Since he was nominated, Chipman has suddenly become the face of a largely faceless agency that’s been locked in a decades-long cold war with the gun lobby and GOP, which has simmered pretty much since the ATF was made responsible for regulating firearms in America in 1968. The beleaguered agency has withstood abolition attempts by Republican presidents, been blocked from modernizing (for example, to this day, it relies on paper records to track firearm sales, since it’s been blocked from upgrading to modern systems), and hit with other rules that rendered it ineffective, as the New York Times recently laid out.
What’s more, his nomination comes amid a surge in militia activity and threats from anti-government extremists, which have been described by the intelligence community as one of the biggest threats to national security.
Even before Biden took office, militias, conspiracy theorists, and extremists were stoking fears of a looming gun-grabbing campaign.
The events at Waco cemented the ATF’s place as gun rights’ activists and extremists number one enemy. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was spotted hawking baseball caps emblazoned with bullet holes and the letters ATF, the Times reported. And today, Waco is often mythologized by the newer generation of anti-government extremists, who look to those events as the ultimate justification for their hatred of the federal government—the ATF in particular. It also continued to inspire merch. For example, a gun company that’s been promoted by Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene offers a T-shirt with the slogan “#DontWacoMeBro.”