The Strangest NRA Story Yet

The NRA’s list of gun critics is positively loony, says Michael Tomasky.

Susan Walsh/AP

One of the sure markers of the paranoid mind is the urge to keep lists. In particular, lists of enemies, subversives, no-goodniks; the pestilential nuisances, as Sir W.S. Gilbert famously put it, who never would be missed. It virtually goes without saying that the keepers of such lists are always the bullies who survive by fomenting hatred and making sure that their constituents stay in a state of constant agitation. And so it was no surprise to learn over the weekend, via Josh Marshall, that the National Rifle Association has a little list of 497 people and organizations who are in some way, shape, or form anti-gun. It makes for hilarious reading, although it’s sort of frightening to think about the demented minds of the people who assembled it.

The list consists of 141 organizations, 228 celebrities, 27 “national figures” who are somehow different from celebrities, 37 journalists, 41 corporations and/or corporate CEOs, and 23 media outlets, all of whom are out to pry that Bushmaster from your warm, live hands. Some of the organizations make perfect sense. The American Civil Liberties Union. Sure. The American Trauma Society. I have no idea what precisely they do, but okay, it stands to reason that if trauma is their racket, they’re probably not big on people amassing large numbers of automatic weapons. Women Strike for Peace. You don’t say!

It strikes the reader of the full list that the net is being cast rather widely. Physicians for Social Responsibility, for example, has plenty to do besides think about guns. Same with AARP. But to me it’s the large number of religious organizations, from the Unitarians to the Methodists to the Church of Christ on over to the U.S. Catholic conference, that begins to suggest the odor of paranoia that will wash over us as we proceed to the rest of the list.

The celebrities section is a hoot. I get George Clooney; he’s a famous and influential man who dabbles frequently in the political arena and makes no secret of his liberal views. Ditto Ed Asner and Martin Sheen and Russell Simmons. I’d allow that an NRA that wasn’t at least Googling people like that occasionally to see what they’d said about guns lately would be an NRA that wasn’t doing its job.

But … Sandy Duncan? If you’re not 45, I doubt there is any chance that you have the remotest clue who Sandy Duncan is. Musician John McDaniel, apparently best known for conducting the orchestra on The Rosie O’Donnell Show? “Interior designer” Margaret Kemp? Vinny Testaverde??

On it goes in this batty vein. Tara Lipinski. Mike Myers. Mike Myers’s wife! Now, if all of these people are indeed on record as saying they support gun control, then so be it, I suppose. But really. What is the point of tracking Mrs. Myers’s sentiments? (By the way, these list compilers aren’t even good paranoiacs—the list is sloppy and old; Myers and Robin Ruzan divorced in 2007, and the NRA posted this list on its website last September.) There is no point. To a rational person. To the NRA, though, the point is that vigilance has to be unceasing and eternal. Enemies are everywhere, and who knows, it just might someday be loose talk from Robin Ruzan or Margaret Kemp that brings the walls of Jericho tumbling down on Wayne LaPierre’s delusively coiffed head.

It’s funny, isn’t it, how it’s always people on the right who keep these lists. Gilbert’s list keeper was Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner. Joe McCarthy had his list. Dick Nixon his. I may be wrong, but on a few moments’ reflection here I can’t think of a liberal or Democrat known for having a bizarre list of real and imagined foes (by the way, I refrain from calling the NRA’s list an “enemies list” because a) at least it’s public and b) there’s no evidence the group is doing anything to any of these people). I’m sure Greenpeace keeps track of the political groups on the other side of the fence, but I doubt the group is monitoring the utterances of Delta Burke. No—the swamps in which these fevers have arisen in our history have been almost entirely right wing.

Conservative readers will have started in that last paragraph muttering about Obama’s “enemies list.” This, if you’ve never heard about it, is a story or a series of stories right-wingers made up last year because an Obama campaign website listed the names of eight men who were donating large amounts of money to anti-Obama efforts. Apparently they got hassled by some bloggers, and this constituted Chicago-thug-style politics, you see. In truth, as I wrote last year, Republicans tried to hype the story of an Obama’s enemies list for the very specific purpose of trying to build public support for nondisclosure on campaign finance.

The good news is that paranoid psychotics usually do themselves in. McCarthy and Nixon certainly did. I know everyone keeps talking about how powerful the NRA is, and that’s true. But the more they’re in the spotlight, the worse they look. Americans get it. It just needs someone to give the boulder a push. Vinny?