By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
"I usually don't make any notes when I'm giving a talk," he says. "I might write something down on a napkin, maybe. Not tonight. Tonight, I've got some things I need to say."
We're fighting not only "for our country," but also "for our souls," he says. The audience is hushed. Beck, it turns out, has a rifle. He raises it above his head. He's on the verge of tears, as he has been throughout the speech. You can hear his voice break, especially when he mentions Sandy Hook.
"After the Sandy Hook massacre, the government went in, seized the opportunity, exploited these families and pushed for more control over our lives. It's immoral."
Applause sweeps through the auditorium. Beck takes a moment to collect himself.
"The only way you can control a free people is to lie! The bigger the lie, the longer you deny reality, the more apt people are to believe it."
It's when he says "they've accepted the media lie that the NRA is malicious" that things start to turn. Thousands of eyes turn toward the media. I get the same feeling I had holding that AR-15, only this time they're holding the metaphorical Bushmasters, and I'm the intruder at the bottom of their stairs.
The next day, I come back for more. I talk to a group of elderly men leaned up against a streetlight. They've come all the way from Tennessee, and they're a lot more interested in my views than they are in telling me theirs, which are largely attacks on the recent gun-control measures.
"I'm from outside the gun debate," I tell them. "I'm a neutral. Really, I have no idea what I'm doing here."
"You better learn quick, boy. There are some bad people in this country."
I've heard this several times over the weekend, and at this point, I start to ask myself, in haltingly perfect English: Do I need a gun? How am I going to stop someone who breaks into my house? Does it matter that a new gun would instantly become my most valuable possession in that house, followed not that closely by my tea kettle?
I limp up the escalator for one last date with madness, a speech by Ted Nugent. He's calling the speech "Freedom Is Not Free," which I immediately recognize as one of the musical numbers from Team America: World Police. It's a ballad satirizing the overuse of the word "freedom" in political rhetoric. I hum it to myself and wonder how to compute what I'm witnessing: a speech by Ted Nugent that unwittingly has the same name as a song that expertly satirizes the likes of Ted Nugent. Eventually, it hits me: Satire just died in a conference hall in downtown Houston.
I leave the auditorium before the speech starts, past the "WAAAAALL OF GUUUUUNS" that never runs out of guns and into the street. I realize as I leave that, no, I'll never squeeze the trigger of an AR-15, that I'll never own a handgun. I probably won't even buy a stun gun. There's just nothing for me here, I think as I make for the door, although I will admit: There's something about those halberds.