Full Auto Philosophers: Texas Machine Gun & Ordnance
“You know this is completely pointless, right? There’s no practical reason to build a pipe bomb. We just do it because it’s fun.”
I was standing beside Sean Lindley, CEO of Texas Machine Gun & Ordnance, at a private ranch. He was holding a big pipe bomb. I followed him to the base of a decent-sized tree, where he set the bomb down. Holding a lighter, he said, “The fuse is a minute long. As soon as I get it lit, haul ass. I’ll be right behind you. Actually, I’ll pass you.”
He lit it. I boogied. He didn’t pass me. I got to the ranch house’s porch a couple hundred meters away and tried to ready my camera, but missed the moment of detonation. The pipe bomb was on the opposite side of the tree, out of sight in brush, and all I saw was a white cloud erupt from the treetops. Pipe bombs actually aren’t all that impressive.
Impressive or not, Sean Lindley likes pipe bombs. He has a passionate love of shooting and blowing stuff up, no apparent desire to settle down and live a normal life, and is focused on pushing the limits of the gun industry. “If TXMGO turned into just another gun business making AR-15s, I’d off myself,” he said. “Hawking Glocks is boring. I wanted to do something different, and do it legally. Any idiot can break the law and do illegal things. I love the challenge of doing otherwise totally illegal things that would normally land people in jail, but doing them 100% legally.”
Not that Sean is only about shooting and blowing stuff up. In what’s probably a surprise to everyone – especially me – he jokingly describes himself as a “Philosophy-quoting, world-traveling peacenik, Ranger School graduate and Iraq veteran who pushes the limits of NFA as a continuation of a life-long existential quest for self-development and search for meaning and purpose in life. This quest has manifested itself in everything from traveling to 75 countries including Cuba and North Korea just to see what’s there, going to Ranger School to push myself to my limits and prove that my body will quit before my mind, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro to stand in awe of the world’s beauty, and a million other things that may be eccentric but all tie into my personal pursuit of meaning and understanding in life.”
I went to community college for two years, so I know things. But I’d never heard of anyone pursuing self-discovery by going cyclic and creating mushroom clouds. It’s definitely a better method than dropping acid.
Sean registers all his machine guns, pipe bombs and other destructive devices with the ATF (except for devices that’ll be destroyed before the next business day). When he names his devices, Sean follows his philosophical hero Friedrich Nietzche’s advice: “A man’s maturity is to have rediscovered the seriousness he possessed as a child at play.” Sean registered one pipe bomb as “TXMGO Clock,” christened a hand grenade as “Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch” with serial number “4-A-Rabbit,” registered a six pack of Shiner Bock beers for future use as Molotovs, and has devices called “60mm Kraut Killer,” “NOWIHAVEAMACHINEGUNHOHOHO” and “Wolverines Slayer,” among others. He also has two full-auto “Glock Fowtys” which are both 9mm.
I spent a night and day hanging out with Lindley, shooting some of his machine guns and watching him blow things up. My old Army buddy and I showed up on a Friday night, I took pictures of Sean firing his suppressed M249 SAW, then we went to an old concrete stock tank that Sean says is the world’s only Molotov cocktail range.
Sean and his business partner, an explosives savant/EMT/welder/former Navy EOD Tech/Army Combat Medic/who-knows-what-else named Jake Lambuth, filled about ten wine bottles with gasoline and stuffed rags into their necks.
Sean gave me tips on throwing Molotovs – “Don’t raise it over your head, if the rag comes out gas will pour all over you and the rag will set you on fire” – and tossed a couple. They burst into flames with a satisfying whoosh. Then he asked if we wanted to throw one.
My buddy declined. I thought about it. I’m a 45-year old husband, daddy and granddaddy. I’ve gone to war twice and did a ton of dangerous stuff as a cop. I really don’t need to risk setting myself on fire for no purpose. But I’m a guy with an ego, so of course I stepped up. I hosed up my first two throws and wound up rolling the bottles across the concrete, but got air and a nice inferno with the third one. Safely throwing a Molotov is harder than it looks.
As I mentioned a few days back, I randomly encountered Sean Lindley at a post office, asked about his TXMGO shirt and business, and exchanged contact info. Later that day I discovered Sean was a friend of a longtime Army buddy I deployed to Iraq with, and my friend thought highly of Sean. Sean texted me a few days later with an invitation, and the next thing I knew I was at the ranch with Sean, our buddy, Sean’s business partner, and a bunch of stuff that could kill me.
Sean struck me as sort of a Peter Pan with guns and bombs. He’s in his mid-thirties, a small-r ranger and former armor officer who got green weinered by the National Guard in Iraq. He was slotted as an infantry officer (yay!) but wound up guarding prisoners (boo) and started getting pretty fed up with the military. After that deployment and a few more years on active duty he decided to chase his dream, cashed in his life savings, traveled the world and founded TXMGO. He’s in the Army Reserve now, and is very clear that he’s not a wack job who thinks the government is after his guns.
And even though his deployment was a letdown, he still thinks his combat arms background helps him in the business world. He relies heavily on a team of business partners and other associates, believes that “running your own business is the ultimate humbler,” and sees this dream job as a mission-like grind.
“Any idiot can figure out profit margins. But 90% of running your own business is dealing with the suck. You make great plans, and as soon as you try to execute they get thrown out the window. Surprise events are usually a swift kick to the nuts but can also be opportunities to aggressively exploit, kinda like at 73 Easting where McMaster said ‘fuck it’ and attacked right into an overwhelmingly superior force. You have to constantly adjust your tactics, not be afraid to be a dick sometimes but also know when to let things go or save your ammo for later. And there’s no point in feeling sorry for yourself, you have to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. Whatever bullshit you’re dealing with will eventually pass. But maybe most importantly, just like being an Army leader, guarding your character and integrity is the most important thing you can do in this business.”
