Inside military training camps for civilians, and the culture of arming Americans for violence

Written by Amy Ta, produced by Brian Hardzinski

Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Ariz. is one of two civilian tactical training camps Rachel Monroe attended for her piece in WIRED. Photo by Rachel Monroe.

The U.S. Capitol insurrection happened three weeks ago, when a violent pro-Trump mob stormed the halls of the House and Senate. Looking for lawmakers, they shouted horrifying chants like “hang Mike Pence.” Many were armed with tactical-style gear — helmets, body armor, and the type of zip-ties law enforcement and the military use as handcuffs.

What happened shined a spotlight on the shadowy world of military-style tactical training for civilians. It raised big questions about the role this culture plays in preparing an armed populace for a world where violence is both expected and encouraged.

Rachel Monroe recently wrote a big piece for WIRED magazine, where she spent time at some of these tactical training facilities. 

She describes Gunsite Academy in Arizona: “You get a five-day course where you shoot about 1000 rounds. They told us everyday at lunch we should wash our hands because we were handling so many bullets that the lead could potentially poison us.”

She continues, “You’re just shooting all day, kind of learning how to react really quickly in the case that somebody attacks you. And so it’s both kind of the practical training of how do you draw from the holster, how do you pull the trigger. … But also the mindset … where you might need to have a gunfight.”

Many people Monroe trained with had concealed carry permits, with a gun on them at all times during their daily lives, she describes. 

“It really speaks to this culture of fear of violence and anxiety about violence, which is in large part stoked by places like the NRA. The NRA issues a monthly column where they share stories of citizens who had to fight back with their guns against criminals. You see these stories on cable news all the time.”   

Monroe says America’s violent crime rate is much lower than where it was 20 years ago, but we’re inundated with messages of violence. 

The tactical training world is very masculine, white, and not cheap, she describes. “These tended to be middle-aged men with good careers. There were a number of doctors and contactors, people who owned their own businesses, people driving $50,000 pickup trucks.” 

In the end, are the people attending these camps perpetuating the violence they’re trying to shield themselves from? 

“You will hear a reasoning … from a lot of these people, which is that the only solution to gun violence is more guns. It starts to feel like this weird kind of trap where if there are mass shootings well then … you’ve got to get the teachers guns, and you’ve got to train the preachers to be able to take down a mass shooter, and we need more armed citizens to fight back against the bad armed citizens. … But living in a heavily armed society … the more guns that we have doesn’t always make us safer.”