Constitution lovers bear some responsibility for their own lost rights, speakers at the Liberty Convention 2010 told their audience on Saturday.
"We the people are the ones responsible for the sorry political state we're in today," tax protester Red Beckman told about 250 people in the University of Montana's Adams Center. "We're the ones to blame for the sorry economic situation we're in. We have given too much power to government."
That's resulted in everything from "government sending our sons to fight no-win wars" to a corrupt court system where "you've got to be the scum of the legal profession to get on the Supreme Court," Beckman said. "The founders of this country understood you cannot trust government."
To fix that, Beckman called on the audience to take back power in the example of the Montana Vigilantes who hung a crooked sheriff in 1864 or the Romanian soldiers who executed their own dictator in 1989. But he specifically recommended using the Constitution's Seventh Amendment, which authorizes trial by jury, especially the part that says "no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States." However, he left out the final clause that reads "than according to the rules of the common law."
The two-day gathering in Missoula was predicted to bring 5,000 attendees of Tea Party-affiliated conservative groups, according to Ravalli County organizer Mona Docteur. The Friday night and Saturday morning sessions each had about 5 percent of that goal.
But small, active numbers can make a difference, gun rights advocate Gary Marbut told the audience. To poke fun at the University of Montana's ban on weapons in the Adams Center, Marbut came with a bright yellow squirt gun holstered on his belt.
Marbut drafted the Firearms Freedom Act, which passed the Montana Legislature in 2009 after previous failures. Nearly two dozen other states have now enacted or are debating a similar measure, he said. It would exempt any firearm made and owned within a state from any federal gun-control laws.
"This is what we need to overturn a half-century of Commerce Clause precedent," Marbut said, referring to the federal government's constitutional authority to regulate inter-state business. The law has already been challenged and is expected to have a federal court hearing in a couple of weeks. Marbut said that was the first step in sending it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where a real states-rights victory could be won.
He also spoke of plans to restart passage of a "Sheriffs First" bill, which the 1995 Legislature passed but was vetoed by then-Gov. Marc Racicot. The bill would require any federal law enforcement agent to get permission from a local elected sheriff before confronting a Montana citizen, whether for a drug investigation or an IRS tax audit.
That paved the way for Richard Mack, a former two-term sheriff and car salesman who helped block a federal move ordering sheriffs to make background checks on gun buyers. Former Ravalli County Sheriff Jay Printz joined him before the Supreme Court in overturning that law in 1996.
Mack started his speech with a commercial for a freeze-dried food company before moving on to a recount of his conversion from a "jerk cop" to a "constitutional sheriff."
"Your officers have got to ask themselves, which is more important: Keeping your oath or following these statutes?" Mack said. "I would uphold the Constitution rather than man DUI roadblocks and hand out tickets."
A constitutional sheriff would also have helped Civil Rights figure Rosa Parks keep her bus seat, Mack said, adding that no part of the Tea Party movement should tolerate racism. But he added that same sheriff would help "Rosa Parks the gun owner, Rosa Parks the tax protester, Rosa Parks the home-schooler or the Rosa Parks who says I am not taking ‘Obamacare.' "
That may not be necessary if Beckman's prediction comes to pass. He said the current U.S. government was violating the First and Second Commandments of the Old Testament about respecting God, and was due to fall just as the atheist Soviet Union had toppled.
"I know the federal, small-g god is going to go down," he said. "The king I serve says its going to go down."
Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at email@example.com