Today in the United States, there are more than 500 federally recognized indigenous nations that comprise nearly three million people, who are descendants of the fifteen million native people who once inhabited this land. The centuries-long genocidal program of the United States settler-colonial regime has largely been omitted from history. Now, for the first time, acclaimed historian and activist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz offers a history of the United States that’s told from the perspective of indigenous peoples, revealing how Native Americans actively resisted the expansion of the United States’ empire for centuries.
In An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Dunbar-Ortiz adroitly challenges the founding myth of the United States and shows how policy against the indigenous peoples was colonialist and designed to seize the territories of the original inhabitants, displacing or eliminating them. As Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz reveals, this policy was praised in popular culture through writers like James Fenimore Cooper and Walt Whitman, and it was also praised in the highest offices of government and the military.
Shockingly, as the genocidal policy reached its zenith under President Andrew Jackson, its ruthlessness was best articulated by United States Army General Thomas S. Jesup, who, in 1836, wrote of the Seminoles: “The country can be rid of them only by exterminating them.” Spanning more than four hundred years, this classic bottom-up peoples’ history radically reframes United States history and explodes the silences that have haunted our national narrative.
US America loves guns. From Daniel Boone and Jesse James, to the NRA and Seal Team 6, gun culture has colored the lore, shaped the law, and protected the market that arms the nation. In Loaded, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz peels away the myths of gun culture to expose the true historical origins of the Second Amendment, revealing the racial undercurrents connecting the earliest Anglo settlers with contemporary gun proliferation, modern-day policing, and the consolidation of influence of armed white nationalists. From the enslavement of Blacks and the conquest of Native America, to the arsenal of institutions that constitute the "gun lobby," Loaded presents a people's history of the Second Amendment, as seen through the lens of those who have been most targeted by guns: people of color. Meticulously researched and thought-provoking throughout, this is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the historical connections between racism and gun violence in the United States.
Endorsements for Loaded:
"Loaded recognizes the central truth about our 'gun culture': that the privileged place of guns in American law and society is the by-product of the racial and class violence that has marked our history from its beginnings."—Richard Slotkin, author of The Gunfighter Nation: Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America
"Trigger warning! This is a superb and subtle book, not an intellectual safe space for confirming your preconceptions—whatever those might be—but rather a deeply necessary provocation. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz has done it again, giving us a fluid and sweeping history of the many painful contradictions that are the deep history of America's love–hate relationship with firearms. In understanding that history, Loaded also unpacks the contemporary pathologies of both fanatical gun culture and quixotic liberal moralizing against guns. As Dunbar-Ortiz shows us, the key connection between these antagonistic positions is their shared silence on that most pressing and persistent of American problems: economic exploitation and inequality."—Christian Parenti, author of Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis
"From an eminent scholar comes this timely and urgent intervention on U.S. gun culture. Loaded is a high-impact assault on the idea that Second Amendment rights were ever intended for all Americans. A timely antidote to our national amnesia about the white supremacist and settler colonialist roots of the Second Amendment."—Caroline Light, author of Stand Your Ground: A History of America's Love Affair with Lethal Self-Defense
"Roxanne Dunbar-Oritz's Loaded argues U.S. history is quintessential gun history, and gun history is a history of racial terror and genocide. In other words, gun culture has never been about hunting. From crushing slave rebellions to Indigenous resistance, arming individual white settler men has always been the strategy for maintaining racial and class rule and for taking Indigenous land from the founding of the settler nation to the present. With clarity and urgency, Dunbar-Ortiz asks us not to think of our current moment as an exceptional era of mass-shootings. Instead, the very essence of the Second Amendment and the very project of U.S. 'settler democracy' has required immense violence that began with Indigenous genocide and has expanded to endless war-making across the globe. This is a must read for any student of U.S. history."—Nick Estes, author of the forthcoming book Our History is the Future: Mni Wiconi and Native Liberation
"With her usual unassailable rigor for detail and deep perspective, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz has potentially changed the debate about gun control in the United States. She meticulously and convincingly argues that U.S. gun culture—and the domestic and global massacres that have flowed from it—must be linked to an understanding of the ideological, historical, and practical role of guns in seizing Native American lands, black enslavement, and global imperialism. This is an essential work for policy-makers, street activists, and educators who are concerned with Second Amendment debates, #blacklivematters campaigns, global peace, and community-based security."—Clarence Lusane, Chairman and Professor of Political Science at Howard University and author of The Black History of the White House
"Just what did the founding fathers intend the Second Amendment to do? Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's answer to that question will unsettle liberal gun control advocates and open-carry aficionados alike. She follows the bloodstains of today's mass shootings back to the slave patrols and Indian Wars. There are no easy answers here, just the tough reckoning with history needed to navigate ourselves away from a future filled with more tragedies."—James Tracy, co-author of Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times
"Gun violence, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz compellingly shows, is as U.S. American as apple pie. This important book peels back the painful and bloody layers of gun culture in the United States, and exposes their deep roots in the killing and dispossession of Native peoples, slavery and its aftermath, and U.S. empire-making. They are roots with which all who are concerned with matters of justice, basic decency, and the enduring tragedy of the U.S. love affair with guns must grapple."—Joseph Nevins, author of Dying to Live: A Story of U.S. Immigration in an Age of Global Apartheid
