This weekend former Senator Evan Bayh echoed the beliefs of many in the media that the National Rifle Association has only recently moved to the fringe, telling Politico “their position is now in the end zone, not at the 40-yard line.”
These extremes were on display at the NRA annual meeting this weekend where Glenn Beck, during a keynote address just days after the announcement that New York's Cablevision would soon begin to carry his Blaze network to millions of households, displayed on the screen a poster-like image of Michael Bloomberg giving the Sieg Heil salute. To equate the Jewish mayor of New York City to Nazis used to be beyond the pale in American politics.
One could say this outrageous hate speech was Beck acting like Beck, demonstrating his herculean effort to prove Godwin's Law, but Nazi comparisons have been part and parcel of the NRA's rhetoric for decades.
In 1995, former President George H.W. Bush resigned his lifetime membership in the organization after Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre signed a fundraising letter that claimed the Assault Weapons Ban passed earlier that year “gives jackbooted Government thugs more power to take away our constitutional rights, break in our doors, seize our guns, destroy our property and even injure and kill us.”
Bush told the organization, “your broadside against Federal agents deeply offends my own sense of decency and honor; and it offends my concept of service to country.”
The rhetoric might have been new to Bush, but the organization had freely referred to law enforcement officials as “jackbooted thugs” for years. It was only in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing that previously ignored communications, such as direct mail pieces, were scrutinized by the media, outing this disgraceful language.
Likewise Beck's Nazi rhetoric is nothing new for the NRA. In 1994, a year before Bush resigned from the organization, LaPierre claimed in the organization's magazine The American Rifleman that Federal agents “are scarier than the Nazis -- who at least never concealed their faces.” This was after writing that “it may be that this is a valid comparison” to “compare the behavior our uncontrolled Federal agents to that of the Nazis in the Third Reich.”
Is the rhetoric coming from the NRA and its allies today any more extreme?
The difference is, in an age of communications transparency created by the internet, the organization can no longer maintain two faces. While they've long used language designed to appeal to militia members and other anti-government extremists they depend on to fill their membership roles, they used to also employ more moderate language designed to appeal to lawmakers and the media - in 1999 the organization claimed to support background checks at gun shows - and even some left leaning Democrats could formally claim an alliance with the organization.
The NRA was forced to make a choice. Would it be a fiercely ideological yet mainstream organization? Or would it side with its worst demons and become the Washington trade association for anti-government militias?
NRA board member Ted Nugent gave us a clue to the answer at the beginning of April when he reiterated his pre-election statement that “if this America-hater, if this freedom-hater, if this enemy of America becomes the president again I'll either be dead or in jail” and tied it to background check legislation that subsequently failed in the Senate.
For decades the NRA toyed with the violent extremes of America politics, reaping members and dollars. After this weekend's annual meeting there should be no confusion about what the NRA is - a group fully controlled by the rhetoric of anti-government extremists.