Recently, the NRA released a series of ads called Freedom’s Safest Place. In this roundup, Citizen Critics responds to spokeswoman Dana Loesch’s video.
Can We Finally Call the NRA a (White) Terrorist Organization?
The NRA video ad, “The Violence of Lies,” is exemplary in its potential to produce the same analytical response from people across professions: “Where do I even begin?”
Let’s start with the video’s context of production. The NRA is an organization that receives a bulk of its revenue from the gun industry itself. Since the election of Donald Trump, there has been a three-month decline of gun sales, and the NRA appears to be using this video as a means to spike sales. As NPR reports, “Analysts say when gun purchases quickly spike a clear connection can be made to fear, politics, or both.”
In this case, it’s both: the NRA constructs an ‘us vs. them’ narrative to mobilize (white) right-wing fear based on political difference in order to increase gun sales.
The narrator, Dana Loesch, rallies viewers to “save our country and our freedom” from a broadly referenced, purposefully ambiguous “they.” These references are broad and ambiguous so that viewers perceive threats in immediate surroundings—the kind of gun-purchasing paranoia from extreme right-wing citizens fearing that President Barack Obama was going to confiscate their guns. No wonder Loesch claims that Obama is still wielding power from behind the scenes. It’s good for gun sales.
Further coded racial appeals of dog-whistle politics fill this ‘us vs. them’ narrative. For instance, Loesch refers to this ambiguous “they” as those that “bully and terrorize the law-abiding” while showing the image of a (white) Trump supporter bandaged and bloodied from a physical assault. No reference to the terrorism of Trump supporters’ many assaults and threats against women and people of color.
In the hopes of profiting from increased gun sales based on both fear and politics, the NRA projects an image of (white) Trump supporters as a whole being the victims of some “Other” (the broadly referenced, ambiguous “they”) “until the only option left is for the police to do their jobs and stop to the madness,” which itself becomes an “excuse” for “their outrage.” It’s an implicit reference against Black Lives Matter—made even more explicit by the NRA’s reaction video attacking Tamika D. Mallory’s and DeRay Mckesson’s criticisms of the coded racial appeals in Loesch’s call-to-arms message.
It’s just another day in America when a white woman uses racism to benefit an institution that was silent when Philando Castile, a legal gun owner who is Black, was murdered by the State.
— Kyle Larson
Good Guy with a Gun?
This newest NRA ad subtly redefines one of the NRA’s most essential myths: the good guy with gun. A noble figure, he stops rapes, robberies, and other violent crimes. He protects his property and looks to help others. This myth has garnered legislative victories from “campus carry” to no training required for permits to even permit-less carry.
If there was any nobility in this icon, he has morphed into a plural “we” with malice in heart against a “they” that includes The New York Times, Hollywood, people who voted against Trump, an implied Black Lives Matter protestors, and anyone against freedom. This malice has appeared – ironically – after all the legislative victories mentioned above. To paraphrase their White House supporter, the NRA is tired of winning and has cast “law abiding citizens” as losers in a raging culture war even the police can’t win. Freedom at all costs has replaced goodness as a virtue.
And then we come to the most interesting move by the National Rifle Association: the “good guy with a gun” becomes a rhetor. The ad claims to “fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.” This re-branding downplays the most controversial part of the NRA, the gun. It is as if the gun has disappeared (no gun users appear in the ad except police). But it’s always there in the public imagination, perhaps in the opposite hand from the “fist of truth.” It is still that which keeps freedom “safe” from those other Americans.
— Matthew Boedy
The new NRA ad is one of a series in which NRA spokespeople declare, “I’m the National Rifle Association of America, and I’m freedom’s safest place.” In making this declaration, the NRA is furthering its argument that the best way to keep everyone safe is through gun ownership. This specific ad, however, raises questions about to whom that safety belongs. The use of “their/they” and “our” creates an immediate us vs. them scenario. The question, of course, is who is them and who is us? The “them” appears to be anyone exercising their right to march and protest; individuals who are painted as liars, violent, and law-breakers. The “us” appears to be gun owners; individuals who are truthful, nonviolent, and law-abiders. Yet, gun owners are sometimes protesters too.. In recent years, several protests focused on gun laws; at least one protest openly did so to violate a newly passed gun control law. On the other end, there are gun owners such as Philando Castile who was complying with the law, but was shot and killed anyway. In creating the us vs. them mentality, the ad aims to create a division and eliminate nuances. Given this blurred line, the question remains, who exactly is the NRA and who counts as “freedom’s safest place”? Given the us vs. them language, the answer appears to be only those with whom the NRA agrees.
— Rita Shah
Throughout the NRA’s advertisement, pronouns do the rhetorical heavy lifting. Take this sentence:
“They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler.”
This statement evokes memories of a few questionable incidents that circulated on conservative media. It then amplifies those incidents into an epidemic, casting suspicion on a “they” that includes 3.6 million teachers.
The strategic ambiguity of “they” and “their” makes this possible. To see why, contrast the two uses of “their” in the same sentence. One “their” refers to the “children,” a group of innocents misled to believe “their president” is aligned with history’s most notorious figure. The other “their,” in “their schools,” is linked back to “they”—a vague bundle of anxiety-inducing social forces.
Conservative media have long rendered higher education as part of “they,” as an outside force that threatens society. But the NRA ad takes this a step further. It characterizes the universal system of children’s K-12 education as the “they.”
The rhetoric of “their schools” is a dangerous development. To be clear, I’m not saying anxieties about student indoctrination in public schools are wholly new. During the Red Scare, for example, many teachers were accused of bringing Communism into our schools. That’s the difference, though: “They” had infiltrated “our schools.” The schools were still described, even by Joseph McCarthy himself, as “our schools.” Even for these accusers, schools were woven into the fabric of society. “They” were attempting to spread their ideology through a system that belonged, in the end, to all of “us.”
The phrasing “their schools” signals a deep estrangement, and one that should not be dismissed out of hand. For many Americans, schooling has never represented their culture or their concerns. When Dead Prez rapped about “They Schools” in 2000, they expressed a deep grievance with an underfunded education system that reproduces conditions of poverty, incarceration, and racism. Likewise, the choice of many parents to homeschool their children signals a sense of alienation from “their schools.”
Coming from the NRA, though—an organization that boasts 5 million members and wields outsized influence in government—the meaning of “their schools” takes on new meaning. In the vitriolic context of the ad, the language of “their schools” means that your child’s teacher is not to be trusted, but is part of the out-group of celebrities and elites.
The use of “their schools” means that even local classrooms are subject to Americans’ decaying faith in public institutions. It threatens to weaken schools’ efficacy, where parental buy-in is vital to student development. Perhaps most troubling of all, the discourse of “their schools” undermines the one social institution best poised to diminish the factionalism of American culture.
— Michael J. Steudeman