long-held claim to the cultural center. While Dailey has said Appleseed should be apolitical, the talk at this Appleseed boot camp and at several others I attended across the country over the course of a year contained pieces of a conversation that has unfolded behind the motley carnivals of the Tea Party movement: a serious deliberation on the right about the nature of the American founding and the limits of incivility. Sharron Angle, the Republican nominee for Senate in Nevada who is campaigning against Harry Reid, has spoken of the possibility of “Second Amendment remedies” for Congressional action. “The nation is arming,” she told The Reno Gazette-Journal in May. “What are they arming for if it isn’t that they are so distrustful of their government? They’re afraid they’ll have to fight for their liberty in more Second Amendment kinds of ways. That’s why I look at this as almost an imperative. If we don’t win at the ballot box, what will be the next step?” Rick Barber, a Republican candidate for Congress in Alabama, has broadcast an ad in which an actor dressed as George Washington declares, “Gather your armies.”

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