Brink: Vermont gun culture critics can be bullies, too

Former Senate candidate seeks his own justice from his bully pulpit 

Former Vermont Senate candidate Michael Shank left Vermont and his goat refuge farm because, he said, of threats from gun-carrying neighbors.

Editor’s note: former Rutland County Senate candidate Michael Shank claims in a September newspaper op-ed that he left Vermont after being a victim of gun-related violence.

by Damon Brink

I read Michael Shank’s editorial in the weekend edition of the Times Argus while eating a delicious pork belly benedict at the Bomoseen Diner. I’ve been aware of Mr. Shank through his own writing and promotion over the years, initially thinking how cool his life sounded, moving to Vermont, animal sanctuary, civic involvement, and all. I’m sorry for the trauma he’s experienced. 

Being threatened is not normal or fun, feeling unsafe in your own home is something, ideally, no one should experience. Feeling powerless to make change, unfortunately, is something that many people experience. 

I have no idea what Mr. Shank’s actual life is like but I do know that there are more sides to any story than what is promoted and I hope the Times Argus Editorial Board sees fit to publish another side. I think they will.

I grew up here. I don’t say this to get street cred or to dismiss folks that have moved to Vermont from other places, I say it to build some context and validity to my point. If you grew up here, you grew up around guns and people for whom guns were a part of their life. This included instances of misbehavior, irresponsibility, violence, bullying and all other negative human behaviors but with guns. 

People have been living here, in tradition of good and bad behavior, for, well…ever. To be clear, bullying, threats of violence and death, backed by guns, whether serious or not, are not good. Also to be clear, when you move to someone else’s home how much are you entitled to change or even comment on their way of life before it’s realistic to expect some type of negative response. 

To me, in following Mr. Shank’s journey though his own writing, it seems he feels entitled to create his sanctuary and have it be whatever he thinks it should be. Perhaps what he thinks it should be is often what Vermont is mistaken for on the surface, which is some utopian, self-sufficient, peaceful, progressive mountain lands full of good people farming and saving animals. 

As a Vermonter I’ve seen this again and again, and especially recently. This habit of people who move their lives here from somewhere else and then, almost immediately begin to comment on those who, for better or worse, have lived here all their lives. 

It’s like entering a house for the first time and without history or experience chastise the owners for their behavior. Imagine doing this? 

Perhaps the house was not a friendly house to begin with, even though it looked friendly because it was beautiful. Perhaps there were other things wrong in the house, also hidden by the façade of beauty and nature. 

The point is not whether there are awful and threatening aspects of the house. The point is that you chose to be a guest, perhaps with an incomplete perspective of the house. What do you do in this case as the guest?  

If there is a bully, always has been and always will be, and you come to settle near them, who’s responsibility is it to know this? This is no defense of the bully.  This is a defense of responsibility and reason.

Mr. Shank’s apparent (and maybe I’m wrong) and continued blaming of the reality of the situation that he has created for himself and his continued blaming of the bully has led to an ironic realization, in my view, of the concept of the bully. 

The reality, again, is that threats of death and violence have no place in civilized society, however there are many arguments that we are not civilized, many examples of our common and human lack of civility. This is one of the first principles we need to figure out, how to live together as humans with people who have diverse values and a full spectrum and history of violence to both solve and prevent conflicts. 

I am not commenting on whether Mr. Shank is correct or morally right in his approach to threats of violence and intimidation. I have not seen Mr. Shank’s bully; I have not read his bully’s writing or been on the other end of his bully’s threats. But I have read Mr. Shank, as, apparently, millions of USA Today readers have as well. That is quite a pulpit. Some might call it a bully pulpit. 

Personally, I know the power of the media and I know the power of single sided narratives. Single sided narratives can’t possibly reveal the truth. Without truth, how can we achieve justice? 

For the Vermonters out there, you know this bully of Mr. Shanks. You’ve run into him on the road, at the dump, at the ball fields, in the woods. He’s belligerent, prideful, intimidating, and local. He may have caused some harm, perhaps some bad harm and people have good reason to fear him. We all know someone like him (or her). 

We all know people like Mr. Shank as well. Mr. Shank is also a bully. He’s cleaner, shrouded in ideals and popular judgement, wealthy and international and accomplished. He’s “popular.” 

Both bullies think they know what’s best. Both bullies want the world to be the way they want and both bullies use the resources at their disposal to get their way. One bully has a gun and uses physical violence. One bully has a million or more people connected over the internet and an international pulpit to preach and teach. I don’t know if Mr. Shank or his family have been harmed, physically, by his bully but I can say for certain that Mr. Shank’s bully’s life has been and will forever be harmed after the international narrative that Mr. Shank has created. 

In closing, Mr. Shank opines over restorative justice. Does Mr. Shank believe that he is the arbiter or this justice? Does he think that he possesses the answer?

I think he thinks so. But justice doesn’t live compartmentalized. True justice recognizes the connection of all things as causing agents. This is the foundation of restorative justice. What I think Mr. Shank is looking for is Shank’s Justice.

No thank you, Mr. Shank. No thank you.

The author is a Morrisville resident.

Categories: Commentary

12 replies »

  1. As proud flatlander I appreciate your take.
    I generally try to just keep my mouth shut as best as possible.
    We have a for a lack of a better a corruption problem here in Vermont.
    And this here fella seems to be tapped into the root cause of it.


