Local political and civil rights leaders gathered in Severn Wednesday morning to condemn the young man whose neighborhood walks with a semiautomatic rifle have garnered national attention this past week. Together, they called for the armed demonstrations to stop, saying they’re inciting fear in the community, and suggested his actions may inspire further gun control regulation next year.
“Every session, we work together to try to figure out what we can do with respect to public safety,” said Del. Sandy Bartlett, the Maryland City Democrat who represents the neighborhood where the 20-year-old lives.
Bartlett successfully helped sponsor legislation this year that requires gun owners to properly store their weapons.
“Now,I assure you that this matter will be one that we look at next session,” Bartlett said Wednesday alongside her District 32 colleague Mark Chang.
The armed neighborhood walks, which have taken place near playgrounds and bus stops and have generated a mix of chastisement and support from passersby, are allowed under Maryland law. Unlike handguns, permits are not required to carry long guns — shotguns and semiautomatic rifles, for instance — openly in public.
However, as “numerous” calls from neighbors and community members have come in, Anne Arundel County Police have increased their presence in the area, saying in a statement the department is in “constant contact” with county prosecutors and school officials.
On Wednesday, local leaders said more needed to be done about the “powder keg” presented by the firearm and the man wielding it. Though his inspirations and goals have shifted between interviews with different outlets, most recently, J’Den McAdory told The Capital his plan is to form a protective, political militia in his neighborhood.
Private militias are unconstitutional in Maryland unless authorized by the state.
Carl Snowden, convenor of the Anne Arundel County Caucus of African American Leaders, said “the primary responsibility of addressing crime” belongs to the police department, not individuals. Standing before a mural of the late Congressman Elijah Cummings at the new Severn Community Center, Snowden and other civil rights advocates warned McAdory’s intentions may be part of the “much larger issue” of voter suppression and intimidation across the country.
“We’re not interested in having people with guns patrolling our communities,” Snowden said.
A neighbor of McAdory’s present Wednesday said the area doesn’t need his “support,” explaining the homeowners association hires its own security to watch over them.
“We pay them. We don’t mind paying them because they are respected,” the neighbor said, asking not to be named due to concerns for their safety. “We do not need someone to come in and say, ‘I can do it for free,’ and just walk around with a rifle terrorizing people.”
Federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, have repeatedly identified far-right extremists as an urgent threat, and a 2021 White House strategy document on domestic terrorism specifically cited violent militia groups “as presenting the most persistent and lethal threats.”
In Severn, holding an AR-15-style weapon — an RF-15, created by Texas manufacturers Radical Firearms — McAdory often wears a “Make America Great Again” hat on his walks. On Monday, McAdory spoke with an armed supporter about removing sexual education and gender-neutral bathrooms from schools, as well as the need for stand-your-ground laws in the state.
That second man, a neighbor who said he was inspired to join McAdory after driving past and connecting with him, was arrested last week after vandalizing an LGBTQ+ sign outside an Odenton church, according to court records.
Daryl Jones, a former county councilman and the board chair of the Transformative Justice Coalition, an advocacy group dedicated to informed and equitable civil engagement, said there’s “no place in the state of Maryland” for vigilantes.
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Reflecting on the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin, young Black men who were shot and killed by people who said they believed they were protecting their communities, Jones stated, “We’ve got to be certain that we limit the access and the places where weapons of mass destruction are located.”
In response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer that marked concealed-carry policies in seven states unconstitutional, Democrats in the General Assembly passed legislation this year to prohibit firearms in certain public spaces, including schools, bars, restaurants and polling places.
Gov. Wes Moore signed Senate Bill 1 earlier this month, sparking an almost immediate legal challenge by the National Rifle Association.
McAdory has said in the past his armed walks were a form of protest against the new law, which goes into effect in October. However, neither Senate Bill 1 nor any of the gun control measures passed this year will have any bearing on his demonstrations.
Moore’s office has called McAdory’s actions “shallow acts of cowardice and intimidation.”
Apostle Antonio Palmer, president of the United Black Clergy, acknowledged gun owners’ right to “carry responsibly,” but said laws like Senate Bill 1 prevent Maryland from becoming a “proverbial wild, wild East.” And County Councilman Pete Smith, a Democrat and military veteran who represents McAdory’s district, said he has no problems with the right to bear arms, but is rather concerned with “the how.”
“There are ways you can actually enhance your message and talk about your message without creating fear, without scaring the community,” Smith said, addressing McAdory.