A new doc about the founding fathers of the Oath Keepers.
A new doc about the founding fathers of the Oath Keepers. PBS

There are two hashtag movements that emerged from the Ferguson protests: #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackOpenCarry. The former is better known than the latter, which received some media attention when the anti-government militia Oath Keepers gave it support during the protests that marked the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown's death.

Things got even weirder with #BlackOpenCarry when it was reported that white gun activists found common ground with a black radical group called the Huey P. Newton Gun Club. Blacks using guns to defend themselves from the police is, on the surface, not dissimilar from whites defending themselves from Obama's federal agents. A simple connection can be made by the white gun nut. The police and the feds are a part of the same problem: government.

But what the white conservatives of today forget, and what is made clear in the new documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, which opens today at the Northwest Film Forum, is that when the Black Panther Party, an organization co-founded in 1966 by Huey P. Newton, brazenly open carried to protect themselves and their community, it was none other than Ronald Reagan (the GOD of the GOP) who as governor of California not only signed a bill against open carrying (Mulford Act) but justified his position in the same language that the left of our times use against the NRA. Reagan: "There is no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons."

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The most interesting section of Vanguard, and where I think the film as a whole should have spent much more time on—as it speaks directly to our #BlackLives/#BlackOpenCarry moment—concerns police oppression in the civil rights era. For example, one of the documentary's best moments is when, with footage and talking heads, it explains how Black Panthers would patrol cop cars patrolling the black neighborhood.

If there was a traffic stop, the Panthers would exit their car, stand at a safe distance from the incident, but make it clear to the officer that they were armed and ready to "throw down." When the officer issued a ticket or a warning or whatever and returned to his squad car, the Panthers would return to their vehicle and continue patrolling the police. This kind of thing clearly freaked out the officers, some of whom (now old and retired) are interviewed. The Black Panthers made a deep impression on them.

Now, you would think that a documentary that had access to civil-rights-era white police officers and militant blacks would provide lots and lots of details about their interactions, tensions, and confrontations, but no, this is not what happens at all. Vanguard, sadly, spends much of its time describing the boring and irrelevant power struggles between the biggest egos in the organization.