Guns, Lies, & the NRA: My Journey From Gun Shows to Anarchist
As a young boy, there is one thing that my father and I bonded over – guns.
My father, a former Green Beret, for a time was a member of the National Rifle Association (NRA), and together almost every month we would go out shooting in the creeks by our home or on family trips. One of my earliest memories was when he told me that he had written a letter that was published in an NRA publication about our mutual enjoyment of shooting and how it connected to our rights as gun owners.
Over the years, not far from my house my father and I along with our family friends would go shooting, hitting targets made out of cardboard, not squirrels. I never thought anything about shooting guns other than they were loud, they were fun, and I needed to also treat them with respect. At one point, my father even took my .22 rifle away from me when I was looking at it in my room because my brother was standing in front of me. “I’m going to make you take a class,” he angrily told me.
With my father, I also attended numerous gun shows, where I remember thinking that unlike the friends I had at school and the friends that came over that knew my parents, most of the people that attended gun shows were all white. Walking around the various gun shows, I would take it all in. Past the tables of books I wish I now could remember the titles of, the various nick nacks like stuffed alligators I felt sorry for, and of course, all those firearms.
Growing up around guns, I never understood why the people in the bigger cities seemed to be that concerned with them. Even when over the course of growing up, my next door neighbor was killed while cleaning his gun and another shot himself, it still didn’t change my mind about them. Guns were tools, guns were fun, and guns were part of the fabric of everyday life.
“But as I grew older and learned the real history of the NRA, I’ve come to see that the organization isn’t about securing the rights of the people to defend themselves – especially against the government.“
Fast forward to today and a lot has changed. Politically I’m an anarchist and I have a family of my own now, but I’m still a gun owner. While I don’t go to guns shows anymore, guns and shooting them remain one of the few things that universally bridges both my wider family and my friends and comrades who are anarchists and radicals.
Growing up, I honestly viewed the NRA as a neutral organization, and when I heard liberals whine about them or guns, I’d often would roll my eyes. I even loved it when liberals and “progressives” I would meet would be shocked that I supported gun rights and firearms in general.
In many ways, I still do.
But as I grew older and learned the real history of the NRA, I’ve come to see that the organization isn’t about securing the rights of the people to defend themselves – especially against the government. The organization is about fostering and creating an auxiliary force that is ready to potentially defend the State against threats to it coming from below. Being that this is America, that means almost always non-white, and generally black.
For Armed Self-Defense, Against the NRA
The first gun laws in this country were designed to stop black people from owning them, and while Republicans now love to share memes that talk about the early connections between “Dixiecrat” Democrats and the KKK, the NRA has largely done nothing in the face of the rights of black people arming themselves being stripped away.
While it is true that people like Robert F. Williams were members of the NRA in their armed struggle against the KKK and racist groups, at the same time the NRA actually supported the Mumford Act, which was designed to stop the Black Panther Party from legally policing the police with arms. Then in 1968, around the same time that government repression was escalating against revolutionary groups, the NRA backed the Gun Control Act, which forbade convicted criminals of owning firearms.
Over the next two decades, the US launched the War on Drugs after defeating the liberation movements and struggles of the late 1960s and 70s, with such brutal COINTELPRO tactics that included outright assassination and frame ups. By the 1990s, when gun-rights had firmly moved into the camp of the Right and many liberals were campaigning for stricter gun laws in the face of rising inner-city violence brought on by increasing poverty, the crack epidemic fueled by the US government selling drugs to fund the Contras, and lack of access to jobs, the stage was set for the next chapter within the NRA.
Starting in the 1980s, armed neo-Nazi and Christian Identity groups took up arms against the State. Posse Comitatus, a white supremacist and anti-Semitic Christian Identity group, killed numerous law enforcement officers. Members of the Order, a neo-Nazi group, also carried out numerous robberies, killings, and bombings. In 1992, the standoff at Ruby Ridge took place with Randy Weaver, a white supremacist associated with the Aryan Nations, that lead to the death of Weaver’s wife and 14 year old son.
