The first sign of their presence was the smell of cigarette smoke. There were about a dozen of them, dressed in black T-shirts with yellow lettering reading “Save Our Constitution.” They were holding flags — mostly Stars and Stripes, but also some Gadsden standards with coiled rattlesnakes, “Don’t Tread on Me” emblazoned in black.
Mixed between the high school marching band, the children and the ponies, these were the Oath Keepers. They had come to Newtown, Connecticut to march in the first Labor Day parade held since 20 children and six educators were massacred with a tactical assault weapon in their classrooms. Like the armed attention-seekers who descended on the local Starbucks a few weeks back, the Oath Keepers wanted to make their presence known.
It’s hard to judge whether they were successful in their quest. After they’d extinguished their smokes and got marching, I lost sight of them. They were well ahead of the Avielle Foundation, the non-profit founded by the scientist parents of Avielle Richman, who was murdered at Sandy Hook, that I was supporting.
But I suspect they did little to further their cause, whatever it might be. I walked down Main Street, as I had done many times as a child, with my hockey or Pop Warner teams. This was my first parade as an adult. I marched alongside parents whose children perished last December. Lining the curb I saw faces wracked with empathetic grief, tears streaming down cheeks.
Past the Honan Funeral Home, which processed many of our neighbors eight months ago; the Edmond Town Hall and to the flagpole. There, an announcement was made for Avielle and her brave parents, who have decided to honor their daughter’s life by deepening society’s understanding of the human brain, and how its failings could compel a young man — in our town last year, but maybe yours tomorrow — to commit acts of unspeakable violence.