A jackboot is a laceless military boot that comes almost to the knee; whose sole is studded with steel hobnails and whose heel is rimmed with steel. All this metal eliminates the need for a shoemaker, and makes a dandy racket when troops march in step. The most prominent users of jackboots have been the Germans, in World Wars I and II.

“Thug” derives from an Indian cult known as thugee; its specialty was strangling travelers and then robbing them. Gradually, the word came into English meaning a dangerous criminal in general.

The person who put the two words together was Wayne LaPierre, the then (and current) Executive Vice President of the NRA. In 1995, in a fundraising letter, Mr. LaPierre referred to agents of the BATF and FBI as “jackbooted thugs.” The resulting uproar caused some NRA members to resign, most notably the first President Bush, who was an NRA Life Member.

What Wayne LaPierre (or whoever actually wrote the letter) had in mind was two episodes that occurred in the early 1990s. The first was at Ruby Ridge, Idaho where the family of Randy Weaver was laid siege by the FBI. A number of people were killed on both sides (as was the Weaver’s lab) but the most horrific death was that of Vicki Weaver, Randy’s wife. She was standing behind a door, unarmed, holding her infant daughter in her arms, when she was shot in the head and killed by an FBI sniper named Lon Horiuchi.

As a result of Ruby Ridge, FBI Deputy Director Larry Potts received a letter of censure; E. Michael Kahoe, Chief of Bureau’s Violent Crimes and Major Offenders Section, pleaded guilty to trying to destroy all copies of the FBI’s internal report on Ruby Ridge; and overall, 12 officers were disciplined for their roles in the siege.

No action was taken against Lon Horiuchi.

The second event was the siege at Waco, Texas in 1993, in which a force of 75 ATF agents plus hundreds of other federal law-enforcement personnel equipped with armored vehicles took on a fringe religious group called the Branch Davidians. It consisted of 50-plus men and 75 women and children. The Branch Davidians were armed, although how heavily has always been under dispute.

At the end of 51 days, the Feds mounted a full-scale military assault against the compound, culminating in a catastrophic fire. As a result, either 74 or 79 or 85 Branch Davidians were killed. Attorney General Janet Reno, who approved the assault, accepted responsibility for the tragedy, but did not leave office. It was a case of “My bad. Sorry.”

There are two reasons for bringing all this up. First is because we should remember. Second is, when Wayne LaPierre wrote his infamous letter, he was not attacking the ATF and FBI for no reason. He was reacting to massive failures at all levels, on a large scale, on two occasions, that resulted in the deaths of innocent American citizens.