Donald Trump and Ben Carson have both falsely claimed to have seen American Muslims cheering the September 11 attacks. These outrageous lies are but the latest spittle to fly from the unchecked xenophobia overtaking the American right wing. Combined with gun lobby propaganda and increasingly threatening militia groups, the American right wing is fomenting racial and ethnic violence and insurrectionism that threatens the core values of our country. Consider a few examples just from November:
- White supremacists in militia clothing shot five Black Lives Matter protesters in Minneapolis.
- Aaron DeMars, a member of the Three Percenters militia group in Roanoke, Virginia, threatened to “arrest” city council members seen aiding Syrian refugees (his speech starts at about 1:52:40).
- Jay Adair and other Three Percenters in Fredericksburg, Virginia shouted down a meeting to discuss plans to build a Muslim community center.
- David Wright and other Three Percenters in Texas are stalking Muslim Americans while carrying guns.
This simmering brew of violent racism and political intimidation cannot be understood apart from American gun culture, which amplifies political intimidation and exploits nativism and xenophobia to sell guns.
A recent advertisement by the National Rifle Association makes this apparent. Former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell speaks into the camera between segments of timelapse footage, in which farmland and churches remain stable to the viewer as the hectic, frightening modern world races by. “I know you’re watching,” says the narrator to the insidious Muslim hordes he implies have infiltrated the U.S. "So pay attention." He continues:
"You hate my freedom, my religion, and my country. You hate me for speaking my mind. You try to control me with violence and intimidation. You think you can muzzle me with fear? Don’t ever confuse me with my politicians or my media. I am an American, free born and free bred. And I will call you out for who you are: an Islamic extremist who would kill me for my beliefs. You don’t intimidate me. My freedom is more powerful than anything you can possibly do. And I will never, never surrender my rights to your terror. I will say what I think, worship according to my beliefs, and raise my children as I see fit. And I defend it all with the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. I cower to no one. Because I am the National Rifle Association of America and I am freedom’s safest place."
We need guns all over American soil, suggests the ad, because the enemy is among us, and is coming for everything you hold dear. Only your guns and the NRA will keep you safe from the Muslim Menace. Never mind that the NRA has also blocked efforts to keep people on the no-fly list from buying guns. The NRA is happy as long as guns are selling, even and perhaps especially if some of the buyers are terrorists, because that possibility can be used to sell more guns.
The advertisement is just one example of how the gun industry shamelessly stokes xenophobia and nativism to sell firearms, not caring that they are feeding a domestic climate that is becoming increasingly dangerous and inhospitable to immigrants and other residents with brown skin. The frequent targeting of Sikhs and the scapegoating and bullying of American Muslims are the wholly predictable outcomes of this fear-mongering, and with the fevered xenophobia of demagogue presidential candidates such as Trump now in the mix, we are likely to see this get worse.
Armed members of the country’s privileged race and religion are indulging in a fantasy that they are the last line of defense between Western enlightenment and an Islamist dark age. This delusional worldview empowers white militants to become exactly what they claim to fear: holy warriors trampling people’s rights and persecuting them for their religion. Embracing the imagery of the Crusades—rightwing social media is filled with memes of cross-clad knights battling the Saracen—gun extremists reduce the secular, modern, heterogeneous US to medieval Christendom. This is the “freedom” protected by the National Rifle Association: the freedom of violent coercion.
Updated to identify Luttrell.