John Brown Gun Club

Introduction

The John Brown Gun Club is a leftist gun-rights group originally based in Kansas. The original club was active between 2002 and 2008, but it has since given rise to spinoff groups such as the Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club. The original club sought to militarize the white working class and spur it toward a social-justice revolution.* Gun Club chapters claim to promote racial equality and social justice while seeking to abolish the police and other perceived symbols of oppression. The Gun Club firmly supports members’ rights to bear arms for their own protection and as a safeguard against state overreach.* The Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club in Texas, in particular, has taken a hard anti-police position, casting all police as mass shooters who harass minorities and seek out excuse to unload their weapons.* The Puget Sound John Brown Club in Washington state is one of the most visible chapters. According to that group, the John Brown Gun Club seeks to disrupt fascists and fascist organizations and events. The Gun Club arms itself to defend against far-right violence and often appears as a security force at protests to protect against expected far-right violence.*

John Brown was a 19th-century abolitionist who was part of the Underground Railroad and helped create the League of Gileadites, which helped protect escaped enslaved people from slave catchers. He eventually began leading guerilla raids in pro-slavery towns that resulted in multiple deaths. In 1859, Brown was convicted of treason in South Carolina and executed for his role in the failed raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry.* The affiliates of the John Brown Gun Club have dedicated themselves to emulating Brown’s brand of direct action in support of ideals of freedom and equality.* One of the spinoffs of the original John Brown Gun Club is Redneck Revolt, which formed in 2009 after the original Gun Club disbanded.* The Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club in Washington state was founded in 2017 as part of the Redneck Revolt Network and broke away from Redneck Revolt in 2019. It claims to be a “public facing, above ground, armed community defense group” that seeks to disrupt fascist activities.* Other independent John Brown Gun Clubs have since organized.

To date, Gun Club members have reportedly not engaged anyone with their weapons during one of these protests. Unlike other groups under the Antifa umbrella, Gun Club members typically do not cover their faces to maintain the appearance of an open, lawful organization rather than a militia.* One Gun Club member did engage in a violent attack on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in 2019. He was killed after attempting to blow up the detention center.*

Leadership

The John Brown Gun Club chapters act independently and have no formal hierarchy.* Members who have spoken publicly, including chapter founders, did not provide their full names.*

Base of Operations

National.

Website

https://psjbgc.org/ http://www.midmojbgc.org/

Membership Size and Relevance

Gun Club chapters do not publish their membership numbers. In August 2020, Facebook deleted multiple accounts affiliated with John Brown Gun Clubs as part of a purge of extremist groups. * Various Gun Club chapters maintain a presence on Twitter. As of September 1, 2020, the Mid-Missouri chapter had 1,039 followers.* By July 26, 2022, the account had 1,376 followers.* As of September 1, 2020, the Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club had 12,700 followers.* By July 26, 2022, it had increased to 14,100 followers.* The Steel City John Brown Gun Club had 3,248 followers as of September 1, 2020.* It had increased to 4,281 followers by July 26, 2022.* The Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club in Texas has one of the network’s largest Twitter followings with 16,800 as of August 31, 2022.* The Elm Fork chapter also runs a page on Medium, but that had only 18 followers as of August 31, 2022.* The Gun Club’s presence at protests across the United States has garnered international media attention.* New John Brown Gun Club chapters continue to emerge across the country. A chapter in West Virginia, John Brown’s Mountaineer Gun Club, launched in August 2022 and had amassed 754 Twitter followers by August 31.*

Rightwing political candidates and pundits, as well as those on the far-right, blame groups like the John Brown Gun Club, Redneck Revolt, and Antifa for organizing riots and other violent protests against police and municipal authorities while promoting anarchy and societal breakdowns.* In November 2020, counterinsurgency and military strategy expert David Kilcullen told Salon that while groups such as Redneck Revolt and the John Brown Gun Club claim to be defensive and seek to protect people on the streets from violence, the fear they evoke can also be a trigger for violence.*

