Photographers' Blog

An amendment revisited

February 22, 2013

Old Town, Florida

By Brian Blanco

You feel a moment. I’m not certain if it’s a second lost or a second gained, but in that moment the Earth stops. It’s the moment you watch a child, a young girl in purple shoes, pull a loaded AK-47 assault rifle from the cab of a pick-up truck.

The child, 9-year-old Brianna, had no ill intentions with the weapon of course. She was simply retrieving the gun for a man she affectionately calls “Uncle Jim”. He is Jim Foster, a 57-year-old former police officer and the leader of the North Florida Survival Group. The organisation teaches children and adults alike to handle weapons, and Jim refers to it as a ‘militia”.

GALLERY: TRAINING CHILD SURVIVALISTS

Jim was the man who, after feeling out my intentions in a two-hour meeting at a chain restaurant a few weeks earlier, had granted me permission to photograph his group’s field training exercise. It was an opportunity I snatched up without hesitation. It’s not every day that a photojournalist gets an invitation to shoot a militia gathering. Understandably, they tend to be fairly secretive groups who don’t exactly keep the media on their Christmas card lists.

When I first emailed Jim requesting access to his organisation for a story about second amendment issues, I fully expected to have my email dragged straight to the trash, never to hear from him again. Within hours he proved me wrong. He left a phone message thanking me for contacting him and agreeing to meet with me face to face, albeit sans cameras or tape recorders.

It wasn’t exactly the response I was expecting from a man whose first few sentences under his “About Me” section of his website, under a photo of him dressed head-to-toe in camo and holding an AK-47, says that he believes our freedom as Americans is in jeopardy and that our government is moving us toward socialism. I knew, based on the political messages and blog entries on his site that he and his members would have strong political opinions and that it might be necessary for me to dust off a cheesy line I stole years ago from an even cheesier Nick Nolte movie from the 1980s where Nolte, playing a predictable version of a war photojournalist, is asked what side he’s on and his response: “I don’t take sides, I take pictures.”

If you’re looking for a well-oiled machine of a militia, the North Florida Survival Group will likely disappoint. Members are not all chiseled young males with high-and-tight hair cuts straight out of central casting. An elderly man in blue coveralls and a borrowed .22 caliber varmint hunting rifle protects the flank of a younger man in a full ensemble of tactical gear and a tricked-out AR-15 assault rifle but while their gear may separate them, their political beliefs unite them.

To their credit, I never had to use my Nolte line with the members of Foster’s group. While the members of the group were clearly passionate about their distrust of our government and, more specifically, our president, they never tried to force-feed me their opinions or interrogate me for mine. Foremost on their minds was gun confiscations. Meeting the group just a few weeks after the re-election of Barack Obama, the prevailing concern among the group was when the next gun ban would be coming and how they should stockpile ammunition and weapons to prepare for it.

An over-sized t-shirt containing a slogan and the logo of the North Florida Survival Group on a young boy carrying a Ruger rifle while covering the flank of a line of militia members searching for an imagined enemy summed up their position with the shirt reading: “I’m willing to die to defend my 2nd amendment rights. Are you willing to die to trying to take them from me?” – That was six days before Sandy Hook. Six days before the country would launch into one of the largest and most heated gun control debates in the country’s history. Six days before so called “assault weapons” and ammunition disappeared, in a frenzied buying spree, from gun store shelves across the nation.

Prior to the shooting at Sandy Hook, Foster said he received on average about one or two people inquiring about signing up for the North Florida Survival Group. Now, after Sandy Hook, he says he get’s about one person signing up per day. “When I first got into this, I thought I’d never have to use these skills in my lifetime but we as citizens have a duty to defend the constitution.” said Foster. “Now it looks like groups like ours are going to be called up to defend the constitution even if it means using force.”

