The John Brown Gun Club (JBGC) is an ideologically left-leaning community defense organization. Initially founded in Kansas in 2002, JBGC comprises a variety of decentralized chapters from around the country, with a shared focus on mutual aid, security for marginalized communities, and firearms safety. However, each chapter has different priorities, such as anti-police advocacy (which has become one of the focal points of the Elm Fork chapter in Texas), or even anti-fascist action (where the Puget Sound chapter in the the North West of the US is leading the way). Most JBGC chapters are considered above-ground organizations, meaning they do not attempt to hide their identity and actions. This is due to members feeling the need to help their respective communities and hence understanding the requirement to gain their trust. This includes the need to maintain the JBGC’s appearance as a lawful organization rather than a militia (1).
History & Foundations
JBGC is inspired by the 19th-century abolitionist John Brown, who came to prominence during a series of violent confrontations over the legality of slavery in Kansas, known as Bleeding Kansas. During the conflict, John Brown led a raid conducted by formerly enslaved people on the town of Harper Ferry. After successfully capturing the federal armory, the raiding party was attacked by US Marines under the control of Colonel Robert E. Lee. During the assault, John Brown was captured and later hung for treason (2).
Pressured by what they perceived as the FBI’s harassment of Kansas mutual aid programs – and wanting to emulate John Brown’s brand of direct action in support of ideals of freedom and equality – left-wing gun advocates in Kansas formed the original John Brown Gun Club chapter in 2002. Although little information is available regarding the original chapter, the group was involved in actions similar to that of modern JBGC chapters, such as mutual aid and counter-protesting radical right-wing events. Most notably, the group’s members counter-protested the 2005 Minuteman national conference, which sought to gather anti-immigrant militias to form an extrajudicial border patrol organization. In part due to the efforts of JBGC, no further Minuteman national conferences were ever held.
Despite the success of their efforts, JBGC’s first chapter would dissolve around 2008, giving rise to the spin-off organization Redneck Revolt in 2009 (3). Following the 2017 ‘Unite the Right Rally’ in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing activist Heather D. Heyer and injuring 19 others, JBGC chapters began to reappear around the country. Originally organized under the wider Redneck Revolt movement, these groups would later branch off to reform the formerly defunct JBGC (4).
Objectives & Ideology
As aforementioned, each JBGC chapter holds similar focuses and left-leaning ideological perspectives with a unique emphasis on firearms education and community-led defense. However, each chapter prioritizes different aspects of social justice, such as racial equality and anti-police advocacy. Another primary aspect of all JBGC chapters is their strong anti-fascist stance and their attempts to directly counter the growth of white supremacy in America. As a community defense organization, the primary objective of the JBGC is to provide security for marginalized communities during events that may encounter resistance from radical right-wing opposition, such as LGBTQ+ rallies, and left-wing protests. Although JBGC is an armed organization, they have maintained a non-violent presence, not once engaging in an armed conflict against those who oppose them and the communities they work to protect. JBGC believes community defense encompasses much more than just armed protection; this also entails ensuring the community has access to food, shelter, and healthcare. JBGC chapters see it as their mission to provide mutual aid to the economically distressed (5).
Political & Military Capabilities
Although JBGC is an above-ground organization, none of their chapters disclose the number of active members. Most chapters do not elaborate on how they receive financial support, except for the Rhode Island JBGC chapter, which has a Patreon (6). However, they claim these funds are only used to purchase items distributed during mutual aid events, thus pointing to individual JBGC members using personal funds to purchase firearms and training materials such as ammo, targets, and cleaning supplies.
With most members seen using AR-15-style long rifles and various caliber handguns, these expenses can be rather large. For example, a Smith & Wesson AR-15 chambered in 5.56 has an MSRP of around $800 USD; this does not include the array of attachments such as scopes, grips, and lasers JBGC members are often seen using, which can lead to a single rifle being upwards of $2000 USD. Although it is not directly stated, JBGC’s status as a gun club can help alleviate some of these costs by having members pool money together for expendable items such as ammo and targets. Despite the high cost of remaining operational, it is worth every penny in the eyes of JBGC members. Due to their ability to maintain a high level of proficiency with their weapons, this allows the JBGC to have a confident presence at events they are invited to act as security for.
