Six years ago I was driving down an Appalachian road to seed my plot in a community garden. Though I was traveling nearly ten miles per hour over, a rough looking man in a small red truck was trailing me quite close. After a few miles of his passive pestering I made a poor decision and broke checked him quite hard. Our cars didn’t touch but his reaction was immediate. From my rear view I could see him in a rage. Swerving his vehicle, flashing his lights, honking the horn, slamming his fist into the steering wheel. He was unhinged. In youthful arrogance, I wasn’t too worried until I saw the man lean to the passenger side of the vehicle and point a small silver object at my car.
I can’t be sure it was a revolver, but I was convinced he had just pointed a gun at me. My mind went into hyper-drive at that moment and I stopped making conscious decisions. Just action – reaction. I took the first hard left available to me and sped away. He wasn’t able to react in time but managed to scream out his window something to the tune of “Ill fucking kill you!” as he passed. I decided to quickly drive to my partners workplace down the road and get inside the building then block the doors or something. In my panic I wasn’t having full thoughts.
I got to a four way stop nearly a block away from my left turn. As I passed though I saw the little red truck hauling towards me. I blew through and sped away, he trailed, having made an unbelievable amount of ground on me considering he had to go down a block, over a block, and up a block. As I approached the building, I noticed a man with his daughter swinging in a park at a short distance. I parked and quickly ran to the door- it was locked. Sundays. The red truck was still approaching and having exhausted my only plan, my mind went completely blank. Flight, Fight, or Freeze. I had already fled, I knew I couldn’t fight, so my mind rested on freeze. I took a buck knife out of my car and dazily held it in my hand outside of the car. I had just a blurry sense of “I’m gonna get shot” in my head. Helpless. It would have been smart to stay in the car or drive over the grass to a different road, or do something decisive, but nope, stand out of my mobile shelter with a knife is where I landed.
When I caught a little sense I looked up and saw the red truck idling outside the entrance of the park. He stayed there for 5 minutes, probably thinking if I was worth shooting or something. Then he left. I don’t know why he didn’t come finish me, maybe it was the father and child in the park being witness? I’ll never know. In my haste I misplaced my keys and couldn’t find them at all. I called my partner who showed up 30 minutes later with spare keys. In the time between their arrival I was still frightened that the red truck might come back and was smacked with the realization that I definitely could have died without much of a fight had homeboy decided to follow through. It was the first time in my life I felt I needed a gun…
Fast forward several years. I had moved into a very reactionary area in rural North Carolina that is still a bit of a hotbed of white-nationalist and neo-confederate organizing. I was also put on a crisis de-escalation team at my job where you had to overcome the flight-freeze response to keep others safe in dangerous situations on a fairly regular basis, and had gotten pretty good at it. I understood what adrenaline and fear did to my mind and how to direct it.
Important to my personal story, I started some anti-racist organizing and in 2017 organized an anti-klan demonstration in Asheboro, NC after finding out about a scheduled cross burning and KKK klavern in the area. Vice did a small garbage documentary on it and tried to paint folks standing against violent racism as armed provocateurs. A local white nationalist group found it and thoroughly doxxed me. They featured it on 4chan and 8chan, the latter being an explicitly neo-nazi forum whose users are connected to several targeted killings and mass shootings. They posted not only my name and photo, but pictures of my home, my car, my farm animals, mentioned my partner, and promised to kill my infant child. Usually doxxing is an intimidation tactic by folks that live at a distance and leveraged anonymously through the internet. Typically it’s not something to be too overly concerned about. However, the group that doxxed me was a trained white nationalist militia with multiple members within a 7-15 minute drive of my home. I had seen a few of them out and about the community before we were aware of each other. Beyond that, my inbox was pinged every now and again with agitated neighbors who stumbled across my doxx in a somewhat mainline right wing media outlet. On a few occasions I was told to, “remember what we do to commies in this part of North Carolina” alluding to the 1979 Greensboro Massacre where several klan members shot into a crowd of protesters and murdered several anti-racist activists on live television. Despite that they acquitted of any crime in the court of law, which resulted in a wave of Klan violence across the country. Impunity.
Needless to say, I was hyper-vigilant from that point forward. I am a queer and anti-racist organizer in the most openly hostile area I have ever lived in. However, this time was different than when I had a gun pulled on me years prior. I was familiar with armed self defense, adequately trained, and put a lot of thought and time into firearms for self defense. I’d learned some medic skills associated with gunshot and stab wounds. I had familiarized myself with North Carolina’s self defense laws and legal thresholds. I could reliably hit what I was aiming at under pressure and learned a good deal of self defense tactics. I hardened my house, set up preventative measures and early alarms, had an escape route and discussed it with my family. I was prepared and this time if fear and an adrenaline dump came, I knew that my training would enable me to fight back if I had no other option. No more freezing. My mind was resolved that if people wanted to harm me, my family, or for that matter my broader community, that they would have to overcome a well prepared person. I’m not a soft target anymore.
The transformation I went through between those years, and continuing now, has been profoundly empowering. I am confident in my ability to put up a fight and do not have to rely on the government or police to protect me. In fact, even if I didn’t have those skills it doesn’t appear smart to do so. Only 30% of violent crimes are responded to by the police in less than 5 minutes. Over 60% take six minutes to an hour for police to arrive. That’s a lot of time to handle a life threatening situation. Most armed encounters happen in seconds with little build up. By acquiring these skills I have affirmed to myself that my life is valuable, that I deserve to live, and that anyone trying to snuff my torch will be met with a capable opponent.
The power of that can not be understated for minorities and targeted people. Black, brown, trans, fem, queer, elderly, disabled, and many more – society on a structural level devalues your life. It denies you access to health care, overrides your choice, inflicts mass injustice, disadvantages you economically, and both erases and rationalizes your oppression- even blames you for it. It diminishes your worth because of who you are, but by arming yourself, by skilling up your abilities, you are undercutting those cultural norms. By arming yourself you are declaring your self worth and re-situating both your power and agency back on your own shoulders. In the essay, “Notes for a critical theory of community self defense,” the author argues that self defense, especially when we connect up with one another, is a direct action to overcoming oppression and is therefore transformative not only on the personal level, but on a community level. It is feminism incarnate. It is queer liberation. It is black and brown liberation. It is an active challenge and dismantling of the structural pressures which work to take our very lives through all manners and mechanisms of violence.
The transformation that I went through is what Armed Margins is dedicated to dispersing throughout our community. It is a project that seeks to not only equip vulnerable and targeted people with the ability to defend themselves, but to also connect with one another and thereby transform our communities.
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