“The government is trying to disarm us,” said Jim. “There weren’t enough dead bodies to do it before, but now they’ve got the bodies of 26 dead kids and I’m afraid that’s enough for them to get what they want,” he said, referring to the 20 children and six adults who were shot at Sandy Hook.

Comments
27 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Interestingly enough Uncle Jim and his “Militia” are not so concerned with surviving to have eaten healthily or regularly exercised. both of which would significantly increase their ability to survive the kind of paranoid scenario they are dreaming up. When the Communist Fascist President Obama does enslave the people do they believe their civilian market replica guns can match the fire power and durability of the US army’s actual weapons? do they believe they will be able to out run and gun the lean mean battle tested machine that is the USMC? I suggest they expend more energy surviving diabetes, heart disease and strokes and worry less about the 2nd amendment.

Posted by PaulLeonhardt | Report as abusive
 

The tweet advertising this article by Reuters:

“You feel a moment—the moment you watch a young girl in purple shoes pull a loaded AK-47 from the cab of a pick-up.” http://reut.rs/X17IK0”

No joke, I thought this was going to be about Syria or Somalia. It’s just ridiculous that we allow these crazy people to arm themselves. They need to learn the difference between militants and militias.

Posted by Rybocynclast | Report as abusive
 

2/22/2013 ~An interesting article. Good pictures. Many folks really need to study political-economy. We are now living under a mature fascism. Socialism is no threat, certainly not any form of democratic socialism. Study the distinction between Hitler’s National Socialism and forms of democratic socialism.

Right now we are living under a mature corporate fascism. Emperor Obama is a fascist corporate puppet. We must uphold our sacred right to self-defense, support the 1nd Amendment and learn how we can live together in peace and harmony as humane beings.

Namaste! Peter S. López AKA @Peta_de_Aztlan on Twitter

Posted by Peta_de_Aztlan | Report as abusive
 

while i do think they are quiet pitiful. it would be a mistake to think that they would be ineffective especially in large numbers. the sight of the police or military imprisioning or murdering them would also have grave consequences. i also don’t think that there is a soldier here at JBLM that will follow orders to attack even armed American civilians.

Posted by zeddd | Report as abusive
 

I think most real Americans would not be disturbed at all to see them imprisoned in large numbers–because, contrary to what they think they think, they are not upholding the Constitution at all. They have publicly stated that they will not obey any laws restricting gun ownership, so they are all potential criminals. Furthermore, whether they know it or not, they are shills for the gun manufacturers. If any of them could read, they’d realize that no state or federal leader has ever suggested eliminating the 2nd amendment, so the paranoia of these groups is fueled by the lies and exaggerations of the gun lobby. They are dupes of the corporations. There are so many other rights abuses of both Democratic and Republican governments, like habeas corpus and unwarrented wire tapping, yet I don’t see any of the survivalists protesting these daily abuses of power. Instead, they play their war games and collect their rifles and ammo, waiting for–what? The fact that they remain silent in the face of ongoing rights abuses throughout the world just proves that they have one, and only one real concern–themselves.

Posted by cautious123 | Report as abusive
 

They are breeding and grooming the batshit paranoia.

Posted by Morrisovich | Report as abusive
 

Seems many of the commenters here have their heads in a hole. Cautious123 actually suggested most Americans would be perfectly happy seeing these people, who are not harming anyone, imprisoned for doing what is perfectly legal and within their rights as Free Citizens.

Freedom is not taken away in one fell swoop, but one small piece at a time. Eventually, it’s gone. Just because you don’t understand it, agree with it, side with it or fear it, doesn’t mean you should make it illegal. Make it illegal so you can get rid of it. Wonderful logic.

One day, someone will not agree that a particular race of people were equal, make laws against them, imprisoned them and took away their freedoms. Oh wait, that happened before, didn’t it? African Americans immediately, and then Japanese Americans during WWII.