Recruitment and Propaganda

John Brown Gun Club chapters promote themselves as community defense organizations dedicated to direct action and mutual aid.* The Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club offers firearms classes and distributes literature at community events around Washington, including at the Anarchist Book Fair and other events aligned with the group’s far-left ideology.*

Violent Activities

  • July 13, 2019: 69-year-old Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club member Willem Van Spronsen snuck into the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Northwest Detention Center facility in Tacoma, Washington, with a rifle. He set his car on fire and threw incendiary devices at propane tanks on the facility’s grounds. Van Sponsen was killed by Washington State Police. There were no other casualties.*

Rhetoric

  • Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club, tweet, August 21, 2022: “Without cops, who would ignore heinous crimes and harass minorities?”*
  • Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club, tweet, August 21, 2022: “It’s a great day for @AFLCIO to recognize cops are the enemies of labor.”*
  • Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club, tweet, August 18, 2022: “Police are a danger to the community. Every single one is a mass shooter in waiting. Just like Miramar. Just like Denver.”*
  • Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club, tweet, August 18, 2022: “Cops sure look uncomfortable when they’re caught doing their everyday duties of upholding a violent capitalist system that throws families out on the street and then chases them around smashing their shelter until they die.”*
  • Connecticut John Brown Gun Club, tweet, July 28, 2022: “Never forget, merely the threat of violence, the demonstration of the CAPACITY for violence is enough to keep most fascists and cops in check. We hope to never need to act on that capacity, and we train so we won’t miss if we have to.”*
  • DMV John Brown Gun Club, tweet, July 18, 2022: “Fuck Jason Bagshaw. He is consistently doing shitty things (because he is a cop), and now he has murdered a Black man. We need to abolish the police.”*
  • Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club, tweet, July 9, 2022: “The John Brown Gun club is at it's core founded on abolitionist points of unity. From a safety and ideological perspective we cannot support events where police have involvement in organizing. This both invites violence on those attending and renders community aid ineffective.”*
  • DMV John Brown Gun Club, tweet, July 8, 2022: “The supreme court justices should not know a moment of comfort.&rdquo*
  • Connecticut John Brown Gun Club, tweet, July 8, 2022: “Randy Cox was brutalized by the New Haven PD and then, when he told them he couldn’t move, they brutalized him some more. Hundreds rallied to demand police accountability and we were there promoting community defense. #ACAB #JusticeforRandyCox”*
  • DMV John Brown Gun Club, tweet, June 30, 2022: “ACAB”*
  • Connecticut John Brown Gun Club, tweet, May 30, 2022: “Cops don’t keep us safe. They, quite obviously, make us less safe. The phrase #WeKeepUsSafe is a rallying cry of community self-defense but also an acknowledgment of the terrors and ineptitude of the systems of power designed to control and not protect us.”*
  • Cedar Breaks John Brown Gun Club, tweet, August 28, 2021: “Fuck the pigs and give people money is the only acceptable political position.”*
  • Spokane John Brown Gun Club, tweet, August 29, 2020: “If there is a standoff against the cops, stick together to form a cohesive front. Stragglers are more susceptible to getting arrested, but it’s hard to do that to a larger group. De-arresting is also important, if someone is getting dragged off, don’t just stand and watch.”*
  • Spokane John Brown Gun Club, tweet, August 8, 2020: “Why is the SPKJBC necessary? Put simply: racists, fascists, and cops. Below will be a regularly updated list of fascist/racist violence and threats, police brutality, and the bigotry of public officials. It won’t be a complete list, but it will show why solidarity is key.”*
  • Willem Van Spronsen, final statement, July 2019: “Fascism serves the needs of the state serves the needs of business and at your expense. Who benefits? Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet, Elon Musk, Tim Cook, Bill Gates, Betsy de Vos, George Soros, Donald Trump, and need I go on? Let me say it again: rich guys (who think you’re not really all that good), really dig government (every government everywhere, including ‘communist’ governments), because they make the rules that make rich guys richer.”*

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