Over the past few weeks, the National Rifle Association has deployed several hyperbolic, incoherent, irresponsible, and divisive videos demonizing half of the American population in their efforts to recruit new members—beginning with Dana Loesch, followed by Greg Stenchfield, and most recently by U.S. Navy veteran Dom Raso.
Such fear-based incitements to hate and violence are the province of cowards.
These ads are official NRA TV products sponsored by Ruger and Kimber, both firearms manufacturers.
The NRA, founded by Union officers after the Civil War, was established as an organization dedicated to civilian marksmanship, gun safety, and Second Amendment rights.
However, this recent video campaign is a crescendo of increasingly partisan rhetoric on the part of the NRA, demonstrating that they are now dedicated to a xenophobic policy of violent hatred and intolerance that increases polarization and discord within American society.
In tone and content, the videos are eerily reminiscent of the thugs and bullies that have historically executed violence in support of authoritarian regimes.
These NRA ads are a clear and sophisticated effort that use well established propaganda tricks to appeal to scarcity, fear, and the basest of human emotions. For instance, the unnamed “they” at the beginning of Loesch’s video establishes a cognitive frame for the viewer to insert their own personal boogeyman.
Moreover, the videos conflate the American public’s right to peacefully assemble, protest, and criticize their government with the violent criminal behavior of a small number of rioters.
The NRA props up the Second Amendment by undermining and vilifying the protections afforded in the First, and paints everyone who may disagree with the current administration, our country’s justice system, or the NRA’s partisan political position with a very dark and unjust broad brush.
The NRA ads depict a dystopian, violent present whose danger can only be met by heavily armed citizens, when in fact a recent 2016 FBI report shows violent crime in the US to be at a 20-year low despite the more than 33,000 gun-related fatalities in our nation every year.
Additionally, the NRA’s use of stock riot footage misrepresents the character of the anti-administration protests. The data on the protests since the inauguration show that less than 0.5% of all protests have resulted in any property damage, and even fewer have resulted in physical injury.
To the NRA, we ask Qui Bono—to whose benefit? This fear-mongering certainly does not benefit the American people.
The truth is that the NRA is engaging in shameless fear tactics to increase membership so they can put more money into the pockets of politicians in Washington so firearms manufactures can increase sales resulting in profits and returns to shareholders.
They are selling a false narrative that there is only one right way to be a patriot.
This divisive rhetoric is amplified by their deafening silence on the killing of Phillando Castile, a law-abiding gun owner.
They are preying on a fearful public, and this is unethical.
While we would expect Loesch and Stinchfield to engage in such paid partisan hyperbole, we are embarrassed that a fellow veteran like Dom Raso would stoop to partisan fear-mongering and denigrate himself in the same manner.
We expect more from our veterans.
You see, while we have spent the past 16 years fighting real wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, extreme partisans on both sides of the political spectrum have been intent on waging a culture war at home.
It is time for this to stop.
During our combined 56 years in the United States Marine Corps, we served with Americans from every conceivable political, ideological, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic background—including foreigners who joined our military and helped fight our wars so they could earn a shot at U.S. citizenship.
Our experiences serving in every clime and place have taught us to be grateful for our ever evolving experiment in democracy, and have also shown us that there is no one right way to be Americans.
Indeed, true patriotism is not partisan, and the love of country and exercise of Constitutional rights is not the purview of any one group.
Each of us who volunteer to serve swore an oath to defend the Constitution and all of its amendments for every American—even those we may disagree with.
While we deplore the riotous violence of a few—completely overblown by the NRA—we respect the rights of the people to peacefully assemble and protest. We also respect peaceful civil disobedience. These rights are the cornerstone of our democracy, codified as the First Amendment to ensure that we can disagree, protest, and express our views without resorting to the violence of the past.
We also reject the most recent phenomena of labeling anything disagreeable as false or fake news. We believe everyone is entitled to their opinions, but nobody is entitled to their own facts.
We renounce the false choice presented by the NRA that Americans need to pick a team between the First and Second Amendments.
We believe that the use of intimidation, fear-mongering, and threats of violence to crush the people's right to peaceful assembly, redress grievances, and maintain a free press is the first step in the march towards authoritarianism.
We believe that ALL of our civil liberties are worth defending for ALL Americans—including protection from the use of excessive lethal force by those sworn to protect and serve our communities.
We reject extremism in all of its forms—both emanating from the right and the left.
We believe that the way forward to bring our Nation together does not come from a clenched fist, rather it comes from an extended hand and a commitment by sane, common-sense, and courageous people to meet in the center and work toward the common good.
We believe that veterans, given the military’s cultural emphasis on service, nation before self, and teamwork can be useful in encouraging respectful civil discourse to solve our nation’s toughest problems.
We strongly believe in the sentiment first expressed by Edmund Burke, that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing.
We believe that the majority of NRA members deplore the hate and fear-based tactics of the NRA leadership yet their dues and donations continue to resource the NRA’s incitements to hate and violence.
The silence of these good men and women is deafening.
What will you do?
Craig Tucker is a retired Marine Corps Colonel and decorated 25-year combat veteran. His combat command of RCT-7 in Iraq spanned 14 months and included the first and second Battles of Fallujah, numerous smaller actions and a Purple Heart for wounds received in combat action north of Husaybah Iraq.
Kyleanne Hunter is an 11-year Marine Corps combat veteran and decorated AH-1W Cobra helicopter gunship pilot. She served combat tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a tour as the Marine Corps’ Liaison Officer to the House of Representatives. She is a former NRA member.
Joe Plenzler is a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and decorated 20-year combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. He served from 2010 to 2015 as the spokesman, speechwriter, and staff group director for the 34th, 35th, and 36th Commandants of the Marine Corps. He is a former NRA member.