"You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands!"
- Former NRA President and Oscar-winning actor Charlton Heston
On December 22nd, a blog called Wonkette.com posted a leaked 27-page fundraising booklet that they said had been produced by the National Rifle Association (NRA). It was such a bizarre piece of propaganda that many thought it a hoax. However, the pamphlet soon proved to be the genuine article—a highly polished draft of “Freedom In Peril: Guarding the 2nd Amendment in the 21st Century”—mysteriously “stolen” from an NRA office.
This NRA pamphlet casts the world’s fate in highly alarmist tones, warning of an imminent and violent clash between a conspiracy of “evil” forces on one side and God-fearing, law-abiding gun owners on the other. The dreaded result: forced disarmament of the entire country, and thus total and irrevocable loss of Freedom, Democracy and Civilization. The NRA’s terrifying demons include shadowy Democrats and their Zionist financiers, mushy-headed “One World Extremists” who want to surrender America to the United Nations, subversive celebrities like Rosie O’Donnell and Katie Couric, the liberal media as a giant devil head coming through the TV screen, and even “Illegal Alien Gangs” of menacing minorities making cryptic hand signs. And, of course, there are also “The Animal Rights Terrorists,” among which are PETA, HSUS and the Fund for Animals.
“The Animal Rights Terrorists”
One can first infer the crimes of the “animal rights terrorists” from the amazing illustration* on page 18, which provides a fascinatingly rich level of visual detail and a priceless glimpse into the minds of NRA leaders. The image is fertile with secret symbols, hidden meanings and subliminal messages.
In the foreground strides a hairy-legged, Birkenstock-wearing hippie gal carrying a flaming torch and a can of gasoline. She sports a tattoo on her arm that has been described in the blogosphere as “a kitty-cat Satan” or “a kitler, a cat that looks like Hitler.” She is cut off at the neck (implying that these underground agitators are able to hide their faces and identities), and her male co-conspirator wields a baseball bat and a snarling black dog on a leash.
In this strange, distorted interpretation of Orwell’s Animal Farm, activists have apparently succeeded in training all the other animals—cattle, pigs, chickens, owls and an incredible land lobster—to fight for their own liberation without needing to be physically controlled. The beasts’ facial expressions are of anger, outrage and resolve: they know what they are doing, their crimes premeditated. The owl is so gung-ho that she’s carrying a clutch of dynamite in her talons, and, significantly, the pig actually seems to be flying. (If the NRA opposes evolution, this might be the reason.)
Even though the picture is pure fantasy, I think it is an accurate rendering of the NRA’s deepest fears: that the future holds wild packs of pissed-off animals roaming the post-McDonald’s® wasteland seeking vengeance against their bipedal oppressors. Obviously, once animals are freed, they will murder and enslave humans in retribution: an apocalyptic twist on the old adage that if we didn’t hunt, eat, experiment on and otherwise torture and kill animals, they’d die of starvation and (I guess) inability or unwillingness to breed.
In the context of this booklet, this picture is clearly meant to scare readers by painting a dark portrait of animal rights activists as “terrorists”: they are, after all, carrying explosives and other implements of destruction (to presumably blow up a vivisection lab, factory farm and Red Lobster® franchise, in that order). Yet looking past the violent overtones, this is a somewhat inspirational and iconic image that uniquely captures (however inadvertently) something of the movement’s essence: that is, the animals are fighting, as equals alongside humans, for their rights. If only this reflected reality, we could end humanity’s enslavement of other species within a generation.
The text mirrors the distorted conception of animal rights activists depicted in the illustration by lumping all animal rights organizations—from the most mainstream to the most radical—into one category, seamlessly morphing from Constitutionally-protected activism to the most hard-core “terrorist” activities in a single sentence:
“(Animal rights groups) run commercials, print propaganda, stage rallies, infiltrate schools with animal rights material, blow up medical labs, burn down buildings, destroy hunters’ property and poison hunters’ dogs—with enough left over to hire top-dollar lawyers if they get caught.”