As far was what is against the law or not, it only takes one incredibly irresponsible act by our legislators to make a vast majority of law-abiding citizens criminals. Overnight. Imagine extreme bans/restrictions/registration on the 1st Amendment. Liability insurance to speak your mind or post a comment. Words can kill just as fast and with as much lethality as guns. Hitler used words to incite a nation to unspeakable atrocities and war. Many like to argue that the 2nd Amendment is outdated and unnecessary, but why stop there? Because you think it’s ridiculous and could never happen to our other freedoms? Oh, not the 1st Amendment.. oh not the 4th or 5th.. couldn’t happen. Bull. Any of it could happen and would happen if just left to run its course.

Let these people prep all day long, train as much as they want, teach their kids survivalist techniques. They harm nobody and it gives them something in common to enjoy together.

Now, go back to the bosom of the government, because it loves you so much and cares so much for you. Good luck with that.

Posted by madsin32 | Report as abusive
 

I was watching the Daily Show and it really hit home: the schism between those Americans dependent on the government and those who are distrustful of it.
The men and women who need to feel safe because their occupations and lifestyles are not singularly self sufficient usually live in heavily populated urban or suburban areas. In these locations it is necessary to control weapons to prevent any one person from causing a huge amount of mayhem. After all, when you live in a heavily populated area you need to be able to trust the authorities to provide you protection.
Those who live in the countryside cannot trust the authorities to provide. I remember a town hall meeting where a FEMA adviser was counseling our small town on flood preparedness. We were told that we would all need to have emergency preparations in place because in the case of a natural disaster the government would look to providing emergency assistance to the heavily populated areas first. This was due to the simple equation of lives saved per dollar spent.
It is so much less expensive for the government to care for heavily populated areas in terms of people serviced by aid that it only makes sense for rural and small-town communities to provide for themselves in times of crises.
The government can not provide services for ‘red’ America, and so they see little benefit from government regulation and law.

Posted by leumasmc | Report as abusive
 

Pretty bias reporting, I wonder what the other photograph’s taken looked like? Native Americans such as myself, as a matter of education in subsistance survivial routinely bring their children hunting, True no evidence here suggests that this is anything other than human on human counter measures training. Then again we don’t actually know this, now do we.

Posted by tshmeaigo | Report as abusive
 

I don’t know what the future is going to bring but I would much rather have these people as my neighbors then someone who depends on a check from the government. I do not want militias everywhere, but I also understand that it’s a right and therefor the government does not have the right to take it away. I myself own 5 guns, my wife has one and my 12 year old son has one. We live in a middle class suburban neighborhood and try to practice once a month out in the country. A right is a right no matter the consequences and some of those consequences are horrible shootings or armed militias that are overly paranoid.

Posted by theolympusguy | Report as abusive
 

@cautious123: contrary to what you think, they are upholding the constitution. In particular, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” What part of “shall not be infringed” is it that you do not understand? Under our constitution, it is actually unlawful for the government to infringe the right of the people to keep and to bear arms. This is almost trivially simple language. Apparently they can read it and do understand it. What shocks me is that you do not. If you think that the second amendment should be revised to permit the government to infringe the right to keep and to bear arms to some extent, then perhaps you should petition your representatives to draft an amendment so stating such an intent. Otherwise, you should recognize from the clear meaning of the words constituting the second amendment that it is the government that is acting criminally and not the people exercising their rights who are acting criminally.

Posted by oreslag | Report as abusive
 

Rybocynclast: “It’s just ridiculous that we allow these crazy people to arm themselves. They need to learn the difference between militants and militias.”

Learn the definition of crazy. You use the term too loosely. These people obviously have no mental health issues and are not criminals. Simply because they have a different world view than you does not make them crazy.

