The National Rifle Association is very angry at The Washington Post for running stories that weren’t entirely flattering to the NRA. It is especially upset with a specific journalist, Alex Horton, who called its last video “dark,” and so it has decided to release another video blaming him individually and journalists more broadly, and the vague left more broadly still, for all of the problems in America.
The NRA’s last video was dark, along with creepy, a bit demented, over the top, and an obvious audible whistle. This one is both worse and less impactful. Of course the NRA is now just naming people they dislike and then saying that gun owners are forming a “clenched fist of truth to protect our freedoms at home” before talking about the blood sacrifice of patriots. Where else were they going to go after that first video?
It is not that far out of the new normal to see videos like this, though we are not so used to them yet that we don’t recoil instinctively every time. We’re more used to them being part of the coverage of a Donald Trump rally or interview. It should not need to be said, but this year has already seen a congressman shot and a fair few mass murders and our normal ridiculously high gun fatality rate, so here goes: It is a bad thing to single people out as enemies of civil society and then talk about patriotic killing in any context, ever.
This one singles out Horton for saying mean things, activists Deray McKesson and Carmen Perez for having “extremist beliefs and tactics,” and Senators Al Franken and Chuck Schumer for refusing to condemn their work. Perez is most well-known for co-chairing the Women’s March, while McKesson recently ran for office in Baltimore as a moderate—hardly the stuff of militant radicalism.
I don’t know Perez at all, and I don’t know McKesson well. But I spent weeks reporting from Ferguson and even when we were both sweat-drenched and covered in the residue of tear gas, he would talk about things like community boards and oversight committees. He encouraged civil disobedience—a frequent tactic was stopping traffic—but not violence. He came to prominence largely for co-founding a community newsletter; that’s how unhinged the guy is.
Still, in the shadowy wonderland of the far right, he’s achieved fantastical size and abilities, able and willing to sow discord and start riots with a few pointed tweets, and of late they’ve been blaming him for the unrest in Ferguson. (It also should not need saying that the unrest in Ferguson was caused by a lot of things, most of which was the police, but none of which was in any remote way Deray McKesson.)
The NRA isn’t wrong to warn about extremist factions and “organized anarchy” and fear and rage. But when it does so it’s simply projecting, like what most of the far right does these days. For all the footage of antifa spray-painting garage doors and overturning trash cans or even lighting limos on fire, the fact remains that it’s not leftists staging armed standoffs against the government. While no high-level Democratic officials have endorsed violent protest tactics, the predictably clownish Trump adviser Roger Stone is now attending rallies in support of the Bundys and asking Trump to pardon them. To date, not a single Democratic candidate has body-slammed a journalist for asking impertinent questions, though a Republican did—and went on to win the seat.
Nothing will happen to the NRA for producing this video, any more than anything happened to Greg Gianforte. The spot will change no minds, nor will it gain them new followers. But that’s not the point. This is a negative ad aimed at the whole of American society. It ignores the fact that most gun owners are in favor of gun control. It ignores the fact that journalists like me—a gun-owning military spouse living in the woods in the Appalachian foothills—are also part of the chorus of voices denouncing them with full throats. It invokes the duty of military service though combat vets generally hate having their deployments politicized and the vast majority of people the ad targets will never have served. It ignores the Venn overlap between the open-carry set and the openly racist sorts, because this, just like the other ad, is a call to arms.
The trouble with negative ads is they work, and it’s why we have to talk about these things instead of just giggling at this pathetic attempt of historical revisionism. The consequences of annoying the far right can be weighty, and we are creating a particularly dangerous set of circumstances in which to do so. The NRA, as always, can be depended upon to wade into a dangerous situation and make it worse.