Has the gun issue tipped the backlash politics of white patriarchal Christian hegemons into a dangerous new level of viciousness? Their hysteria and paranoid conspiracy-mongering suggests that may be the case.
Just before the election, I wrote an article for Salon called Fear and Loathing in Campaign 2012. No matter which side prevailed on November 6, I wrote, the endgame had already begun. For all the implicit and in-your-face racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia of the right, "America is becoming more multicultural, more gay-friendly and more feminist every day. But as every hunter knows," I cautioned, "a wounded or cornered quarry is the most dangerous. Even as the white, patriarchal, Christian hegemony declines, its backlash politics become more vicious. They may succeed in turning back the clock for some time."
In retrospect, my hunter metaphor seems eerily prescient. I had no idea that the tipping point would come so soon - or that it would have so much to do with guns. But here we are, with an ex-Marine accusing Sen. Dianne Feinstein of treason for her proposed gun control legislation in an open letter that went viral; a scary-looking gun instructor telling his YouTube audience that he's about to "start killing people;" father-and-son-Republican elected officials throwing loaded words around like "secession" and "nullification;" and at least one governor signaling his intention to defy federal law. Former Attorney General Edmund Meese has even weighed in, telling Newsmax that any presidential attempt "to override the Second Amendment in any way ... would be an impeachable offense."
The hysteria is more over-the-top than it was with Obamacare back in 2009, because this time, the president has the upper hand. The NRA might be intransigent, but the public - including a significant majority of gun owners - is ready for change. According to the latest polling, 58 percent of Americans favor stronger gun laws; 84 percent of all Americans want federal standards for background checks at gun shows, as do 80 percent of gun owners.
But not everyone is with the president on this. Professional gun industry lobbyists and Second Amendment absolutists are vowing to resist even the most nominal gestures towards gun control. And then there are the Sandy Hook Truthers, the out-and-out conspiracy theorists who believe that the terrible school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut was a put-up job, stage-managed from beginning to end by the White House, Mossad, or maybe even bankers connected to the LIBOR scandal.
The Sandy Hook Shooting - Fully Exposed is a YouTube video that has had more than 10,000,000 views; it was produced by filmmakers who learned their craft putting together 9/11 "Truth" videos when they were in high school. It questions whether Adam Lanza was really the shooter - and whether some of the victims even died. Of one thing, however, it has no doubt - that Newtown was a Psyops, a False Flag - and that the fingerprints of the government are all over it.
James Tracy, a tenured professor at Florida Atlantic University, has suggested that the suspiciously calm parents who were interviewed by broadcast journalists outside the school were "trained actors working under the direction of state and federal authorities and in coordination with cable and broadcast network talent to provide tailor-made crisis acting that realistically drives home the event's tragic features."
Tracy ruefully notes that to "declare that the shooting 'never took place' is cause for intense opprobrium in most polite circles where, in familiar Orwellian fashion, the media-induced trance and dehistoricized will to believe maintain their hold. Similarly, an individual who contends that Timothy McVeigh was an accessory in a much larger operation at Oklahoma City, Osama bin Laden was not responsible for the events of 9/11, or the World Trade Center Towers were brought down by controlled demolition is vigorously condemned for thought crimes against the state. Such are the immense dimensions of mass manipulation where fact and tragedy may be routinely revised and reinforced to fit the motives and designs toward a much larger apparatus of geopolitical control."
Tracy's politics are ambiguously leftist; Michael Harris' are firmly neo-Nazi. The financial editor of the anti-Semitic web site Veterans Today, he gave an interview on the Iranian English-language propaganda outlet Press TV, in which he placed the blame for the Newtown shooting squarely on Israel, which he said was punishing Obama for his tepid support. "This is exactly what Israel did in Norway," he declared. "This is what Israel always does; they go after the children.... Nobody buys the 'lone gunman' story anymore, not with the Gabby Giffords' shooting, not with the Aurora 'Batman' shooting, certainly not [in Norway] and certainly not in Connecticut."