  2. My parents moved to Vermont from outside Hartford, CT, in 1966. They were originally from Long Island and a borough of NYC and had resettled in CT only to find NY following close behind. Due to a layoff, my parents moved themselves and five kids to Underhill, VT. The goal…assimilate. I watched my parents work hard to garden, raise livestock, heat with wood, be active in a local church, and be good neighbors and citizens of Vermont. Over the years, my parents would comment on the increasing number “city” people who were moving here. They came for the simplicity and beauty BUT many then wanted ALL the attributes of the place they left. After COVID, more and more “city” people have been moving into my town and local surrounding towns. Some come to assimilate and some come to change Vermont into their vision of perfection. My unasked for advice: take time to get to know your neighbors, volunteer in town, take a marksmanship class or course, and like Red said above, “keep your mouth shut as best as possible” just for a year while you observe, serve, and assimilate to your new home. Note: Every new attribute you request from your town select board mean more financial struggles for elderly Vermonters who have lived here their whole lives, single parents, and a whole lot of people who don’t have your trust fund, your online city income, or your D.I.N.K. salaries. Take time to assimilate and see the neighbors who were here before you.

  3. Love it ! Thank you Mr. Brink ! Sounds like you may have felt the same hostilities that I have encountered from the anthropomorphic Disneyites that are all to common in our state. They will never understand the ethics, and morals of native Vermonters, therefore, changing them (us) is the only answer. I’d wish them luck, but that would be disingenuous.

  4. As the writer noted, without more facts and the other side of the story it’s hard to ascertain what a “reasonable person” would do or how they would react. Were any laws broken by either party? No one can be MADE to feel threatened or intimidated…that is really up to the individual and where they fall on the thick-skinned vs snowflake spectrum. If threats of physical violence were uttered then a “reasonable person” would have some justification in experiencing genuine concern for wellbeing. If the mere thought of living near someone who owns or lawfully uses guns makes you not at ease, then perhaps that is something you should have thought about before you left your previous “safe space”.

  5. There are many types of bullies. Michael Shank is an extreme bully for me. After having a decade of my life involved in trying to protect victims of wind turbines noise in Vermont and in Maine and having spent time close and personal with renewable energy developers, their lobbyists and the politicians who do their bidding, I find it revolting that Mister Shank uses his bully pulpit to coerce Vermonters into accepting electrical vehicles, solar panels or heat pumps.

    As per Mister Shank’s website, “Vermonters, and the American public more generally, might pursue any of the myriad behavior changes assumed and expected in the IRA (Inflation Reduction Act) if they fully witness and understand the quality of life benefits that come with any of these choices. And that’s the necessary complement to the IRA. Similar to any other major federal effort that requires a chorus of pundits, messengers and surrogates to push a policy forward, this is where influencers are needed.”

    No, Mister Shank I do not want a heat pump that will not keep me warm in the dead of winter, nor an EV that may or may not be charged( in case of a needed trip to the ER ), depending on grid demand or, worse, the coming predicted black-outs. And mostly I want less and less of anything dependent on an unreliable grid, the responsibility for which lies at the feet of those who say wind turbines and solar panels should replace fossil fuels. Your bullying behavior is not just insidious, it is brutally offensive, and potentially dangerous. And I will not accept that your sense of superiority induces me to pursue myriad of ” assumed and expected “behavioral changes while no grid expert today has any knowledge of the source of capacity necessary for this massive surge of electricity needed to feed your dream world . A non-native Vermonter by way of Belgium and Maine .

  6. Don’t kid yourself, these new arrivals to Vermont are bullies and they’re everywhere. They left the crazy that they voted for for years and had heard that Vermont was a liberal Utopia. These types of people are never happy anyway no matter where they go. Their life is about them and if you shatter their idea of a perfect existence they will turn on you. These people are triggered by the slightest annoyance they might encounter. You can spot them now, many are still wearing face diapers while alone in their car, at the store. Or, alone in their office like the lady notary at my bank sitting alone in her office wearing a cheap Chinese mask. The Vermont housing stock prices have exploded because of these moneyed transplants. Vermont used to be a great place, especially for those of us born here and it still is better than most places as long as you avoid these transplant bullies. They wonder why we find them repulsive, they should look in the mirror for that answer. Utopia is a state of mind that does not physically exist. Do tell them though and maybe they’ll keep looking for it in another state.

  7. Monique, well said.
    This Shank character is just another effete academic snob utilizing the unproven CO2 left wing progressive political agenda to bully the rest of us with common sense to think they have the “power”, and then give us “The Shaft”. They won’t, and the opposing scientific common sense energy narrative will be heard, one way or another. “We the People” have had enough of this type of self-serving political loser.

  8. Pride

    The route of pretty much every argument….I’m right, I know what’s best, I’m God…..

    Well done, well done.

  9. He runs for Senate first thing? Sounds like a plant, marxist import….more digging would be revealing. We have way too many imported lobbyists, non-profits and definitely, politicians.

    Perhaps he left because his political aspirations weren’t realized.

  10. I am not from here. I don’t care what Vermonters think of me. I don’t care what outsiders think of me either. I pay my stakes and leave others alone.

    I would note,

    I did read Mr. Shanks’ ridiculous article by following the link. He makes it appear that Vermont is a crime ridden hell hole with armed bandits everywhere. Crime statistics don’t say that, though. In fact when Vermont had NO gun regulations, violent crime including gun crime was among the lowest in the country. Today, gun crime is rising along with new regulations. Why is that? Could it be that gun laws are designed to criminalize normal behavior?

    • Apologies for the typos. I meant I pay my taxes. The text window is extremely small on iPads and there is no ability to edit a post.

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