What do gun rights have to do with NFL players who kneel during the playing of the national anthem before games? To the National Rifle Association, this sort of question no longer matters. Since Donald Trump was elected president, the group has avidly seized opportunities to amplify the president’s message, and attack his enemies, across a range of circumstances.
On Monday, Trump told conservative leaders that his fiery Twitter campaign against football players protesting police brutality during the national anthem had “really caught on.” In an ad released by the NRA the same day, former Navy SEAL Dom Raso gravely intones, “I stand” over and over, to honor veterans. “We are all standing. We are the National Rifle Association, and we are freedom’s safest place,” Raso concludes.
The declaration of allegiance to Trump’s cause was unmistakable, and of a piece with the NRA’s past culture-war campaigns. That the issue at hand in this week’s ad was not guns, the Second Amendment, self defense, or hunting — but whether professional athletes should be fired, as the president declared, for taking a knee as the anthem plays — was no hindrance to the group’s message.
Raso is a product of NRATV, the gun group’s self-produced online video operation. He’s one of a coterie of talking heads, including provocateur Dana Loesch, who deliver commentaries that position the NRA as the foremost guardian of both of gun rights and American identity.
The NRA’s ads in 2017 often have had nothing to do with the former concern. Loesch starred in widely shared videos that slam the New York Times and the organizers of the January 21 Women’s March. Other clips that haven’t gone quite as viral cover similar ground. On the channel, invocations of “tradition” — exactly whose traditions need not be specified — and “veterans” are clear signals of moral authority.
Raso’s most recent spot is restrained by comparison to some of the NRA’s other recent ads. Raso never raises his voice or points to any particular villain.
The “I Stand” clip portrays the NRA as a home for broad military-informed patriotism, not a group of culture-war vanguardistas eager for a fight.
That could make the clip more suitable for TV. Other NRATV personality videos released outside of election cycles have usually been confined to the Internet. Indeed, the NRA tells viewers of the YouTube version to look out for the minute-long spot “in high profile upcoming television broadcasts.”