As usual, Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association’s top executive, was angry.
It was 2002, at the NRA’s annual meeting in Reno, Nevada, and the targets of his ire were lawmakers and gun-reform groups who he argued wanted to use the 9/11 attacks as an excuse “to hijack your freedom and take a box cutter to the Constitution.”
He went on: “They used September 11th as a godsend. Within weeks, the ailing gun-ban lobby was back, marketing terrorism as the new reason to ban your guns.”
Instead of singling out people who posed obvious risks, LaPierre thundered, the federal government was subjecting law-abiding Americans to a gauntlet of indignities via the new screening procedures implemented in American airports.
“Walk through any airport today and you see red-faced, teary-eyed women, singled out to endure security wands orbiting their breasts, while electronic squeals detect the metal in their underwire bras,” he said. “You see grandmothers shaken down and stripped of their cuticle clippers and knitting needles. You see grandfathers, men who likely fought or lost loved ones for this country, in various stages of undress.”
There was a better way, LaPierre roared: Profile travelers who looked like terrorists, and limit intense screening to them.
“I guess it’s okay to wand-rape someone’s daughter in public,” he went on. “But no profiling!…The first target in homeland security shouldn’t be the people of the homeland. It should be finding people who are not citizens of our homeland, who don’t belong in our homeland along with aliens on work visas, or green cards, or student passes. They are the ones that should get the extra wandings and random searches!”
And with that, LaPierre set down the framework that gun-rights groups have used to stir anti-immigrant fears into their populist brew: In a scary world, Americans need to arm themselves. And as much as possible, anyone who’s not already an American should be kept out.
Today, that once radical ideology is now being rolled out as the policy of the United States government under President Donald Trump. But before he put his pen to executive orders for erecting a wall at the nation’s southern border and banning Syrian refugees and temporarily halting all immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, the NRA and its leaders spent a decade and a half using speeches, op-eds and its in-house media organization to tell the story of a country just one newcomer away from its next murder or major terrorist attack.
While bipartisan immigration reform gained momentum in Congress under George W. Bush, NRA speakers were decrying any accommodations to undocumented residents.
“We also have to go after sanctuary cities… I’m telling you that mayors of these cities, city council people that are doing these things, we should go after them because they are actually violating the law themselves. There’s a law called aiding and abetting that they’re violating. There’s a law called encouragement they’re violating. We cannot allow a patchwork quilt of immigration laws to develop all over this country… it really will mean whether or not we can keep this country.”
In 2010, Arizona adopted a sweeping anti-illegal immigration law, requiring state law enforcement to check the immigration status of people stopped or arrested by police. The Justice Department under President Obama sought to block the measure. LaPierre moved to inflame the fears that had led to it.
“Instead of securing the borders and protecting law-abiding American families, politicians in Washington did nothing, as if they wanted to play some sick game of hateful manipulation to polarize the country, prejudice the vote and poison the political system—just so they can protect their jobs. The consequence of that corruption and contempt for the rule of law is this: While terrorized residents throw their deadbolts, draw their blinds and pray not to have their homes invaded or their kids kidnapped in Arizona, in Washington, D.C., the ruling elite bask in the safety of their 24-hour security and scream with outrage at Arizona’s law—all because they insist upon playing political games with our lives!”
After LaPierre’s dire warnings of an Obama re-election did not rouse enough voters to defeat the sitting president, the NRA leader used an op-ed on a conservative website to paint a picture of marauding criminals spreading northward from the Southwest. In a harbinger of “Build That Wall!” LaPierre also called for sealing the border with a physical barrier.
“Additional threats are growing. Latin American drug gangs have invaded every city of significant size in the United States. Phoenix is already one of the kidnapping capitals of the world, and though the states on the U.S./Mexico border may be the first places in the nation to suffer from cartel violence, by no means are they the last.
The president flagrantly defies the 2006 federal law ordering the construction of a secure border fence along the entire Mexican border. So the border today remains porous not only to people seeking jobs in the U.S., but to criminals whose jobs are murder, rape, robbery and kidnapping. Ominously, the border also remains open to agents of al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. Numerous intelligence sources have confirmed that foreign terrorists have identified the southern U.S. border as their path of entry into the country.”
LaPierre’s warnings were not limited to migrants from Mexico, of course. The peril he described was global in origin.
“You feel it. The threats are all around us. Russia’s advancing. The Islamic State is consolidating power. With beheadings, rapes, murders and atrocities, they’re carving a bloody trail that leads to our doorstep. They’re already here!”
That’s already here, as in ALREADY HERE.
We know terror cells already operate in American cities and that it’s only a matter of time when — not if — we will be attacked by enemies our own president refuses to name.”
As Syria became synonymous with the Islamic State, and terrorist attacks rocked Western Europe, powerful gun-rights advocates associated with the NRA decried the foundational American policy of welcoming refugees from war-torn countries as simply not worth the trouble and expense.
“The Obama Administration authorized planeloads of ‘undocumente’ immigrant families from Mexico and Central America, to be placed into communities across the country, for no sound reason but simply as a humanitarian gesture. The cost of that ‘policy’ — in both dollars and security risks — is still being calculated. And now, Obama and other Bleeding Hearts in our nation’s Capital want to do the same thing with thousands of immigrants from Syria and other countries torn by sectarian violence and suffering from lack of economic opportunity. What about the obligation to the American taxpayer, who, as always, will bear the cost for housing, feeding and maintaining these ‘refugees’?”
Other NRA leaders had little patience for the longstanding American policy of eschewing religious tests for immigrants.
“At this point we need to do what is in the best interest of the security of our nation, and if that means that we need to ensure that we screen the Muslims that are coming into this country, that has to be put on the table. It’s not the Christians that are blowing up concert halls and cafes in Paris.”
To hammer home the danger of liberal immigration policies, the NRA even sent one of its talking heads on foreign assignment.
“Here in Austria, there’s a new reality as millions of asylum seekers flood into Europe from the Middle East, Soutwest Asia, and Africa. There’s been a corresponding spike in violent crime. Robberies, assaults, rapes and murders and high-profile radical Islamic terror attacks like those in Paris and Brussels.
So much to be afraid out of there. If only there were a wall!
“It’s been documented time and time again that people linked to terror organizations in the Middle East have crossed that unprotected line into the US. Unprotected, because we want to show the world that ‘we care.’ I’m afraid that our inability to think like our enemy will be our downfall.”
Or a blanket ban on refugees and immigrants from entire countries.
When it comes to national security, we take a backseat to no one. The unfortunate truth is that we’re going to be attacked again from within our borders. The question is, what are we going to do about it?
With his unprecedented executive actions, President Trump has now answered that question.
[Photo: Flickr user Gage Skidmore]