Former National Rifle Association (NRA) chief Ray Arnet once said, "You keep any special interest group alive by nurturing the crisis atmosphere." The organization has long taken this sentiment to heart. For years, the NRA has warned that nationwide gun bans and confiscation were right around the corner. These threats made up in hysterical rhetoric for what they lacked in credibility.
Arnet's comments demonstrate why the organization has adopted such a dishonest strategy. To sustain its $200-million-plus annual budget, the organization relies upon donations from both its members and the gun industry; constant fearmongering boosts donations from both. By working their members into a frenzy, they can better convince them to financially support the NRA and thus stave off that dark future.
The effort also encourages existing gun owners to purchase more firearms in case such laws are actually passed; new sales to current gun owners are essential to the gun industry given that the number of households owning a gun is in long term decline. Terrifying gun owners bolsters gun sales, which in turn keeps the gun industry profitable enough to direct more funds back to the NRA.
But sometimes, your run-of-the-mill fearmongering just isn't enough. In 2011 the NRA repeatedly turned to one of their favorite weapons to keep alive this crisis atmosphere justifying their extremist political agenda and their own existence: conspiracy theories. Below, Media Matters documents a few of our favorites of the year.
Wayne's World: "Paranoid Insane" "Crazy Far Right" "F$%cking Crazy"
Speaking through their myriad media platforms and any number of conservative media outlets the NRA's paranoid pronouncements were often aimed at President Barack Obama. But it's been a tough sell after Obama largely abandoned efforts to enact gun control legislation, earning him a F rating from the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence. So NRA executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre got creative, arguing in a September speech that Obama ignored gun control as part of a plot to secretly "destroy the second amendment":
But it's a big fat stinking lie, just like all the other lies that have come out of this corrupt administration. It's all part -- it's all part of a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment in our country.
Before the President was even sworn into office, they met and they hatched a conspiracy of public deception to try to guarantee his re-election in 2012.
LaPierre's comments quickly drew well deserved derision from commentators. Jon Stewart summoned up the credibility of LaPierre's conspiracy theory, saying, "It's just so crazy, it's F*#king crazy."
MSNBC's Rachel Maddow also called out LaPierre's comments, saying: "The NRA says the way you can tell Obama is coming for your guns, is that he's not coming for you guns. It's genius! That is the insane paranoid message from the NRA this year."
Maddow's colleague Chris Matthews similarly described La Pierre's comments as "another strain of the crazy far right" and noted their similarity to "civil war talk."
Becoming the object of widespread mockery did little to slow down LaPierre's conspiratorial rhetoric. In October, the NRA executive doubled down on his theory, telling Newsmax.tv that a "second term by President Obama will break that back" of the Second Amendment.
The rest of the organization made no effort to distance themselves from this theory. Undeterred by the reaction to LaPierre's comments, NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox in fact suggested that the media was in on the conspiracy. Listing half a dozen major news outlets Cox warned the media was engaging in "deceitful effort" to attack gun owners to help Obama win re-election in order to "destroy your rights."
New World Order: "Hillary Clinton Has Teamed up With Countries Like North Korea, Iran And Cuba" To Take Away Your Guns
Moving ever closer to tinfoil hat territory, the NRA repeatedly pushed a revamped version of LaPierre's long running United Nations scare mongering. Donations from the gun industry only go so far, so what better way to raise money then by warning people of a ominous conspiracy about Hillary Clinton, North Korea, Cuba, and Iran working together to curtail civilian gun ownership?
In August a Colorado man recorded the following discussion from a NRA membership fundraising call:
CALLER: Do you think it's okay for the U.N. to be on American soil attacking our gun rights?
RECIPIENT: I mean, I really don't know that much about it, what are they trying to do?
CALLER: Hillary Clinton has teamed up with countries like North Korea, Iran and Cuba to draft this arms trade treaty that could have a drastic impact on civilian gun ownership. The U.N. wants us to believe this treaty is about automatic weapons and dirty bombs, but the fact is all hunting rifles, shotguns and pistols can be on the table.
CALLER: Normally five years of annual membership would cost a $175, but because this represents such a major threat to our gun rights and freedoms, today we discounted that all the way down to $125.
Of course, the arms trade treaty in question would do nothing of the sort. TheWashington Post has reported the goal of State Department negotiators working on the Treaty is get other countries to agree to follow import and export rules that the U.S. has already instituted:
The Obama administration hopes it can use the talks to press other governments to adopt a rigorous system of export controls similar to one put in place to regulate U.S. arms exports.
