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“The Revolution Has Begun”: How the Gun Industry Drives the Violent Rhetoric of the NRA

Jerad Miller pretending to run for president to create a “one world order.” (Screengrab via Youtube)

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Sunday morning, June 8, Jerad and Amanda Miller left their cats with a neighbor, Kelly Fielder, before heading out. “”The revolution has begun,’ that’s what he kept saying,” Fielder told The New York Times. “All Jerad wanted to do is talk about overthrowing the government.”

Within hours, the Millers had killed two police officers having lunch and a “good guy with a gun” who tried to stop them. Then Jerad died in a rain of police gunfire, while Amanda took her own life with a gunshot to the head. In a search of their home, police found, among other things, detailed plans to take over a courthouse and execute public officials.

Kelly Fielder wasn’t the only person Jerad told about the motives behind the couple’s killing spree. In fact, his Facebook page contained a series of manifestos explaining their actions. On April 9, before joining Cliven Bundy on his ranch during his showdown with the federal government, Jerad posted this message: “I will be supporting Clive Bundy and his family from Government slaughter. This is the next Waco! His ranch is under siege right now! The federal government is stealing his cattle, arresting his family and beating on them. We must do something. I will be doing something.”

Then in May, there was this:

There is no greater cause to die for than liberty. I will willingly die for liberty. Death, in a sense, is freedom from tyranny. Most notably is the suicide by cop routine. Yes, standing before despots is dangerous and most likely will not end well for you. I know this. My wife knows this. Soon they will come for us because they don’t like what we think, and what we say. They don’t like the fact that we simply will not submit to fascist rule.

Followed by this post, on June 2:

To stop this oppression, I fear, can only be accomplished with bloodshed. May the best men of our beloved nation stand and fight tyranny, without fear and without regret. May we stand proud as free men instead of kneeling as slaves. May we offer our children a free and just world with our blood, sweat and tears as payment. Let our wives and lovers take vengeance upon our enemies in our absence. We cannot fail in this endeavor of Liberty, if we do we risk leaving our orphaned children to the will of tyrants. We, cannot with good conscience leave this fight to our children, because the longer we wait, our enemies become better equipped and recruit more mercenaries of death, willing to do a tyrants bidding without question. I know you are fearful, as am I. We certainly stand before a great and powerful enemy. I, however would rather die fighting for freedom, than live on my knees as a slave. Let it be known to our children’s children that free men stood fast before a tyrants wrath and were found victorious because we stood together. That we all cast aside our petty differences and united under the banner of Liberty and Truth. May future generations look back upon this time in history with awe and gratitude, for our courage to face tyranny, so that they could live happy and free.

And finally, Jared’s last Facebook post, on June 8, the day of the killings:

The dawn of a new day. May all of our coming sacrifices be worth it.

Of course, the style and substance of these messages did not originate with Jerad Miller. The archaic language alluding to the Founders – liberty, tyranny, despots – the fear and hatred of a government that will “come for us,” the charge of fascism, the threat of apocalyptic violence, the mourning for a lost United States, the dream of dying for a great cause: all of these elements are omnipresent in the rhetoric of the militia movement – and in the language of one of Jerad Miller’s Facebook “likes,” the National Rifle Association.

The Incendiary Rhetoric of the NRA

In 2010, the Violence Policy Center (VPC) issued a report on the NRA’s messaging, which now seems eerily prescient.

The gun lobby is once again embracing – and, equally important, validating – the anti-government rhetoric being offered by activists that range from Tea Party members, through pro-gun advocates, to members of the militia movement. And as was the case with Timothy McVeigh, the risk lies not so much with the organized members of these groups, but with the “lone wolves” who not only embrace their rhetoric, but are willing to act on it with violence.

The report cites, among many examples, an article by Skip Coryell, organizer of the NRA-supported “Second Amendment March,” explaining the event:

My question to everyone reading this article is this: For you, as an individual, when doyou draw your saber? When do you say, “Yes, I am willing to rise up and overthrow anoppressive, totalitarian government?” I hear the clank of metal on metal getting closer,but that’s not enough. The politicians have to hear it too. They have to hear it, and they have to believe it.