In an article on the Press TV web site, retired University of Minnesota philosophy professor James Fetzer agreed that the killers were Israelis, but suggested that they were working with, not against, the US government, which has been preparing special box cars to carry dissidents to 300 FEMA-run concentration camps. "When DHS is gearing up to conduct a massive civil war against the American people, what better excuse could there be for banning assault weapons than the massacre of 20 innocent children at Sandy Hook Elementary School?" he asked, adducing a critical piece of etymological evidence for his theory:
The choice appears to be covertly revealing, where "Sandy" means guardian of men (as an allusion to guns) and "Hook" as a euphemism for hooking, gathering or confiscating the only weapons that DHS fears. And who better to slaughter American children than Israelis, who deliberately murder Palestinian children?
As unhinged as these suppositions might sound, as callous and cruel to the victims' grieving families, they follow a familiar conspiracist script. There were Aurora, Colorado and Oak Creek, Wisconsin Truthers too - even if nobody paid much attention to them at the time. (After Newtown, Ben Swann, a news personality who broadcasts on Cincinnati's Fox19, called all three shootings into question on his investigative feature Full Disclosure.)
Back in August, Larry Pratt, the president of the Gun Owners of America, opined that the Dark Knight shooting had been orchestrated to coincide with the negotiation of the United Nations Small Arms Treaty. (He blamed the Newtown shooting on Gun Free School Zones and accused gun control supporters of having "the blood of little children on their hands.")
On August 7, just two days after the shooting at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, the prolific conspiracy theorist Jon Rappoport poked holes in the official story on the web site Natural News. The shooter Wade Page, a well-known white power rock musician, was a likely patsy, he suggested. The government benefited "big time" from the killings, because they would help it push its gun control agenda and, "more obliquely," he added, a little incoherently, because "the Wisconsin governor and public employees of the state have been at each other's throats over cuts in public-employee benefits. Those who oppose the governor will try to set the temple killings as an illustration of 'private citizens' as crazies, whereas government is 'sane and dependable.'"
As Richard Hofstadter famously wrote in The Paranoid Style of American Politics, the conspiracy theorist "is always manning the barricades of civilization.... Time is forever running out." Every crisis is a potential Reichstag fire - the tipping point catastrophe that gives the authorities a pretext to drop the hammer on its opponents, as Hitler did with the Communists and as whatever administration is currently in power is sure to do to them.
Sometimes, like the proverbial broken clock that's right twice a day, they hit the mark. Alex Jones delivered a performance on Piers Morgan's show a few weeks ago that was unhinged by even his histrionic standards, calling his host a "hatchet man of the New World Order" and bellowing that "1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms!" But Jones' July 25, 2001 broadcast was downright uncanny. A "Hitlerian Reichstag event" was just months away, he predicted, a False Flag that would likely result in a declaration of martial law. A terrible event did in fact happen right about when Jones said it would, followed by, if not exactly martial law, a significant assault on civil liberties in the form of the Patriot Act. Jones had even called out Bin Laden - though as a patsy, not a perpetrator, and he'd mentioned the World Trade Center by name (though he was referring to a previous attack).
"If there is any terrorism," he blustered, "We know who to blame.... If any terrorism comes, it's from this government. And if there was an outside threat like a Bin Laden who was a known CIA asset in the '80s, running the Mujahedeen war.... He's the bogeyman they need, in this Orwellian phony system.... We know Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center were terrorism ... if you do it, we're going to blame you, because we know who's up to it. Or if you let some terrorist group do it, like the World Trade Center, we know who to blame."
But if Jones' skepticism about the government's intentions and actions rivals and exceeds the Left's, his agenda is mostly driven by sheer paranoia. Writing in The New Republic, Michelle Goldberg has characterized his theorizing as "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion stripped of any reference to Jews'" Robert Welch's John Birch Society's Blue Book is clearly an influence as well.
