Guns as a Symbol of Whiteness: How GOP Ads Use Militant Identity Politics to Promote Culture Wars

Appearing with a shotgun and a smirk, Greitens leads the hunt for RINOs, short for “Republicans in name only.” Along with armed soldiers, Greitens storms a house under cover of a smoke grenade.

“Join the MAGA team,” Greitens says in the video. “Get a RINO hunting license. There is no bagging limit, no labeling limit and it does not expire until we save our country.

The announcement comes from a candidate who has repeatedly found himself in controversy, having resigned as governor of Missouri amid accusations of sexual assault and allegations of improper campaign finance that sparked an 18-month investigation that ultimately cleared him of any wrongdoing.

The political ad was also tossed – and quickly removed – from Facebook and flagged by Twitter at a time when the nation is still coming to terms with the insurrection at the US Capitol and reeling from the mass shootings in Tulsa, Oklahoma. , Uvalde, Texas, Buffalo, New York and Highland Park, Illinois.

The announcement continues to circulate on YouTube via various news sources. Greitens’ call for political weapons is not new. In his 2016 gubernatorial announcements, Greitens appeared firing a Gatling-style machine gun into the air and using an M4 rifle to create an explosion in a field to demonstrate his resistance 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 code call for white voters. While they may have been a little more ambiguous in the past, the candidates are increasingly making these more militant appeals appear in their culture war against the ideas and politicians they oppose.

Firearms as a symbol of whiteness

As communication scholars, we have studied how white masculinity has influenced contemporary conservative populism. We also looked at how racial appeals to white voters have evolved as part of the GOP’s southern strategy, the long game conservatives have played since the 1960s to weaken the Southern Democratic Party by exploiting racial animosity. .

In some of our latest work, we’ve looked at how guns have been used in campaign ads to represent white identity politics, or what political scientist Ashley Jardina has explained as how solidarity White racialism and fears of marginalization manifested themselves in a political context. movement.

Symbolically, guns in the United States have always been linked to the defense of white interests.

In her book “Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment,” historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz documents how America’s Founding Fathers originally intended the Second Amendment as protection for white frontier militias in their efforts to subjugate and exterminate indigenous peoples. The Second Amendment was also designed to protect Southern slave owners who feared revolts.

As a result, the right to bear arms was never imagined by the Founders as an individual freedom held by Indigenous peoples and people of color.

As Richard Slotkin’s book “Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America” ​​illustrates, the popular film and literary genre of the West glamorized hypermasculine cowboys and white guns “civilizing” the wild border to make it safe for white. settlers.

Drawing on this tradition, contemporary gun culture idealizes the “good guy with a gun” as the patriotic protector of peace and a bulwark against government excesses.

Contemporary gun laws reflect a historical racial disparity regarding who is permitted and under what circumstances individuals are permitted to use lethal force. For example, so-called “stand your ground” laws have historically been used to justify the killing of black men, most notably in the Trayvon Martin case.

Gun control advocates Everytown for Gun Safety found that homicides resulting from white shooters killing black victims are “deemed justifiable five times more frequently than when the shooter is black and the victim is white.”

Activist White Identity Politics

Featuring a gun in political advertising has become an easy way to grab attention, but our research found that its meaning has changed in recent years. During a 2010 run for Alabama’s commissioner of agriculture, Dale Peterson was featured in a commercial holding a gun, wearing a cowboy hat, and speaking in a deep drawl of the South of the need to challenge the “thugs and criminals” of the government.

His style proved to be entertaining. Although Peterson placed third in his race, political analysts like Time magazine’s Dan Fletcher said he created one of the best campaign ads of all time. That same year, Arizona Republican Pam Gorman ran for U.S. Congress.

She took the use of firearms in political ads even further by appearing at a shooting range and firing a machine gun, pistol, AR-15, and revolver in the same ad. Although she drew attention for her provocative tactics, Gorman ultimately lost to Ben Quayle, son of former Vice President Dan Quayle, in a 10-candidate primary.

Besides shock value, guns in advertisements have become a symbol of opposition to the Obama administration.

For example, in 2014, US congressional candidate Will Brooke of Alabama ran an online advertisement in a Republican primary showing him loading a copy of the Obamacare legislation onto a truck, driving it into the woods, and to shoot him with a handgun, rifle and assault rifle. .

Not done, the remains of the copy were then thrown into a wood chipper. Although Brooke lost the seven-way primary, her announcement received national attention. The call to champion a conservative lifestyle has grown increasingly bizarre — and has become a common tactic for GOP candidates.

Long before Greitens, US congressional candidate Kay Daly of North Carolina fired a shotgun blast at the end of an ad during her unsuccessful campaign in 2015 asking her supporters to join her in driving out the RINOs. The ad attacked his main opponent, incumbent Renee Elmers, a Republican from North Carolina, for funding Obamacare, “Planned Butcherhood” and protecting the rights of “illegal alien child molesters.”

Before incurring Trump’s ire, Brian Kemp rose in the polls in the Georgia gubernatorial race in 2018 with a commercial titled “Jake” in which he interviewed his daughter’s boyfriend.

Holding a shotgun in his lap as he sat in a chair, Kemp posed as a conservative outsider willing to take a “chainsaw for government regulations” and demanding respect as his family’s patriarch. Ads in the most recent cycle build on this development of the gun as a symbol of white resistance.

Conservative GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia ran an ad for a 2021 gun giveaway that she made in response to what she claimed was Biden’s arming of Islamic terrorists as well than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who allegedly sneaked the Green New Deal and other liberal legislation into a budget proposal.

Firing a gun from a truck, she announced she would “kill the Democrats’ socialist agenda.”

The culture wars continue

Surrounding himself with soldiers, Greitens goes further than his predecessors in this latest iteration of Republican use of firearms. But his strategy is not out of the ordinary for a party that has increasingly relied on provocative images of violent resistance to speak to white voters. Despite the violence of January 6, the conservatives are still digging their own trenches.

About Norma Wade

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