Monday, August 21, 2023

Dragnet - Militias

In 1969, Dragnet did an episode about "militias" and illegal arms sales.  Not much has changed in a half-century.

I was watching YouTube last night and for some reason, old episodes of Dragnet are showing up again, probably bootlegged and probably will be taken down in short order.  I am still not seeing any ads on YouTube on my old laptop, but I am running Windows 7 ultimate and an outdated version of Chrome with an old version of adblock plus.  I have disabled updates, but the point is moot - Chrome now says it won't update my machine because I am not running Windows 11!  Victory at last!  And even movies that are listed as "free, with ads" play without any ads whatsover.

I don't expect that to last forever, either.  Enjoy it while it lasts.

What was interesting was that the episode in question dealt with ultra-right-wing "patriotic" militias, who were arming themselves to fight the crime and corruption they perceived in America.  In 1969.  And they had the exact same talking points as "patriotic militias" have today - that they are going to fight inner-city crime (read: Black people) and restore our social order (Read: keep women down, put the gays back in the closet).  Not much has changed in 50 years, has it?

By the way, my opinions about Dragnet and its creator Jack Webb, have changed over the years.  When I saw the show during its first run (that is to say, the third iteration of the show, which started as a radio program in the 1940s, went to black-and-white television in the 1950's, and then became the color program that most people are familiar with, in the 1960s), I sort of echoed the sentiments of my hippy-dippy brother, who called it fascist.

And granted, the anti-drug messages were a little heavy-handed.  The infamous "Blue Boy" episode was over the top.  But in another episode I recently saw, a young man becomes addicted to heroin, and instead of trying to put him in jail for stealing, Joe Friday recommends a treatment program in a hospital - the kind of policing that people are yearning for today. Joe Friday, where are you when we need you?

It goes beyond that, of course.  Jack Webb was insistent on hiring a diverse cast, perhaps not as main characters, but as extras and guest stars.  He wanted to show blacks and other minorities in positions of responsibility, not just as criminals or incidental characters.  And the reason for this was that Webb himself was of mixed-race, his mother being half native American, and had experienced discrimination.

But I digress.  He was also concerned that during the 1960s, the Police were treated poorly by the press and the public.  Whether or not this was justified, I leave to the reader.  The point is, fifty years ago, we faced the exact same issues we are facing today.  Back then, it was "Off the Pigs!" and today it is "Defund the Police!"  People rioted over social injustices - perceived or real - and many others joined the riots not to protest, but to steal and engage in mayhem.  Same shit, different Century.

And right-wing "militias" - which is to say, a bunch of crazy people and gun nutz - were also a concern, often a greater concern that the unorganized rioters and protesters.  If you watch the episode above (which likely will be taken down, over time) the way the guy describes his Thompson .45 reminds me of the postings of gun nutz today:

Frank Baker: Like to see what you're buying? 
Sergeant Joe Friday: That's why I'm here. 
Frank Baker: This is a personal selection, Joe, detail stripped, cleaned, oiled, test fired 100 rounds. It's A-number-one, I know, I did it myself. 
Sergeant Joe Friday: Where'd you do all this? 
Frank Baker: The warehouse. Live a little, Joe. 
[flips back the cover revealing...] 
Frank Baker: The Thompson sub-machine gun, caliber .45, M1A1. An air-cooled, straight blowback action, magazine fed weapon. Weight, 10 pounds 13 ounces. Number of grooves, six. Sights, front fixed blade, rear fixed aperture. Muzzle velocity, 920 feet per second. Effective range, 200 yards, maximum range, 1,600 yards. Feed system, 20 and 30 shot staggered column detachable box magazine. Want me to wrap it up, or will you eat it here?

Yea, that's a gun nut. And all the talk of a "militia" restoring "Law and Order" is the same sort of noise you hear today from right-wing nuts who claim they are going to "save America" by destroying Democracy.  Of course, they know what's best for America, even if Americans strongly outvote them.

How did it end back in 1969?  Well, on the television show, the militia leaders are charged with illegal possession of automatic weapons, stolen government property, and illegal explosives, and are sent off to San Quentin.  Today, with much more lax gun laws, no doubt it would be harder to get some of those charges to stick.  But we are putting the January 6th insurrectionists in jail, one by one, and perhaps even the head insurrectionist will go to jail as well - although I am not holding my breath on that.

Back in 1969, though, they busted these people before they could take any sort of action. And they weren't being supported by (or joined by) the Police or government leaders.  The "militia" of 1969 never made an overt attempt to take over the government and throw out the results of an election.  That much has changed.

Whether the end result will be the same as back then, remains to be seen.