However, firearms and knowledge of them are only half the battle. Familiarity with concepts such as KOCOA (Key Terrain, Obstacles, Cover and Concealment, Observation and Fields of Fire, Avenues of Approach and Retreat) ensures JBGC members can completely secure an area and allow them the ability to confront any possible counter-protesters before they become a threat to the event, despite JBGC’s armed presence a majority of the time these confrontations are de-escalated through verbal interactions.
Approach to Resistance
Due to JBGC’s unique position as both a community defense and mutual aid organization, they have adopted a wide array of tactics to accomplish their goals. As for mutual aid, this is done through direct action events where JBGC members walk through urban centers carrying supplies such as MREs, bottled water, condoms, and Narcan to distribute to the homeless in their communities (7). JBGC chapters have also established free stores where those in need can receive basic necessities. As a defense organization, JBGC chapters work with organizers of events held by marginalized communities, such as drag shows, pride parades, and abortion rights rallies, to deter counter-protestors. The Puget Sound chapter of the JBGC most notably maintained a presence at the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle, Washington, during the 2020 George Floyd protests (8). During these events, JBGC considered armed confrontations to be a last resort approach; they instead relied (and continue to rely) on their presence to deter possible disruptors. As aforementioned, JBGC also promotes the safe and proper use of firearms. This is done through firearms training courses and range days meant to familiarize members with the use and maintenance of their weapons.
Potential Alliances & Relations
Since JBGC is decentralized, it is difficult to determine whom the organization has a working alliance with. Organizations such as Redneck Revolt and the Socialist Rifle Association hold similar ideals to JBGC and have even led to the creation of JBGC chapters. However, there is no evidence to support the claim that the groups are actively working together. Due to JBGC being invited to protect an array of events, such as drag shows and pride rallies, it can be deduced that the group has relations with either the establishments hosting such events or its organizers. Either way, there is a clearly expressed interest by the JBGC to defend these establishments. Besides the fellow left-wing gun advocacy organizations and groups that JBGC is invited to provide security for, JBGC chapters have also vocalized their support and solidarity for the Defend the Atlanta Forest movement, which opposes the construction of an emergency services training facility (9).
Works Cited (Chicago-style)
(1) - “John Brown Gun Club.” Counter Extremism Project. Accessed March 26, 2023. https://www.counterextremism.com/supremacy/john-brown-gun-club.
(2) - “John Brown's Harpers Ferry Raid.” American Battlefield Trust. Accessed March 26, 2023. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/topics/john-browns-harpers-ferry-raid.
(3) - Sant, Levi Van. “A Redneck Revolt? Radical Responses to Trumpism in the Rural Us.” openDemocracy, April 16, 2018. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/redneck-revolt-radical-responses-to-trumpism-in-rural-us/.
(4) - Sundaresh, Jaya. “Armed Resistance in Providence: How the Rhode Island John Brown Gun ...” City University of New York (CUNY), January 8, 2020. https://academicworks.cuny.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1460&context=gj_etds.
(5) - “Press Kit.” Rhode Island John Brown Gun Club. Accessed March 26, 2023. http://rijohnbrowngun.club/presskit/.
(6) - “Support.” RI JBGC. Accessed March 27, 2023. http://rijohnbrowngun.club/support/.
(7) - Sundaresh, Jaya. “Armed Resistance in Providence: How the Rhode Island John Brown Gun ...” City University of New York (CUNY), January 8, 2020. https://academicworks.cuny.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1460&context=gj_etds.
(8) - The Rise and Fall of the Seattle CHOP. Popular Front. YouTube, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DwZ_s1gSjQ&t=412s.
(9) - RI JBGC Donation. Instagram.com. RI JBGC, January 21, 2023. https://www.instagram.com/p/CntFAoGM68h/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y%3D.