The NRA isn't as off-the-rails as Jones; it hasn't gone so far as to accuse Obama of cold-bloodedly ordering the shootings in Aurora, Oak Creek and Newtown; but it's not as if they'd put anything past him either. As early as September 23, 2011, in a speech he delivered at CPAC, Wayne LaPierre was sounding the tocsin about Obama's great gun-grabbing conspiracy. Obama's sinister plan, he said, was to do nothing. "The president will offer the Second Amendment lip service and hit the campaign trail saying he's actually been good for the Second Amendment," he warned. "But it's a big fat stinking lie.... It's all part of a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment in our country.... Well, gun owners are not fools and we are not fooled."
Gun advocates glean Obama's intentions from Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot and Mao, who purportedly disarmed their citizens prior to slaughtering them. Larry Ward, who organized a Gun Appreciation Day to coincide with Obama's inauguration, absurdly assumed the mantle of Martin Luther King during an appearance on CNN: "I think Martin Luther King, Jr. would agree with me if he were alive today that if African-Americans had been given the right to keep and bear arms from day one of the country's founding, perhaps slavery might not have been a chapter in our history."
All the way back in 1948, Merwin K. Hart of the far right National Economic Council and the para-military Minutemen sent out a newsletter in which he urged Americans to buy "one or more guns," lest what happened in Spain and France a decade before happen here. (Hart was a great fan of Franco, so it wasn't a Fascist uprising he was worried about - it was the Loyalist resistance.)
As reported in the liberal tabloid PM, Hart's newsletter explicitly or implicitly named "as enemies of the Hart way of life all Communists, all Zionists, all supporters of 'bi-partisan' foreign policy, all supporters of the United Nations, all Americans who voluntarily supported this country's role in World War II, all trade unionists who sympathize with the French workers, and all people who believe in American democracy.... Hart is asking that a minority of Americans arm themselves to insure that, when the time comes, their way of life may prevail against the policies of the US government and the wishes of the majority of Americans." It all has a familiar ring to it, doesn't it?
In a way, things have come full circle for Obama. Back in 2008, when he was still running against Hillary Clinton in the primaries, he made a potentially fatal blunder when he said that struggling small town Americans "get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." Clinton - who had been heartily hated by just those sorts of people when her husband was president - made as much political hay as she could from Obama's supposed "elitism" and his seeming contempt for religion. But now that same Barack Obama is settling in for another four years of tyranny. It's enough to make a white, patriotic Christian of a certain frame of mind cling that much harder to his guns.
Chuck Baldwin is a fundamentalist preacher and far right politician who received Ron Paul's endorsement when he ran for president on the Constitution Party ticket in 2008. In 2010, he stepped down from the pulpit of the church he'd pastored in Pensacola, Florida for 35 years and moved with his family to Montana. "The only way freedom has a chance to survive in these States united," he wrote of his decision, "is to recapture the spirit of liberty - one State at a time." Baldwin, who is a proponent of the survivalist American Redoubt movement, believes that patriotic state governors should call out their militias and print their own currency. Citizens should arm themselves and strive for self-sufficiency - and be ready to protect themselves when the national economy collapses and the power grid goes down.
Jesus, he says, would back this plan to the hilt; in fact in Luke 22:36 he instructed his disciples to buy swords. "Ladies and gentlemen," Baldwin wrote in his January 17 column, "the First Century Roman sword was the most efficient and lethal personal defense weapon in the world at the time. It is no hyperbole or injustice to language to say that the Roman sword was the First Century equivalent to a modern AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. It was designed to kill swiftly and efficiently. And Jesus commanded His disciples to buy and carry one!"
The Chuck Baldwins and the Alex Jones of the world, the Wayne LaPierres and the Mike Harrises, are not so much revanchists as revenants, walking ghosts. The reason that their rhetoric is so intemperate is because they fear that their world is coming to an end. And it is.
The right wing gun culture is too deeply engrained in this country to simply disappear, but the way of life that the NRA and other gun extremists purport to be protecting is already on its last legs. They know it and it's making them crazy - so much so, that it's hard to tell the nutty professors and off-the-wall YouTube auteurs from the supposedly mainstream politicians.