The National Rifle Association (NRA) -- the powerful gun lobby that has called federal law enforcement agents "jack-booted thugs," accused President Obama of having secret plans to strip away Americans' guns, and been the main force behind the incredibly dangerous "Stand Your Ground" laws being used to justify the killing of Trayvon Martin -- is once again flaunting its political extremism.
This Sunday in St. Louis, the NRA plans to host retired Lt. Gen. William "Jerry" Boykin, a radical Islamophobe who has said there should be "no mosques in America," as keynote speaker of a prayer breakfast at its annual conference. Boykin has asserted that "Islam is evil" and "a totalitarian way of life" that "should not be protected under the First Amendment," among other things. This January, after controversy arose over statements such as these, Boykin withdrew from a speech he had been invited to make at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Earlier, in 2003, Boykin was widely criticized when it emerged that he'd given a series of speeches at religious events, wearing full military dress, in which he said the United States was fighting "Satan" in the Middle East, and insisted his God was stronger than that of his enemies. A Defense Department investigation later found he had violated several regulations in these speeches, and then-President George W. Bush went out of his way to say they didn't "reflect my point of view."
But that hasn't stopped the NRA, which touts Boykin as an "elite warrior" who it has chosen to share the stage with a champion elk caller and a country singer.
None of this is much of a surprise to those who know the NRA, a group that claims more than 4 million members and has an annual budget of some $250 million. While the group has often been described as the most powerful lobby in America, it has a lengthy record of outrageous statements, hard-right views and conspiracy-mongering. And that's before you even consider its poisonous role in the Martin case.
In 1995, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre -- the man who actually runs the group -- wrote a fundraising letter describing federal agents as "jack-booted government thugs." He added: "[I]n Clinton's administration, if you have a badge, you have the government's go-ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law-abiding citizens." Former President George H.W. Bush quit the NRA as a result.
In 2000, LaPierre accused President Clinton of tolerating murders in order to build the case for gun control, saying the president had "blood on his hands." Clinton, along with many others, described the comments as "smear tactics."
More recently, LaPierre has consistently pushed conspiracy theories about U.N. plans for global gun control, an eventuality that could not occur without the consent of two-thirds of the Senate to such a treaty. And he has been vociferous in his claims that Obama -- who not only has not pushed gun control, but in fact has agreed to laxer regulations -- has a secret plan to impose gun control in a second term.
In the fall of 2008, even before Obama was elected, firearms manufacturers and the NRA pushed a national campaign dubbed "Prepare for the Storm in 2008." In the months that followed, historic amounts of ammunition and weapons were purchased by Americans who apparently feared that the NRA's warning was valid.
Later, at a meeting of the Florida Conservative Political Action Conference last September, LaPierre told his audience that even before his election, Obama was in a "conspiracy" to impose gun control in his second term. "Our freedom is at risk in this election like never before," LaPierre said. "The president will offer the Second Amendment lip service and hit the campaign trail saying he's actually been good for the Second Amendment, but it's a big, fat, stinkin' lie, just like all the other lies that have come out of this corrupt administration."
It wasn't only talk like this that was fouling the atmosphere. Beginning in 2005, the NRA began pushing the Florida "Stand Your Ground" law that is now at issue in the killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., in February. NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer, the group's first female president, pushed the idea in that state, where she had great political pull. Law enforcement officials at the time decried the proposal, saying it would make it far harder to convict people of murder, but the NRA plunged ahead, ultimately winning passage of the law in that state.
In the coming years, working with a right-wing group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the NRA was able to help push similar legislation to the point that more than 30 states now have adopted one form or another. According to the Washington Post, ALEC funders include the NRA and magnates David and Charles Koch, well-known funders of far-right causes.
The legislator who nominally wrote Florida's law has said that it did not cover someone following a "suspicious" person and then confronting him, as apparently happened in the Martin case. But many experts, including prominent law enforcement professionals, believe that Martin would be alive today -- or, at least, his assailant would be facing criminal charges -- were it not for the legal protection apparently extended to him under the Florida statute.
Not that any of this matters to the NRA. Indeed, cravenly plunging ahead despite the tragedy of the Trayvon Martin killing, the group has moved ahead in three states, pushing for the adoption of similar laws there. Folks in Iowa, Alaska and Minnesota, take heed: The NRA's coming your way, and it means you no good. And by the way, if you're into a little Muslim-bashing along with your gun violence, you might want to make your way to St. Louis this Sunday. There are some folks there who would be happy to oblige you.