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Brandon Friedman

Brandon Friedman

Posted April 15, 2009 | 04:08 PM (EST)

My Family's Experience in the Militia


It's become pretty easy to associate the Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin-driven Tax Day "Tea Parties" with the militia movement. While I don't relate to the "no taxation without representation" crowd today, I do understand the potential need for such a movement in theory. It just depends on what you consider "representation," I guess.

A lot of people don't know this about me, but my mom's side of the family has had some pretty healthy ties to the local militia movement in South Carolina. This occurred mostly in the mid to late '70s and the early '80s, but it's something we still talk about. And honestly, it's not something of which I'm ashamed.

I'm not ashamed because what drove my relatives into the arms of the militia movement were the same issues we hear Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin rail about today: Specifically, taxation without representation. Like their disgruntled, seemingly-disenfranchised followers today, my family members were concerned that their grievances were neither heard, nor listened to by a government which catered to the wealthy upper class.

At least that's how they saw it.

I can't blame them, either. While the taxes they were paying at the time in South Carolina were actually pretty low back then, it was really more about the fact that they felt betrayed by their own government.

Two of my relatives--they were brothers--Lance and Hancock Porter, joined the South Carolina militia in '79 and stuck with the movement until '83. They were joined by a neighbor--another relative of mine named Ed Denney--around the same time. This was when their group was under the direction of a pretty charismatic leader named Thomas Brandon.

Now, being young and stupid, these guys were all pretty hardcore into this stuff--and at one time or another, they all had run-ins with the government in South Carolina. But none of them took it to the level of another relative of mine named Will Bevill. Like the rest, Will tangled with the government a few times, but he was the only one who ever ended with up with a serious injury--sustained in a shootout in '81 when a bullet struck his arm between the elbow and shoulder. Oddly enough, Will eluded capture and had the wound treated by the locals in Union County. According to my family, he was never the same after that. Which, of course, I can understand.

Aside from the Porter brothers, Ed Denney, and Will Bevill, I only have one other relative who I'm sure was into this stuff as well. He was actually from Virginia--and even more serious about the resistance than my relatives who dabbled in the South Carolina militia. This guy, Ellis Palmer, went so far as to become one of the dreaded gun nuts who actually joined the Army in the late '70s to learn skills useful for opposing government authority.

I'll explain more about these guys in a minute, but first I want to make a point.

The one difference between my relatives back then and the Glenn Beck/Tea Party crowd of today is that when my relatives joined the militia--and the Army in Ellis' case--it was for a valid reason. They really were taxed, without representation. And what they believed they were fighting for was a state and country that could elect leaders who were actually accountable and responsive to the electorate; leaders who you could kick out with nothing more than a vote; and leaders who represented the views of the community in which they lived. Because they didn't have it.

It had nothing to do with the sour grapes we see today. In case you haven't caught on yet, when I say the '70s and '80s, I'm talking about the 1770s and 1780s.

Edward Denney is a great grandfather of mine who served under Colonel Thomas Brandon in the South Carolina State Militia during the Revolutionary War.

My two g-g-g-g-great uncles, Hancock and Lancelot Porter, served alongside Edward in the South Carolina militia, where they fought the British under General Nathanael Greene of the Continental Army at the Battle of Eutaw Springs in September 1781.

William Bevill, also one of my great grandfathers, was wounded at the Battle of Cowpens in January 1781 by a British musket ball while serving in the South Carolina State Militia.

And Ellis Palmer--my great grandfather who actually joined the Army at the age of 47--nearly froze while serving as a regular in the Virginia Continental Line under General Washington at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-1778.

Not to be too didactic or overbearing, but these guys--like so many other Americans' ancestors--were literally fighting so that Glenn Beck could have a representative government. So that his listeners could have the right to peaceably assemble in their "Tea Parties" in 2009. Because, see, the system they so disdain works. The system for which our great-grandparents fought--the system which has made Glenn Beck a very wealthy man--works. It's been 225 years and no citizen of any state is taxed without representation. And, perhaps more importantly, the rights of the minority--like those who agree with Glenn Beck--are still protected, despite their paranoia. The government can't do anything in this country without the consent of the governed--and if they do, we have recourse. We can vote them out of office or go to court. It's too bad all this is lost on people like Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin. This really is a great country. And it has a truly great form of governance. Of all the other forms of government around the world, ours is a thing of beauty. It's a shame they don't see that.

Nevertheless, they have that right. It's been given to them by a very successful system of governance that allows them to be as anti-American as they wish to be. So enjoy it this week, Tea Partiers. It costs you nothing. Your right to dismiss the American form of government has been paid in full by others--like the men above--who you clearly don't appreciate.