The NRA’s Fascist Propaganda
In recent and well-publicized fundraising videos (one, two), the National Rifle Association uses intense and violent rhetoric that has struck many as excessive and disturbing. A Vox article describes one as a “chilling” call for something “just short of violence” against liberals. Being stunned by the imagery and messaging of this video is understandable, but rather than call it some kind of “anti-politics” as does Vox we should take it seriously as a political message with political content — and that content has no other name but fascism.
In the videos the NRA accuses “them” (its opponents) of using “their” institutions to insult and challenge President Trump, and accuses former President Obama of endorsing “the resistance” against Trump and his administration. This is the only section where the audience is made clear — it is are Trump supporters, or at least those who are willing to follow his lead as the winner of the election rather than fighting him politically (the “entitled crybabies”). All politics is translated through support for or opposition to Trump.
Identifying a coalition not by its politics but by the identity of its leader is a hallmark of fascism. Personalist leadership, which emphasizes the actual person of the leader and access to him rather than the normal processes or procedures of government, was the logic by which the Nazi government functioned during the 1930’s and 40’s, with political power based upon access to and levels of separation from the person of Adolf Hitler, while the equivalent of the Cabinet (the High Command) met very rarely. This kind of leadership structure can be seen in the Trump White House, in which hundreds of bureaucratic positions remain unfilled and insiders argue that the most decisive factor in executive policy is who it is that last spoke to the President.
More importantly, the videos’ rhetoric draws clear partisan lines between its audience and “them” — that is, the entirety of the political spectrum to the left of the Trump wing of the Republican party. Images of peaceful marches are edited together with those of property destruction, civil disobedience equated with demonstrations that have police permits as well as the actions of more radical anarchists and leftists. Political tactics that gained prominence during the Black Lives Matter protests, such as highway occupations, are connected with the kind of street protests that have characterized progressive (and, for that matter, conservative and right wing) movements since the early 20th century.
Equating all of Trump’s opponents, from liberals to Marxists, from the Women’s March to black bloc, is another clear sign of fascist content. Fascism identifies domestic enemies and conflates all political opposition with its most extreme representatives. This is not a mere rhetorical move intended to galvanize or inspire fear, but an actual tenet of fascism. It wasn’t only political expediency that has lead radical right governments from Italy to Spain to Chile to crack down on the left and progressives, but an earnest belief that anyone left of center is an enemy of the state and nation, of the unspoken “us” in the NRA’s video.
Vitally, this literal call to arms is being made by a technically nonpartisan organization of armed citizens, which identifies directly with the police, the military, and veterans. Though some analyses may call this separation of the NRA from the Republican party superficial, they are extremely important in understanding this video as fascist content.
Fascist organizations almost exclusively rise from coalitions of downwardly mobile elite intellectuals, the disaffected middle class, and veterans. This was the makeup of the Nazi Party, led by the generation WWI veterans and voted for by the lower middle classes and small business owners, as well as the Spanish Falange, led by a poet and feeding into the generation of Spaniards who lost the 1898 war with the US.
The alt right in the US currently represents elite intellectuals (Richard Spencer, Gavin MacInnes) and the dissaffected middle class ( represented by young men resentful that their economic position is not as powerful as it once was) — the potential that the largest association of non-military gun owners on Earth is joining in the alt right’s manifest fascism is a clear sign of right leaning political realignment in the US and should serve as a warning to all those who would oppose this political shift.
Using one’s relationship with a leader as the only marker of one’s political position, identifying vast swathes of the country as partisan enemies, justifying state crackdowns on political opponents, and heavy connotations of endorsing partisan violence against leftists, progressives, and liberals on the part of armed right wing citizens — there is a word for this, and it is fascism.
While the extremes of this video’s rhetoric are startling, they are unfortunately nothing new to the US. Donald Trump famously goaded rally goers to assault his political opponents, offering to pay the legal fees of anyone who did so. A Trump supporter shot and severely injured a Trump opponent on inauguration night, fewer than twelve hours into Trump’s presidency. These trends aren’t limited to the President and his administration, either — another Republican who won office in 2016, Louisiana Rep. Clay Higgins, is a former SWAT Captain with a lengthy YouTube career featuring numerous videos threatening excessive violence against criminals. In one video during his campaign, he enters the frame shooting an assault rifle and then stops to address the audience, noting the need to combat the left — socialism — by any means possible.
To be fair, the use of fascist messages and rhetoric does not necessarily mean that an organization or its members are fascist. Historically, many organizations have used these messages to reach new constituencies during rightward turns in their country’s political spectrums. But what this kind of messaging makes clear is that numerous groups, from the NRA to Trump to local politicians, see an opening on the extreme right of the political spectrum, an opening for fascist politics in the US. Trump’s victory and the rise of the alt right bear this out.
Fascist messaging to voters and citizens will not stop of its own accord, and knowing that it is present is only the first step in preventing the growth of fascist politics in the US. Growing openings on the left of the political spectrum could combat the rightward shift of political space. Organizing by leftists and liberals in the communities targeted by fascist messaging could eat into this potential constituency. First, though, we can fight fascism by naming it when we see it.