Militant white identity politics in full display in GOP political ads featuring high-powered weapons
Republican Eric Greitens, a candidate for an open seat in the U.S. Senate in Missouri, surprised viewers with a new online political ad in June 2022 that urged his supporters to go “RINO hunting.”
Appearing with a shotgun and a grin, Greitens led the search for the RINOs, shorthand for the provocative “Republicans In Name Only.” Along with armed soldiers, Greitens stormed a house under the cover of a smoke grenade.
“Join the MAGA crew,” Greitens said in the video. “Get a RINO hunting permit. There is no bagging limit, no tagging limit and it will not expire until we save our country. ”
The ad came from a candidate who repeatedly found himself in controversy, who resigned as governor of Missouri amid allegations of sexual assault and allegations of improper campaign funding that resulted in 18 months. investigation which eventually cleared him of any legal wrongdoing.
The political ad was also launched – and quickly removed – from Facebook and flagged by Twitter at a time when the country was still coming to terms with the insurgency in the U.S. Capitol and stuttering from the mass shooting in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Uvalde, Texas, Buffalo, New York and Highland Park, Illinois.
The ad continues to circulate on YouTube through various news sources.
Greitens ’call for political weapons is no longer new.
In his gubernatorial ads in 2016, Greitens appeared firing a Gatling-style machine gun into the air and using an M4 rifle to create an explosion in a field to show his opposition to the Obama administration.
What the Greitens ad represents, in our view, is the evolution of the use of guns in political ads as a coded appeal for white voters.
While they may have been more vague in the past, candidates are increasingly making these appeals more militant in their culture of war against the ideas and politicians they oppose.
Guns as a symbol of whiteness
As communication scholars, we have studied the ways in which white masculinity has influenced contemporary conservative populism.
We also examined the ways in which racial appeals to white voters flourished under the GOP’s Southern strategy, the long game played by conservatives since the 1960s to weaken the Democratic Party in the South by exploiting racial rage.
In some of our most recent work, we examined the ways guns have been used in campaign ads to represent the politics of white identity, or what political scientist Ashley Jardina explained as the way in which unity of white races and fears of marginalization in a political one. movement.
Symbolically, guns in the US have historically been associated with defending the interests of white people.
In her book “Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment,” historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz documents how the Founding Fathers of America originally thought of the Second Amendment as protection for white frontier militias in their efforts. to suppress and exterminate the Indigenous people. The Second Amendment was also designed to protect slave owners in the South who feared uprisings.
As a result, the right to bear arms was never thought of by the founders as an individual freedom held by Indigenous peoples and people of color.
As described in Richard Slotkin’s book “Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America,” the popular Western film and literary genre that impressed white, hypermasculine cowboys and gunslingers was “civilized “the wild border to make it safe for whites. homesteaders.
From this lore, contemporary gun culture has romanticized the “good man with a gun” as a patriotic defender of peace and a bastion against government overreach.
Contemporary gun laws reflect a historical racial difference about who is authorized and under what circumstances individuals are allowed to use lethal force.
For example, so-called “stand your ground” laws have been used historically to justify killing Black men, especially in the case of Trayvon Martin.
Proponents of gun control Everytown for Gun Safety have found that homicides resulting from white shooters killing Black victims are “considered justified five times more often than when the shooter is Black. and the victim is white. ”
Militant white political identity
Showing a gun in a political ad has become an easy way to get attention, but our research has found that its meaning has changed over the years.
In a 2010 career for Alabama’s agricultural commissioner, Dale Peterson was featured in an ad holding a gun, wearing a cowboy hat and speaking in the deep Southern drawl about the need to challenge “thugs and criminals” in government .
His style is entertaining.
Although Peterson ranked third in his race, political analysts like Time magazine’s Dan Fletcher said he created one of the best ad campaigns ever.
In the same year, Arizona Republican Pam Gorman ran for the U.S. Congress.
He made more use of guns in political ads by appearing in a backyard set and firing a machine gun, pistol, AR-15 and a revolver in the same ad.
Although he gained attention for his teasing tactics, Gorman eventually lost to Ben Quayle, son of former Vice President Dan Quayle, in a 10-candidate primary.
Aside from the shock value, the guns in the ads have become a symbol of opposition to the Obama administration.
For example, in 2014, U.S. congressional candidate Will Brooke of Alabama ran an online ad in a Republican primary showing him loading a copy of the Obamacare law into a truck, driving it into the woods. and fired at it with a handgun, rifle and assault rifle.
Unfinished, the remnants of the copy were thrown into a wood chipper. Although Brooke lost in the seven-way primary, her ad received national attention.
The call to defend a conservative way of life has become increasingly bizarre – and has become a common tactic for GOP candidates.
Prior to the Greitens, U.S. congressional candidate Kay Daly fired a shotgun from North Carolina at the end of an ad during her unsuccessful 2015 campaign asking supporters to accompany her on the hunt for RINOs.
The ad attacked his main opponent, incumbent Rep. Renee Elmers, a Republican from North Carolina, for funding Obamacare, “Planned Butcherhood” and protecting the rights of “illegal alien child molesters.”
Before he reaped the wrath of Trump, Brian Kemp climbed Georgia’s career polls for governor in 2018 with an ad titled “Jake” in which he interviewed his daughter’s boyfriend.
Holding a shotgun in his lap as he sat in a chair, Kemp described himself as a conservative outsider willing to take a “chainsaw on government regulations” and asking for respect as the patriarch of his family.
The ads of the latest cycle constitute the development of this gun as a symbol of white resistance.
The conservative GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, from Georgia, ran an ad for gun distribution in 2021 that she created in response to her alleged arming of Biden with Islamic terrorists as well as the Speaker of the House’s alleged secrecy that Nancy Pelosi on the Green New Deal and other liberal legislation on a budget proposal.
Firing a weapon from a truck, he announced that he would “abolish the socialist agenda of the Democrats.”
Cultural wars continue
Surrounded by soldiers himself, Greitens is more than his predecessors in this latest iteration of Republican use of firearms.
But his approach is unusual for a party that increasingly relies on provocative images of violent resistance to speak to white voters.
Despite the violence on Jan. 6, conservatives are still digging their own canals.