Two gun shows in New York have come under scrutiny post-Charlottesville, due to the prospect that the events could feature Nazi memorabilia for sale alongside tables spread with rifles.
The controversies are a reminder that even as gun shows are cherished gathering places for firearms enthusiasts, they have also been a petri dish for the American right-wing underground. At these events, extremists can often find mementos and literature — and sometimes enlist fresh recruits.
In tony Westchester County, just north of New York City, activists are trying to prevent a gun show from returning to a county-owned convention center in early 2018. A show held in January by the same organizers in the same space featured vendors selling Nazi merchandise and Confederate flags. “If it’s a ‘gun and knife’ show, it’s unclear why these materials were even being sold,” local Republicans said in a letter to county executive Rob Astorino.
Farther upstate in Saratoga, a gun show organizer was forced to pull an exhibit of a desk, chair, valet stand, and hat owned by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler following outrage from a local synagogue.
The ties between parts of the gun world and right-wing extremists are well documented:
- Timothy McVeigh, an anti-government radical with white supremacist sympathies who committed the Oklahoma City bombing, had been a habitue of gun shows throughout the west.
- The late Matt Vanderboegh, who had been a member of militias for decades and founded the Three Percenter “patriot” group, wrote about how important gun shows were to his movement.
- The sovereign citizens who murdered two West Memphis, Arkansas, police officers in 2010 had bought weapons at a gun show just before their confrontation with the law.
- A review of the white supremacist group National Vanguard’s website shows members discussing the need to “racialize” the “gun right,” and applauding outreach efforts at gun shows.
In 2009, the respected gun violence researcher Garen Wintemute authored a report on gun shows. In his visits to 78 shows in 19 states, Wintemute was disturbed by the prevalence of white supremacist propaganda:
Support for the Confederacy extends to calls for a continued war of secession and to overt racism. Neo-Confederacy groups rent table space and recruit new members. Ku Klux Klan merchandise was observed several times. New Nazi materials (as distinct from memorabilia) are very common; one regular seller at shows in Arizona is a nationally-recognized promoter of neo-Nazism. The Turner Diaries is everywhere, and Mein Kampf can be found next to More Guns, Less Crime.
David Petronis, whose company organized the gun show in Saratoga, did not see a problem with including Nazi products among the goods for sale. “I never even gave it a thought,” he told a local newspaper. “To me, it wasn’t controversial.”
He has said he plans to proceed with the sale of Hitler’s desk and effects at a public auction in Ohio this January.