Opinion |

The NRA's Wayne LaPierre's Chilling Christian Nationalist Call to Arms

Why did CPAC love Lapierre's anti-Semitic and anti-minority dog-whistling so much? Because his message - that they're the vanguard of 'real' Americans - resonates with the European-style ethno-nationalism many U.S. conservatives have adopted

Avraham Bronstein
Avraham Bronstein
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The NRA's Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre speaks during the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference at National Harbor in Oxen Hill, Maryland on February 22, 2018
The NRA's Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre speaks during the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference at National Harbor in Oxen Hill, Maryland on February 22, 2018Credit: JIM WATSON/AFP
Avraham Bronstein
Avraham Bronstein

In a defiant, combative CPAC keynote address, NRA leader Wayne LaPierre did not address the suggestion raised by President Donald Trump to raise the minimum age for firearm purchases. He also did not address the willingness Senator Marco Rubio expressed at a CNN-presented town hall to restrict high-capacity magazines for semi-automatic firearms.

In fact, his address, though it touched on the Second Amendment, was not really about public policy at all. Instead, LaPierre delivered a Christian nationalist call to arms that should be chilling to us all.

To great applause, LaPierre declared, "The brilliance of America is that all of our freedoms are for every single citizen...[these freedoms are] not bestowed by man, but granted by God to all Americans as our American birthright."

NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre an NRA promotional video with the image of Virginia Tech mass murderer Seung-Hui Cho at the CPAC annual conference, Maryland, U.S. February 22, 2018Credit: \ KEVIN LAMARQUE/ REUTERS

In striking contrast, though, the Declaration of Independence states, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights..."

Thomas Jefferson’s language in the declaration flows directly from European Enlightenment thinking, most specifically John Locke’s theory of natural rights, which asserted the inherent ("God-given") dignity and value of all human beings.

For many Jewish and Christian thinkers, this idea is rooted in the Bible, which states that humankind was created "in God’s image."

Since 1776, the American liberal tradition has continued in the spirit of the Enlightenment project. Judges and legislators, probing what Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has called the "growth potential" of our founding documents, continue to extend the lofty ideals they represent to an ever-widening circle of people.

But for LaPierre, the liberties Americans enjoy do not flow from innate human rights. They are, rather, an expression of God’s grace bestowed upon a chosen people - and, presumably, not bestowed upon others.

NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre speaks in wake of school shooting

As a result, he sees Americans, those blessed by God, as perpetually guarding their liberties from those who, unblessed, seek to uproot or co-opt them and thus deny Americans their birthright. The NRA, to LaPierre, is the vanguard of that struggle between "real" Americans and those who threaten them, both from without and within.

In that spirit, LaPierre returned often to the danger that "European socialism" and its adherents pose to the traditionally American way of life, and the importance of gun ownership in defending against that threat.

Read more: Just Because Jews Don't Like the NRA, That Doesn't Make the NRA anti-Semitic | Opinion | In NRA's Response to School Massacre: Dog-whistle anti-Semitism, a Star-spangled Protocols of Zion | Opinion | I Called the Douglas High Shooting a Credibly anti-Semitic Attack. The Response? An anti-Semitic Deluge | Opinion

In particular, he called out George Soros, Michael Bloomberg, and Tim Steyer as avatars of this looming menace. Though none of them are elected officials, they do share Jewish ancestry, along with wealth and influence acquired in the world of high finance.

The association of Jews with shadowy foreign threats is not new in this political moment.

For example, a Trump campaign ad that aired just before the 2016 election featured ominous music and talk of elite "globalists" secretly conspiring against American interests - set against the images of Lloyd Blankfein, Janet Yellen, and, again, Soros.

Attendees stand for the national anthem at the 144th National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meeting. Nashville, Tennessee, U.S., April 10, 2015Credit: Bloomberg

It is hard to escape the insinuation that being Jewish is part of what makes these figures "unAmerican."

The ethno-nationalism at the root of the NRA may explain why it reacted so harshly to the movement for gun policy reform being led by a group of high school students with significant Jewish and minority representation.

It is also perhaps why the NRA had little to say in defense of Philando Castile, a legal gun owner and Minnesota educator who was shot by a police officer during a routine traffic stop in 2016.

It goes without saying that, henceforth, every politician who accepts an NRA contribution or endorsement should have to parse whether they share just the NRA’s policy positions, or its worldview as well.

Marion Marechal-Le Pen, niece of right-wing populist French politician Marine Le Pen, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., February 22, 2018Credit: \ KEVIN LAMARQUE/ REUTERS

This will likely be harder for the American Conservative Union, which invited LaPierre to address CPAC in a prestigious slot, just before Vice President Pence.

Disturbingly, and ironically, many in the conservative movement have taken on the rhetoric and tone of a European-style ethno-nationalist party, and there is no doubt that LaPierre’s message resonated strongly among them.

But if the NRA is actually less of a civil liberty organization and more of a Christian nationalist club, it should also be harder to take its gun policy positions in good faith.

As Congress reconvenes Monday to take up the gun debate, those of us who find innate human dignity in Scripture and, reaffirmed by our country’s founding documents, conttinue to hope they consult with groups and leaders whose primary motivation is relieving the epidemic of gun violence that continues to wreak havoc across America.

They should stay away from those whose primary goal is furthering their own radical ideologies.

Avraham Bronstein is rabbi of The Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach, NY. Twitter: @AvBronstein

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