U.S. veteran Benjamin Colton Barnes, proud of his guns, in
a photo from Pierce County Sheriff Department archives. Note
the high-capacity magazine clips on both firearms.
Ranger Margaret Anderson, Mount Rainier
National Park, Washington State. Photo
from MRNP archives.
New Year’s Day 2012 began as if Doomsday had arrived way too early from out of the prophesized Mayan Apocalypse. By the time the one-man war of Army veteran Benjamin Colton Barnes ended, two people are dead with four more injured, two of them critically wounded, three children left without parents, and communities across the United States, including Mount Rainier National Park were devastated. It’s almost a year, too, after Rep. Gabby Giffords and a number of others were shot with many killed in Tucson, Arizona. Excuse my lack of professionalism, but WTF?
In grotesque mockery of its own Constitution, the United States Government continues its overreaching neo-imperial agenda. We invade Iraq for the oil, for revenge against Saddam, and to outflank Iran and thumb our noses at Russia and China. We spend more money on our military than the next 17 countries combined. Yet we don’t help our veterans. And anytime you send people into combat, battles, and wars, guess what? Real, live human beings – men, women, and children are killed and maimed, often in horrific manner. Many in our Armed Forces return with damaged minds. Not everyone, but many more than most admit.
Since our government is so deep in debt and has been played by the banksters, it implements austerity measures and cuts services. National Park services get cut. Rangers get less support.
Bankster and corporatocratic manipulation of finances, markets, political elections, and government leads to illegal wars and economic disruption.
Illegal wars are still real wars. Our young men and women kill and injure other human beings. Many of our men and women are themselves killed and injured. All survivors witness great destruction. The Americans return home, and some of them break down, fall apart, and go crazy. And usually not in ways that engender sympathy.
A government short on money begins by cutting then chopping services. “Our” Federal Government begins by eviscerating federal institutions. Not nearly enough health care is provided for our veterans and their families, especially psychotherapy and counseling. It’s easier, faster, and cheaper to build flashy new weapons and weapons systems. Other federal services get cut, including the national park service.
Benjamin Colton Barnes was a former soldier in the United States Army. He served in the Iraq campaigns of 2007-2008 during the Global Long War on Terror. A private first class, he served in communications while deployed into Iraq. Barnes was also released from the military with a misconduct discharge for a string of offenses.
At a New Year’s Eve 2011 party in Skyway, a satellite town on the edge of the Greater Seattle Pugetopolis, Washington State, a number people brought guns including military weaponry to show off, brag, and posture. The rest of us would likely call them “gun nuts,” a term I reserve NOT for those who respect the firearms they collect and the responsibilities the right to possess a firearm demands, but for those who are immature, violent, and spoiling for a fight. The latter are consumed with egoitis. Barnes was at the party with several hot dates, all of them guns.
Posturing and bragging led to bruised egos. The ego is easily wounded when one’s skin is so thin. Arguments escalated into threats escalated into a gun battle. The details remain murky, but so far it appears Barnes took on the others, big bad soldier from Iraq he is, or was. In the ensuing firefight Barnes shot four people. Two of them were grievously injured and remain in critical care.
Barnes fled the party early in the morning of 1 January 2012. He drove off in a car with guns, knives, ammo, and survival gear. He raced into Mount Rainier National Park to hide out in the middle of the Cascade Mountains. Mt. Rainier remains one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes, is more massive of a mountain than any of those in the Himalayans, and soars skyward to 4,392 meters or 14,411 feet above sea level. The Mountain dominates the Pacific Northwest and is the black hole of severe winter storms. It receives astounding amounts of precipitation. Its vast slopes are blanked with heavy, deep snow, thick forests, and icy glaciers.
Triggered and wild, Barnes blew by the entrance gate and outran pursuing rangers. Further up Ranger Margaret Anderson was ordered to come down to assist. The road down is steep, narrow, icy, and loops through one winding curve after another. She barreled down The Mountain anyway. Ranger Anderson threw her vehicle across the curving mountain highway to set up a roadblock. A second ranger followed behind her in his motor vehicle. These are National Park Service Rangers, and while they are highly trained and are tough, rugged individuals, they are not military or police professionals with heavy weaponry.
Barnes spun his car about in a U-turn, jumped out, and fired multiple shots into Anderson’s vehicle. She never had a chance to draw her sidearm. Other rangers approached from different directions. A gun battle of sorts broke out, Barnes was still outnumbered, but the rangers were badly outgunned. The sole ranger following Anderson chose to throw his vehicle in reverse and backed out fast. The Iraq war veteran held off the rangers and other police and rescue units for 90 minutes before fleeing into the forest. That meant wallowing through chest-deep snow and crisscrossing creek beds with apparently blue jeans, tennis shoes, and a t-shirt.
