If you haven't seen it yet, the National Rifle Association recruitment video that came out this week is chilling. It uses dark imagery and rhetoric to paint liberals as the violent enemy of prospective members, one that can only be dealt with through a "clenched fist of truth."
“They use their media to assassinate real news,” seethes conservative commentator Dana Loesch in the 60-second spot. “They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler. They use their movie stars and singers and comedy shows and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again.”
Loesch speaks over cryptic black and white time lapse images of Hollywood, and Washington, D.C. and other major cities as she describes this vague threat to the weapon owners or would-be weapon owners the NRA would like to recruit. About midway through, the video gives way to fiery protest footage as the music crescendos and Loesch grows more forceful in her delivery.
"It's really disturbing," says Kelly Jakes, an associate communications professor at Wayne State University who analyzes political and cultural rhetoric. "This is conspiratorial rhetoric taken from the traditional stockpile of right-wing conspiracy."
The ad — which has been viewed by millions — has drawn the ire of people on both sides of the gun debate. But in its effort to appeal to the most hard-line conservatives, what kind of danger does it pose? We gave Jakes a call to find out.
Metro Times: How does the ad use conspiracy as a rhetorical device? Kelly Jakes: The ill-defined enemy here [is portrayed as] all powerful and very malicious. In the beginning of the ad where it says "they use their media, they use their schools..." the suggestion is that these liberals have total control over society: they control media, education, celebrity culture, [though] we know that's factually not true. If anybody exerts more control over society right now it's the GOP; they're the ones who control the White House, the Senate, the House, they even have ... the 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court. So that's taken from the stockpile of conspiracy: Evidence doesn't really matter, the truth doesn't really matter as long as the story that the conspiracy is telling resonates with the ideology of the audience, that's fine.
MT: What ideology does the ad play to? KJ: In this case it's the right wing and their traditional narrative that good, common-sense conservative values are under threat and that liberals are trying to pervert what they deem to be the natural order. In this add, leftists are trying to bully and terrorize the law abiding. They suggest the goal of these "villains" is just to incite unrest and mayhem, they have no discernible political goals, they'r just all bad.
MT: So what is the goal here? KJ: The goal is to further divide. If you accept this world view that you're facing an enemy who is inherently malicious and all-powerful, it's a very Draconian image of your enemy and the enemy can't be reasoned with, it can't be debated with, the only response to an enemy like this is to fight tooth and nail for your version of the world. It raises the stakes of the battle: We have a struggle between good and evil here instead of one set of political priorities versus a different set of political priorities or a difference in opinion of how to best reignite the economy. So we don't anymore have difference that can be resolved through democratic means, we now have a militant struggle between good and evil that shuts down opportunity for debate.
MT: It sounds like we're entering dangerous territory. Are people going to buy this? KJ: It's very powerful among a specific group of people — in this case, people who already support Trump and who already feel conservative values are under attack. Fighting "the violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth," those metaphors are important because it suggests a certain militance with which people have to fight and its easy to let that militant spirit devolve into actual violence.