The drawing of a Molotov cocktail, some pipe bombs, and an envelope with a razor blade inside sitting in a pool of blood is supposed to be straight out of PETA’s toolbox:
“PETA is linked to a growing network of embedded cells of dangerous people willing to achieve their ends through violence... Many don’t know that PETA wants much more than to take a fishing pole from every child’s hand, take away their pet cats and dogs, ban milk from their breakfast, and shut down all their circuses, zoos and aquariums. PETA wants much more than to take Seeing Eye dogs away from the blind, and take bomb-sniffing dogs away from our airports. PETA wants to stop all medical advancements that use animal research in any way… (Research scientists) receive hate mail, letters loaded with razor blades and rat poison, death threats and bomb threats.”
It seems that America’s precious children are in grave danger of growing up in a world where they might question whether it is ethical to hunt, own or eat animals. Even the great tradition of imprisoning animals and forcing them to perform for our amusement is at stake. The great news for the animal rights movement is that, according to the NRA, we are winning: collectively, animal protection groups comprise a “frightening force” that has already been incredibly effective in achieving our nefarious aims:
“Medical research on the verge of breakthrough screeches to a halt. Our most promising labs are shut down…The antihuman, pro-animal frontal assault is broad and pervasive, spanning from political initiatives to indoctrination of schoolchildren to hunter harassment.”
The “Animal Rights Terrorists” section concludes with a plea “that patriots of financial position pledge to stand with freedom’s fighters forevermore.” Which is the whole point of this booklet, actually. In an introduction called “The Coming Confrontation” on page 3, the NRA’s Executive Vice President and Executive Director claims:
“(The) NRA is the only guaranteed investment for Second Amendment survival, as well as for all the business benefits that come with it. Only the NRA energizes the powerful pro-freedom voting bloc, resulting in election outcomes good for both American gun rights and for American business. Candidates who support the Second Amendment also support you. They're typically pro-business people who fight for free-market issues, from tort and estate tax reform to immigration policy and the global war on terror.... The Second Amendment needs freedom-loving financiers on her side, or she will be drowned in the tsunami of cash flowing from freedom's enemies."
The Real Terrorists
Conspicuously absent from the NRA’s rogues’ gallery of supervillains is al-Qaeda, the global ultraterrorist organization that destroyed the World Trade Center with hijacked airliners, killing thousands of people. You’d think they might have at least merited a chapter called “The Suicide Bombers” or “Allah’s Demonic Army” or something. Interestingly, 9/11 is mentioned only once throughout “Freedom In Peril,” and only in passing.
It’s surprising that the NRA doesn’t take these terrorists seriously. Branding peaceful, nonviolent, law-abiding, and civil-disobedient animal rights protesters as “terrorists” only serves to minimize the real dangers the public faces from actual terrorists, as well as from pro-NRA militias that stockpile weapons but go unchecked by the FBI. Instead, as the booklet points out, the FBI itself has identified “animal rights terrorists” as the number one domestic threat to the U.S., even though animal activists have not caused a single person’s death.
The NRA wholly supports the Bush Administration’s War on Terror in that, like those who framed and passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), they define animal rights activists across the board as “terrorists” because we endanger the profits of corporations that exploit animals. “It’s inevitable that terrorists will infest America for generations to come,” they say, as though we are termites and the NRA is the exterminator. It is definitely ironic that a group whose main mission is to promote the use of deadly weapons calls people working to stop violence “terrorists”—and sad that their sensationalistic attacks have so often succeeded.
“The U.N… (has) already been successful in orchestrating gun bans in once-free countries like England, Australia, Canada and South Africa,” the pamphlet says. So, in the NRA's alternate-reality universe anyway, South Africa was free under Apartheid, which preceded the gun ban in the country, just because everyone could get guns (well, white people, at least). The NRA is especially fond of spreading the myth that banning guns will provoke more violent crimes. Yet guns kill more than 30,000 people a year in the U.S., and Americans are three times as likely as Canadians to be fatally shot. A new Harvard study shows that higher homicide rates occur in states with more gun owners. But it doesn’t matter to the NRA. Danger and death are simply the price Americans must pay for living in a still-free country where the Second Amendment reigns supreme.
