The Camping Crowd

We’ve met all types of people while camping. Some are folks we wouldn’t associate with under any other circumstances, but love of the outdoors and the desire for adventure can create strange bedfellows. In these politically polarized times, when our differences are even more pronounced, many campers go to great lengths to make sure everyone knows where they stand. One benefit of the pandemic is that we have a good excuse to not engage.

Take, for example, the fellow who drives this truck. We didn’t meet him, but he made clear that he is a defender of the Second Amendment and his right to bear arms.

Let’s start with the “Come and Take It” sticker at the top. We doubt that he has a full appreciation of the symbolism of the stars and cannon, or of the phrase itself. The cannon symbolizes a small bronze armament that was sent by the Mexican government to the colony of Gonzales (at the colonists’ request) in 1831. Four years later, it would be used in the first military engagement of the Texas Revolution. As an act of defiance, the group of Texans who were defending Gonzales against Mexican forces fashioned a flag containing the phrase “come and take it,” along with a black star and an image of the cannon–the same message they had previously sent to the Mexican government when they were told to return the cannon–which brought the Mexican military to Gonzales to forcefully take it back in the first place. It has since been appropriated by Second Amendment activists, with some replacing the cannon with an M16 rifle.

The “Come and Take It” sticker is flanked by stickers promoting the Duck Commander brand and the Ark Encounter religious theme park in Williamstown, Kentucky.

Duck Commander is both a brand of handmade duck calls and the name of the company in West Monroe, Louisiana, founded by Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” fame. The reality TV show ended in 2017, but Robertson family members, co-workers and friends continue to profit from appearing in a number of spin-offs. Even though the original show sparked controversy, it earned hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising revenues and merchandise sales, with legions of fans like this guy still displaying their devotion.

The Ark Encounter is a theme park featuring a life-size representation of Noah’s Ark, built according to dimensions given in the Bible. The park opened in 2016, despite controversies over tax incentives and hiring practices (employees are required to sign a statement of faith as a condition of their employment).

The top row is completed with a Second Amendment flag at the left and a “Socialism Sucks” sticker at the right. We doubt that the truck owner is well-versed in the differences between socialism as a political and economic system and socialist programs and policies, such as those that benefit millions of Americans (including members of our own families) who rely on cash assistance, health insurance, food assistance, housing subsidies, energy and utilities subsidies, and education and childcare assistance.

At the bottom of the window, we see more evidence of the truck owner’s toxic blend of masculinity, patriotism, and religion. As avowed pacifists, we were particularly struck by the “Pray Hard Shoot Straight” sticker at the left, which brings together a gun sight’s crosshairs and the religious symbol of a cross. To its left (just out of frame) is the flag of Israel (support for Israel is considered a defining element of many evangelical Christians’ religious and political identities) and a sticker for Ruger firearms (Ruger produces some 2 million firearms per year, making it America’s largest firearms manufacturer).

At the far right (also just out of frame) is a sticker for WallBuilders, a Texas-based organization founded by David Barton that promotes the idea that the U.S. is fundamentally a Christian nation and rejects the view that the Constitution calls for the separation of church and state.

We make note of all this because it is not unusual for us to see such displays of political, religious, and cultural ideology every single time we go camping. But there’s a difference between displaying the U.S. flag or an “I ❤ Chihuahuas” bumper sticker and these types of unambiguous and provocative messages. We’re admit, we’re not even willing to engage in small talk with the truck owner about inane topics like sunsets or cicadas, so why would we consider taking a deeper dive into the controversies that divide us.

And this is precisely the problem. When every assumption we make about someone becomes a foregone conclusion, constructive dialogue about anything is impossible.