What are they afraid of? Apparently, when it comes to the issue of gun control, some activists in the gun rights movement are really afraid of a race war. Take a listen to a recent conversation on the Talk to Solomon show. On the air with host Stan Solomon were Greg W. Howard, a conservative blogger with just under 100,000 Twitter followers, and Larry Pratt, an advocate of gun rights and "English-only" laws who famously clashed with CNN's Piers Morgan in an interview after the Sandy Hook shooting.
The discussion that transpired was like a dramatic reading of The Turner Diaries, that influential (and fictional) book about violent revolution and racial war in America. Pratt argued that President Obama is building his own private army and will send his agents "door to door" to "confiscate guns" -- all to provoke a "violent confrontation" with gun owners. Solomon went further, claiming that Obama's real goal is to create a black army and start a race war. Howard condemned Obama for "sowing the seeds of racial hatred," adding that the president is "not American" because he was "not raised in American culture."
It is worth noting that Gun Owners of America, of which Pratt is executive director, has 300,000 members. (Ron Paul, the Texas congressman and former Republican presidential candidate, once called it "the only no-compromise gun lobby in Washington" -- take that, National Rifle Association!) Yet even a national figure like Pratt can entertain the paranoid fantasy of a race war, telling his colleagues on the air that Obama "would definitely be capable of something as evil as you were suggesting." In the past, Pratt has gotten in trouble for his ties to white supremacist and anti-Semitic organizations, but his popularity has only grown in recent years. After Morgan called Pratt "an unbelievably stupid man" for arguing that gun bans don't reduce violent crime, tens of thousands of people flooded a White House petition site calling for the British television host's deportation.
The fear of a race war is clearly delusional, but it draws strength from the half-truths and outlandish comments that reverberate in the partisan media's echo chamber. For example, black nationalist leader Louis Farrakhan said in a recent interview that the film Django Unchained -- a fictional account of a freed slave seeking retribution -- is "preparation for a race war." Conservative media -- from Rush Limbaugh to Fox News to Breitbart.com -- breathlessly spread word of Farrakhan's remarks. With pundits so willing to piece together high-level conspiracies out of random shouts and murmurs, it's no wonder our politics have become so toxic.
The worldview expressed by Pratt, Solomon, and Howard envisions Obama not so much as Django but as something far more radical and dangerous, namely Nat Turner, fomenting a rebellion of enslaved people that will violently tear out the roots of white supremacy and transform our society.
Today, the most prominent voice on behalf of gun rights is Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's executive vice president. LaPierre doesn't talk about race wars, but racial anxiety underlies many of his public comments. In a recent essay attacking gun control in the Daily Caller, he referred to post-Hurricane Sandy "looters" who "ran wild in South Brooklyn" and "Latin American drug gangs" who have "invaded" every major city. "Good Americans" must arm themselves, he wrote, "to withstand the siege that is coming."
LaPierre and the NRA don't have to say "race war" because Larry Pratt has. But their crusade against gun control benefits from the hysteria and paranoia that such reckless, inflammatory rhetoric incites. And the right has done this on countless other issues as well (in 2009, Limbaugh said that Obama's entire economic agenda was about "forced reparations" for slavery). By exploiting racial fears, these demagogues may be helping their narrow cause, but they are poisoning the very idea of America -- a pluralistic society that is built on trust and responsibility.