Image from the NRA Leadership Forum
Dear friends, family members, coworkers and the nearly five million other members of the National Rifle Association,
I hate the term “gun nut.” As a veteran who grew up with guns in the house all my life, it’s insulting and serves no purpose in moving the national firearms discussion forward.
But if your gut reaction is “we don’t need to talk!”then I gotta tell you: We need to talk. It’s about your lobby. As anyone reading Letters2Trump knows, the NRA has been featured prominently lately. This time, it’s not about its policies, its legislative strong-arming or covert cash injections made into every political race. It’s about its behavior.
We worry about you. No, seriously. There are some disturbing similarities between this organization and other groups that have wound up in the trash can of American history:
The NRA is a cult.
A large cult. A well-known cult. A powerful cult. A rich cult. But a cult nonetheless.
For a century it had been devoted to the safety, education and recreation of firearms and had even supported sensible gun laws.
But in the last 30 years the NRA has morphed into the Scientology of lobbies.
This isn’t meant as a rude, unwarranted insult. After all, you are my friends, family members and coworkers. So take this as a wake-up call.
Let’s take a look at a few symptoms of a cult and how NRA leadership exhibits these symptoms as defined by the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) and Families Against Cult Teachings (FACT).
See how these cultish behavioral patterns compare to how the NRA – in particular the leadership – acts:
–The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law. In this case, the second amendment is the belief system, and to equate talking about gun safety with a totalitarian state, is, um, zealous to say the least. Knock it off with “Hitler took the guns, Stalin took the guns. ”No one outside the cult believes that nonsense.
- Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished. Try criticizing Wayne LaPierre or the NRA in any online forum. See how long it takes before you receive disproportionately hostile responses. Not even the Simpsons were spared when they poked a little fun at the NRA. But I understand. We’re not allowed to poke fun at cults.
- Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, denunciation sessions) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s). Sound familiar? “Lock her up! Lock her Up! Lock her up!” Year after year, and just repeated last week at CPAC…
- The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity). In this case, it wants to “save freedom.” Try this exercise: every time the NRA uses the word “freedom,” substitute it with the word “our cult.” Think the NRA is “freedom’s safest place”? Try “our cult’s favorite place.” “Freedom is under attack“ now becomes “Our cult is under attack.” You get the idea.
- The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society. The NRA is “us,” and everyone else is “them.” Wayne LaPierre rails against “those elitists” at every speech he makes. This is particularly hypocritical to the point of bordering on funny: he’s a multi-millionaire, former PhD candidate and Democratic (!) legislative assistant who never served in the military and attended liberal northeast universities. In other words, he’s elitist.
- The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders, elected officials, etc.). Wayne LaPierre is arguably *the* most powerful man in America. Period. He has a direct, personal influence in all three branches of Government – the presidency, both houses of Congress, and even our Supreme Court nominees. Who would dare go up against him? We’re starting to see signs that some institutions, businesses and politicians are beginning to break their ties with the NRA. In perfect cult fashion, these are now in the “them” category (see previous paragraph).
- The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group. After the Sandy Hook school shooting, conspiracy theories abounded that the parents of the dead students organized the massacre so that they could get their mortgages paid off. The death threats have yet to stop against these parents who have already suffered enough. The only ones that don’t have mortgages to pay off are Wayne LaPierre and the cult-conspiracy theorist in Chief, Alex Jones. Reality is warped to fit the cult’s worldview, and everyone not in the cult is disgusted.
- The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members. Just try buying a gun without receiving unsolicited literature about joining the NRA, even if you have no intention of joining. Did you ever wonder how they got your information anyway?
- The group is preoccupied with making money. “You too can save freedom for only a $40 for a yearly membership, or $400 for a lifetime membership. Hey, freedom isn’t free!” LaPierre’s salary was over $5 million in 2015, more than the annual dues of 125,000 NRA members. No wonder they want to being in more members.
– Use of extreme language to go after groups with differing opinions. How about this charming quote from an NRA video: “The only way we save our country and our freedom is to fight this violence of lies with a clenched fist of truth. I am the National Rifle Association…”
– No tolerance for questions or critical inquiry. Stop asking questions, you elitist! Was that too critical?
-Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions. Here’s what LaPierre said last week at the CPAC conference: “(The Washington insiders’) goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms so they can eliminate all individual freedoms.” Really? Coupled with the Alex Jones’ conspiracies already referenced (as well as others) and we can say this cultish language was predictable.
–There are records, books, news articles, or television programs that document the abuses of the group/leader. Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, released in 2002, about the Columbine school massacre and the power of the NRA, is the best known. Of course, in typical cult manner, the NRA paints him as the enemy.
–The group/leader is always right. We’re all waiting for anyone in the NRA to challenge LaPierre’s “teachings,” leadership style, moral compass, or anything.
– Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability. Trump talked about gun control last week surprising everyone. Then Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox had Lunch with him at the White House on Saturday and…lo and behold, Trump backpedaled. Now that is power. And they won’t give it up easily.
-To these, I would add the following symptom of a cult: A cult is able to hold two contradictory “doublethink” thoughts at once without batting an eye. For example, compare the common NRA mantra, “If we give an inch on gun control, they will take away all our guns” with “passing gun laws is useless, they will always be able to get guns.” Or even worse: try reconciling “Gun violence is a mental health issue, it’s a mental health issue!” (another mantra, anyone?) with the NRA-backed Trump overturning an Obama-era rule that barred gun sales to some people collecting Social Security disability benefits because of a mental health condition.
Note: Neither ICSA nor FACT claim the NRA is a cult, so if you are an NRA member and now despise them because of this article, please stop. And if you hate me or L2T for pointing out the similarities between cults and the NRA, you’ve proved my point: you’re in a cult. Reread these cult symptoms, stop sending them money, and scrape that faded NRA sticker off your car. No one’s impressed or convinced.
It’s refreshing and heartening to see increasing signs of scrutiny and even defectors (thank you Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kroger’s, First National Bank and many other business) Maybe corporate America is beginning to realize that cults are bad for business.
And the cult, in between massacre-fueled membership drives, is scared.