Sean had planned a big, military-like mission for our weekend: a hog hunt. Actually, the correct term is more like “hog ambush and murder.” Sean and Jake had built a big IED in a hog feeder, and the plan was to get up early, set up on the feeder, blast a crowd of hogs with twenty pounds of TNT and shrapnel, then machine gun the survivors. I’ve never hunted, so this was going to be a hell of a first experience. Sean was hoping for a high body count so he could advertise his Hog Murder Inc. services to local ranchers and farmers. Texas hogs are destructive as hell and breed so fast someone told me they’ve become as common as fire ants.
Alas, the hogs had better intel than we did. Their route clearance team must have said, “Screw that feeder [oink!], it’s got wires hanging out of it,” and found free corn elsewhere. So no murdering hogs, but I still got to spend the day shooting machine guns and jacking with explosives.
For some reason, this old M16A1 really appealed to me. Maybe it was because “they were in the wire!” at the time.
Sean’s pride and joy is his M733 clone of a weapon used in the movie Heat. My buddy took to the Heat clone, which was devoid of accessories and felt light as a toy. I wound up falling in love with, of all things, an old M16A1. We all enjoyed the Glock Fowtys, which were far easier to handle than I expected. Sean also has a clone of Tony Montana’s little friend that he blooped a couple training rounds out of. He sells M203s too.
Then he and Jake rigged up a binary charge. Sean called the local sheriff’s department and casually told the dispatcher, “We’ll be setting off a big bomb in a few minutes, then we’re gonna throw some grenades. Tell your deputies they’re welcome to come out and watch if they like.” Jake wired everything, threw the binary bomb into a stock tank, and command detonated it. Anyone who saw the blast from the highway in the distance probably freaked.
Jake Lambuth, the TXMGO partner who seems like he can do anything/everything.
Sean wouldn’t mind if they freaked. He doesn’t mind attention at all. He loudly speaks about his exploits in public, is vocal on NFA weapons forums, and really made a name for himself when he displayed a pipe bomb and suicide bomb vest on his table at a gun show. No explosives were in either one of course, and they were registered with the ATF, but Sean still wound up facing a group of police officers perturbed at what they initially thought were illegal devices. Apparently, one just doesn’t see bombs for sale at gun shows.
No, he never planned on selling the suicide vest. Sean does sell pipe bombs to licensed customers, but he was going to raffle off the chance to remotely detonate the suicide vest on a mannequin. Even so, “I probably shoulda handled that whole gun show thing a little differently,” Sean says. “It was a learning lesson for me.” He told me he has a good working relationship with, and didn’t display any animosity toward, the ATF. “Despite what people might think, the ATF has been 100% professional with us,” Sean says.
Sean also created a stir on an NFA Facebook page, when a “Make War Crimes Wednesday Great Again” inside joke t-shirt he made with a VC on the front led to an accusation of racism. He resisted by doubling down on the joke, which led to rampant internet tomfoolery, which led to Sean and his accuser both being disinvited from SHOT. When I told some industry people I had met Sean, I was warned about his racist t-shirt. And of course, when I met him for the shooting weekend, I was amused to see that he was wearing that exact shirt.
He brushed off the idea that he’s a racist. “I made the shirt because I was selling retro M-16s like were used in Vietnam. It was a fundraiser for an NFA group, not even for my profit. And I’ve got all the stuff from the Facebook uproar screenshotted. I laugh at people who say I threatened anyone.”
Basically, Sean is fresh out of facks to give about negative opinions. “Lots of people don’t like me for whatever reason, and that’s fine. As long as nobody can ever legitimately say I wasn’t professional, honest, fair, and didn’t do everything I can to make things right when I screw up, it’s not something I waste time worrying about.”
Sean has mastered pipe bombs and binary charges, has made Claymores, and is R&Ding hand grenades. He’s had several successful detonations, but aftermarket fuses are a challenge (they don’t explode early, but don’t always reliably burn). Once he perfects US frags he wants to make a potato masher, in humorous honor of his German heritage. He has a plan to build explosive warheads for flying model rockets, just to see if he can do it. He’s also legally importing and exporting NFA weapons, including an anti-tank rifle going outbound and TXMGO’s own line of sporting shotguns coming inbound.
Before anyone asks: no, there’s no realistic risk of bad guys buying Sean’s bombs for nefarious purposes. Nobody’s going to wait months and spend hundreds of dollars for a legal pipe bomb when they can build one in their garage for a few bucks. ISIS isn’t going to buy a suicide bomb from a US Army officer when they can just build another of the thousands they’ve already perfected. Sean’s not arming bad guys with bombs, he’s blowing bombs up for fun.
And that’s really the whole point: it’s just fun, and maybe a way to expand one’s mind. “Everyone has their own path in life, and I hope that they pursue it, whatever it is,” says Sean. His own way of finding his path and having a good time is making machine guns and bombs.
Other than eliminating the hog problem, there’s no practical purpose behind the bombs, and not much practical purpose behind most of the machine guns. If you’re like me, you don’t need a machine gun, you just like them. You also don’t need to set off a bomb, you just think it’s freakin’ cool. And truly, it is cool (nerve wracking to do it in an informal setting maybe, but still cool). As far as I know, Texas Machine Gun & Ordnance is the only company in America doing stuff like this. So if you’ need hogs ambushed or just want to shoot machine guns and blow stuff up, or you’re on a quest to add meaning to an otherwise empty, nihilistic life, I don’t know of anyone else you should call besides Sean Lindley at TXMGO.
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