28th 2008
John Bohstedt: British historian, tough guy

Posted under: European history, GLBTQ, unhappy endings


An overlooked detail in yesterday’s terrible shooting at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee is that one of the heroes who tackled the shooter is UT-Knoxville historian John Bohstedt.  According to the New York Times, Bohstedt jumped on shooter Jim D. Adkisson while he paused to reload in spite of the other dangers Bohstedt and the other congregants might have faced.  According to church member Sheila Bowen, “[Bohstedt] moved very quickly and he assessed the situation very quickly. . . . He’s sitting on this guy. [The shooter] had a package with him, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, and John was afraid that that might be a bomb, so John was screaming at everyone to get out.”

Melissa at Shakesville notes that the Unitarian Univeralist church was targeted by Adkisson because he hated liberalism in general, and gay people in particular.  (The UU church is very progressive, invites gay members, and ordains gay ministers.)  Looks like you might want to start wearing that high-fashion kevlar vest pretty much everywhere in the U.S. these days, my friends. 

When I hear news of the latest (yes, sadly, we can only assume this is the latest, not the last) shooting in a school, a church, or other public spaces, like many of you perhaps, I wonder how I would react and if I would muster the kind of metal clarity and physical courage that Professor Bohstedt showed.  His example is very inspiring, but what a world we live in where that kind of bravery is called upon so frequently.  My heart goes out to the TVUUC community and their friends and allies in Knoxville and beyond. 

UPDATED, 7/29/08:  See this description of the attack at TVUUC by a church member who was present Sunday morning.  She gives a moving account of the heroism of Greg McKendry, the first shooting victim who was shot at point-blank range trying to shield others from the bullets.  She also reports that other people saw John Bohstedt take down the shooter in a “flying tackle.”


10 Responses to “John Bohstedt: British historian, tough guy”

  1. Indyanna on 28 Jul 2008 at 12:17 pm #

    Thanks for the heads-up on this one, Historiann. I actually read the piece in the hard-copy Times this morning, but with seemingly the same content acquisition disorder that my freshmen will be displaying in a few weeks, and thus missed the part about the herostorian. We really do seem to be veering toward a point where a friendly nearby stranger jumping on a grenade is going to be your first line of defense. What a country we have!

  2. Joe DeLuca on 28 Jul 2008 at 2:47 pm #

    Bohstedt is what we all are at our best. Thanks, Professor.

    It’s interesting to note that liberals, academic men in particular, are regularly berated as unable to deal in the world as real men. The coward here is obviously the murderer.

  3. Historiann on 28 Jul 2008 at 5:13 pm #

    Joe, good point. I think that is mostly due to a particularly narrow, and extremely messed up definition of masculinity in the U.S. right now. However, I will refrain from further commentary on the terrorist and his problems until I see some more reporting–he sounds like a very messed up guy who had some real problems in addition to some ideological fixations. (In that, he seems very much to share the profile of the church shooter here in Colorado last December.) I don’t know Bohstedt or anything about his work as a scholar, but I really admire his courage under pressure.

    And Indyanna: yes, clearly, that’s what our massive investment in supersizing our National Security State has won us over the past 7 years–the right to look out for ourselves and our neighbors. After all–what’s the only thing that has stopped more airplane terrorism since 9/11? Tackling your fellow crazed passenger, right? Bohstedt and the other congregants at the TVUCC are especially admirable for their courage, because they knew the guy was armed.

  4. Rad Readr on 28 Jul 2008 at 5:52 pm #

    And now that the Supreme Court has ruled that the right to bear arms is not related to a well-regulated militia, we can take this as another example of gun-toting gone wild.

    In addition to the professor’s efforts, another man actually stood in front of the shooter and took one or more bullets so that others would not be killed.

  5. Indyanna on 28 Jul 2008 at 7:33 pm #

    He works on early modern/modern Britain and Europe. Rioting, esp. food rioting; the decline of the moral economy in the face of the liberal state and its various coercive mechanisms (ironic, here, no?), and stuff like that there. Has an essay in that Applewhite/Levy edited volume on the era of the French Rev. on the “myth of the female food riot(ers?),” or something of that sort. I remember skimming through that book some years back, but am not recalling that essay in particular. Anyway, he seems to have gotten the job done the other day.

  6. Historiann on 29 Jul 2008 at 8:34 am #

    It is now clear that the terrorist who killed two people in the TVUCC was indeed ideologically motivated to murder liberals. He was a troubled person in other ways–apparently a perpetrator of domestic violence, and frustrated by unemployment.

    It’s good that he wasn’t killed in the process of apprehending him. Perhaps we’ll learn something from him. But, I’m with Rad Readr: this is simply the price we pay for insisting that the right to gun ownership be largely unrestricted and the right to carry guns everywhere be untrammelled. Last winter it was a young man angry at conservative evangelical churches, this summer it’s an older man angry at liberal churches.

  7. Responses and Reactions to the Unitarian Universalist Church Shooting « re:examine all on 30 Jul 2008 at 10:18 am #

    [...] About the man who tackled the shooter: John Bohstedt [...]

  8. Tim on 31 Jul 2008 at 9:31 pm #

    To suggest that a “proliferation” of gun-toting Americans is the cause of the tragedy in Knoxville is ludicrous. Let’s stop blaming the guns and start blaming those small number of individuals who abuse the constitutional privilege of carrying a weapon. Evidence clearly demonstrates that tighter gun-control laws do not reduce gun violence (I cite Washington, D.C. as a good example).

  9. Historiann on 01 Aug 2008 at 9:28 am #

    See Bohstedt’s thoughts on guns in the comments to this post:


  10. Jim Tuttle on 14 Apr 2010 at 6:47 pm #

    John Bohstedt’s just great, always has been; I’ve known him since a child. REGARDS, JIM TUTTLE

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