Activist Adam Kokesh has asked 1,000 people to march across the Potomac on July 4 carrying loaded rifles.
He calls it a protest against “tyranny.”
Suppose the D.C. police, as they have promised, block the marchers from crossing into Washington? How should they respond?
“With Satyagraha,” Kokesh, 31, texted The Washington Post. That is a term used by Mahatma Gandhi to describe his strategy of nonviolent resistance to British rule in India.
Invoking Gandhi while advocating the carrying of loaded firearms is typical of Kokesh, who in his six years as a professional rabble-rouser has embraced positions on every side of the political spectrum.
His past activism has been focused on issues other than guns — things such as peace in Iraq, free speech in the U.S., and presidential candidate Ron Paul. And in most cases, his past stunts didn’t carry a risk of violence; they were theatrical, sometimes even comic.
The one constant through all of it: Kokesh’s tactics are designed to bring media attention to him personally — as well as whatever cause he’s fighting for. In that way, this one is like the rest.
“The thing about Adam is he’s a publicity hound. He loves the attention. He’s got a huge ego,” said Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of the women’s peace group Codepink, who has worked with Kokesh on past protests. “And I think he’s really enjoying this one.”
In 2007, for example, Kokesh protested the Iraq war in his U.S. Marine uniform. In 2008, he heckled GOP presidential nominee John McCain at the Republican convention. And in 2011, he was arrested along with liberal activists for an unauthorized dance party inside the Jefferson Memorial.
Today, he’s planning a pro-gun protest that even some gun activists think is risky.
“That’s a good way to provoke something, and that’s not likely to end well,” said Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, one of the country’s most strident pro-gun groups.
If his march happens — still a very big if — the marchers would likely run into a D.C. police roadblock, creating an armed confrontation that Washington has not seen in decades.
Kokesh’s plan has been laid out on a Facebook page: his group, with loaded rifles slung on their backs, will march peacefully around the Capitol and the White House. Then they will return across the Potomac River to Arlington Cemetery, where they began. The point: “to put the government on notice that we will not be intimidated.”
For that to happen, a number of laws will have to be broken: Carrying a loaded weapon, concealed or unconcealed, is against the law in the District. Even possession of a firearm not registered in the District carries a penalty up to one year in prison. If that firearm is a pistol: five years.
D.C. police have said they won’t let it happen.
“There’s a pretty good chance we’ll meet them on the D.C. side of the bridge,” Police Chief Cathy Lanier said in a TV interview this week. (Adding to the potential chaos: Codepink says its members also plan to be on the bridge that day to offer hugs to the protesters as a counter to their pro-gun message.)
Kokesh declined an in-person or phone interview but answered a couple of questions via text message.
Did his response of “satyagraha” mean violence is unacceptable?
“Only if absolutely necessary in defense of life or limb,” he wrote.
But earlier, Kokesh had used Facebook to take a more confrontational stance. “Break whatever unconstitutional law you choose,” he wrote, saying July 4 should be a day of massive civil disobedience citywide. “ ‘Law Enforcement’ has made it clear they have no respect for the Constitution and so we will shut them down by overwhelming them.”
Police said they have not been in touch with Kokesh about the march. Kokesh said he won’t go through with it unless 10,000 people sign up on Facebook by June 1. He estimated that would translate into about 1,000 people showing up in person.
As of Monday, the number online was a little over 3,900.
This aggressive gun rights activism is a new role for Kokesh, a muscular ex-Marine who has previously formed — and cut — ties with several of Washington’s political camps. He is now best known for an Internet talk show at adamvstheman.com.
“I think Adam at this point has taken it too far,” said Codepink’s Benjamin, who was with him at the Jefferson Memorial. And she was watching as Kokesh mocked then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales by tabulating how many times Gonzales said “I don’t recall” during a congressional hearing in April 2007.
“The cameras loved it,” Benjamin said. “I remember thinking, ‘Adam’s pretty savvy about this stuff.’ ” With the rifle march, however, Benjamin thinks Kokesh is courting forces he can’t control.
Kokesh has been an activist in Washington for about six years. He is originally from New Mexico, where news reports say he played polo at a horse park owned by his father, Charles Kokesh. The elder Kokesh, a venture capitalist, was charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2009 with defrauding customers of at least $45 million. His case is still pending.
Adam Kokesh enlisted in the Marine reserve in 2000 and spent seven months in Fallujah in 2004. In 2007, after he returned, Kokesh wore parts of his Marine uniform while participating in an anti-Iraq war protest: a mock combat patrol around downtown Washington. The Marines disciplined him with a less-than-honorable discharge in a case that made national news.
That launched Kokesh into a role as a prominent anti-war activist. But that role faded: Kokesh has not been involved with his former activist group, Iraq Veterans Against the War, since 2009.
Instead, he became more focused on libertarian causes, including the campaigns of Paul (R-Texas), the former congressman. With Paul’s endorsement, Kokesh ran for Congress as a Republican in New Mexico in 2010. (He lost in the primary by 42 percentage points.)
In 2011, Kokesh got a talk show on the Russian-funded “RT” network. Then, last year, he lost it. Kokesh moved online and adopted a confrontational tone.
“Dear any American who thinks this Boston massacre is a big deal — but never protested a war or the police state,” Kokesh said on his show on the day after the Boston Marathon bombing. “Go [expletive] yourself! You ignorant, deluded, self-centered, myopic, patriotic [expletive].” Kokesh said it was wrong not to acknowledge that many thousands more people had been killed as a result of American actions in Iraq.
And, also last year, there seemed to be a rift between Kokesh and the official campaign of Paul himself.
Kokesh criticized Paul’s campaign team and was banned from attending Paul’s main event in Tampa during the Republican National Convention.
One main cause, according to Paul’s security chief John Baeza, was an incident in which Kokesh muscled his way onto a campaign stage just before Paul was about to speak.
“It wasn’t a forceful pushdown or a fight. It was basically a shove-past,” said Baeza, a former New York City police detective. “That shows me that there is, you know, a propensity for a further problem.”
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