Fifth Street

November 4, 2021

In this issue: Confessions of a teenage right-wing extremist | Remembering Wendell Broussard, ‘the dean of Red Rock’ | See Hear Do: A feast of fun fall events for all

IN THE EIGHTH grade, my homeroom teacher had our class do a project exploring our idea of a “perfect world.” My fellow students put forward a variety of utopian visions: One kid based his project on the Buddhist idea that people can’t know pleasure if they don’t also experience pain; another classmate lifted his project straight from Creed’s rock anthem “With Arms Wide Open.” But the project I remember most came from one of the girls in class, who, responding to the horrific school massacre in Columbine just one year earlier, envisioned a world in which all the guns had been collected and melted down.

I remember trembling with rage as I struggled to keep quiet, knowing full well that I couldn’t take the bait I imagined she was offering me.

click for more

I was a chubby kid. Bookish and awkward, I never played sports or felt like I was really growing up to fit the stereotypical mold of what a man should be. I was obsessed with toughness because it seemed so far out of reach. But when I thought about what I could do with a gun, I felt powerful, like I could do anything. Guns — and the philosophy I attached to them — offered me a chance to feel strong and heroic.

My relationship with firearms wasn’t always so radical. When I was growing up in the Bay Area, my dad and I loved shooting. It was really our thing — something other members of our family had little interest in — and we spent hours at shooting ranges and gun stores. Sometimes, as a special treat, we’d make the four-hour drive up to Reno to attend the gun shows that still come through town every few months. In fact, I still have the .22 bolt action rifle he bought when I turned 12 — a common rite of passage in the U.S. It’s been years since I took it to the range, but I’ve never been able to get rid of it, either.

Starting around eighth grade, however, my relationship with guns shifted from recreational to ideological. For example, I started to believe that owning and learning to use guns was not just a hobby, but a duty. When I turned 21, I told myself, I would get my concealed carry permit so that I would always be ready to stop an attempted assault.

That’s pretty standard fare. If you browse the pages of Guns & Ammo magazine — or the Instagram accounts of gun-toting influencers — you’ll see intense debates over the relative merits of revolvers versus semiautos, or which concealed carry holster is best to pair with your Dockers. But as my dad and I got more involved in the self-described “gun culture,” we started to collect literature with an increasingly fringe perspective on the role of firearms in civil society.

One book in particular was critical to my radicalization: Unintended Consequences, by John Ross. Essentially, it’s an 800-page anti-government manifesto that details the strategy behind a decentralized guerilla campaign seeking to completely deregulate the civilian arms market The main characters use targeted assassinations of politicians, law enforcement officials, and bureaucrats to force the federal government to abandon all forms of gun control, right back to the 1934 National Firearms Act — one of the earliest federal statutes directly related to firearms. That law imposed taxes and regulations on the possession and sale of fully automatic machine guns. It was passed in response to the escalating violence among organized crime syndicates during Prohibition. But to Ross, it signifies the first step down a “slippery slope” of government overreach seeking to disarm sovereign citizens and thereby force them into a kind of modern slavery.

I devoured the book, reading it cover-to-cover at least twice. Since I had already been primed to believe the Second Amendment gave the Constitution its teeth, it was a relatively short step to accept that killing government officials was justifiable in the defense of a “strict constructionist” interpretation of our founding document. Thanks to the book’s insurrectionist bent, I believed it could be not only reasonable, but perhaps necessary, to kill public officials if they worked against my interests.

My head was filled with dark fantasies about fighting off “jackbooted thugs” arriving in black helicopters to seize the weapons my dad owned, although I was fortunately never in a position to act on any of them. I imagined myself picking off federal agents from behind cover, a lone sniper standing against the forces of tyranny.

I would be so deadly accurate, I thought, that they would be forced to fall back like they had at Ruby Ridge — except in my version of the story, their retreat would be so disorganized I’d have the chance to escape.

After a day at the range, while my dad and I painstakingly cleaned the guns we’d used, I would weigh the relative merits of each one in my mind: the semiautomatic .308 would be ideal if they were more than 75 yards away, for example, and it stood the best chance of overcoming their Kevlar vests. If they surprised me at closer range, a .40 caliber Glock would put lead downrange quickly enough to buy some time. But the AR-15 always seemed to jam, so that wasn’t on the list. I just thought it looked cool.

My imaginary violence didn’t extend to people who supported gun control, however. For the most part, I thought they were just rubes who had been taken in by cynical politicians. The gullibility I saw in them only made it seem more urgent that I continue to stand up for gun-owning, earnest Americans everywhere.

Crucially, I never saw these ideas as being outside the mainstream. In other words, it was an invisible ideology.

