Candidate Joey Gilbert held a rally at the Believe sign near Reno City Hall when he had ambitions to become Nevada’s governor. Flanking the stage and spaced at intervals facing the crowd along the south side of the plaza stood about a dozen men in full paramilitary garb.
Did the crowd feel intimidated by Gilbert’s minions? Probably not, if they were Gilbert supporters. But I did.
As a rally marshal in Reno for the past seven years, I have seen firsthand how heavily armed paramilitary groups come out to intimidate citizens with progressive views. There are statutes on Nevada’s books, as there are in all 50 states, forbidding illegal private armed militias. But such laws are difficult to enforce. (For example, the forces at the Gilbert rally claimed when questioned to have come out only as individuals, and all wore different military costumes to circumvent being identifiable as a unit.) Moreover, attorneys general and sheriffs are often reluctant to take action under existing laws, whether from political expediency or, in some cases, because of their own extremist sympathies.
Legislatures in Vermont, Montana and New Mexico are now considering further measures to curb paramilitaries. At the same time, our neighbor to the north, Idaho, is actually contemplating a law to allow these groups—gangs, really—to parade. Heaven knows what that could lead to.
In this climate, provision should be made for Nevada citizens intimidated by paramilitaries while demonstrating, voting or otherwise conducting themselves within their rights to sue for civil penalties. This is a strategy devised by the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP), led by Mary McCord. In consultation with ICAP, Oregon Rep. Dacia Grayber has written such a bill, now being considered in that state’s legislature.
Here in Nevada, Democratic assemblywoman and Majority Floor Leader Sandra Jauregui has introduced AB117, which “makes various changes” to Nevada statutes “relating to domestic terrorism.” AB117 does reinforce existing statutes constraining paramilitaries. But as noted, these statutes don’t get enforced.
That is why I urge Assemblywoman Jauregui to strengthen AB117 by amending it along the lines of Rep. Grayber’s bill in Oregon to allow for civil lawsuits and penalties. Citizens should have nonviolent means of resisting intimidation by illegal private armed militias.