Our country faces real threats: global warming, wars (in Afghanistan, Iraq and possibly Iran), corporate hegemony, income inequality, the national debt, a crumbling education system, institutionalized racism and sexism, the Standard American Diet, etc., etc. Instead of recognizing these problems, the NRA creates boogie monsters to distract attention from issues that actually matter. Their hateful invective against all those who challenge their belief system seems like some symptom of collective mental illness.
Cold Dead Hands
Despite the costs, the ideologues at the NRA cling to their fundamentalist interpretation of the Second Amendment: that it means no gun control at all—period. In contrast, most Americans believe that, alongside the “right” to bear arms, we have a more primary right to be safe from violence, and greater gun control would make us safer. Governments have a responsibility to protect their citizens from danger, and most Americans favor limits on gun ownership and use. In a 2004 Gallup poll, 54% of respondents wanted gun laws to be stricter, compared to only 11% who said they should be less strict.
The pamphlet says: “In the minds of those who framed our Constitution, the right to armed self-protection in times of pandemonium was so obvious and innate that it didn’t warrant mention.” In other words, the less the Constitution has to say about something, the more essential it must be to our way of life. Yeah—that makes sense.
It continues: “That’s why the Second Amendment is brief in language but broad in scope, serving as umbrella protection for lawful use of arms in almost any circumstance.” In NRA-speak, that means gun owners have the right to shoot people whenever they personally determine it's justified. One may wonder: what are the limits of these circumstances? Do they include shooting those who challenge strict adherence to a radical interpretation of the Second Amendment?
Such questions are moot to the NRA because they are militantly inflexible about their “right” to own and use guns without restrictions. They are also trying to preserve a way of life that kills people and animals while placeing corporate interests above society's. Part of their intent is to redefine freedom so that it means the freedom to make money from the blood of innocent animals and to make a financial killing selling guns. Firearms are a global multibillion-dollar a year enterprise, one of the biggest moneymaking operations on the planet. The NRA’s connection to the international arms industry gives them a huge financial stake in stopping gun control efforts in the U.S. and abroad.
The political system runs too much these days on money and backroom business deals rather than ethics or trying to improve the state of the world. Increasingly, the pursuit of our “national interest” is becoming the unquestioned protection of corporate profits against any criticism. The NRA and other fanatical pro-business groups will continue to fight for their “right” to go on harming people, animals and the environment, even though in doing so they are violating the rights of billions.
Happiness is a Warm Gun
As one of the world’s most powerful lobbying organizations, the four-million-member NRA has so far been able to block almost all legislative efforts to regulate guns. They literally see themselves as the “guardians” not only of the Second Amendment but of freedom itself. In fact, they believe that without unfettered access to guns, Americans would swiftly lose all of our other freedoms.
Yet in the narrative of “Freedom In Peril,” the NRA (oddly enough) consistently portrays gun owners as helpless victims. All the “good” people in the pictures are fighting a losing battle, under siege by insurmountable forces. The NRA argues that guns will protect our freedom when the time comes. But in this booklet that time has actually come, and guns are shown to be completely useless.
Think about it: What good is granny’s handgun supposed to do against seven commandos with automatic weapons (page 13)? (Incidentally, this illustration is allegedly based on an actual event that took place in post-Katrina New Orleans.) How is a shotgun going to enable that dad perched on his rooftop (page 14) to protect his family from the roving hordes coming up the street filled with overturned cars and burned-out houses? And on the final page, next to the Epilogue, the father seems to have just given up: he’s not even holding a gun, just waiting with his wife and son to be engulfed by the encroaching tidal wave that has crested their driveway.
