A Culture of Fear and Paranoia: The GOP, the NRA, and the American Disease of Gun Violence
This epidemic of mass tragedies is enabled by the most effective means of control the Right has: paranoia, the tireless chase to control people of color, and the demonization of change
Another one. This time ten dead. We’ve yet to reckon with or even totally wrap our heads around the tragedy in Atlanta that saw eight people killed, and here we are again. Another man with an AR-15. More talk of paranoid ramblings, powerlessness as an inspiration for violence. The same damn thing over and over again.
Just days earlier, in Boulder, Colorado, the site of this massacre, the National Rifle Association had bragged about striking down a ban on the weapon. Before anyone had even begun to understand what had happened or even how many people had been killed, they were back at it, defending weapons, alongside their constant companion, the Republican Party.
Senator Ted Cruz, last seen abandoning his constituents to die in the freeze of winter while he and his family escaped to a high-end resort in Mexico, played his familiar role in a panel convened to discuss the most modest of reforms. “Every time there is a shooting,” he said, “we play this ridiculous theatre where this committee gets together and proposes a bunch of laws that would do nothing to stop these murders.”
We’ve all grown so used to this at this point that we know where it will go. Some rhetorical duels, a live-shot or two on cable news, an interview, perhaps, with somebody who will say, “This isn’t the kind of place where this happens,” and then…it’ll happen elsewhere and we’ll begin the process anew.
It does not have to be like this. And that it is like this, that this is “normal” now, that this is how this nation functions, is an indictment of our culture. We must look at how we arrived here, how we’ve come to be held hostage by this obsession with guns and violence and how the Right has used that obsession to profit and consolidate power.
Dispatches From A Collapsing State is the home for Jared Yates Sexton’s political, cultural, and historical writings. It is an independent project and depends on your support. If you enjoy Jared’s writings, and want access to all pieces and features, including Q&A’s where you can ask Jared your questions, please consider becoming a subscriber.
Maybe it shouldn’t surprise anyone that America’s love of guns comes from its obsession with power. The gun, of course, is used as an extension of one’s self, its application a means of amplifying the individual force of a person. This goes hand-in-hand with powerlessness, insecurity, and, for men, has become a means of expression that replaces their ability to communicate or cope.
But the gun is also a tool of oppression. Its invention made it possible for colonizers and empires to exercise their will over others, particularly people who either had no guns or were intentionally kept from them. In the case of America, the idea of a militia, or an armed citizenry, the stuff that makes our Second Amendment possible, is rooted in the preparation of applying the will of white supremacy on people of color, in particular, African slaves and indigenous people.
The need for an armed militia took shape before the Constitution was ever even considered. White men in South Carolina were made by law to carry their weapons with them at all times, lest a slave uprising like 1739’s Stono Rebellion ever take place again. The gun was a symbol of the ability for white people to realize their wishes, whether it was the enslavement of others or the taking of land and resources.
America’s particular origins, as a colonization project that relied on constant, unceasing oppression of black and indigenous people, especially as its white colonizers were incredibly outnumbered, meant a reliance on firearms and the ability to carry out lethal violene should it come to that. The gun is a symbol of that project, that brutal projct that continues, under the threat of violence, to this very day.
The modern defense of guns is grounded in a mutual push by the NRA and the Republican Party to both defend weaponized white supremacy and use its paranoia as a means of profit. This iteration began in the 1970’s with the NRA’s “Revolt in Cincinnati,” a moment of upheaval that saw the organization shift from a sporting club in favor of regulation to a firebreathing, irrational movement that plagues us now.
It is no coincidence that this took place at roughly the same moment the GOP began to shift and change, using the tumult of the 1960’s and 70’s as a scapegoat for worsening economics, thus laying the groundwork for a change in philosophy pushed by hypercapitalists in favor of corporate power and a burgeoning Right Wing counterintelligentsia that would evolve into Fox News and the extremist echo-chamber of modern times.
In the 1990’s, it was a joint-effort by the GOP and the NRA to take advantage of growing paranoia of “the New World Order,” a conspiracy theory that redirected anger at the hypercapitalistic system they had created from the Right to “liberal traitors” and “foreign puppetmasters.” In this paranoid, fever dream, Bill Clinton and the Democrats were not only coming to take white people’s guns, they were determined to turn the United States over to the UN or a global government helmed by Satan himself. This, along with the rise of the so-called “Patriot Movement,” a bustling, dangerous throng of militias determined to overthrow the government and establish a white fascistic state, meant incredible fundraising numbers and a shift in government and culture toward the Right.
Unfortunately, such things tend to backfire. Telling Americans they were under attack by traitors led to widespread violence. The militias grew more and more radicalized, gained new members and prepared to destroy society. One of them, veteran Timothy McVeigh, thought he was taking the fight to the New World Order when he exploded a rented Ryder truck and demolished the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, killing over a hundred people.
These narratives not only inspire violence, they require violence. The idea that sinister forces are at work, that the only means of fighting them is to buy a gun and participate in radicalizing realities and fascistic appeals, means that violence is the only means of asserting control. It is the same story told by colonists. That there are people, always people of color and liberal traitors, ready to undermine everything. They are determined and evil and the only thing that can stop them - and tell me if you’ve heard this one before - is a good guy with a gun.
It’s unfortunately become a common scene. A protest or gathering outside a state house or, in some cases, within the halls of power, where white men congregate with AR-15’s and similar semi-automatics. To see it is to be horrified. There’s something off about it. Something menacing. And that’s because it’s meant to be.
Our epidemic of gun violence and the appearance of disgruntled white men carrying these weapons into places of power are two sides of the same coin. It is message that the world must conform to the whims and wishes of white men or else it will mean violence. Widespread, systematic violence. Blood in the streets. Blood in the chambers. Wholesale, unstoppable violence.
And that is the secret of guns and white supremacy. The obsession with, and continued, cruel, unrelenting support of guns at all costs isn’t about anyone taking guns away. It isn’t about the New World Order or the Deep State or “satanic cabals” in the QAnon mythology. It isn’t about the apocalypse or jackbooted thugs. It’s about the promise that, unless the world continues to hum and work in their favor, unless it continues to give them exactly what they want and when they want it, if even the slightest change or reform could be realized, the finger will find the trigger. The few will dominate the many.
The same damn thing. Over and over and over again.