Waiting for Antifa

‘Chung chung!’ He froze. He knew the sound of a double-action pump. You never went into a room after you heard that sound.

– Michael Crichton, Next, (New York: Harper), 2007, p. 500

Donald Trump has called armed, right-wing militias, like the fascist Oath Keepers “great patriots.” Attorney General Bill Barr has concurred, directing his wrath instead at Black Lives Matter protesters whom he has called “anarchists, agitators, and criminals.” Both have claimed that dangerous, Antifa militants are surreptitiously fanning out across the country — though travelling together and uniformly dressed in black.

In fact, according to a recent report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, anti-fascists have been responsible for none of the 893 documented incidents of domestic terrorism in the U.S. since 1994, while far right individuals and groups were responsible for 329. We clearly need more Antifa activists to protect us!

But as there’s no Antifa anywhere in sight here in Micanopy, Florida (population 600), I decided to go out and buy a gun. Before I did, I consulted my friend Gumbie.

Gumbie is a sweet, middle-aged hippie who looks like a biker. He lives in a trailer on a big horse farm in nearby Shiloh, and knows the lay of the land. He suggested a shotgun. “The thing about shotguns,” he told me, “is that you don’t have to be so good at aiming. You just point it at the thing you want to shoot, and BOOM. You may not hit it square, but down it will go.” What really persuaded me however, was the next thing he said: “When the bad guy hears the sound of that pump action, that ‘ka-chung”, he’ll shit himself and run. You won’t even have to shoot. A pistol is fine, but what you really want is a shotgun.”

I never owned a gun before, or seriously considered buying one. I remember my uncle Jerry had a pistol that he kept in a shoe box at his house in Fairlawn, New Jersey. During a Passover at his and Aunt Shirley’s house in about 1964, he led me over to a hallway closet and took down his gun to show me. I was just eight. All I remember is that it was big and black and that I was scared. I told my parents about it during the drive home to Forest Hills, Queens. They said Jerry was a Republican and a shonda — a disgrace.

But with fascism on the rise, and right-wing militias growing in strength and numbers, I decided to arm myself. Following Gumbie’s advice, I started to search online and a few hours later, I compiled my list of “10 best shotguns for home protection.” They included the classic, Remington 870, the Mosberg 500 (beloved of police tactical units) and the Keltec KS7 Bullpup which looked like a black IBM Thinkpad I once had, except with a stock, pistol grip and muzzle.

I called Bass Sports in Gainesville and asked a salesman named Tyson about buying a Remington with a short barrel – the consensus choice for close combat in the home. (Gun enthusiasts imagine that if an intruder breaks in, they’ll grab their shotgun and search room to room, shouting CLEAR after each one.) Unfortunately, this popular weapon (the F-150 pickup of guns) was sold out and on back order. It was the same with all the other shotguns on my list: “What with what’s going on in the country these days,” the salesman told me with practiced non-partisanship, “everybody wants a gun.”

That’s when I decided I to visit Harry Beckwith’s Gun Shop and Shooting Range, a local institution since 1955. It’s on Florida Route 441, a few miles from Micanopy, near Payne’s Prairie State Park. The park is a picture of green abundance, populated by herons, egrets, cranes, alligators, tortoises, and buffalos. Beckwith’s is a complex of white and yellow cinderblock buildings and a yellow and black billboard announcing “Harry Beckwith Guns and Pistol Range”.

Harry, who died in 2006, was legendary for a 1990 shootout. Five men, (really kids), aged 16-21, broke into his shop one night to rob it. Then in his 60s, Harry ran out from his house next door, armed with a 12-gauge shot gun, an AR-15 rifle, a revolver and a Smith and Wesson Model 76 submachine gun. I don’t know how he lugged all that outside, and quickly too, but he did, and the result was one dead, one wounded, four arrested, and two bullet-riddled, stolen Oldsmobiles. Harry was uninjured but mad that the State Police brought him in for questioning.

The entrance to Beckwith’s is framed by a pair of Trump signs, and when I visited, there were eight cars in the lot. I hoped none belonged to my neighbors. That’s when I recalled the first time I went to a porno movie in Kew Gardens in the early 1970s and ran into one of my parents’ friends. But none of the cars in the lot looked familiar, so I sighed in relief.

The door to the shop had the legally mandated notice from Alachua County requiring masks, but when I got inside, the staff were either unmasked or wearing them under their noses — gross as well as unhelpful. The customers too were mostly unmasked, older and pink cheeked. Two men in their late 50s or 60s stood at the glass display case, looking down at some pistols with extra-long barrels. In front of them, a salesperson wearing his mask under his chin, answered questions. An older man – he must have been close to 80 — shuffled past them. Another customer, a woman with a walker, squeezed past me. The gun business may be thriving now, but judging by the demographics in Harry’s, it won’t be for long.

The sales guy who helped me was friendly and solicitous — a lean, 40ish, bearded, ex-marine who recognized the 626 area code of my phone number because he lived for a while in Pasadena, CA after his discharge from the military. I liked him, and he wasn’t put off that I was a newbie. He agreed that a shotgun was a good choice for home protection, but told me that he was sold out of his Remingtons and Mossbergs. He had the Keltec, but it was so ugly and unwieldy looking that I rejected it.

Then he directed me to a handgun made by Taurus mischievously named the “Public Defender.” It’s small, lightweight and designed for concealed carry. But the reason he showed it to me was that it fired shotgun shells that could stop cold any home intruder, while not penetrating the walls of your house and accidentally hitting the person living next door. The gun seemed fine, but since I was buying just one, I wanted the theatrics of size and sound that a shotgun provides.

Before I left, I asked if he could place an order for a Remington, Mossberg or perhaps a Winchester. (I was thinking of Winchester 73 with James Stewart, directed by Anthony Mann, in 1950). He said he’d try to find me one if I’d leave my name and number. When I started to say my name, he couldn’t understand it through the mask, so I had to practically shout it, which informed everybody else in the place that a New York Jew was buying a gun. I thought of my uncle Jerry the shonda.

Yesterday, I got a call from Tyson at Bass Sporting Goods. He just located a Mossberg 500 “Turkey Shot.” I’m a vegan and animal rights activist and wouldn’t shoot a turkey even if it was charging at me with evil intent – they can in fact be aggressive. But it had the short barrel I wanted, was cheap enough – about 400 bucks – and most of all, was available. So, I bought it and will keep it tucked under my bed at least until the election is over and Trump is out, or Antifa arrives.

Stephen F. Eisenman is Professor Emeritus of Art History at Northwestern University and the author of Gauguin’s Skirt (Thames and Hudson, 1997), The Abu Ghraib Effect (Reaktion, 2007), The Cry of Nature: Art and the Making of Animal Rights (Reaktion, 2015) and other books. He is also co-founder of the environmental justice non-profit,  Anthropocene Alliance. He and the artist Sue Coe have just published American Fascism, Still for Rotland Press. His next book with the artist Sue Coe The Young Person’s Illustrated Guide to American Fascism‘will be published late this summer by OR Books. He can be reached at: s-eisenman@northwestern.edu