Obviously, guns cannot protect people from what the NRA seems to believe is coming. Actually, the spread of firearms will only bring about chaos that much quicker. Instead of focusing on causative solutions and preventive measures against society’s collapse, their answer is that everyone should have guns: then we’ll all be safe! The pamphlet warns, “If we do not heed the lesson of Katrina—that survival in disaster is ultimately the responsibility of the individual—the next tragedy will almost certainly include further devastation of American freedoms.”
This directly denies that the government has any responsibility to help its citizens during disasters. It also clearly states the NRA’s core philosophy: that it is every man for himself in this world, especially in times of crisis, so you’d better be packing serious heat if you expect to survive. The NRA embodies the “You’re either with us or with the terrorists” mentality that came into vogue with the post-9/11 posturing of Bush & Co. If you support gun control, then you’re not with the NRA; therefore, by this simplistic and flawed logic, you must be against them and therefore a “terrorist.”
The NRA has held a stony silence on the story behind “Freedom In Peril.”** Some commentators speculate that it was intended as a mailer to the group’s rank-and-file, but it seems more likely that it was designed as a special fundraising tool to target wealthy donors. The book's epilogue concludes that “victory can no longer be borne solely by the masses,” which means they’re fishing for more than just $25 yearly donations. If they are scaring people without just cause merely as a cynical ploy for money, then they are insulting their constituency, whether it’s Joe Sixpack or Billy Bob Billionaire. What is scarier is the thought that this isn’t all about money, and that the heads of this powerful organization actually believe we’re on the verge of an all-out social collapse or apocalypse — and that guns, of all things, are the solution.
I hold out hope that this pamphlet doesn’t represent the viewpoint of the majority of NRA members, and that most will be offended by it. Some may revoke their memberships, perhaps realizing the need for a less extreme pro-gun organization that sees the logic in regulations. A blogger and gun owner named Buffalo wrote: “My respect for the NRA decreased to almost nil when I read the pamphlet… This piece of crap tarnishes their image and should shame them.”
For all the talk about firearms, the key issue “Freedom In Peril” raises for the movement is not necessarily the question of gun control, but rather the ubiquitous spread of the perception that animal rights advocates are—by definition—terrorists. We need to counter this stereotype, but in order to do that we must thoroughly understand how our opponents think. “Freedom In Peril” is therefore something of a gift to the animal rights community because it so blatantly lays out how some of the most extreme extremists perceive us. I think it bears very close study.
What would be really amazing is if the animal rights movement could produce something as visually compelling as “Freedom In Peril.” If there are any great artists out there who are interested in collaborating on something like this, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* It must be noted that the graphic-novelesque design and artwork for this booklet by Arizona-based draftsman Chris Gall are of the highest quality almost throughout, but this is one of my favorite drawings. Given his plethora of high-powered clients and awards, I am curious whether Gall believes the NRA’s ideology or is just prostituting his formidable talent.
** I did a search for “Freedom In Peril” on the NRA website thinking I would find something that tells their side of the story, but instead got a “0 document(s) retrieved” message. So the NRA is basically pretending this brochure doesn’t even exist, and hoping that this will all blow over soon if they just lay low for awhile. Clearly they are embarrassed about being so exposed. (It must be noted that I conducted the same search on the PETA and HSUS websites and came up with zero results, as well.)
Here are some of the articles and blogs I read in researching this story:
NRA Pamphlet: “Freedom in Peril: Guarding the 2nd Amendment in the 21st Century”
NRA's Graphic Attack on Its Enemies Leaked Onto Internet
NRA already taking shots at the incoming Democratic Congress
NRA Sounds Alarms on Gun Control
The Infidel Sage
YOUR NEW REALITY: Weapons Of Mass Information
Wonkette: NRA's Secret Graphic Novel Revealed!
NRA comic called a hoax, but accusations later withdrawn
NRA Sounds Alarm of Not-So-Imminent Threat
NRA's Purloined Pamphlet Seeks Support of Big Business