"Loaded is a masterful synthesis of the historical origins of violence and militarism in the US. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz reminds us of what we've chosen to forget at our own peril: that from mass shootings to the routine deployment of violence against civilians by the US military, American violence flows from the normalization of racialized violence in our country's founding history."—Johanna Fernández, Assistant Professor of History at Baruch College of the City University, and author of the forthcoming book, When the World Was Their Stage: A History of the Young Lords Party, 1968–1976
"More than a history of the Second Amendment, this is a powerful history of the forging of white nationalism and empire through racist and naked violence. Explosively, it also shows how even liberal—and some leftist—pop culture icons have been complicit in the myth-making that has shrouded this potent historical truth."—Gerarld Horne, author of The Counter Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the USA
"Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz is a major spokesperson for what might be called the 'new exceptionalism.' Instead of viewing the United States as a model that other nations should imitate, a new generation of historians finds the United States to be a society founded on genocide, slavery and male domination, and permeated by hatred toward those who are different. In her earlier book, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Ortiz argued that the legacy of its Indian wars shaped the United States’ military practices in, for example, the Philippines. Now, in Loaded, she widens her lens to propose that the addiction to violence characteristic of American domestic institutions also derives from the frontiersman’s belief in solving problems by killing. Whether expressed in individual cruelty like the collection of scalps or group barbarism by settler colonialists calling themselves “militias,” violence has become an ever-widening theme of life in the United States."—Staughton Lynd
“Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz has done an outstanding job of resituating the so-called gun debate into the context of race and settler colonialism. The result is that the discussion about individual gun ownership is no longer viewed as an abstract moral question and instead understood as standing at the very foundation of US capitalism. My attention was captured by the end of the first page.”—Bill Fletcher, Jr., former president of TransAfrica Forum and syndicated writer.
"Loaded unleashes a sweeping and unsettling history of gun laws in the United States, beginning with anti-Native militias and anti-Black slave patrols. From the roots of white men armed to forge the settler state, the Second Amendment evolved as a tool for protecting white, male property owners. It’s a must read for anyone who wants to uncover the long fetch of contemporary Second Amendment battles."—Kelly Lytle Hernandez, City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771-1965
For anyone who believes we need more than “thoughts and prayers” to address our national gun crisis, Loaded is required reading. Beyond the second amendment, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz presents essential arguments missing from public debate. She forces readers to confront hard truths about the history of gun ownership - linking it to ongoing structures of settler colonialism, white supremacy, and racial capitalism. These are the open secrets of North American history. It is our anxious denial as much as our public policies that perpetrate violence. Only by coming to peace with our history can we ever be at peace with ourselves. This, for me, is the great lesson of Loaded."
-Christina Heatherton, co-editor of Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter"
"Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz provides a brilliant decolonization of the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. She describes how the 'savage wars' against Indigenous Peoples, slave patrols (which policing in the U.S. originates from), today’s mass shootings, and the rise in white Nationalism are connected to the Second Amendment. This is a critically important work for all social science disciplines."—Michael Yellow Bird, professor and director of Tribal and Indigenous Peoples Studies at North Dakota State University
"This explosive book shatters the mythology and sanctimony that surrounds the Second Amendment, revealing the colonial, racist core of the right to bear arms. You simply cannot understand the United States and its disastrous gun-mania without the brilliant Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz as a guide." — Astra Taylor, author of The People’s Platform
"A provocative cultural analysis arguing that the Second Amendment and white supremacy are inextricably bound. Though some argue that the Second Amendment is necessary to protect the 'right to bear arms' for hunters and other law-abiding citizens, Dunbar-Ortiz (An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, 2014) maintains that the 'well-regulated militia' has been the crucial element all along. This has given rise to many malicious groups, including slave hunters, the Ku Klux Klan, and white nationalists intent on race war (what one source dubs 'rahowa…short for racial holy war') as well as 'seasoned Indian killers of the Revolutionary Army and white settler-rangers/militias using extreme violence against Indigenous noncombatants with the goal of total domination.' It may sound extreme, but the author's historical research provides strong support for her argument that gun love is as American as apple pie—and that those guns have often been in the hands of a powerful white majority to subjugate minority natives, slaves, or others who might stand in the way of the broadest definition of Manifest Destiny. 'The United States is not unique among nations in forging origin myths,' writes Dunbar-Ortiz, 'but only one of the few in which its citizens seem to believe it to be exceptional by grace of the Creator, and this exceptionalist ideology has been used to justify genocide, appropriation of the continent, and then domination of the rest of the world.' The author's analysis encompasses the growth of the arms industry, the embrace of the Western outlaw mythos, and the controversy over the Second Amendment itself, which was paid 'little attention' until the second half of the 20th century, when civil rights, war protest, and rising crime rates increased the call for gun control. This compact manifesto won't convince everyone, but it presents a formidable argument. A radical revision of American history, specifically as it relates to its persistent gun culture."—Kirkus Reviews