Longtime students of firearms are familiar with Mr. Yeager, a bombastic and frequently confrontational personality who was characterized as much for his attitude as for his extensive knowledge. He’s a controversial figure who has no patience for those he considers unworthy – an attitude perhaps strengthened by a relatively recent conversion to health and fitness. (After he started working out, a very fit and toned Yeager began wearing tight T-shirts bearing outlandish designs. It was part of his persona, one other firearms people, students and instructors either loved or hated.)
Apocryphal stories of Yeager belittling students have rattled around the firearms community for some time. Those who have trained with him and gone on record afterward have hailed his abilities. He is no stranger to online drama, either. Weary of being accused of cowardice during his time behind a gun in Iraq, he went so far as to post publicly his challenge to anyone that he would pay their expenses to come say it to him in person. The implication was that he would physically assault whomever dared to so besmirch him within reach.
That brings us to Mr. Yeager’s latest online controversy, which appears to have had considerable consequences in the real world.
On his YouTube channel on the 9th of January, Yeager railed against the possible use of executive orders by President Obama to “impose stricter gun control.”
“If that happens, it’s going to spark a civil war, and I’ll be glad to fire the first shot,” Yeager told the camera in a 1 minute, 17 second video. “I’m not putting up with it, you shouldn’t put up with it, and I need all you patriots to start thinking about what you’re gonna do, load your damn mags, make sure your rifle’s clean, pack a backpack with some food in it, and get ready to fight.”
“I am not letting my country be ruled by a dictator,” said Yeager. “I’m not letting anybody take my guns. … If it goes one inch further, I’m going to start killing people.”
The next day, Yeager uploaded a follow-up video. “I was mad when I said it,” he asserted. “Probably allowed my mouth to overrun my logic. … I don’t retract any of my statements. … I have edited the video and I took off the end where I said I’m a’ start shootin’ people. First off, I don’t need the hundreds of people that have emailed me to give me legal advice that aren’t lawyers; I didn’t ask you for your [expletive] opinion. I didn’t ask you to clog up my [expletive] email. … I don’t care.”
Yeager acknowledged that unedited versions of the video have been downloaded and reuploaded by other YouTube users. “Please take it down, it’s my property,” he told them. “I’ve had a flood of calls … thousands of messages. It’s overwhelming what’s been going on here today. … People asking me what they should do. I don’t know, but I did tell you to load your mags, make sure your gun’s clean, and pack a backpack. If you haven’t done that, then don’t call me and ask me what to do next, because you haven’t even done the first thing I told you to do.”
In an expletive-laden tirade, Yeager went on to inform those who are “not prepared to go all the way” that they are “fair-weather” Second Amendment advocates. He then claimed he does not condone anyone doing anything rash, or “committing any kind of felonies … up to and including aggravated assaults or murders … unless it’s necessary. Right now it is not necessary.”
In the follow-up, Yeager again acknowledged how volatile his original video was. “It is time to get ready,” he said. “Start working out. Start stretching. Start practicing. Start talking with your friends, coordinating on a local basis. … I don’t know what to say to do next. I have a wait and see attitude about the whole thing. … I stand fast with my message. I have drawn my line in the sand. Not one more inch.”
By the 11th of January, a visibly subdued James Yeager had softened considerably his “not one more inch” message. Filming a second follow-up in the company of an attorney, Yeager started the video by apologizing for the “volatile stuff” he said “in my other video.” Looking down and away from the camera most of the time, Yeager says, “I do not in any way advocate the overthrowing of the United States government, nor do I condone any violent actions towards any elected officials.”
“I was mad when I said it,” he goes on. “I apologize for letting my anger get the better of me. … It’s not time for that. It is not time for any type of violent action.” Yeager spends the rest of the video discussing what Second Amendment advocates should be doing to further their cause.
The attempt at damage control was too little, too late. Last Friday, Nashville’s News Channel 5 reported that the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security had suspended Yeager’s handgun carry permit, explaining that Yeager’s video constituted a “material likelihood of risk of harm to the public.” Mr. Yeager may, apparently, seek a review of the finding in the “general sessions court,” but for now his Second Amendment rights – and his livelihood – are in limbo.
Mr. Yeager was not, perhaps, the most professional representative of the firearms community and its instructors. (One anti-gun blog accused him of “beclowning” himself for his open “cowardice” challenge.) He is, however, simply a gun owner when you come right down to it. He’s a gun owner who expressed an earnestly held opinion in the technological public square – and he’s a gun owner who is now paying dearly for his free speech. We would all do well to heed the warning this implies. Freedom of speech is not without consequences, especially when “guns” are the new pop-culture vice – and when any word spoken online has the potential to linger forever.