06/15/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Tea Party, Gun Lobby & Anti-Government Rhetoric

2010-04-15-GadsdenHat.jpg Fifteen years after former National Rifle Association (NRA) member Timothy McVeigh--motivated by his fear and hatred of the federal government--bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the NRA and other members of the gun lobby are once again embracing and validating similar anti-government rhetoric according to a new study released today by my organization, the Violence Policy Center (VPC).

The study, Lessons Unlearned: The Gun Lobby and the Siren Song of Anti-Government Rhetoric, offers examples of anti-government NRA language, details NRA marketing efforts targeting Tea Party supporters, and reveals links between NRA State Election Volunteer Coordinators and the Tea Party movement as well as other factions of the "Patriot movement."

The study's release comes four days before the pro-gun "Second Amendment March" in Washington, D.C. The April 19th event, held on the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing and the federal government's siege at Waco that contributed to McVeigh's anti-government anger--has been publicized by the NRA and received financial support from the organization.

The study finds that, echoing the language of the newly resurgent Patriot movement, the NRA routinely presents the election of Barack Obama as a virtually apocalyptic threat not only to gun ownership, but to the future of the United States itself.

In a December 2009 direct-mail letter which echoes the language of both the Tea Party movement and the Oath Keepers, the NRA urges the reader to join an "army whose highest allegiance is not to any individual or any political party but only to the cause of freedom." In the letter, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre--who speaking at the 2009 CPAC convention told cheering attendees that "our Founding Fathers understood that the guys with the guns make the rules"--warns of:

...massive armies of anti-gun, anti-freedom radicals marshaling against us for an attack that could make every other battle we've ever fought look like a walk in the attack aimed at completely rewriting our nation's values and the future of our country in ways that you and I won't recognize.

Everywhere you look, the writing is on the wall--that the next three years will be the most dangerous days of our lifetimes, not just for the Second Amendment but for freedom itself....

In the first four months of 2009, the NRA's flagship activist magazine, America's 1st Freedom, profiled key members of the Obama administration, likening them to a "'who's who' of gun-ban advocates."

  • A January 2009 article entitled "Beware the Rahm" asked,"Will Rahm Emanuel be able to stab a knife into the Constitution and scream that the Second Amendment is 'Dead! Dead! Dead!'?
  • A February 2009 NRA profile of Attorney General Eric Holder attacked his record under "the infamous Janet Reno," the Clinton Administration attorney general who is widely blamed in pro-gun circles for the stand-off at Waco that helped galvanize the militia movement in the 1990s.
  • A March 2009 cover featured Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looking out over the headline, "The Whole World is Watching--Hillary Clinton Takes the Reins: Will the new secretary of state defend the U.S. constitution, or will she invite the global gun-ban movement into the corridors of power?" Inside, the article states that "...the Clinton anti-gun nightmare has returned."
  • An April 2009 cover featured Secretary of Education Arne Duncan with the headline: "What would this man teach your kids? Anti-gun extremist Arne Duncan takes over as Secretary of Education." Inside, the NRA states, "There is every reason to be concerned that Duncan will turn the Department of Education into a tool to promote a gun-ban agenda in America's public schools."

The organization also markets NRA clothing products emblazoned with the Gadsden "Don't Tread on Me" flag, which has become the symbol of the Tea Party movement. The description for the NRA Gadsden tee shirt reads:

"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."

The VPC study also reveals NRA Election Volunteer Coordinators (EVCs) with Tea Party or other links to the Patriot movement in the states of Arizona, Illinois, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming. Here are two.

  • Liz Foley of Conroe, Texas, listed on the NRA's website as the Election Volunteer Coordinator for the Eighth Congressional District in Texas is also the national media director for the Second Amendment March and according to its website is also a member of the North Houston Tea Party Patriots, "most recently serving on the Board and as the Event Chair, now in a consultative role for events, planning, volunteers and communications. The most recent Tea Party chaired by Liz was held November 2nd and exceeded a crowd of over 10,000 attendees." Foley is also an NRA benefactor member and serves on its Second Amendment Task Force and President's Council.
  • Howie Morgan of Oxford, Mississippi, is listed on the NRA's website as the Election Volunteer Coordinator for the First Congressional District in Mississippi. Howie Morgan is also listed as the National Political Advisor for Jim Gilchrist's Minuteman Project. Gilchrist was a founder of The Minuteman Project, described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a "nativist extremist" group, "organizations that go beyond mere advocacy of restrictive immigration policy to actually confront or harass suspected immigrants." After an internal dispute in 2007 amidst allegations of embezzlement, Gilchrist left The Minuteman Project to form his own organization.

Noting that one of the NRA's greatest successes has been its ability to create a disconnect between the potential for violence fostered by its words and actual acts of violence facilitated by its validating rhetoric, the study states that "the NRA incites its members and others, offering words that outside of the purported protective bubble of direct-mail and official publications would be chilling." It cites an August 2008 NRA direct-mail letter 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.

The study concludes:

Such language 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.