After Ruby Ridge, white supremacist groups seized on the opportunity to bring together people within the gun-rights movement and other segments of the far-Right to create the modern militia movement. Very quickly, it spread around the United States. This reactionary turn also bolstered the NRA, just as today. Then in 1993, this time under a Democratic government, the siege in Waco, Texas broke out that ultimately led to the horrific deaths of 76 people. Two years later in revenge, Timothy McVeigh along with several others involved in the militia movement killed 168 people.
In the weeks following the Oklahoma City bombing, the Vice President of the NRA wrote in a membership letter that attacked stricter gun laws that “jack-booted government thugs” have “the government’s go-ahead to … murder law abiding citizens.” Shortly after, President George Bush quit the NRA in protest.
But as the smoke cleared from Waco and Oklahoma City, the NRA also developed a new strategy, one based around white fear. As the LA riots raged in 1992, they wrote that due to gun control, “law-abiding citizens” were not allowed to buy guns to defend themselves.
The idea that the government wanted to take guns away from some people and allow others to run wild was not a new concept, and was a major part of the neo-Nazi fiction book, The Turner Diaries, which inspired the Oklahoma City bombing.
Never has this been more true, than now.
The NRA as an Auxiliary Force to the State, Not Against It
Wayne LaPierre, ironically the same man who only weeks after the Oklahoma City bombing called FBI agents “jack booted thugs,” at last year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), railed against anarchists and the black bloc, calling people like myself “professional” protesters, who make thousands a month to attend demonstrations. But while this was all standard fare, LaPierre ended his speech by detailing how with Trump in office, the various social movements from below were going to push back against the regime. It was up to the insurgent Right and grassroots NRA members, to defend the State, using arms if necessary.
In many ways, this is what many on the Right want to hear. They want to be called on by those in power to defend the regime; to defend the plantation. In many ways, the enemy doesn’t matter, and thus can easily be lumped into one, from ISIS militant to Black Lives Matter activist.
This in itself is the essence of the colonial project and of white supremacy. Of the relationship created between elites in power and whites in the middle to attack those seen as below them from rising up.
Only several months after CPAC, Philando Castile, a young man with a job as a supervisor at a local school in Minnesota as a nutritionist, was stopped by a police officer because the cop claimed his “wide nose” fit the description of a suspect. Castile, who had been pulled over by police a total of 52 times in the last several years, was also a legally licensed concealed gun carrier. After he was pulled over, Castile told the officer that he was armed and moments later as he reached to get his license out, the police officer opened fire on him and killed him.
The silence from the NRA was deafening.
“Like all classic propaganda, the video’s power comes not from what it says, but because of what it implies and doesn’t say.”
The reason for the silence was clear, but never spoken – Castile was black. And even though he was a legally licensed gun owner and did nothing wrong, because of his race and because he was killed by a police officer, the NRA said nothing out of fear of upsetting ‘the grassroots.’ Around the same time, a Bernie Sanders fan and middle aged baby boomer opened fire on a group of Republicans playing baseball in Virginia, at the height of anger to Donald Trump and the GOP healthcare plan which threatened the lives of millions. Quickly, the Right wing media spun into high gear, attacking the perceived growing threat of “left wing violence” and playing into hatred of ‘antifa’ who organized to confront neo-Nazis, the Alt-Right, and the far-Right.
But to anyone that has been paying attention to the US in the last 6 months, the real terror and violence has come from the Right and the police, not from the Left or from popular movements and struggles from below. It has taken the form of numerous murders carried out by members of the Alt-Right, mosque arsons, on average three people a day killed by law enforcement, and attacks on everything from LGBTQUI centers to Jewish cemeteries.
But just as reaction to the NRA’s silence of Philando Castile was growing to a fever pitch, the organization answered back with a video from Dana Loesch, which attacked the supposed ‘totality’ of the Left.
