ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- From the looks of it, Thursday's rally on the Virginia banks of the Potomac was all about guns. Loaded pistols strapped to the black cargo pants of beefy men. Full holsters on women's hips. Unloaded, but still intimidating, AR-15 semi-automatic weapons swinging across the backs of camouflage-suited men, ammo diagonally across their chests.
But no -- it was about so much more.
``This rally is not about guns. It is so much bigger than that,'' Eric Stinnett, a 39-year-old engineer from Alabama, speaking to a few dozen pro-gun, anti-government protesters who showed up to belittle Democrats, moderate Republicans, ``socialism,'' Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, health care overhaul, school lunches, and -- well, pretty much any elected official or program that didn't leave Americans alone to do as they wish.
With their guns, of course.
Organizers deliberately chose Gravelly Park, most commonly used for airplane aficionados who like to lie down and watch flights take off from nearby Ronald Reagan National Airport, as the site for their protest, since it is the closest they could get to Washington, D.C., while still legally carrying their weapons. The protesters at times gazed contemptuously across the Potomac to Washington, home to the federal government and strict gun laws. The US Supreme Court two years ago struck down the district's outright ban on handguns, but Washington still bans assault weapons and has gun registration laws.
No one openly threatened violence or waved their weapons around. Most just seemed to be enjoying the sunny day, waving yellow ``Don't Tread on Me'' flags and greeting like-minded ralliers. And while pro-gun control activists were a bit worried about the date of the rally -- not just the anniversary of the Revolutionary War battle of Lexington and Concord, but the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people -- the event was peaceful.
``We're just here to celebrate'' gun rights, said Jaima Teasley, a 54-year-old hospital technician from North Carolina.
Several even lauded President Obama for signing a law that included a provision allowing Americans to bring guns on to federal lands. Even the National Park Police, while employed by the federal government the demonstrators so revile, got plaudits for their professionalism in handling the unusual event.
The real targets of yesterday's armed rally were those who support government involvement or control. Democrats were called not just ``Commies,'' but ``Commie-Kazis'' by Stinnett. Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, urged the group to take out their frustrations at the polls -- and not just at Democrats, but at ``RINOs,'' the term for GOP moderates known as ``Republicans In Name Only.''
``They belong on our walls, not in our offices,'' Pratt said.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.