 

Eventually, however, I learned that many of the people I met at gun shows took things even further. They were convinced that gun control was really part of a much larger program to subdue red-blooded Americans under an autocratic globalist regime dominated by a secretive cabal, sounding much like the outrageous conspiracies peddled by QAnon and Alex Jones. Some of them called it the “New World Order.” Others used a more direct epithet: the Zionist One-World Government, or ZOG. It would be decades before I learned that conspiracy had its roots in the neo-Nazi skinhead movement, but I still knew it was dangerous. I also understood that the Jewish community, mistreated and scapegoated by Western governments for centuries, would have been in no position to orchestrate a global power grab.

One evening in the summer of 2002, after a long day of browsing folding tables covered with every kind of handgun, rifle, and shotgun imaginable at a gun show, my dad and I struck up a conversation with another attendee. We talked about the war in Afghanistan (which was still in its early stages and apparently going well) and that perennial bête noire of American gun enthusiasts: liberal politics.

“The B-52s should save some of the bombs they’re dropping in Afghanistan,” our new friend told us. “On the way back, they should drop them on Berkeley.”

I felt a sudden jolt of revulsion at the idea, but I swallowed it down as quickly as I could. I hoped it didn’t show on my face.

I’d become interested in libertarian ideals through my early interest in punk rock and anarchism; the two ideologies share a superficial similarity that, to my 13-year-old mind, offered proof that I could embrace conservative values while still exploring youthful rebellion. I wanted to rock the boat without really rocking the boat.

But the ardent anti-fascism I cultivated as a punk clashed with the antisemitism on display at gun shows. At every gun show I’ve ever been to, I’ve seen booths offering Hitler Youth daggers, Waffen SS caps and Confederate uniforms. This hateful memorabilia — often displayed unironically alongside T-shirts extolling the ideal of “personal liberty” — are typically excused as being offered for history buffs.

I’d like to say that I outgrew my corrosive ideas about gun ownership quickly, but that would be a lie. It took years to undo the programming I’d received, which told me it was my right as a white American man to respond to political trends I disagreed with by using armed violence.

 

The first shock came when I was 18. One day my dad drove to the beach in Bandon, Oregon, looked out at the horizon, and shot himself to death.

While it was a devastating blow, at the time I didn’t connect his suicide with his ready access to firearms. I now realize that owning guns puts people at heightened risk of self-harm, because it makes suicidal ideations — which are impulsive by nature — much easier to act on.

Instead, my deradicalization really began thanks to the harsh economic reality of working part-time to put myself through junior college. Being a gun guy started to lose its shine as soon as it was my money I was spending on ammo, range fees, gun locks, and all the other paraphernalia. As a teen, I got a thrill from watching my dad drop hundreds of dollars in cash on an unregistered handgun in the Reno-Sparks Convention Center. But as a young adult, I couldn’t bear the thought of walking past long rows of folding tables loaded with weapons I couldn’t afford.

The experience of going to school was also critical to dismantling my insurrectionist ideology. My classes in history and government challenged those beliefs by offering a more nuanced perspective on the world. Learning how to think critically helped, too.

Perhaps more than the curriculum itself, my classmates forced me to confront the cognitive dissonance I’d tried to ignore as a younger person. Junior college attracts students from a variety of backgrounds. Some, like me, didn’t have the grades to get into a four-year university and were trying to find direction. Others were parents, who attended classes in between jobs and took care of their children as they worked towards a better future for their families. Some came from working-class neighborhoods, while others came from other countries. By the time I transferred to the University of California, Berkeley as a history major, I’d gotten to know more about the world as it is instead of what I thought it should be. I knew and respected people who I assumed I would have hated just a few years before. Increasingly, the extremist rhetoric I’d internalized began to look more like a fever dream than moral instruction.

We’re living in a time of galloping radicalization. The Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was the most visible expression of that, but it’s been happening — and continues to happen — in more subtle ways. It’s frightening to watch our society pull itself apart, because a democratic system like ours is a fragile, precious thing, and it depends on shared values. But I also know from my own experience that there’s still hope for the young people caught up in the culture war — a war we’ll never win with guns.

 

Back to top


LAS VEGAS LOST a legend when Wendell Broussard, 81, passed away in mid-October. He was a lifelong adventurer, masterful storyteller, and mentor. Wendell was rugged at 6’4, yet elegant. For nearly 50 years, he worked nights as a dealer at Caesars Palace. By day, he was an architect of routes in Red Rock Canyon, with about 100 first ascents to his credit. But Wendell’s legacy is much more than that. He left a blueprint for a fulfilling life, demonstrating that the goal isn’t just to survive, but to thrive.

click for more

 

The third youngest of 10 kids, Wendell grew up in rural Louisiana with limited means. His parents handed over caregiving to his siblings. At the age of five, he started exploring the swamps. At 13, he began planning his escape by hitchhiking to Chicago. A few years later, he fudged paperwork to join the Marines. In 1961, he landed in Las Vegas for a short trip and never left. Maybe that’s because his grandeur could only fit in a city that, like him, was created from wild optimism.

