The NRA, the GOP, and the Militarization of the Right


The NRA’s recent ad, “The Violence of Lies” has gotten a lot of attention for its divisive fear mongering. It sounds very much like a call to violence, and the ad is disgusting, but what really needs to get more press is that this ad is not an outlier, it is part of a pattern of militarizing and inciting right-wing extremists. What we are seeing is the normalization of violent conservatives intimidating, threatening, and killing people.

I am not saying this is a conspiracy. It is less than a conspiracy, but it is also more than a coincidence. It is a convergence of overlapping trends and manipulations – from disenfranchised white men, to the NRA fearmongering to sell guns, to Republicans pandering to hate and racism, to the rise of the neo-Nazi alt-right, to fear of protesters.

Besides the obvious breakdown in society, the civil unrest, the increasing violence at protests, and the voice it gives to hate groups, people should also take note that having paramilitary thugs defend political rallies and threaten political opponents is a hallmark of totalitarianism. The rise of the Nazi party was aided by the Sturmabteilung (also known as “the Brownshirts”), who both defended party events and interfered with opponents’ gatherings.

Militant right-wing groups such as the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters are appearing at more events and protests, and the GOP is considering formally enlisting them as private security. These are not patriotic groups defending conservative values. These are hate groups that have spent years promoting anti-government conspiracy theories and violence. They do not “just defend free speech”, they intimidate and threaten.

Violence, threats, and vandalism targeting people by race and religion has increased significantly since Trump’s victory, and yet the Trump administration is redirecting terrorism efforts to focus only on Muslims while freezing grants and shrinking budgets for combating domestic terrorism.

Trump himself has promoted violence against protesters at rallies, and he Tweeted a wrestling video edited to show him “beating up CNN”. Beyond his own reactions to adversaries, Trump is beholden to wave of racism and hate that put him in office. That is why he took months to make a weak statement against the increased violence against Jews and Muslims that followed him into office. It is why Sean Spicer would not use the words “concentration camp”, and why there was no mention of Jews being killed on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

In the Trump era, Republicans who support racism and violence can let their true colors fly. Republicans who disagree go along with little objection, because they are afraid to go against the rest of the party and the conservative media. And thus, the political party that is in control of our country pandering to violent extremists.

The NRA is supposedly a lobby group for gun owners. In truth, it is more of a lobby for gun manufacturers, but that does not mean it should or naturally would become a group promoting violence against liberals and protesters, or become a racist group that stands up for white gun rights but is silent when a black gun owner like Philando Castile is executed for having a licensed gun. But is has, because latching on to the wave of hatred in the Trump era gives them influence.

The segment of internet troll culture that supported Trump plays into the culture of violence, both through online rage and through the cultural violence of public defamation, threats, hacking, and doxing.

All of this is ultimately supported, justified, and amplified through the echo chamber of right wing talk shows and web sites, and eventually mainstreamed by Fox News.

We risk hate groups privately employed as conservative thugs, intimidation and violence at peaceful protests. These actions may be institutionally supported as a sort of “Republican Brown Shirts”, taking us another step toward totalitarianism. We already have increasing violence towards minority and religious groups.

The political forces that should be addressing these issues are taking no action, or supporting the hate and violence. Public outrage is blunted by a steady stream of rationalization by conservative media. Session’s Department of Justice will not do anything about this. The Republicans in power are not going to act until things get much worse (if ever).

What can be done:

  • The mainstreaming of hate and violence is largely supported by the rise alt-right. The alt-right is a neo-Nazi organization. That isn’t an opinion. It is the stated goal of its founder. The myth that the alt-right is anything but a fascist group needs to be attacked on every front.
  • Similarly, the idea of supporting vigilantism by anti-government hate groups to “protect conservative gatherings” needs to be called out and protested.
  • Most importantly, we must not be intimidated. Intimidation of liberals and minorities is their goal. If we are not brave enough to stand up now, we will be forced to later, under much uglier circumstances.
  • And we need to get the crazy, corrupt, and complacent out of political power. Support activist groups. Get involved politically. Protest. Write. Speak. And do whatever you can to support your local Democratic party fielding candidates who can win an election and govern effectively. If you don’t like the Democrats, consider your current alternative: the continued moves towards hatred, violence, and totalitarianism by the Republicans, while continue to profiteer and mismanage the country.