“The NRA incites its members and others,” the VPC report continues, “offering words that outside of the protective bubble of direct-mail and official publications would be chilling, as illustrated by this postscript from an August 2008 direct-mail letter from the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) warning of the threat posed by a possible Obama administration”:

Our Constitution and our system of government guarantee that every American has the opportunity to write his or her name in the history books of tomorrow – to leave his or her imprint on the fabric of our nation. But in the end, history is always written only by a select few – the few who sacrifice of themselves to fight for the causes in which they believe.

“Such language,” says the VPC, “offers benediction to the most violent of acts. The NRA predictably dismisses criticism of its rhetoric as an overheated reaction to direct-mail license. Based on past history, the overriding concern should be that the NRA’s words may, in fact, once again be revealed as violent prophecy.”

Since that report was published in 2010, the NRA’s overheated screed has not cooled. Here is NRA Executive Vice-President Wayne LaPierre at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference:

More and more Americans are buying firearms and ammunition. Not to cause trouble, but because America is already in trouble. We know that sooner or later reckless government actions and policies have consequences, that when government corrupts the truth and breaks faith with the American people, the entire fabric of society, everything we believe in and count on, is then in jeopardy.

We don’t trust government, because government itself has proven unworthy of our trust. We trust ourselves and we trust what we know in our hearts to be right. We trust our freedom. In this uncertain world, surrounded by lies and corruption everywhere you look, there is no greater freedom than the right to survive and protect our families with all the rifles, shotguns, and handguns we want.

This election, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, it’s going to be a bare-knuckled street fight. They’re going after every House seat, every Senate seat, every governor’s chair, every statehouse they can get their hands on. And they’re laying the groundwork to put another Clinton back in the White House. They fully intend to finish the job, to fulfill their commitment, their dream, of fundamentally transforming America. Into an America that I guarantee you won’t recognize. But mark my words – the NRA will not go quietly into the night. We will fight. I promise you that.

Why Does the NRA Encourage Violence? Follow the Money

The NRA proudly proclaims that it is “not affiliated with any firearm or ammunition manufacturer,” and that it represents gun owners, not gun makers. But these are bald-faced lies. In fact, the NRA is so completely intertwined with the weapons-making business that it is sometimes hard to know where the industry ends and the interest group begins. For example:

– Gun makers’ contributions to the NRA now equal $70 million annually, and have grown rapidly as the NRA has become ever more shrill and militant. (A $1 million contribution will admit you to the “Golden Ring of Freedom.” $25 million opens the velvet cord to the “Charlton Heston Society.”) Meanwhile, members’ dues now account for less than half of the NRA’s budget. “They’ve got this base of true believers that they mail their magazines out to. But the NRA is really about serving this [corporate donor] elite,” Tom Diaz, author of The Last Gun, told Rolling Stone.

– Another $30 million comes from gun makers as payment for ads in the NRA’s publications, from NRA product endorsements, and from the right to participate in the NRA member discount program.

– The NRA’s board of directors is lousy with CEOs of gun manufacturers. George Kollitides II, CEO of Freedom Group, which manufactures the Bushmaster semiautomatic that Adam Lanza used to kill children in Newtown, Connecticut, is on the nominating committee that chooses board members. Board members like Stephen Hornady – whose ammunitions company operates under the trademarked slogan “Accurate. Deadly. Dependable.” – represents the ammunitions wing of the industry. Board member Ronnie Barrett is the CEO of Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, which makes semiautomatic, armor-piercing .50-caliber sniper rifles. Current board member Pete Brownell, president of Brownells, the of online gun buying, made this link explicit when he campaigned for his seat by arguing that the NRA should have “directors who intimately understand and work in leadership positions within the firearms industry.” And a 2011 report by the Violence Policy Center found 22 firearms manufacturers among the NRA’s “corporate partners.”

– Gun makers often run promotions offering a “donation to the NRA with every purchase” or even an “NRA membership with every purchase.”

