I’m not a soldier, but I was trained to kill


1. “Our numbers are increasing every year”

On a hazy November morning just after sunrise, I pulled up to a shooting range in central Texas with a borrowed AR-15 and a few hundred rounds of questionable Russian ammunition that I had ordered over the internet. I followed a pickup truck on a gravel road and more than two rangers to the end of the property. Then I parked in a field surrounded by trees whose bark was marked by stray bullets.

A handful of men had already arrived and they were loading ammunition into their magazines as the morning birds swarmed above their heads. After a while, a decorated US Army veteran named Eric Dorenbush gathered us in a circle and gave a brief safety briefing – don’t point your cannon at anything you’re not ready to destroy, take action. like every gun is loaded – so he asked us not to share any images or videos on social media. We didn’t want the information to fall into the hands of terrorists or other bad actors, he explained. In addition, there could be social repercussions. “This activity is considered… unconventional,” one of my comrades, an orthopedic surgeon from Indiana, told me.

We had all signed up for a two-day tactical firearms course, where we would learn to shoot as if we were engaged in small unit armed combat. Once the purview of law enforcement officers and military operators, this type of skill is increasingly passed on to ordinary and armed Americans through a sprawling and diffuse industry. Shooting ranges and private facilities across the country teach the art of tactical shooting, in configurations ranging from fly-by-night to the most elaborate: at a Texas beach resort, you can plan a training scenario at the combat inspired by the war in Iraq after your course. ride; at an invitation-only facility in Florida, you can practice taking down a mass shooter at the Liberal Tears Café; at Real World Tactical, a former Marine will teach you how to survive “urban chaos with armed tactical solutions”.

Under the umbrella of his one-man company, Green Eye Tactical, Dorenbush says he trains SWAT teams and military contractors, but about half of his students are people who do not carry a weapon in a professional capacity. In recent weeks, he had worked with a 22-year-old mechanic who had been robbed at work, a teenage girl and several married couples. “Everyone has different things they’re preparing for, different threats,” he says.

Even before the recent seat on the Capitol by men wearing bulletproof vests and zip ties, the idea of ​​civilians learning tactical skills may have evoked images of far-right militias and violence – and not entirely without reason. The men who allegedly plotted to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer last summer have prepared themselves by running their own tactical training camp. In leaked private discussions associated with the Boogaloo movement, a fringe group advocating for a second US Civil War, an employee at a weapons store boasts of recruiting customers to join his tactical training group. “Everything is set up for our boog team,” he wrote. “Our number is increasing every year.”

But the world of tactical shooting also attracts a much wider range of people: bros and gamers, preparers and adrenaline junkies, GN who want to spend their weekends cosplaying as commandos and crime victims looking for a special flavor of empowerment. Women make up a growing proportion of students, and the industry is turning more and more to preachers and teachers who want to know how to deal with a mass shooter. “We get a lot of non-traditional gun owners and some people who don’t want people to know they are learning to shoot guns,” says Ken Campbell, CEO of Gunsite, who claims to be the oldest tactical training in the world. country. establishment.

As we enter an era that seems destined to be marked by escalating vigilantism and political violence – or, if we’re very lucky, just fear of them – it’s time to take it into account. whole American tactical culture. Despite all its power to shape this moment, this culture has roots that long precede it. The tactical world is the by-product of years of massive shootings and our nation’s longest wars, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a space where paramilitary ideas flourish and ordinary gun owners learn to see themselves as potential heroes; but this is also where many Americans have simply gone to find a way to negotiate for a living in a country where there are more guns than people. To try to understand him better, I’ve spent this fall absorbing his mix of professional training, political indoctrination and camaraderie. Sometimes it felt like CrossFit with balls; sometimes it was more alarming than that.

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