As one story goes, a 30-something Wendell gazed in a window and noticed a man’s reflection. The guy’s belly was hanging over his pants. He thought, “Who’s the out-of-shape guy?” Stunned by his own reflection, Wendell went home and ran two miles. “Pretty soon, he was running marathons,” says Randall Broussard, his oldest son. “My dad was all or nothing.”

Soon after, Wendell learned to ski and took up heli-skiing. A climbing course in Colorado led to pioneering routes in Red Rock Canyon. His family was in on the action, too. As Wendell trained for marathons, his sons, Randall, Shane, and Eric trained for 10ks. They ski-raced, and even BMX-raced together. “I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” Randall says. “My parents wanted to create memories.”

Knowing how to make people feel like they mattered, Wendell took a band of renegade climbers and fostered a community. He was a father figure, delivering life lessons in the oddest of places, such as Yosemite’s El Capitan. Wendell once paired up with local climbing icon, the late Richard Harrison, then a 20-something vagabond climber. Setting off on a multi-day ascent, Richard noticed their haul bag was too heavy. Wendell had stuffed it full of gourmet coffee, meats, and snacks, rather than following Richard’s “keep-it-light-and-suffer” method of stretching a can of Vienna sausages. Wendell explained that suffering didn’t make their effort more heroic; and that even on a grueling wall, life was meant to be savored.

“He was the father you wished you had,” says Paul Van Betten, who met Wendell in 1980 as a 17-year-old who’d cut school to go to Red Rock with friends. Wendell agreed to teach Paul to climb, and soon he was making landmark ascents, too. On Paul’s 21st birthday, his father thanked Wendell. “My dad recognized he didn’t have that [outdoor] skill set,” Paul says. “But he saw I changed for the better.”

Wendell shared the wealth, always picking up the tab and tipping up to 100 percent. After landing a lucrative television commercial contract that included being helicoptered to the top of a peak, he insisted his climbing friends be hired as riggers. When the ad agency said no, he declined the job. The client, however, wanted Wendell, so his friends cashed in. 
His impeccable memory meant his stories were colored with vivid detail. But also, in the age of cell phones, panicked climbers lost on a descent would call Wendell. He was a protector who relished keeping people safe.

As another story goes, it was 1981, and 18-year-old Paul Van Betten was hypothermic on top of Red Rock’s Mt. Wilson. He, Wendell, and three others had just completed the second ascent of a big wall. They were unroped, hiking off the route on exposed terrain when a block dislodged and landed on Paul’s chest. “It was ready to kick me off,” Paul said. He heard Wendell yell, hold on, buddy, as he tossed down a rope that landed perfectly on Paul’s face so he could secure it with his teeth. Paul dropped the block, grabbed the rope, and Wendell, hand over hand, pulled him from danger.

“There are famous people, and there are heroes,” Paul said, “But there are few like Wendell.”

 

Back to top


UNLV Art Walk
Nov. 5
Art festival

On what’s expected to be a lovely October evening, the public can walk along the academic mall on UNLV’s campus and lap up a season’s worth of dance, music, spoken word, visual art, and more. Copresented by Susan N. Houston and the university’s College of Fine Arts, the fourth installment of the UNLV Art Walk is titled Art Restart in honor of the post-pandemic return to in-person gathering. This year’s feature event is a celebration of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen’s 38-foot-tall steel sculpture, “The Flashlight,” which turns 40 years old this year. It will take place on the plaza between Artemus Hamm Hall and Judy Bayley Theatre at 7 p.m. and include a performance by dancers from the UNLV Dance Department. Other notable events include an aluminum pouring (at 5 near the UNLV Performing Arts Center), marimba music and wine tasting (in the courtyard outside Alta Ham Fine Arts, or HFA, at 5:30), and Acrobat of Innocence (in the HFA dance studio at 8:45). HK

5-9p, free, UNLV campus, unlv.edu/finearts/art-walk

click for more

AH’-WAH-NEE
Nov. 4-Dec. 10
Art

Ah’-wah-nee is a Paiute word that means “balance,” and this exhibit reflects just that — specifically, the countless roles that Indigeneous women play, deftly balancing their responsibilities as mothers, leaders, caretakers, educators and more. Beyond its thematic import, however, AH’-WAH-NEE promises to be one of the most significant and thoughtful exhibitions of local and regional Indigenous women artists in recent memory. Curator Fawn Douglas, a graduate student in UNLV’s Art Department and an enrolled member of the Las Vegas Paiute tribe, has brought together the work of nine artists, including Lorette Burden, a leader in basket weaving revival arts; Roxanne Swentzell, a Santa Clara Pueblo clay artist; Cara Romero, a Santa Fe-based photographer who represents lived experiences from a Native American female perspective; and Melissa Melero-Moose, a Reno-based artist and founder of the Great Basin Native Artists (at right is her mixed media work, Access Denied). Together, their work comprises a powerful portrait of the range and dynamism of Indigenous women’s art.

