How The NRA Stokes Conspiratorial Anti-SemitismThe nation's leading gun rights group regularly traffics in the sort of inflammatory rhetoric that has boiled over into violence in the past week.
During a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre issued a dire warning about a “political disease” sweeping the U.S. with the support of billionaires like George Soros, Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer.
LaPierre’s address, issued a week after the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, was focused largely on perceived threats to gun rights. But the three Jewish-born individuals he singled out as working to undermine the American way of life have become reliable bogeymen not just for the NRA but for other factions among the far-right.
Over the past week, we’ve seen what happens when these anti-Semitic overtures boil over into real-world violence. On Friday, a Florida man was arrested for allegedly sending pipe bombs to a number of Democratic lawmakers and activists, including Soros and Steyer. The suspect, Cesar Sayoc, had shared a number of conspiracy theories about Soros, including a meme branding the liberal mega-donor as “Judeo-plutocratic Bolshevik Zionist world conspirator.” Another tweet claimed Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg was actually an actor paid by Soros.
Just a day later, a 46-year-old white man with a long history of online anti-Semitism was accused of taking his hatred into a synagogue in Pittsburgh and fatally shooting 11 people. The suspect’s activity on the social network Gab shows that he’d posted baseless conspiracy theories about Jewish involvement in the migrant caravan making its way from Central America to the U.S.
Soros, Bloomberg and Steyer are well-known philanthropists whose political donations have made them partisan lightning rods. But their Jewish heritage in particular has helped put them at the center of a series of far-right conspiracy theories about a supposed Jewish-led cadre ― often referred to as “globalists” ― secretly coordinating a foreign invasion of the U.S., or inciting civil unrest and political upheaval, or funding a hostile takeover of the government.
The NRA has regularly trafficked in its own form of conspiratorial anti-Semitism, working to portray Soros, Bloomberg and Steyer as nefarious figures intent on a realignment of American society that will involve stripping people of the right to bear arms.
In a blog post earlier this month, NRA President Oliver North specifically called out Soros, Bloomberg and “shadowy billionaire” and NRA “enemy” Steyer as part of “a small cabal of billionaires and their pet politicians,” saying they are “conspiring to permanently transform America into a socialist state.”
Their goal, North claimed, is to “crush the National Rifle Association, repeal the Second Amendment and seize power in Washington, D.C. — not with bombs and bullets, but with big bucks buying ballots.” North went on to exhort his followers to recruit more NRA members and vote Republican in November in order to “defeat” this plot.
LaPierre has also repeated the attacks he used at CPAC in February. In a March blog post, he accused Soros, Bloomberg and Steyer of promoting an “evil, destructive, left-wing ideology” of “Soviet Socialism, National Socialism [and] Maoist Communism.” LaPierre warned that if Democrats succeed in retaking a congressional majority in November, it would only be a matter of time until they “come after us.”
Not all of the NRA’s messaging has been so subtle. In 2016, NRA board member Ted Nugent shared a Facebook post depicting prominent American Jews as the face of gun control in the U.S. The image drew aggressive pushback from the Anti-Defamation League, but the NRA ultimately brushed off calls to respond by stripping Nugent of his title. The post still remains on the rocker’s Facebook page.
This sort of thinly and not-so-thinly veiled anti-Semitism has become a key part of the NRA’s playbook, said Andrew Zucker, federal media relations director at Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit largely funded by Bloomberg, the former Republican mayor of New York City.
″[The NRA’s] leaders peddle conspiracy theories, fuel hatred and traffic in dog-whistle politics in order to incite fear and sell more guns,” Zucker said in a statement to HuffPost. “The NRA’s rhetoric has reached a dangerous new low, and Americans have had enough.”
White nationalists have long held up gun rights as a prominent feature of their anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, said Brian Levin, director for the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
The story of “The Turner Diaries,” a 1978 novel often called the “bible of the racist right,” begins with the passage of the fictitious Cohen Act, a bill that leads to the confiscation of all civilian-owned firearms. The legislation prompts the book’s main character to mount an uprising against the “System,” a federal government depicted as being controlled by Jewish interests.
“Whenever there’s an anti-elitist type of political movement, invariably, when it comes to some kind of global cabal, Jews are always just one step away from being falsely identified as the malevolent protagonists,” said Levin. “One of the key points with regard to supporting nationalism is a focus on gun regulations being in some way a deprivation of liberty.”
As the NRA works to reinvent itself not just as a gun rights organization but as a leading voice in a broader culture war, it may become more comfortable employing the sort of rhetoric that has historically been relegated to the darker corners of the internet, said Levin.
“What we’re seeing now is an appeal to some of the more conspiratorial theories about how individual liberties are being somehow deprived, and, of course, the first one is the deprivation of Second Amendment rights,” said Levin. “What we’re seeing is a convergence of not only political tribalism but unfortunately its sibling of bigotry relating to race and religion.”