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Sonali Kolhatkar

NRA Plays a Deadly Game in Labeling the Left as Violent

President Trump addresses the National Rifle Association-ILA Leadership Forum in Atlanta in April. (Mike Stewart / AP)

President Trump addresses the National Rifle Association-ILA Leadership Forum in Atlanta in April. (Mike Stewart / AP)

The courageous activists who spearheaded the historic Women’s March the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration have organized a new action: a march scheduled to take place Friday and Saturday, from the National Rifle Association headquarters in Virginia to the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. The event and its accompanying open letter by Women’s March co-chair Tamika Mallory to the NRA form a response to a short video narrated by conservative radio host Dana Loesch that the NRA recently posted to its Facebook page.

That minute-long video consists of a montage of protest and architectural visuals set to ominous music, accompanied by Loesch’s vaguely worded warnings of threats to freedom and polarizing us-versus-them language, meeting all the hallmarks of classic propaganda techniques. The word “gun” is neither mentioned nor displayed onscreen. Instead, Loesch attempts to portray gun-toting Americans as the sane, rational and peace-loving alternatives to angry leftists who “march, protest” and “scream racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia,” as well as “smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law-abiding.” She makes no mention of the out-of-control shooters who claim thousands of American lives a year, and whose hides are protected by the NRA through pro-gun pressure on Congress. Loesch’s sneering manner and her self-described “clenched fist of truth” is intended to bully us into submission and obscure the very real violence perpetrated by right-wing extremists, documented to be a greater internal threat than Islamic fundamentalism.

In her letter to NRA head Wayne LaPierre, Mallory did not mince words as she accused the organization of using the video to express “a complete disregard for the lives of black and brown people in America” and to act as “a direct endorsement of violence against these citizens exercising their constitutional right to protest.” After all, the Loesch video’s imagery of protests and related property damage from the left (which is entirely eclipsed by the violence of right-wing extremists) takes direct aim at the anti-Trump movement and groups like Black Lives Matter. The letter by Mallory and the Women’s March, which was co-signed by dozens of other gun control groups, demanded that the NRA take down Loesch’s video, apologize for it and condemn the death of Philando Castile, who in 2016 was gunned down by an officer in Minnesota for being a licensed gun owner and following standard protocol in police interactions.

Interestingly, while the NRA has refused to take down the Loesch video or apologize for it, it has been forced into addressing Castile’s death. Two days after he was killed, the NRA issued a weak and vaguely worded statement saying almost nothing. But then Loesch herself, as an NRA spokesperson, was asked to address Castile’s death on camera during a CNN debate with Mallory this week. She called it “a terrible tragedy that could have been avoided” but failed to add in what way it could have been avoided.

Rather than pull back from the Loesch video, the gun lobby group then issued a second, longer and even more incendiary video narrated by another conservative talk show host, Grant Stinchfield. The signature right-wing hyper-aggressive mannerism and hyperbolic language was on even greater display in Stinchfield’s monologue, which repeated the phrase “violent left” so often that it was clear he was trying to enter it into the American lexicon through sheer repetition. Stinchfield dangerously identified Mallory by name and image, making clear to his followers that he endorses her digital lynching. In an update to its original website post about the Loesch video, the Women’s March condemned the newer video as “the kind of inflammatory speech that leads to acts of hate and violence” that “puts Tamika [Mallory], a mother whose family has been impacted by gun violence, under increased threat as it does others named.” Further, the Women’s March post continued, “it is unequivocally meant to create a chilling effect on our communities speaking up and using the power of our collective voice.”

In his video Stinchfield cites several incidents to “prove” that the left is violent, starting with a reference to Kathy Griffin’s tone-deaf photo shoot of herself holding Donald Trump’s severed and bloodied head. Stinchfield exhorted, “you people openly call for the assassination of our president,” even though Griffin has profusely apologized for it. (She said, “I beg for your forgiveness, I went too far.”)

It was not so long ago that rock musician and NRA Board member Ted Nugent said, on the eve of President Barack Obama’s re-election, “We need to ride into that battlefield and chop their [the Obama administration’s] heads off in November,” adding, “If Barack Obama becomes the next president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.” Nugent has also talked about shooting now-retired Sen. Harry Reid, has said Obama and Hillary Clinton ought to be “tried for treason and hung,” has called Clinton a “worthless bitch” who should “ride one of these [guns] into the sunset,” and more. The nakedly racist and anti-Semitic Nugent still sits on the NRA’s board, and his tenure was renewed despite widespread campaigns urging the NRA to remove him.

Stinchfield, who of course made no mention of Nugent, also cited Madonna’s words about “blowing up the White House” at January’s Women’s March—without mentioning that the pop star continued the second half of her thought with: “But I know that this won’t change anything. We can’t fall into despair. As the poet W.H. Auden once wrote on the eve of World War II, we must love one another or die. I choose love.”The NRA spokesperson also brought up “your Bernie Sanders supporter who opened fire on a Republican congressman in Virginia,” in reference to the June 14 shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise, which I wrote about in a recent column. But of course Stinchfield made no mention of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot in 2011 by a crazed gunman espousing right-wing views in an incident that killed six people. Giffords, who is still struggling with paralysis and brain damage, has become one of the strongest voices against gun violence, for which the NRA has shockingly mocked her.

For every incident Stinchfield cited to make the case that the left is violent, there are examples of the right being just as violent, if not more so. Analysis by the Anti-Defamation League shows that for right-wing terrorists, guns are their weapon of choice, weapons that the NRA has forced the country to make ever easier to obtain. One of the worst incidents of mass murder in recent years was at the hands of the white supremacist Dylann Roof, who gunned down nine African-Americans in a South Carolina church and whose politics are closely aligned with right-wing ideology.

Ultimately, the nation’s leading gun proliferation group is most interested in keeping gun sales up. During the Obama years, the NRA engaged in a steady drumbeat of fear that the 44th president would take people’s guns away, leading gun buyers to stockpile weapons. Since Trump’s election, sales have slumped as gun buyers are confident of their ally in the White House. Needing a new bogeyman to spur sales, perhaps the NRA has decided to cast the entire left-leaning spectrum of the U.S. as dangerous, violent Americans against whom conservatives can protect themselves — by buying more guns, of course. But the U.S. is saturated with more guns per capita than any other nation; in fact, we have more guns than people. And gun ownership is also increasingly concentrated, with just 3 percent of Americans owning half of all guns, implying that there is a paranoid minority that is stockpiling weapons and could be susceptible to the NRA’s fear-mongering messages.

The NRA wants to boost gun sales by promoting the notion that the left is violent, but reality runs counter to this idea. And how could it be otherwise when the driving purpose of the NRA is the proliferation of dangerous weapons of violence? Furthermore, the president it sides with, Trump, has propagated violent rhetoric on his Twitter feed with his recent re-tweet of a doctored video of him repeatedly punching a man whose head is covered by the CNN logo. In the Orwellian world of Loesch, Stinchfield, LaPierre and the rest of the NRA leaders, up is down, white is black, the violent are victims, and gun owners want peace and safety. It would be funny if deadly weapons weren’t part of the mix.

The NRA’s culture wars may fuel gun sales, but they also make the already toxic interactions between right and left potentially deadly. The destructive game that the organization is playing will inevitably lead to even more bloodshed unless we expose the lies, hypocrisy—and yes, violence—of the gun lobby, and fast.

Sonali Kolhatkar
Columnist
Sonali Kolhatkar is a columnist for Truthdig. She also is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV (Dish Network, DirecTV,…
Sonali Kolhatkar

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