With campaign season in full swing, movement conservatives are actively promoting a narrative about the Obama administration being a "threat to the rule of law." The lightning rod for much of this invective is U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who is facing a possible contempt of Congress citation for his refusal to turn over certain Department of Justice documents relating to the ATF's discontinued "Fast and Furious" operation on the southwest border. While Republicans' rift with Holder has been well chronicled, the architect of their messaging campaign has gone largely unnoticed.
When CBS News first broke the "Fast and Furious" story in February 2011, the National Rifle Association (NRA) wasted little time in spinning the ill-advised "gun-walking" strategy -- which actually began under the George W. Bush administration in 2006 -- as evidence that the Obama administration was a danger to "civil society" and "unprecedented in its arrogant disregard for the rule of law."
Give the NRA credit. It has mastered the art of projecting its biggest and most dangerous faults onto its political opponents. This is the organization, after all, that created "Stand Your Ground" laws, which allow gun-toters to shoot other Americans even when they could otherwise safely walk away from a public confrontation. This is also the organization that actively promotes the idea that the Second Amendment gives individuals the right to shoot and kill their elected officials when they sense "tyranny." The NRA's accusations about the Obama administration amount to a staggering act of hypocrisy.
That hypocrisy was on full display in a series of speeches NRA leaders gave during the weekend of June 8-9. On June 8, at a CPAC event in Chicago, NRA President David Keene hosted two "Second Amendment" panels that had surprisingly little to do with guns. Keene used his remarks to launch a broad attack on the Obama administration, stating:
Keene later expressed outrage over the administration's opposition to voter ID laws (and the purging of voter rolls in Florida), saying:
Sadly, he and his principal advisors seem to me to come from a generation that sincerely believes that the ends in almost all circumstances justify the means ... A government that has that power and is willing to use it, is willing to enforce laws selectively and let its friends off the hook, is a government that... is in essence going to do great damage to the rule of law and to the civil society in which we live.
Just as the Supreme Court's ultimate authority lies in the opinions of the people, so, too, does the stability of a democracy rely on winners and losers accepting the outcome of democratic decision-making and if that is undermined that's more serious almost than anything.
The very next day, however, Keene's first vice-president, Jim Porter, reminded us that the NRA has no intention of accepting "democratic decision-making" when the votes don't go their way. Speaking to the New York Rifle and Pistol Association in Wallkill, Porter gave those in attendance the NRA's "insider" message:
NRA was started 1871 right here in New York state. It was started by some Yankee generals who didn't like the way my Southern boys had the ability to shoot in what we call the 'War of Northern Aggression.' Now y'all might call it the Civil War, but we call it the 'War of Northern Aggression' down south. But that was the very reason that they started the National Rifle Association, was to teach and train the civilian in the use of the standard military firearm and I am one who still feel very strongly that that is one of our greatest charges that we can have today, is to train the civilian in the use of the standard military firearm so when they have to fight for their country, they're ready to do it. Also, when they're ready to fight tyranny, they're ready to do it. Also, when they're ready to fight tyranny, they have the wherewithal and the weapons to do it. I charge you ladies and gentlemen that that is a very important charge for all of us to take up. It's a sacred duty for all of us to maintain. We've received it from our ancestors. You think about the War of Independence. You think about Valley Forge ... And they defeated the most powerful military force known to that time in civilization.
The "Southern boys" that Porter praises as straight-shooters believed that the democratic election of Abraham Lincoln constituted "tyranny." They engaged in the biggest act of armed insurrection in U.S. history, with disastrous results that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands. Apparently, Porter never got the memo from President Lincoln, who wrote, "Among free men, there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet."
NRA Board Member Ted Nugent never got the memo, either. Nugent, of course, recently earned a visit from the Secret Service after announcing that he would either "be dead or in jail" if President Obama was re-elected in November. On June 9th -- the same day that Jim Porter was ranting about the "War of Northern Aggression" -- Nugent attended a Republic of Texas Biker Rally in Austin, Tex., and declared:
NRA gun nut motherf--kers out there ... Put a f--king gun in your hand, Texas, stormtroopers [are] coming ... They, unfortunately, are the real enemies right now.
Two days later, the practical effect of decades of such rhetoric could be seen when pro-gun activists -- openly bearing loaded assault rifles and handguns -- crammed into the chambers of the Birmingham City Commission in Michigan to protest the arrest of a young man on charges of brandishing a weapon in public, disturbing the peace, and obstructing a police officer. Sean Michael Combs, 18, was arrested on April 13 for walking through downtown Birmingham with a battlefield rifle from World War II and refusing to show police identification to prove he was of legal age to "Open Carry." The show of force by his supporters at the city council meeting was straight out of the NRA playbook and sent the following message: "Make a law we don't like, enforce a law we don't like, and 'Second Amendment remedies' are always available to us."
Threat to the rule of law? It's not going to come from recess appointments, federal grants to community organizations, mandates for reproductive health care, relaxed deportation rules for young immigrants or a discontinued operation run out an ATF field office in Phoenix, as the right wing would like us to believe. The ATF and Justice Department clearly betrayed their own principles in allowing "Fast and Furious" (and the earlier "Wide Receiver" operation) to happen in the first place, but there is no evidence the "gun-walking" strategy was ever adopted on a national (or even statewide) scale. Furthermore, Attorney General Holder has made it clear the operation was "unacceptable" and will not be repeated under his watch.
But a powerful special interest group that continues to promote the "legitimacy" of political violence after the attempted assassination of a congresswoman in Tucson, without either shame or remorse? That is a very serious threat to the rule of law. As are NRA policies that promote the unnecessary use of lethal violence on our streets. As Trayvon Martin's mother recently noted, "There is something very wrong if there's a law that a person is using to defend himself for killing a kid."
The next time a Republican like Darryl Issa or fellow NRA Defender of Freedom Award winner Ken Cuccinelli rants about the Obama administration's "disregard for the law," someone might want to ask them about their steadfast support for an organization that believes chopping off the heads of Democrats is an acceptable way to resolve political differences.