[Note: This is the first in a series of posts I'll be doing this fall in conjunction with the fine folks at Media Matters -- where this will be cross-posted -- exploring issues related to right-wing extremism and gun-rights advocacy. See the note at the end. -- DN]
Those of us who grew up around the NRA are all too familiar with one of the more striking facets of the organization's relentless fearmongering, its paranoid style: namely, it not only traffics in wild and groundless conspiracy theories about "gun grabbers" and Bircherite "New World Order" takeover schemes, but it forms deep associations with the very extremists whose far-right worldview fosters such paranoia.
The most recent example of this has been the way the NRA's fearmongering about President Obama has fostered real violence from right-wing extremists.
The reason for this kind of extremism is in fact a top-down phenomenon: increasingly, the people running the NRA are themselves deeply extremist.
The folks at the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence have put together a directory of the NRA's board titled Meet the NRA Directors. It's a fascinating site, one that well rewards scrolling through and reading.
In addition to what you'd expect -- a lot of ties to the arms manufacturers who funnel much of the money that is the NRA's lifeblood -- there is also, predictably, a deep undercurrent of right-wing extremism.
The most striking example of this is Robert K. Brown, the longtime publisher of Soldier of Fortune magazine. As David Holthouse has explored in some detail already, Brown's magazine was for years the monthly Bible of the "militia" movement in the 1990s, one of the movement's more prominent promoters. The magazine not only promoted the concept of militias but offered advice on how to form them and urged participants to prepare for persecution from the New World Order.
The ties to violent extremists run deeper, in fact:
Soldier of Fortune distributed copies of a newsletter called The Resister during the 1990s. The Resister was published by Steven Barry, then a member of the Army’s Special Forces and leader of the unsanctioned Special Forces Underground organization. The newsletter initially drew inspiration from the controversial siege at Ruby Ridge. The content of the newsletter evidenced a “white Christian militia mentality,” according to Michael Reynolds from the Southern Poverty Law Center, containing racist and anti-Semitic content while also exploring “New World Order” conspiracy theories. When Timothy McVeigh was arrested for the Oklahoma City Bombing, in his possession was a Soldier of Fortune-distributed copy of The Resister.
Also on Brown's record: an array of crimes (largely would-be contract killers) associated with the magazine, as well Brown's associations with right-wing death squads operating in Central America in the 1980s.
As it happens, one of the writers for Brown's magazine -- indeed, he penned one of the first Soldier of Fortune pieces promoting militias in 1994, titled "Join A Militia -- Break The Law?" -- was yet another NRA board member, a fellow named Wayne Anthony Ross. Over the years, Ross has maintained his associations with the far-right Patriot movement, including his more recent involvement in the case of the Alaska militiamen arrested for an assassination plot:
In March 2011, five members of the Alaska Peacemakers Militia, including leader Francis Cox, were arrested for planning to kill Alaska State Troopers and a federal judge. The group -- which had stockpiled firearms and explosives—advocated the violent secession of Alaska from the United States. Five days after Cox and his co-conspirators were arrested, Alaska Citizens Militia "supply sergeant" William Fulton disappeared—but not before signing over his two houses to Ross, who in 2009 shared the stage with Cox at a Peacemakers meeting. In July 2011, it was reported that authorities were looking for Fulton, who they believe supplied weapons to Cox’s militia.
One of Ross's close associates -- Alaska Rep. Don Young -- is likewise an NRA board member -- and was similarly caught up in the Peacemakers brouhaha:
The Peacemakers had earlier distributed a “Letter of Declaration” which called for armed insurrection in response to the federal government’s enactment of gun control laws. Representative Young signed the letter at a Peacemakers “Open Carry” event in a Fairbanks restaurant. When asked during the event, “If any government should decide that we have to register certain of our arms or turn them in, what would your recommendation be?” Young replied, “Don't do it...I sincerely mean that. Don't turn them in.”
Holthouse reported on this incident at the time, which led us to wonder: Does Young need to reaffirm his oath to the Constitution?
We've been wondering because Young actually signed a revolutionary oath concocted by militia organizer Schaeffer Cox -- the Alaska militiaman arrested last week for plotting to kill cops and a couple of judges -- declaring that the signers would refuse to recognize any new federal taxes or gun laws: "[T]he duty of us good and faithful people will not be to obey them but to alter or abolish them and institute new government laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to us shall seem most likely to effect our safety and happiness."
