By now, if you hang out on the Interwebs at all, you’ve seen or heard about the latest NRA fundraising atrocity, a video featuring former St. Louisian, Dana Loesch. Normally, I’d think twice about directing traffic to such an abomination, but, it’s everywhere now – I’ve linked to it on Vox – and it should be. We need to know who it is we’re dealing with and what they’re capable of – which this video amply illustrates.
Here’s the script Loesch reads against a backdrop showing images of seething street violence:
They use their media to assassinate real news. They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler. They use their movie stars and singers and comedy shows and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again. And then they use their ex-president to endorse “the resistance.”
All to make them march. Make them protest. Make them scream racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia. To smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law-abiding — until the only option left is for the police to do their jobs and stop the madness.
And when that happens, they’ll use it as an excuse for their outrage. The only way we stop this, the only way we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.
I’m the National Rifle Association of America. And I’m freedom’s safest place.
In case you haven’t guessed, “they” are “us,” or at least a subset of the American “us,” the folks represented by the hated liberal trifecta of academia, entertainment and politics, all neatly “targeted” by the NRA in this fundraising exercise. As Zack Beauchamp observes in the Vox article, the message conveyed is that “the ‘only way’ to protect yourself from this surge in left-wing violence (a made-up threat, to be clear) is to donate to the NRA — an organization that exists solely to help people buy guns.”
So, was it money and/or notoriety that tempted the former St. Louis Tea Party maven, Loesch, to identify herself with this exercise in fascist rhetoric, or has she always been this toxic? She’s had her low moments to be sure – during her short-lived tenure as a “political analysist” on CNN, she once expressed her willingness to “drop trow” and defecate on a Koran – but the NRA ad which she narrates is not just distasteful, but crosses the line into incitement. It offers, as Richard Wolffe puts it, “the kind of argument made by the fascist paramilitaries and dictatorship who terrorized Latin America for several decades.”
Apart from whether or not Loesch is really a true-believer or just depraved, the video also suggests why efforts to claim that “both sides do it” fails to capture the dynamic that motivates the levels of political polarization that we are now experiencing. Beauchamp notes that:
The problem with this rhetoric isn’t, again, that it’s telling people to use violence against others. It’s that it functions as a kind of anti-politics — casting the NRA’s political opponents as devious enemies who can’t be opposed through normal politics. Republicans control all three branches of government and a large majority of statehouses nationwide. There is literally zero chance that any kind of major gun control passes in America in the foreseeable future.
The threat, instead, is from a kind of liberal-cultural fifth column: People who are acting outside of legitimate political channels to upend American freedoms, through protest and violence. It’s a paranoid vision of American life that encourages the NRA’s fans to see liberals not as political opponents, but as monsters.
In other words, the goal is to manufactures a hobgoblin for the gullible. There’s no there there, nothing but fake images used to ratchet up division and if it creates the potential for violent confrontation, well, that’s just collateral damage in the service of the almighty dollar. At this time, in this country, as Kurt Eichenwald pointed out in a report published in Newsweek, rightwing militias – Trump’s spiritual homeboys – pose a greater threat to public safety than Muslim terrorists. That’s the mindset that the NRA now serves.
The Loesch NRA ad may be one of the more overt manifestations of this false narrative, but it is not unique. It grew from the willingness of the Nixonian Republican Party to exploit white fear and racial resentment and culminated in the racially loaded, apocalyptic rhetoric employed by Donald Trump as he endeavored to aid the Russians in his election effort. It may have been a winning strategy in the past, but it’s not an invitation to the civility to which “moderate” Republicans and “centrist” Democrats pretend to aspire. Ads like this – and I suspect we’ll see worse – are the natural outcome of a trend that has been developing almost exclusively on the right over several years.
In contrast, the self-labeled resistance, the folks on the left who are making themselves heard in opposition to the current Republican power structure, may use harsh language and, given the ripe target presented by Trump and his cohorts, resort to ridicule as often as not, but they’re frightened too. The difference is that the object of their fear is real and immediate, not a tool for politicians or, as in the case of the NRA ad, a chimera manufactured by a lobbying organization intent on cashing in. It consists of more than turgid emotions. It reflects the intellectual apprehension of destructive policies that will be imposed if they – we, that is, don’t stand up and make our voices heard. Notice that I said voices, not “clenched fists” or guns – no NRA payola here.
Now we can also add to our list of things of which we are afraid the NRA’s cultural warriors, armed to the teeth and out to intimidate the outspoken. And what’s worst of all about the hate speech and lies promulgated by Loesch and the NRA is that they serve nothing but greed. No black bogeyman in the White House to drive up sales, how you gonna keep the good ‘ol boys and girls buying guns? You give ’em another target: their fellow Americans.
Addendum: Francine Prose makes an important point about the message of this video in today’s Guardian:
Interestingly, the video makes no mention of the NRA’s traditional role: to preserve the American citizen’s right to bear arms, a right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. Perhaps this is because Loesch is encouraging her viewers to deter other Americans from exercising their Constitutional rights.
And she’s doing it by encouraging violence.