Sure, the girl looks like she’d rather be watching Sponge Bob on TV, but at least she’d outside getting some fresh air and learning some basic survival techniques. One day, in some disaster, she may be the one that says to you. “Yeah, when I was a kid, my old man taught me how to filter water using a pair of socks and some charcoal, so look, let’s get some water until FEMA can get off their asses and save us. Never thought I’d need to know it, but now I’m glad…”

The difference between militant and militia is Obama’s apparent legal ability of blowing them all up with a Drone Strike or letting them live in peace. I’m sure it would be pretty easy in his mind, or any future Presidents mind, to conveniently label one group of people as required to achieve some political end.

Posted by madsin32 | Report as abusive
 

There needs to be a special catagory of news for just Florida just to warn readers . From chicken mcnugget meltdowns to coffee enemas to overweight bubbas playing G.I. with 9 &10 yr olds if its weird you know it’s in FL . Most are too extreme for even Jerry Springer

Posted by Desoto2 | Report as abusive
 

The second amendment is supposed to support our right to bare arms against a tyrannical government. Proof there by that, we cannot even as much freely, purchase military type arms. The government has already succeeded in overstepping its bounds to the will of the people. The first and last defense we have to protect the great founding principles of our nation is the the second amendment. Yeah if you’re form NY. things that go on in Florida can seem both cool and or mind blowing but at least these people are doing something to be patriotic with what so little we have left.

Posted by RedwhiteNblue | Report as abusive
 

“What part of ‘Shall not be infringed’ do you not understand?”

Well… What part of “a well REGULATED militia” do you not understand? 2nd amendment fear mongers casually ignore the beginning of that sentence, when all we ask for are regulations.

The ability to own a gun as an individual liberal right is a recent decision, not one based on constitutional intent or republican values, but based on the very same supreme court law-making that many conservatives oppose, and it is from a 2009 supreme court decision- not the constitutional convention or from our founding fathers at all.

The NRA has taken positions in the past allowing for common sense regulations of the most dangerous types of weapons. And the supreme court decision in 2009 that established gun ownership as an individual right also acknowledged the governments right to regulate and limit the types of guns and who may buy them.

If you can follow that, then understand this. We do not aim to strike out the 2nd amendment or even to reverse the 2009 decision that permits individuals the right to own guns. We seek to challenge the notion that a semi automatic rifle (often called an assault rifle) is an acceptable weapon for civilian ownership. We don’t believe it is, just as you may not believe we should have the right to own an automatic weapon or rocket launcher or land mine.

Posted by jesselgunn | Report as abusive
 

Madsin, let’s take a look at the text:

“There weren’t enough dead bodies to do it before, but now they’ve got the bodies of 26 dead kids and I’m afraid that’s enough for them to get what they want,”

When you think the main opponents of your beliefs are those who wish to see fewer dead children, you should probably reevaluate your beliefs. I agree though, kids learning survival skills is good. But you’ve gotta admit that learning such skills with the intent of holding off law enforcement is a little fringe, right?

During the Revolutionary War, militia were drawn up from localities because it was impractical (time and money) to raise enough regular soldiers fast enough to fight. Essentially, the government needed soldiers, but knew that you sometimes had to settle for the local guys with guns. In this context, militia SUPPORT the government (albeit the Continental Congress). Militants, by contrast, flout government authority and do what they think is best – irrespective of the law. It’s not just a label, it the essential function of the group.

Now, I know you’re thinking, “The militia were just militants to the British!” Fair point, but the militia were part of a larger Continental Army. While groups of guys going around murdering supposed British supporters might have considered themselves militia, nobody else did, least of all the Continental Army who had to deal with the fallout of extrajudicial killings. I would be pretty surprised if this group of guys is taking marching orders from someone else.

Posted by Rybocynclast | Report as abusive
 

Hey wake up, our 2nd amendment rights are already infringed! It allows me to have arms without restriction right! How about grenades, surface to air missiles and nukes? Why can’t I possess those? I’ll be safe with them! I need them to be on a level playing field with the military that is coming for me right? If the rationale for excluding these is that too many people could be hurt, how many is too many? Is three enough, six too many? (Oh ya, that’s what they used to say about prunes)I just want to play war, I really don’t plan to use them, unless I have to.
Get real!