In the video, it claims that “they” use schools to teach that Trump is “the new Hitler,” and that “they use their media to assassinate real news.” It goes on to attempt to draw a line between the “elites” in Hollywood and President Obama and connects them with protest movements which “scream against racism and sexism.” As Loesch talks, the background shows pictures of black bloc rioters breaking windows in Berkeley in response to Alt-Right troll Milo Yiannopoulos speaking and a bloodied Trump supporter. The video ends with the lines, “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.”
“This in itself is the essence of the colonial project and of white supremacy. Of the relationship created between elites in power and whites in the middle to attack those seen as below them from rising up.”
Like all classic propaganda, the video’s power comes not from what it says, but because of what it implies and doesn’t say.
It seperate the “law abiding” citizens from the ‘out of control’ rioters, looters, and protesters. It separates the ‘good’ people who respect Trump and listen to him, from the ‘bad’ people who don’t. Furthermore, it plays on age old conspiracy theories that elites control these movements and struggles, directly them and using misinformation, lies, and their friends in the mass media to push people towards violence.
Ironically, while these tropes can be attacked in a multitude of ways, they also better describe the Right much better than social movements directed against the status-quo. It is the far-Right which has backers with deep pockets, and it is the far-Right which has deep connections in the media and within the Trump administration.
To be clear, what is happening within the NRA is a pivot away from earlier conceptions of the organization, and now towards a full embrace of far-Right talking points that sees its main goal as crushing popular movements and struggles and supporting President Trump.
There can be no doubt that this is not happening in a vacuum. From the rise of “Based Stickmen” at “Free Speech” rallies attended by neo-Nazis, to militia members officially being brought in as security by Republicans in Oregon; at a time when Trump is the least popular, the far-Right is attempting to rattle the saber of civil war to defend the State as it loses massive amounts of legitimacy. In short, the far-Right got what they wanted, a billionaire proto-fascist, and now they are terrified of a country that hates him.
Within the context, groups like the NRA show their true colors. They defend the status-quo, the elites, the State, and their system – not the common everyday people who suffer under it.
Since Trump, much as been said and written about this ‘new’ concept of the ‘white working class.’ I’ve read that I am part of a group that has been left behind, forgotten, and abandoned. That Trump won because he championed bringing back “our” jobs and fixing “our” economy. What bullshit.
“In short, the far-Right got what they wanted, a billionaire proto-fascist, and now they are terrified of a country that hates him.”
Sure, we got left behind, but so did everyone else, many others, more so. African-Americans lost more wealth in the Obama years than at any other time since the Great Depression. Latinos were hit harder than whites as well. Native Americans also are as worse off as they ever were, facing a myriad of problems from poisoned water to continuing theft of their resources from extraction corporations. Sure neoliberalism destroyed whole regions and areas, but to think that it only hit white workers is idiotic.
What got left behind was the bargain in the devil’s bargain of white supremacy. What is the point of having a cross class relationship between elites and poor and working class whites if they are getting the same shit end of the stick that everyone else is, if only slightly better? This is what Trump represented, to once again establish that psychological wage of white supremacy and redefine once again who is included within America and much more importantly, who is not.
And this is why millions will continue to support Trump no matter what, because this is what he has given them, despite the fact that his policies may in fact negatively impact their standard of living, their health care, or their environment.
“This is what Trump represented, to once again establish that psychological wage of white supremacy and redefine once again who is included within America and much more importantly, who is not.”
During the siege at Waco, when the fires burned so badly that the bodies of the children literally made moon shapes as rigor mortis set in, those that were yet to die dropped a banner out the window of one of the buildings, it read, “Rodney King, We Understand.”
For the people who lived and died in Waco, they understood for a brief moment what it was like to be Native, black, brown, and undocumented in America. It meant being designated an enemy of the State and subjected to physical removal and death. In their final moments they made the psychological connection with the rioters who took to the streets of LA and the world in rebellion against the police and the system of power they protect, as that very system literally set them on fire.
Let us not wait for the State to be outside our doors to finally realize who are real allies are, and who are our enemies.