Meanwhile, those gun owners whom the NRA claims to represent? Not so much. If we look at those situations where the interests of the owners and manufacturers diverge, we can see who pays the piper and calls the tune at the NRA.

For example, the most recent effort to regulate guns, prompted by the Newtown massacre, would have eliminated the current exceptions – gun shows and private sales – to a requirement that gun buyers undergo background checks. This may not sound like much progress, until we understand that 40 percent of all gun sales in the United States happen in private sales or at one of the 5,000 gun shows held annually in this country.

Surprisingly, a poll by GOP consultant Frank Luntz found that 85 percent of gun owners who are not NRA members supported this reform. Astoundingly, so did 69 percent of NRA members. But none of that stopped the NRA from killing the bill.

The Transformation of the NRA

The first federal gun control legislation, passed in the Al Capone moment, was the 1934 National Firearms Act. It required gun dealers to be licensed, and it prohibitively taxed automatic weapons – the then-dreaded “machine gun.” The NRA supported this legislation.

Again, in 1963, the Kennedy assassination prompted legislation restricting mail order gun sales. The NRA’s position? “We do not think that any sane American who calls himself an American, can object to placing into this bill the instrument which killed the President of the United States,” said then NRA Executive Vice-President Franklin Orth.

Indeed, for the first 100 years of its existence, the NRA was a mostly non-political club celebrating hunting and marksmanship and maintaining an amicable relationship with gun control laws. Then, in 1977, the far-right, paranoid-survivalist wing of the NRA rode in like Cliven Bundy’s cavalry at the association’s annual convention in Cincinnati, and replaced its moderate leadership with militants who would stand their ground against any form of gun regulation. It was led by Harlon Carter, once convicted of killing a 15-year-old boy (the conviction was later overturned on a technicality), who assumed the executive vice presidency of the organization, the same post held by Wayne LaPierre today. This radical faction is not a majority of NRA members, but it is the active faction, and it continues to drive the bus.

Soon, NRA fundraising letters signed by LaPierre were in full-throated Armageddon mode. An assault-weapons ban passed in the early 1990s “gives jack-booted government thugs more power to take away our Constitutional rights, break in our back doors, seize our guns, destroy our property and even injure and kill us.”

This strident cry, the new voice of the NRA, was music to the ears of the association’s corporate partners, who had their own business reasons for loving the lunatic fringe – a decline in the sales of hunting weapons. As the rural US population declined so did hunting and gun ownership; in 1980, one-third of Americans owned guns. By 2010, only one-fifth did.

As a result, “The industry has changed,” Tom Diaz said to Rolling Stone. “In terms of what sells and what is marketed most successfully, we’re now talking about guns that are derived directly from military design.” Accordingly, gun industry publications offer this advice: “The net of all the numbers is that if you’re a company with a strong line of high capacity pistols and AR-style hunting rifles, you’re doing land-office business. If you’re heavily dependent on hunting, you’re hurting.”

In other words, an NRA preaching the need to arm oneself with assault weapons against a tyrannical government is, for the gun industry, very good for business. Bad, to be sure, for the Millers’ victims, but good for the businesses that the NRA now serves.

On its website, the ad for the NRA’s Gadsden T-shirts says, “What goes around comes around. In the late 18th Century, oppressed American patriots voiced their defiance of tyranny by exclaiming, ‘Don’t Tread on Me!’ Perhaps it’s time once again for Freedom-loving citizens to rally ’round the legendary slogan of the famous Gadsden flag . . . with ‘NRA’ boldly screened on its chest and the ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ coiled rattler splashed across its back. Pair with our wildly popular Gadsden Hat!”

The Millers understood, and they agreed, that Americans are oppressed by tyranny, and that it was time to rally ’round the legendary slogan, which is why they draped a Gadsden flag across the body of one of the policemen they murdered.

Jerad’s final Facebook message, posted on the day of the killings, said simply: “The dawn of a new day. May all of our coming sacrifices be worth it.” Perhaps, without meaning to, he spoke for those who pray that the language of anger might one day cool, that the easy resort to killing machines might be less easy, and that the high tide of violence unique to the country they love might someday ebb away.

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