Posted by rambler1 | Report as abusive
 

I was a member of several Texas militia groups in succession in the 1990′s. The county leader was a local businessman who owned OTR trucks, flatbed trailers, bulldozers, backhoes and a variety of heavy equipment. With his resources, the organization was able to offer new members pretty much every item an infantry soldier would need (uniforms, ALICE pack, web gear, radios, etc.) The only items we could not supply were rifles and boots, because it was thought that these items were expensive enough and individualized enough that the member should obtain them himself (or herself.)
We had several Ham radio operators, and using our radios, could communicate locally up to 65 miles, and using a ham base station, internationally. Our unit physician led our medical team of RN’s, dental assistants and EMT-paramedics. We all took advanced cardiac life support classes and trained with the EMT-paramedics to handle serious injuries. Not as skilled as combat medics, perhaps, but far more skilled than the average citizen.
We had several combat veterans from the Vietnam era, and several peacetime veterans, including former Marines, Army soldiers and Navy sailors, but the majority of our members were civilians with no prior military service. Our military veterans trained the civilians. We had two militia functions a month, one was a general meeting, run democratically using an abbreviated form of Robert’s Rules of Order, the other was a weekend long training exercise. We trained once a month for SEVEN YEARS. By the time we disbanded, I can tell you that our volunteers were every bit as well-trained as any Marine with whom I ever served. Our unit accepted any American citizen with a clean police record, regardless of race, religion or gender. We had Christians (both Protestant and Catholic), a Mormon, a Jew and some agnostic Libertarians. We had several Muslims and a Hindu visit and train with us, but they were afraid to join because of 9-11 and they were green card holders. Our organization tried to recruit black members, but unsuccessfully. The ones that came to a meeting wanted us to give them money so they could start an all-black militia, and our leaders said, “We don’t do racially exclusive–not white, and not black either. But you’re welcome to join.” They said, “No thanks.” So be it, but I’m tired of people calling the militia movement a group of white racists. There were a few (very few) racially prejudiced whites, but they were told not to discuss racism at militia functions, and they did as they were asked.
All these people trying to paint the militia movement as a bunch of wannabes are full of it. They don’t know what they are talking about.
I served as a U.S. Marine infantry sergeant for four years, a year in the Marine Reserves and a Try-one year in a National Guard tank battalion. Just how many years of military service does it take for these liberals to consider me well-trained, anyway? I shot Expert three times with the M16A1, twice with the M1911A1 .45 pistol, and Expert with both the 105mm M-60 tank main gun and the 7.62mm co-ax. I was a rifle range coach for my company. As a Marine I routinely hit targets (with open sights–no scope) at 500 meters. Even today I shoot at 300 meters with a scope.
WE WILL NOT BE DISARMED. Understand? So all these cowards who think they are going to pass some unconstitutional law and disarm the American people had better give it pause for thought. Any attempt to disarm the American people will not be pretty. Down here in Texas we have a slogan from the Texas Revolution: “Come And Take It.” And we aren’t kidding.

Posted by kabar1950 | Report as abusive
 

The second amendment is supposed to support our right to bare arms against a tyrannical government. Proof there by that, we cannot even as much freely, purchase military type arms. The government has already succeeded in overstepping its bounds to the will of the people. The first and last defense we have to protect the great founding principles of our nation is the the second amendment. Yeah if you’re form NY. things that go on in Florida can seem both cool and or mind blowing but at least these people are doing something to be patriotic with what so little we have left.

Posted by RedwhiteNblue | Report as abusive
 

These are not “good guys with guns”… they are very dangerous people corrupting / abusing these children… Racism, fear mongering bigotry are taught. It is not human nature to hate. What a sad pathetic society the United States of America has become.