He left his survival gear behind in his car, a dumb thing to do when it’s wintertime and its wintertime in the mountains. Have you ever crossed a mountain stream in winter? I have. Snow banks rise on either side of the water like cliffs. Often they hang out over the water. There’s ice, rocks, maybe deep pools over your head or whitewater rapids or deep muck. Often the creeks on Mt. Rainier tumble down narrow, deep ravines gouged out of lava rock.
Now local town police, county sheriff’s departments, the state police, the FBI, and local search-and-rescue and SWAT teams were involved in the series of incidents. Overlapping yet compartmentalized jurisdictions presented some challenges as it took time to connect the shootout at the New Year’s Eve party with the murder of Ranger Anderson. The FBI assisted with the Mt. Rainier event as national parks fall into federal jurisdiction, but was not involved in the Skyway gun party. A manhunt was underway and communities across the United States from New England to the Mid-Atlantic to the Southwest to the Southeast to California to Washington to even Canada, places where families knew either Margaret Anderson or Benjamin Colton Barnes, were in shock and horror. It was a bad way to start the New Year.
Barnes’ body was found face down in snow and ice with his lower body in a creek with one shoe missing. He’d died of hypothermia and freezing temperatures. Froze to death. No gunshot wounds from either battles. He had attempted to lose his hunters by walking in mountain streams – which meant a lot of falling down in the dark, as he had no flashlight. Apparently he was upstream of a deadly waterfall, too.
Benjamin Colton Barnes died at 24 years of age. He left behind a 1-year old daughter. Her mother sought and in July 2011 obtained a protection and restraining order for her and their daughter. Nicole Santos, Barnes’s former and apparently short-termed girlfriend believed he was violent, suicidal, and suffered from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Ms. Santos claims Barne’s illness was induced by his experiences in Iraq followed by his difficulties trying to fit back in after his return to America. Barnes’ choices and actions have scarred his own family across generations.
Our government’s choices and actions in not properly caring for the health of our veterans, including those with mental, psychological, mood, neurological, and emotional illnesses, allowed Barnes and many other veterans like him to fall through the cracks. Do you think and feel our government has a social responsibility to monitor and serve trained killers who gave up part of their soul to serve their country? I do. Our society’s conditioning to stigmatize such illnesses and injuries, even though all things mental, emotional, and psychological all arise from our bodies, also conditioned our government to dilute and otherwise ignore such healthcare for our veterans. Indeed, for all the citizens of our nation.
Margaret Kritsch Anderson was only 34 years old when she was shot dead in the line of duty. She leaves behind two daughters, ages 3, almost 4, and 1, soon to be 2 later this Spring of 2012. Her husband, Eric Anderson, also a Ranger, is understandably “devastated,” as are both his and her parents. The trauma of this senseless horror will ripple across family trees and tear at hearts for decades. Eric and Margaret had both worked in the National Park Service for years and were passionate for the outdoors and wilderness. They worked in different parks back and forth across the country, became engaged in 2004, were married in 2005, and while on the East Coast were offered dream jobs at Mt. Rainier. They’ve lived upon The Mountain about 4 years now, loved their jobs, and were admired by their colleagues and the local people nearby in Eatonville. Together they had two daughters.
And so another episode in this epidemic of one-man gun wars comes to an end.
Well, I don’t believe the Mayan Calendar calls for the world to end in 2012. It’s simply the end of one Mayan Long Count and the beginning of another. Mayan astronomers were astute in their observations, yes, and their calculations continue to astound people today. I feel we have choices. We will have choices. We have choices now, regardless of any calendar. And many people, including Mr. Barnes, chose unwisely. Yet his choices stemmed from a perfect storm of circumstances. What can we do to address our juxtaposition of rights, responsibilities, violence, weapons, and sickness?
January 2013 Postscript: I first wrote this article in 2012 around the one-year anniversary of the attempted assassination of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) by a gunman ill with paranoid schizophrenia in Tucson. She was shot through her brain on January 8, 2011. Eighteen other people were shot and others injured in the aftermath. Six of those died, including Arizona District Court Chief Judge John Roll.
As the year 2012 continued to unfold, there were to be at least 18 more mass shootings in the United States of America after the Mt. Rainier gun battles. They were all horrific, and none galvanized people more than the Newtown, Connecticut murders on December 14th including the killings of 20 elementary school children. This was followed by several more such events, including a sniper and arson attack on December 30th in Webster, New York where a felon set his neighborhood on fire and ambushed emergency responders including killing, among others, volunteer firefighters. This is too much. When are we going to stop the name-calling, sit down with each other, listen to our different points of view, and take action to address complex issues?
William Dudley Bass
Copyright © 2012, 2013, 2016 by William Dudley Bass. All Rights Reserved until we Humans establish Wise Stewardship of and for our Earth and Solarian Commons. Thank you.