The following article appeared first in Searchlight magazine’s May 2013. It incorporated enough new material to warrant its republication by IREHR, despite including some information that had been previously released on this site. Searchlight, a London-based anti-fascist anti-racist monthly with an international cast of correspondents, will celebrate 50 years of continuous monthly publication next year. The following article describes a new amalgamation of hard right politics.
Guns and the New Amalgamated Hard Right
By Leonard Zeskind & Devin Burghart
Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights
On May 3 through 5, the National Rifle Association (NRA) held its annual convention in Houston, Texas. Over 550 exhibitors packed the hall with displays of guns and ammunition, and hunting and survivalist gear of every type. One display of jewelry featured, “bracelets, earrings, necklaces, rings made in the style of the elephant hair jewelry made in Africa,” according to the NRA. A man size target resembling President Barack Obama allowed attendees to shoot at the president and make him bleed—until the last day when media exposure forced its removal. The theme of the convention, as usual, was: we are sticking to our guns and fighting the culture war against everybody that wants meaningful gun control.
Republican politicians—mostly of the Tea Party persuasion—claimed spots on the speakers’ dais. From Texas came Governor Rick Perry and Sen. Ted Cruz. Sarah Palin did her usual culture war shtick. From the supposedly more moderate Republican zone, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal paid homage to the gun gods. Glenn Beck, the television conspiracy and bigotry monger and Tea Party promoter, drenched his culture war rhetoric in the bloody rag of the Alamo. National Rifle Association spokes persons will tell you that the NRA is a non-partisan lobby for the Second Amendment to the Constitution. In real life, it is an organization that bridges conservative Republicans to the hard right. At the convention, it was apparent that the organization was gearing up its members for the 2014 elections.
The NRA claimed that 86,000 people attended its convention, a number that is grossly inflated with folks that visit the exhibition hall for curiosity’s sake, but never step inside a workshop or plenary session. Only a couple of thousand attend the convention’s biggest events and vote for various motions on the plenary floor. Similarly, the NRA claims they currently have over four million members. A closer analysis by the Violence Policy Center puts the actual number of members at about three million.
After the convention, the NRA board of directors selected Birmingham, Alabama attorney James W. Porter II as its president. Porter calls Barack Obama a “fake president,” and describes the American Civil War as the “War of Northern Aggression,” a term usually signifying one’s identification with the Confederate South.
Add it up: a neo-Confederate president, Tea Party affiliated speakers, and racist viscous portrayals of the president by a vendor combined with multiple pledges to unseat any politicians who breathe a word about gun control. Newspaper reporters often refer to it as “the gun lobby.” A more appropriated term might be one of the many armed wings of the hard right.
It is not the only hard right membership with guns, however. Gun Owners of American executive director Larry Pratt has been for decades a consistent advocate for militias, a center spot for anti-abortion and anti-immigrant politics, and a pressure point on the NRA’s jugular vein, forcing the larger organization to adopt policies ever further to the right.
In recent months, the Tea Party movement has lent its membership to the gun cause.
On April 17, the United States Senate failed to end a filibuster on bipartisan legislation to expand gun background checks to gun shows and internet sales. The legislation was supposed to be the centerpiece of gun safety efforts after the Newtown, Connecticut murders, when one disgruntled 20-year old, shot and killed his mother before going to Sandy Hook elementary school and fatally shooting twenty students and six adults, before killing himself. It took a concerted effort by the NRA, other gun groups and their Tea Party allies to block universal background check legislation, which currently has the support of roughly 90% of the American public according to recent opinion polls.
The Tea Party movement’s pro-gun activity started ramping up at the turn of the year, starting with Gun Appreciation Day in January, followed by February’s Tea Party “Day of Resistance” rallies, to a variety of local protests in April.
Five of the six national Tea Party factions IREHR identified in Tea Party Nationalism along with a new national group engaged local activists in efforts to kill the bill. The 1776 Tea Party (aka TeaParty.org), Patriot Action Network, Tea Party Express, Tea Party Nation, Tea Party Patriots, and TheTeaParty.net all worked against the passage of gun safety legislation.
Guns have been at the top of the agenda for the newest group, TheTeaParty.net. The group capitalized on the gun issue to revitalize the Tea Party street presence. As IREHR first report, TheTeaParty.net organized events for a Day of Resistance on February 23. IREHR tracked rallies in 118 locations in 38 states on February 23. Rallies ranged in size from the eight people standing in the snows of Fairbanks, Alaska; to 260 in Atlanta, Georgia; to 600 in Dallas, Texas; to 800 at the state capitol in Boise, Idaho; to nearly 2000 in Bakersfield, California.
In the days leading up to the vote, TheTeaParty.net peppered their email list with gunner paranoia, “Do not become complacent. Do not think that your voice does not matter. Do not sit idly by while our freedom is taken away. SIGN and SHARE this petition today to tell Congress to “KEEP THEIR HANDS OFF OUR GUNS! [Emphasis in original]”
In another email, the group made the outrageous claim that, “President Obama did what he does best. He preyed on the emotions of people by having a distraught mother of one of the children killed at Sandy Hook give his weekly address to the nation. … That tactic would be used by someone addicted to power who is also hell-bent on destroying this nation by dismantling and attacking the Constitution upon which it was built.”
After the bill was defeated, Dustin Stockman, a leader in TheTeaParty.net and the principle organizer of the February “Day of Resistance” gun rallies, declared, “This is a victory for freedom-loving Americans across the country. And your efforts on the Day of Resistance undoubtedly influenced the outcome of this election.”
Now add it up: A mass movement of angry (white) people, mobilized to keep their guns unregulated, Tea Party and gunner groups working side by side, and a feverish culture war conviction infecting the lot of them. The result is not pretty.