Posted by TimStrong | Report as abusive
 

All very valid comments but today I was sure there would be more comments. Attention Deficit is what America seems to share as a commonality. On to the next subject I guess is what commercial TV teaches us. I’m very disappointed this subject did not continue to gain momentum all the way to the White House. Focus people. We are not zombies yet. I an now a Floridian and would like to hear more from my new neighbors. I grew up in New York suburbs. Yes there are hunters there. Never was an issue.

Posted by Conejeto | Report as abusive
 

@kabar1950,

You wrote (quote): “WE WILL NOT BE DISARMED. Understand? So all these cowards who think they are going to pass some unconstitutional law and disarm the American people had better give it pause for thought. Any attempt to disarm the American people will not be pretty. Down here in Texas we have a slogan from the Texas Revolution: “Come And Take It.” And we aren’t kidding.” (end quote)

To begin with, you and your militia friends are not “the American people”. You guys are just a bunch of folks displaying various types of organized dysfunctional and anti-social behavior, and as such you’re not necessarily a menace to society as a whole – The problem is that the types of weapons you own tend to fall into the wrong hands (e.g. Adam Lanza in Connecticut), and enable such people to massacre innocent Americans in large numbers.

You guys aren’t protecting the US constitution – You’re just weird adults playing soldiers with dangerous weapons.

As for your bragging about your militia’s ability to withstand an effort from the authorities to disarm you guys, I’d say you’re either uninformed or delusional, not just because of precedents such as Waco, TX (remember?), but simply because nowadays one geek operating a military combat drone could wipe out your entire militia in the time period between breakfast and lunch, and any amount or shade of camo color you’d smear on your faces won’t change this fact.

Posted by reality-again | Report as abusive
 

Sorry I missed the original post of this article. We can take away the guns but we will still have mental health crisis. And this video is a nice reminder that guns often have a place in society if used responsibly. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCdZwitrN oY

Posted by peacetrain | Report as abusive
 

Ponce de Leon was the first goofball white person trekking into Florida. It should have been a big red flag. There ain’t no “Fountain of Youth” in the twisted and tangled swamp and woods of Florida, but you can’t convince me there isn’t a Fountain Of Goofiness.

Posted by JagPop | Report as abusive
 

There’s a lot more to survival than just owning an using weapons. And there’s a lot more to the Constitution than just the second amendment. I wonder if any of these people can quote any part of the Constitution other than the second amendment. I doubt they can even recite the preamble from memory. We have checks and balances built into our Constitution to prevent the abuse of power. It is very unlikely there will ever be a true “dictator” or “tyrant” in the US as long as we have at least 2 political parties of approximately equal power and influence. The people obsessed with the second amendment remind me of a lot of conservative christians who cherry-pick a few lines from the bible to support their personal beliefs and agenda but never read the book in its entirety.

Posted by archon5 | Report as abusive
 

The message on the T shirt says he is willing to die for his right to own a firearm. Unfortunately, the reality is that many non gun owning and innocent civilians will die or injured in defence of his ‘rights’ in America this year and probably for many years after that. I see no argument for civilian gun ownership when US spending on defence and law enforcement is so great. And quite what use a any amount of small arms would be against the full weight of the American military machine I can only guess at.
People of America, wake up and get rid of these weapons which are designed to end human life. How many people need to die before you realise you don’t need them?

Posted by ollie1234567 | Report as abusive
 

Show support for OUR Bill of Rights, proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence. Showing support for our freedom is the surest way to keep our freedom, people. Let’s stand together, united as one, to protect our inalienable rights!

The fact of the matter is that when any government seizes guns from law abiding people, they are left vulnerable to attacks from criminals, who do not respect the law or other people. It’s time to wise up, people…

http://www.zazzle.com/support_our_bill_o f_rights_hat_red-148117187775002954?rf=2 38070990751550186

Posted by CI-Save-America | Report as abusive
 

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
  • Editors & Key Contributors