I hope I can find a chance to post next week. Hold on to your water bottles…
Monday, September 2, 2013 (1:40 p.m.)
The hike down-canyon made for dramatic footage. Somebody started singing “Onward Christian Soldiers,” and pretty much the entire militia took it up. I also got a good segment of a couple medics tending to a guy with a sprained ankle. It was a difficult hike, and a lot of people had top-heavy packs that didn’t help matters. I got a good clip of a guy going down and sliding about 10 feet. He wasn’t hurt, fortunately… but it took him a minute to get turned around and back on his feet. Then he almost fell again. I skidded a little once, but managed to keep my feet. I don’t know if I could have stayed upright if I’d been as weighed down as some of them.
All of us who made it down in one piece finally made it down, though, and Sgt. Pepper gave me leave to go up to the front and get some more footage. Most of the sergeants were explaining the rules of engagement to their platoons — “Under no circumstances will the Citizens’ Militia fire the first shot in this war! Is that clear?” “YES SIR!” — or marching their troops up the road at the bottom of the canyon. The road ends at an east-west road that marks the old border, and the Tennessee National Guard was deployed on the north side of the center line, shoulder to shoulder, standing at ease and right shoulder arms. Many were engaged in a stare-down with the militia; there were a few taunts from our side of the line but they were quickly shushed by the sergeants.
On a whim, I crossed the road (hands in the air) and approached one of their sergeants. “Who’s your commanding officer?” I asked him, identifying myself. “I’d like to interview him, if he’s willing.”
The guy looked uneasy. “Down the road,” he gestured east. “Dunno if he’ll talk to you or just shoot you.”
“Like he’s chicken$#¡+ enough to shoot a non-combatant,” I said, and hiked it. That was one of the most nerve-wracking walks I’d ever taken: right up the middle of a military stand-off, and it felt very much like running a gauntlet. A couple of militia people stopped me to ask what I was doing, but let me go when I explained (and winked, as if I was going to get any intelligence even if the guy was willing to talk).
“Amateurs, all around,” the Tennessee CO said when I explained my status. “Why not? You know you’re like as not to end up in a firefight here, right?”
“There’s always a chance of that,” I said. “I could get killed in traffic going to work, too. I almost have a couple of times. But I heard some sergeants telling their men that the militia will not fire the first shot… so does that mean you intend to start the shooting?”
He laughed grimly. “Touché. No, we’re operating under strict rules of engagement, too — no shooting except in self-defense.”
I conducted a brief interview, just running through a basket of questions that came to mind as I was walking the gauntlet, then closed it up. “One last thing,” the CO said. “Anyone who crosses the centerline without leave will be arrested for criminal trespass. You might want to pass the word on to your folks over there.” Then two guards frog-marched me back to the road and shoved me roughly across the centerline — perhaps for my own good, since I got some sympathy from the militia for that. I spat at the retreating guardsmen, for show, and that didn’t hurt either.
Colonel Mustard was waiting for me when I got back to my platoon near the rear. “That was a dam’fool stunt you pulled there, but let’s see the video. There might be something we can use.” I shrugged and pulled up the video for them. I doubted there was anything useful for them, but the colonel wasn’t so sure — he flipped out his cellphone and walked away, talking to General Mayhem in low tones. He stepped back long enough to give my phone back, then dismissed me. It was time for lunch, maybe a little past time, so I found a shady spot to eat and write up this part.
I’ve uploaded all my video so far to a couple of email accounts; I should be able to grab it & edit it down tonight. I was going to do that right here and post it to a wire service, but the battery on my laptop is getting low. I’m just going to post
I hear shooting.