Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Red Rocks, Red State--Paranoia in the Desert

This is an edited version of a diary previously posted. The original version contained a factual error now corrected.

Mary-Jo and I are spending the week in Sedona, Arizona, nestled in the famous Red Rock Country, where incredible towers of wind- and water-sculpted sandstone loom over the landscape like castles out of some fantasy novel. Sedona is also known for its hundreds of New Age practitioners, from yoga teachers and Tarot card readers to crystal purveyors and alternative healing gurus, who are drawn here by the confluence of energy vortexes that supposedly made this part of the world a sacred space for the Native Americans.

I don't know from vortexes, but the mountains are gorgeous, the sun is warm, and the food (so far) has been very good, so I have no complaints.

Of course, Arizona is also one of the reddest of the red states, home to Barry Goldwater and John McCain and reliable presence in the Republican column on Election Day. Its citizens pride themselves on their rugged frontier spirit and maverick ways. No one typifies this better than Rusty, our guide on today's off-road Jeep tour of one of the best of the red rock trails.

Rusty showed up for our trip decked out in denim, wearing a big black cowboy hat, spurs on his tall black boots, and with a six-inch Bowie knife and a revolver strapped on his hips. He had a mane of long white hair, a beard, and a mustache, and as he coaxed the Jeep at two miles per hour up and down the bone-jarring, boulder-strewn trails of the Coconino National Forest, he regaled us with facts and anecdotes about the storied century plant, the agave, which grows for years, finally blossoms--and promptly dies; the best ways to find potable water if you're ever lost in the high desert; and how to avoid being bitten by one of the eleven species of rattlesnake said to inhabit the Arizona wilderness.

Rusty also shared with us his wisdom on a number of topics less obviously germane to his role as guide. For example, he told us that alcoholism, drug abuse, and poverty among the Indians are caused by the generosity of the federal government, whose financial support saps the natives of their independence and drive; that the people who died on 9/11 because they obeyed police recommendations to stay in their offices exemplify how most Americans are "sheep" who have lost the will to think for themselves; that the best way to eliminate one or two of the less desirable justices of the Supreme Court would be to kill them; and that this July 4th, the United Nations will launch a program to take away all the weapons from individual citizens in every nation on earth, paving the way for global tyranny.

Rusty was so definite about this last statement that I had to investigate further. It didn't take much research to discover Jim's source. As you might imagine, the Internet is full of hysterical material linking the UN to gun control and other liberal conspiracies. But the specific focus on this coming Independence Day is derived from this campaign by none other than Wayne LaPierre of the NRA. He is selling books and raising funds based on the notion that the UN is about to overturn the Second Amendment.

Well, that does sound alarming. And when you dig a little deeper, it appears that LaPierre is onto something. The UN does indeed have a program to control the spread of small arms. And the UN's own website contains an announcement that "The United Nations Conference to Review Progress Made in the Implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects will take place at UN Headquarters in New York from 26 June to 7 July 2006."

Here of course is where LaPierre--and my friend Rusty--got their "July 4th" rhetorical point. Pretty clever, to link the gun control issue to our visceral feeling for Independence Day and American liberties. But what about the substance of their fears? Is Kofi Annan really getting ready to take away Rusty's revolver and the trusty sidearms of all the twenty-first century Minutemen?

Well, according to the UN website, the program is basically about trying to get governments to register sales of small arms to other countries and to be transparent about their own holdings of such weapons. The hope is that this will make it more difficult for insurgent armies, private militias, terrorist organizations, and other such groups to use them to destabilize regions and foment wars. Nothing in there about taking away guns from those who own and use them for private purposes.

Hey, Rusty: I understand your skepticism toward the government, the mainstream media, and other purveyors of conventional wisdom. But know this: There are plenty of independent, non-mainstream, unconventional people out there who are all too ready to mess with your head for their own self-serving ends. Don't let them.

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