At 7p Nov. 4, photographer Cara Romero will discuss her photography and art practice at Barrick; pn Nov. 5, the museum will host a daylong symposium of artist conversations and discussions. AK

Free, UNLV’s Majorie Barrick Museum of Art, unlv.edu/barrickmuseum

Festival of Lanterns
Beginning Nov. 5
Asian cultural celebration

For the chilly season, Cowabunga Bay Waterpark has been transformed into a fairground of sorts, where families can enjoy outdoor art, food, and activities. November’s Fall Harvest menu includes grilled corn on the cob, roasted turkey legs, and tomato basil soup, among other seasonal dishes. And guests can wander through the lantern exhibit, consisting of huge moving sculptures handcrafted from thousands of feet of silk. HK

4p, free-$25.95, 900 Galleria Drive, Henderson, cowabungabayvegas.com,

American Roulette
Nov. 6-Jan. 8
Art exhibit

This traveling exhibition, featuring works in a variety of media, captures the many ways the violence of a shooting manifests itself in individual lives and society at large. The artists’ intent is to get people talking — openly and with people from diverse backgrounds. The project began in 2015 with a solo exhibit of Dominic Sansone’s provocative sculptures critiquing the oversized role of guns in contemporary U.S. society. It has grown and added artists over the years as it has traveled the country, now including paintings by Cesar Conde, mixed media works by CJ Hungerman and Michelle Graves, miniature and video montages by Yousif Del Valle, iron works by Anthony Guntren, and interdisciplinary works by Folleh Shar Francis Tamba. They’re joined for this installation by 14 local artists as well. There will be an opening reception Saturday, November 6, 6-9 p.m. Panel discussions will also be announced during the show, which runs through January 8, 2022. HK

Wed.-Sat. 12-4p, free, Core Contemporary, corecontemporary.com

Lon Bronson Band
Nov. 17
Concert

Marvel should make a superhero ensemble movie about the Lon Bronson Band, because I’m convinced they’re utterly indestructible. For more than 30 years, our resident funk/soul/rock powerhouse has weathered Vegas’ ups and downs to bring their big, brassy, swanky signature sound to lounges and showrooms in every corner of the valley. For this show, they’ll fire up a feast of Tower of Power, Chicago, Steely Dan, Joe Cocker, James Brown and more. Then they’ll defeat Thanos. AK

7p, $29-$45, Myron’s Cabaret Jazz in the Smith Center, thesmithcenter.com

The House Without a Christmas Tree
Nov. 19-21
Opera

Spoiler alert: The House Without a Christmas Tree is about the transformative power of Christmas spirit. But this feelgood holiday opera — about a young woman, Addie, who longs for a Christmas tree almost as much as she longs to understand her father’s resentment of the holidays — sports some serious horsepower under the hood. It features sopranos Cadie Jordan and Taylor See, baritone Gabriel Preisser, and mezzo-sopranos Ashley Stone and Courtney Schwalbe. Better yet, they’re backed by an 18-piece orchestra, conducted by Opera Las Vegas Music Director Joshua Horsch. AK

3p all days, $10-$30, Summerlin Library Theatre, operalasvegas.com

CSN Fall Dance Festival
Dec. 3-4
Dance

Go ahead, call it a comeback: This season’s CSN Fall Dance Festival should have an extra dose of celebratory ebullience, given that the CSN Dance Program skipped its annual affair in 2019 due to, surprise, COVID. This year’s festival is stacked with talent (at right, Ariadna Ramirez Carrasco), and will feature works created by alumni, students, faculty, with special guest choreographers Frit and Frat Fuller, and a special show from CSN’s Folklorico ensemble. AK

7p Dec. 3, 2p Dec. 4, $5-$8, Nicholas J. Horn Theatre on the CSN Cheyenne campus, 3200 East Cheyenne Avenue, csn.edu

 

Back to top

Support comes from


Photos and art: Gun illustration by Brent Holmes; Wendell Broussard by Sabin Orr; UNLV Art Walk courtesy UNLV; Access Denied courtesy UNLV Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art; American Roulette courtesy Core Contemporary; Lon Bronson courtesy Lon Bronson; Ariadna Ramirez Carrasco by Ivette Mendoza

Subscribe to Fifth Street and get news, profiles, commentary, and humor in your inbox every week.


Fifth Street

 

 

You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for. If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.

More Stories