The Eternal Boogeyman: The NRA Propaganda Machine and Glenn Beck-ism
When Wayne LaPierre went on stage to address the massacre at Newtown, he laid down the most predictable speech in the history of predictable speeches. Say what you will about the NRA, but they know how to grease up the wheels of that propaganda machine and keep them rolling when most others would have quit a long, long time ago. Even the tobacco companies ate their shoes eventually, but not the NRA. Not yet. If I were a card-carrying member, I’d have been outraged and embarrassed — of course I was as a non-member.
LaPierre’s speech has already been broken down, beaten to pieces, and burned to dust by tons of people. You can find reactions all over the web, so I won’t be addressing it specifically bit by bit. I am aiming for a more macro look at the overall strategy. However, before we go any further, I want to bring up a “money quote” from the thing, which helps explain how out of touch he is:
“Rather than face their own moral failings, the media demonize gun owners.”
You can freely insert “anyone who disagrees with the NRA” for “the media” and the quote retains its meaning. The problem is, it’s dead wrong. It’s a gong the NRA beats whenever they bring yet another inevitable PR shitstorm upon themselves. It’s a ‘rally the troops’ type of thing, but what it really does is throw the ‘troops’ under the bus. People who disagree with the NRA do not necessarily mean to demonize gun owners, at least I don’t.
Plenty of good, reasonable people own guns for legitimate reasons, and use them with the proper care that should go into the handling of something that can end another human’s life in an instant. Most reasonable people who oppose the NRA are not out to take guns away from those people. ‘Gun control’ is not synonymous with ‘Obama wants to take away your guns’. But we’ll get back to that at the end.
The important thing here is to take a look at how the NRA operates, and how they get what they want almost at will. The word ‘propaganda’ probably evokes a negative reaction in most people, and it should. By its very meaning it is manipulative and deceitful. It’s a tactical preying upon people’s fears, and the NRA are absolute experts at it.
Let’s start with the other key part of the above quote, which I know I told you to replace a few paragraphs ago, ‘the media’. This is often where the fear-mongering starts, and it’s our first boogeyman — step one, if you will. The implied meaning there is that ‘the media’, whomever that entails, is hiding something from, or lying to, us. No doubt some outlets on both sides of the political aisle do so, but it is equally true that there are plenty of honest, good people in ‘the media’ who only want to get the truth out to the masses.
There are few better ways to strike fear into someone than through enforced paranoia. “They’re all lying to us out there, so the only people you can believe are us!” Us can be a political candidate, a special interest lobby/group like the NRA, or a deluded shock jock like Glenn Beck. Us can also be Hitler, Stalin, or Mussolini. They were the masters of things like this.
The big lie here is multi-pronged; first, that there is an insidious conspiracy behind everything that doesn’t jive with one’s views; second, that only one person or group of people knows the realtruth; third, and in this case most importantly, that said person or group actually represents the interests of the people in whom they are instilling such paranoia and fear.
The third point is important because so many folks believe that the NRA is representing their interests, in this case especially the second amendment of the United States Constitution. In an ass-backwards way it’s true, but they are not doing it for you, the card-carrying member. They are doing it for the people who funnel untold millions into their cause so that more guns can be bought by you, the card-carrying member.
The NRA, I hate to say (ok no I don’t), is no different than any other lobby — big tobacco, health insurance, Wall Street, whatever. If they happen to help you out along the way, so be it, but they’d just as soon kick you to the curb if someone offered them enough money to do so. The scary thing about the NRA is that they have protected the lie so perfectly that it’s almost impossible to distinguish. Every other lobby is hated, but the NRA has fervent support from a massive base of members.
Let’s go to another quote that helps explain why, this by then-president of the NRA Charlton Heston, shortly after the shootings at Columbine:
“But the mayor said don’t come [to Denver]. I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry for the newspaper ads saying the same thing, don’t come here. This is our country. As Americans, we’re free to travel wherever we want in our broad land.”
This is often step two of the process, propaganda-wise. “Those evil people out there are trying to get us, so it’s us against the world!” This one is perhaps most famous not in the political arena, but in athletics. Nothing galvanizes a team like thinking everyone out there is doubting them. It’s the most classic football-coach move ever — seriously, read a few articles in advance of this week’s playoff games and you’ll set it — but it can also be used for far more insidious purposes.
Whether it’s “these people are out to destroy our country”, “these people want to eliminate our religion”, or “these people want to take away our guns”, it is a force which, once sufficient fear/paranoia is instilled into the listener, gets everyone to fall in line and ‘fight for the cause’, as it were. Everybody wants to be a part of something, and if that something happens to be the self-righteous and seemingly worthy cause of defending one’s beliefs/country/whatever, it ups the ante from “let’s win this football game” to “let’s do everything we can to utterly destroy the opposition”.
In the case of the NRA, the opposition is anyone who has nerve enough to raise the possibility of altering gun control laws to keep guns in the hands of responsible people and out of the hands of murderers. The Obama ad way above, another way of evoking fear, frames this perfectly. It’s not “Obama wants to make reasonable changes to the law, which you might very well oppose”, it’s “OMG HE’S GUNNA TAKE YOUR GUNZ”. There is no room for compromise in the eyes of the NRA. Even a hint of opposition is stamped down by relentless rhetoric, though I’m beginning to doubt more and more how many people actually take them seriously.
