God, Guns & Kombucha

Is Steve Stockman a committed crackpot, or just a hapless goofball?

It wasn't the deer-in-the-headlights look on Steve Stockman's face the day in April when he called a press conference to explain that he had gotten no advance notice of the bombing in Oklahoma City or had any direct affiliation with the citizen militias whose profile had risen considerably in the wake of the mass slaughter. No, the look on Stockman's pallid face was that of the deer a few moments after it had been struck head-on. The congressman from the 9th District of Texas was roadkill. He was coming apart in public, and he hadn't even had a chance to put himself together.

Stockman already had given some people cause to wonder. There was the letter he wrote in March to Attorney General Janet Reno, expressing concern over reports he had heard ("while information is scarce") that the government was secretly preparing to carry out raids on private militias. But, as it turned out, Stockman had been done a minor injustice in the early reporting of the "cryptic fax" (as it was later described ad nauseam) sent to his congressional office on the morning of the Oklahoma City bombing from an associate of "Mark from Michigan," the janitor-cum-conspiracy theorist who expounds on nationally broadcast call-in shows. Contrary to suggestions in some initial reports, Stockman's office had received the fax after the bombing and promptly passed it on to the FBI (ironically, the initial misunderstanding about the fax was propagated by the National Rifle Association, Stockman's chief patron).

It was difficult, though, for the people in Southeast Texas who've closely watched Stockman over the past five years to muster much sympathy for the new congressman from Friendswood, given his own history of dissembling and shading the truth. But to the gun enthusiasts and evangelicals whose support finally helped elect Stockman to Congress, the episode must have served to confirm the essential wickedness of them.

It's not a stretch to consider Steve Stockman the protagonist of a neat little populist morality play. His victory last November over 40-year incumbent Jack Brooks was certainly testament to the durability of the great American myth that almost anybody can get elected to public office in this country. Steve Stockman, you see, is just a regular guy -- a spiritual antecedent of Beavis & Butt-head who, but for the grace of God or sheer dumb luck, might have found himself driving aimlessly with those two hapless, beer-guzzling drifters who were temporarily detained by the FBI because their ramblings strangely coincided with accused bomber Timothy McVeigh's. And, indeed, Stockman has said that he started on the road to finding the Lord a decade ago while eating pizza and watching television, although he still never seemed to be able to find steady work until he managed to get himself elected to Congress.

Unfortunately, Steve Stockman is a regular guy with an ideology, one that he seems to have pulled together from whatever he's been told or handed. He has said he ran for Congress because he was "mad" at the government. Anger, of course, can be a useful and clarifying emotion. But there's a point where legitimate argument over the powers of the Federal Reserve or the right to bear arms or the government's intrusion into so many corners of our lives blurs into the rank, teeth-grinding weirdness now spinning madly into the mainstream from the far reaches of the shortwave bands -- the International Jewish Bankers-Knights Templar-United Nations-whatever-conspiracy that killed Vince Foster and carried out the bombing in Oklahoma City to take away our guns and makes us slaves of the New World Order. Steve Stockman seems to have had difficulty discerning where that point is, but it's anybody's guess whether he's a truly committed crackpot or simply a goofball opportunist who's ignorant of history and doesn't understand the consequences of what he says.

Kent Adams, a thoughtful-sounding Beaumont lawyer who chairs the Jefferson County Republican Party and is close to Stockman, notes that the congressman now regrets "some of the language he used" in the article that appeared under his byline in the June issue of Guns & Ammo magazine, wherein Stockman suggested that the burning of the Branch Davidians' compound was staged by President Clinton and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to justify the ban on assault weapons.

"That was written within two weeks of when he took office," says Adams. "It was written with the help and encouragement of the NRA and some of those folks, who also helped and encouraged him in writing the letter to Janet Reno. I think that there probably was some element of the NRA taking advantage of a freshman congressman who was trying to learn the ropes up there, and probably they were a little bit overly enthusiastic in selling him on the merits of that article and that letter. I think he has a much clearer understanding of that now." (As of press time, the NRA hadn't responded to our request for comment).

Adams was trying to be helpful to Stockman, but his portrayal of the congressman as an obliging patsy of the NRA is more damning than the possibility that Stockman actually believes what he represented himself as having written. It's unlikely that Stockman, prior to allegedly taking pen in hand, even had much reason to thumb through Guns & Ammo, since, according to Adams, he didn't own a firearm -- not so much as a deer rifle or a shotgun -- until after he was elected to Congress. And what he now owns is a piddly .22-caliber pistol given to him by a supporter (hopefully, a firearms training class was included in the gift, given Stockman's proclivity for shooting himself in the foot).

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