Why you should care
Because Cody Wilson doesn’t just want guns for all. He wants a revolution.
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He’s a free market–loving, gun-toting, self-described crypto-anarchist who uses free speech as a shield for funding hate groups, and he wants to publish blueprints that allow all Americans to create lethal weapons from the unsupervised shadows of their own bedrooms — legally. Which is to say, Cody Wilson is the villain America’s fragile political equilibrium doesn’t need right now, but perhaps precisely the one it deserves.
This latest conflagration began in June, when the Trump administration, caught in a complicated court scuffle dating back to the Obama era, decided to wave the white flag and settle with Wilson and his company, Defense Distributed, a website that publishes 3D-gun blueprints online. The previous U.S. State Department argued that Wilson couldn’t post the plans because they could be downloaded by foreign nationals. And federal courts repeatedly ruled that it’s in the public interest to restrict the “export of defense articles.” What was never in doubt? That American citizens have the right to craft homemade guns. Besides, Wilson wasn’t selling guns but publishing information, which is covered by most reasonable readings of the First Amendment. So on Friday, the Trump administration admitted the likely legal outcome, saying Wilson wouldn’t break the law by posting the instructions.
By Monday, the internet was alight in outrage. Nevermind that if you Google for blueprints now, they are easily found on other sites and have been for years. The witch’s brew of triggering topics, from free speech to gun control and Trump’s involvement, was too much for activists and politicos to resist. Eight Democratic state attorneys general (plus the District of Columbia’s) fed the flame in a lawsuit against the Trump administration, with Pennsylvania’s Josh Shapiro declaring 3D-printed guns “an existential threat” and Massachusetts’ Maura Healey proclaiming that “individuals will now be able to log on to a website and, if they have access to a 3D printer, print fully functional and totally undetectable firearms.”
Such “heroic efforts,” as Adam Skaggs, a chief counsel of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a statement, would be continued “in statehouses and courthouses across the country.” On Tuesday, a federal judge in Washington ordered a temporary stay on Wilson’s plans to publish. And earlier that day, Trump himself questioned the logic of allowing the sale of such guns.
I am looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public. Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 31, 2018
The federal Undetectable Firearms Act still makes it illegal to manufacture or possess a weapon that isn’t registered by metal detectors, but that fact, among many, was lost in the furor — much of it aimed at Wilson, the 30-year-old Texan whose curriculum vitae looks less like a résumé and more like a lifelong effort to become the living embodiment of the right’s online frenzy to “own the libs.” Look no further than his trigger warning of a Twitter profile picture, showing him toting a rifle with a buzz cut and dark shades.
Wilson was the student body president of his Little Rock, Arkansas, high school and president of the Student Government Association at the University of Central Arkansas, where he graduated with an English degree in 2010. In 2012 Wilson created the nonprofit Defense Distributed and began the Wiki Weapon project, an initiative to publish open-source designs for 3D-printed weapons.
His plans were already controversial, but they became even more so in December of that year, when 26 people were killed at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. In an interview with Popular Science a week after the massacre, Wilson said it hadn’t changed his mind: “Not at all,” he said. And then he doubled down. “I tell people sometimes, ‘We’re not making a Second Amendment argument.’ The basic idea is to take a technology, play futurist and surprise people,” Wilson said.
But at some point, Wilson started playing anarchist more than futurist. When asked what would stop kids from printing guns, he responded that the goal was “to completely lower the barrier” to firearm possession. While his company was careful not to break the law, he also questioned who should determine what the “spirit” of the law was. “Perhaps I’ve entered a new cynical phase after going through a couple of years of law school,” said Wilson, then attending the University of Texas School of Law but who now does not appear to be a student, even though he still lives in Austin. “That leaves a bad taste in my mouth when we talk about the spirit of the law,” he told Popular Science.
In 2013 Wilson launched a Bitcoin company, Dark Wallet, seeking to anonymize purchases. In 2017 he launched Hatreon, a crowdfunding site that attracted alt-right and neo-Nazi personalities including Richard Spencer and Andrew Anglin after many had been banned on mainstream crowdsourcing sites like Patreon and Kickstarter. Wired magazine named Wilson one of its “15 Most Dangerous People in the World” in 2012 and among the “five most dangerous people on the internet” in 2015 and 2017.
He cites post-Marxist tracts and calls Jean Baudrillard, a French sociologist, his “master” while railing against intellectual property rights. “What am I resisting?” he said in a 2013 interview with Glenn Beck. “I don’t know, the collectivization of manufacturing? The institutionalization of the human psyche? I’m not sure. But I can tell you one thing: This is a symbol of irreversibility. They can never eradicate the gun from the earth.”
More than plastic guns printed on machines that remain outside the budgets or interests of most Americans, Wilson’s belief in himself as a saviorlike revolutionary might be the scariest thing of all.