The third step in the process is a call to action, as shown in this quote from LaPierre in re Newtown:
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Would you rather have your 911 call bring a good guy with a gun from a mile away or from a minute away?”
And there it is, we need more “good guys” with guns. This might even make a speck of sense if the NRA would be willing to revise its stance on gun control — as in, make sure it really is a “good guy” buying the gun, so that if the time comes he or she will be the one protecting the other “good guys” not the one killing them.
Some people, like Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona, are already taking action in the most horrific of ways. Sheriff Joe’s solution to gun violence in schools is to have roving bands of vigilante volunteers with guns patrol the areas around Arizona schools. I’ve tried to be reasonable in this post, but it’s hard to even explain how fucking stupid this is. These are untrained, armed volunteers — some of whom even have criminal pasts — patrolling around school grounds!
How can this happen in 2013? If I’m to understand correctly, this is a way to reduce the threat of violence in schools. Wow. I mean, to some degree I get the idea of professional, trained armed guards in schools, even if I don’t agree with it, but this is just completely batshit. Who’s to say the next mass murderer doesn’t tag along with this band of deluded, wanna-be cops and waltz right in and start killing people.
Once again, the answer to gun violence is more guns. The NRA would be, and probably is, quite proud of Sheriff Joe. This is the same Sheriff Joe you might know from the news due to hisvariety of scandals over the years. So now we have an attention-whore sheriff leading a bunch of untrained gunman with the goal of doing what, exactly? Other than of course fulfilling their Wild West fantasies. Ok, getting a little off track, so let’s jump into one more tried and true propaganda tactic.
The classic but oblique red herring is a way to throw people off the tracks when shit starts getting real, to wit:
“We care about our president, so we protect him with armed Secret Service agents. Members of Congress work in offices surrounded by Capitol Police officers.”
Logically, one can draw the conclusion here that everyone then must be protected by armed guards if any of us are to be safe in this horrible, dangerous world. He goes on to say how children should be protected by armed guards/teachers/et cetera in schools, if we are going to protect the president as we do. So, in the NRA’s eyes the only way to combat the problem of gun violence is, you guessed it, more guns! Funny how lobbies work.
Set aside for a moment whether you think armed guards in schools are a good idea, because that’s an issue that can be reasonably debated. The answer from the NRA to any problem is always going to be more guns, because of the interests they represent. It doesn’t matter how poor the logic is — ie the president of the United States, one of the most targeted people in the world (no matter who it is), is protected by guns. Well, no shit. No, this is all about instilling fear through diversion and catchy quotes. It’s a dirty trick that is at once propaganda 101, and an expert application of the principles of misinformation and manipulation.
I know that I mentioned Glenn Beck in the beginning, and he sort of ties things in. He claims to represent conservatives but even they won’t touch him with a ten foot pole. No, he represents crazy people just like himself, and he uses the strategies listed above — albeit with a different end game — to get those people lapping at his teats every day. Here’s the short version, mostly in quotes:
Step 1 (instill fear): “We told you this week how if (President Hosni) Mubarak does step down, however, the Muslim Brotherhood would be the most likely group to seize power. They’ve openly stated they want to declare war on Israel and they would end the peace agreement with Israel and they would work towards instituting something we told you about, a caliphate.”
(A Caliphate, for what it’s worth, is basically a group of Muslims led by another Muslim. Terrifying, I know.)
Step Two (rally the troops): “They [Democrats in Congress] believe in communism. They believe and have called for a revolution. You’re going to have to shoot them in the head. But warning, they may shoot you.”
(Different “issue”, I know, but I wanted to stick to real quotes for the first two steps. It may as well have been about anything else his crazy ass pretends to believe.)
Step Three (call to action): “Buy my new book so you can save yourself from the Muslim Brotherhood and Communist Democrats.”
(Made up, obviously, because he’d have been more artful and crazy about it. Probably would have been crying, too.)
And here it is, more or less, in picture form:
See how this all works, now? It’s been done through the ages, and the NRA/Glenn Beck/whatever wingnut are just carrying on tradition. The scary thing about it is how effective it is. I wouldn’t for a second call the leaders of the NRA stupid, because they are quite the opposite. Misguided? Maybe. Insidious? Definitely. But not stupid. They are smart enough to know the exact buttons to push, and exactly when and how to push them. They ‘rule’ by fear and manipulation, only out to fulfill their own needs.
It’s dangerous, and ugly, and I wish people could just be fucking honest once in a while. You want to own guns? Sure! Just clear a background check, take a psych evaluation, receive appropriate training on how to operate and safely maintain your weapon, and allow the government to know which gun you possess. None of those things seem unreasonable to me, and you’d still be able to get your gun for target practice, hunting, or protecting your home — in the unlikely even that someone breaks in, you realize in time, are able to retrieve your gun from a (hopefully) safe place, have the nerve to aim properly in the midst of an armed robbery, and have the ‘guts’ to pull the trigger, but to each their own.
In the end, if you want to support a reasonable gun advocate, look no further than Senator Gabrielle Giffords (yes, she of the campaign rally massacre) and her Astronaut husband Mark Kelly. Their aim is to “encourage elected officials to stand up for solutions to prevent gun violence and protect responsible gun ownership.” Emphasis mine, and yes, she does in fact own a gun. More information about the foundation can be found here:
Thank you for reading.
Submitted by MikeStafford on January 14, 2013 – 10:19