Then there's Jim Gilmore, who took over the reins at Paul Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation in 2009. The FCF likewise has a substantial history of promoting right-wing extremism (it too was a great promoter of the militia concept in the 1990s) and has more recently been closely linked to one of the most heinous acts of right-wing violence -- namely, Ander Breivik's horrific terrorist attack in Norway in which 93 people were killed:
The Free Congress Foundation (FCF), a think tank that promotes the far-right’s viewpoint in the “Culture War,” has courted a great deal of controversy. Gilmore effectively succeeded FCF President & CEO Paul Weyrich in 2009. On replacing Weyrich, Gilmore said, “Paul Weyrich blazed the trail for many conservative themes and I want to continue that leadership.” The “themes” advocated by FCF have included the following:
In his manifesto, Anders Behring Breivik, the perpetrator of a July 2011 terrorist attack in Norway that left 77 dead, quoted extensively and at length from a FCF-published book about “Cultural Marxism” entitled “Political Correctness: A Short History of Ideology.” The book was written by the former head of the FCF’s Center for Cultural Conservatism William Lind. According to investigative journalist Chip Berlet, “Breivik's core thesis is borrowed from William S. Lind's antisemitic conspiracy theory about 'Cultural Marxism'.” The Southern Poverty Law Center has described Lind as “a key popularizer of the idea of cultural Marxism.”
One of the more colorful NRA board members if rock guitarist Ted Nugent, whose fondness for saying outrageous things is accompanied by a willingness to embrace ethnic, racial and sexual hatemongering and their associated far-right conspiracy theories. The Educational Fund's site has a pretty good array, including this nugget:
Among "What I said is, 'If you can't speak English, get the fuck out of America.' Spurred by a first-person, hands-on, eyewitness experience in America, where I've gone to enough fuckin' convenience stores where the cocksucker behind the counter can't translate 'doughnut' for me. I never mentioned the word 'Hispanics.' I never mentioned the word 'Mexicans.' I never mentioned the word 'Latinos.' I never mentioned the words 'Spanish language.' I merely said, 'If you can't speak English, get the fuck out of America.”
Of course, we also recall how Nugent issued threats to both Obama and Hillary Clinton onstage in 2007:
Nugent: I was in Chicago last week I said---Hey Obama, you might want to suck on one of these you punk? Obama, he's a piece of shit and I told him to suck on one of my machine guns...Let's hear it for them. I was in NY and I said hey Hillary---you might want to ride one of these into the sunset you worthless bitch...Since I'm in California, I'm gonna find-- she might wanna suck on my machine gun! Hey, Dianne Feinstein, ride one of these you worthless whore. Any questions? Freeeeedom!
Once Obama was elected, Nugent just ratcheted it up, including his violent talk on Neil Cavuto's Fox News show in 2010:
I’m the expert on the health care bill because I kill pigs. And it’s the communist, Mao, Che agenda of the communist, Mao, Che fans in the White House. They’re pigs, Neil! We gotta kill the pig.
Talk like that earned Nugent inclusion on a list detailing "Hate in the Mainstream" compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Nugent also ardently promoted the theory that Obama planned to grab Americans' guns:
Meanwhile, in order to stop the drowning and murders, I will work on banning water, Obama can try to ban guns. Good luck. Save an innocent life, join the NRA and celebrate 138 years of keeping and bearing. Drive a bad guys nuts. Then shoot him while he’s committing a violent crime.
Some NRA board members, like Sandra Froman, don't have any associations with right-wing extremists in their backgrounds -- they just ardently promote their conspiracy theories:
In the August 2006 edition of America’s 1st Freedom, Froman claimed, “The United Nations is engaged in a global gun ban-scheme. It is well-organized and well funded by eccentric anti-gun billionaires. The goal of this movement is to get every nation to sign a treaty banning the private ownership of firearms worldwide and giving U.N. troops authority to enforce the treaty.” She was referring to a United Nations treaty dealing with small arms trafficking. The treaty’s actual goal is to reduce the illicit international trade in small arms—it does not address the issue of private firearms ownership. In any case, foreign treaties require approval by two-thirds of the members of the U.S. Senate in order to be ratified.
This undercurrent is nothing particularly new for the NRA -- it has a long history of these kinds of dalliances with the far right. But it appears to be growing stronger and louder and more radical than at any time since the militia-loving heyday of the 1990s.
This post is written as part of the Media Matters Gun Facts fellowship. The purpose of the fellowship is to further Media Matters' mission to comprehensively monitor, analyze, and correct conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. Some of the worst misinformation occurs around the issue of guns, gun violence, and extremism; the fellowship program is designed to fight this misinformation with facts.