Rod Miller: The Passing of a First Amendment Zealot

in Column/Rod Miller

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By Rod Miller, columnist

You can’t swing a dead cat in the State of Wyoming without hitting a Second Amendment zealot or three. They are everywhere, and they’re not shy about proclaiming their 2A allegiance by wearing “Molon Labe” t-shirts and “Shall Not Be Infringed” tattoos.

I’ve often been mystified as to why so many folks grasp onto the Second Amendment as a source of self-identity. Sure, guns are cool and everything, but why pass over the first article in our Bill of Rights to focus on the one about guns as the crown jewel in our Constitution?

Why aren’t there just as many First Amendment free press nuts as there are gun nuts?

It might be because the Second Amendment is so approachable and participation is easy. All you need to do is buy a gun, carry it around, spout off about it, and…voila! You are immediately a Second Amendment zealot.

The First Amendment requires a bit more skin in the game, however. Free speech is hard and often dangerous work. Informing the citizenry involves operating in the world of language, of truth, of facts. Gun ownership doesn’t demand a lot of intellectual rigor. A free press does.

Wyoming lost a card-carrying, sold out, fire-breathing First Amendment zealot the other day with the untimely passing of Jim Angell.

Jim spent his career in the First Amendment trenches. He was a frontline fighter for an informed citizenry. He was a free press champion of the first order. Jim believed, as did the Apostle John, that “the truth shall set you free”.

He also held firmly to the belief that the truth won’t kill you, but the lies just might.

Jim was of the old-school “Who, What, Where, When, Why, How” style of journalism, and invested years in sifting true facts from the chaff of bullshit. And he presented what he found using the King’s English as it should be used – active verbs, good grammar, proper punctuation and impeccable sentence structure.

He embodied Sen. Ransom Stoddard’s adage in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance that, “An honest newspaper is the best textbook.”

The zeal with which he defended and practiced the First Amendment often put to shame those Meal Team Six types who delude themselves into believing that wearing an AR-15 to Starbucks fulfills the Second Amendment.

I met Jim shortly after we both moved to Cheyenne, and he was the second customer through the door when I opened a bookstore, Joe Pages, downtown. Jim had formed an acoustic band, Jammin’ Easy, and their first gig was playing in the store. It became evident to everyone after just a short time that another one of Jim Angell’s passions was writing songs with corny lyrics..

Jim and I bumped into each other over the years and, more or less, stayed in touch as people often do. But I got drawn into Jim’s orbit when I was invited to write a column for Cowboy State Daily. And its a pretty demanding orbit.

Jim was instrumental in launching Cowboy State Daily a few years ago. After a career in ink-n-paper journalism, Angell helped establish a digital media foothold in Wyoming that is giving print journalism a run for its money.

It was like he picked up a brand new guitar and wanted to see how it would sound in front of a crowd of people. He wanted to see if he could wring the truth out of it, and make people dance.

I’m saddened by Jim’s passing, as are so many of his fellow Wyoming citizens. But, like them, I consider myself enriched for knowing him, and for enjoying the benefit of his influence on journalism in the Cowboy State.

Jim will lead tonight’s jam session in The Great Beyond Coffeehouse, backed up by Hunter Thompson, H.L. Mencken, Ed Murrow and Ambrose Bierce. He’ll sing the song he just wrote, the one with lyrics that make the audience groan.

And tomorrow’s front page of the Afterlife Times-Courier will have Jim Angell’s fingerprints all over it. Active verbs. Good grammar. Correct Spelling. Short, sharp sentences. The Truth.

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