TPM Media reported that experts watching the negotiations have suggested the treaty requirements are largely already in place under existing American law:
Jeff Abramson, the coordinator of the pro-treaty Control Arms Secretariat, told TPM, "[Second Amendment-citing] critics say the sky will fall, but the things the treaty suggests already exist in the US. It's hard to see where the US would need to make changes to its existing national laws."
The NRA's Cox later tried to argue that the U.N. treaty is "completely unnecessary" because the United States "operates what even Hillary Clinton admits is the 'gold standard' of export controls for arms transfers.'" But that's the entire point of the treaty -- Clinton made that comment while expressing U.S. support for a treaty that would "promote the same high standards for the entire international community."
What The... Botched ATF Operation Initiated To Promote Gun Control?
In what has become a message that has been echoed by Fox News correspondents and in right-wing blogs, LaPierre has pushed the ridiculous claim that the failed Operation Fast and Furious was initiated as a secret plot to lay the ground work for gun control.
Under Fast and Furious, ATF agents allowed suspected traffickers to purchase more than 2,000 firearms from Arizona gun shops. Many of those guns later made their way across the border, turning up at Mexican crime scenes. A reportissued by House Oversight Chairman Darrel Issa (R-CA) and Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) stated that the purpose of Fast and Furious, "was to wait and watch, in the hope that law enforcement could identify other members of a trafficking network and build a large, complex conspiracy case."
The Obama administration has acknowledged that the operation never should have happened, has transferred those with direct oversight of the operation or allowed them to resign, and is currently investigating how it came to pass. No evidence has emerged to suggest that senior Administration officials were aware of the controversial techniques in use.
But the NRA, whose top priority is defeating President Obama's re-election, has turned the operation into a conspiracy. On Fox News' Happening Now in March, LaPierre said:
[The administration] can only prove a trickle of guns going down to Mexico. Someone in the government, it looks like to a lot of people, decided to change that trickle into a river of guns going down there to seek political advantage.
Writing in the NRA's multiple publications LaPierre said:
In one of the best descriptions of "Fast and Furious," Robert Farago wrote in the Washington Times that " ...The agency's motive for creating a program that violated Mexican sovereignty and put innocent lives at risk: inflating the number of American firearms recovered at Mexican crime scenes.
The more blood-soaked American guns in Mexico the ATF could identify for its congressional paymasters, the more compelling its case for increased federal funding and new agency-enforced gun-control regulations. In short, 'Operation Fast and Furious' was an anti-gun-running gun-running program."
All of this was done to bring about Barack Obama's promised "under the radar" gun control. The BATFE/Justice response to getting caught in this bloody scandal is to double down. Breathtaking.
What's truly breathtaking is LaPierre's willingness to push such wild conjecture absent any evidence. The NRA has already used such wild claims to suggest that Attorney General Eric Holder should resign. In all likelihood the politicization and conspiracy mongering about the failed ATF operation from the NRA is just getting started.
Irony Alert: NRA Complains Other Gun Group's Conspiracy Aimed To "Raise Money"
Not every conspiracy theory involving secret gun control plans was to the NRA's liking. In October the far right National Association For Gun Rights (NAGR) sent an e-mail alert suggesting the NRA's favored legislation -- the National Right-To-Carry Reciprocity -- would become a vehicle gun control.
NAGR executive director Dudley Brown wrote to members:
Even worse, once this bill starts moving, anyone can amend the bill with anything ... and no legislation can bind a future Congress in any way. And that doesn't count what Obamacrats in the Department of Justice might dream up as the "regulations" to carry out the legislative "intent."
But mark my words, H.R. 822, the National CCW Registration Act, will become nothing more than a Trojan Horse for even more federal gun control.
Seemingly unaware of the irony, the NRA pushed back against criticism of H.R. 822, complaining, "There's been a lot of misguided, unfounded, and just plain incorrect information circulating on the Internet" coming from gun groups that "continually sound false alarms and 'stir the pot' in an effort to be noticed. (And to raise money, of course.)."
2012: Brave New Frontiers In Conspiratorial Ramblings?
With the Presidential election coming up in 2012 it's probably safe to say the NRA is going to keep all manner of paranoid and alarmist messages coming. When they find their facts falling short or their fundraising running low expect to see the NRA's next massive conspiracy rolled out.