Wayne LaPierre stood in front of an artificial backdrop the color of a cartoon midnight sky. He was dressed like a funeral conductor, in a black suit, white shirt and dark purple tie, but he looked like the corpse. Beneath his rimless glasses and permanently furrowed brow, his face was hollow and his skin was gray, perhaps an effect of the grim topic he was preparing to broach.
“You and I didn’t choose to be targets in the age of terror,” he said.
“But innocents like us will continue to be slaughtered in concert halls, sports stadiums, restaurants, and airplanes. No amount of bloodshed will ever satisfy the demons among us.”
As he spoke, an aria fit for a horror movie played in the background, making his message feel all the more dire, like an end-of-days commercial you might see on some far-flung channel in the middle of the night in between ads for Snuggies and home gyms.
“When evil knocks on our doors, Americans have a power no other people on the planet share: the full-throated right to defend our families and ourselves with our Second Amendment,” he said. “Let fate decide if mercy is offered to the demons at our door.”
LaPierre is the chief executive of the National Rifle Association, and this one-minute ad, released on Nov. 30, after the Paris terror attacks, is part of the NRA’s effort to attract more members with commonsense fear-mongering as mass shootings—two in the last few weeks alone, in Colorado and California—and one-off, viral gun deaths—like the case of a 9-year-old girl who accidentally shot her instructor in the head with an Uzi—threaten to tar the group’s reputation in the eyes of a incessantly shaken public.
In 2014, the NRA unveiled plans to launch its own television network of sorts—a series of programs available “anytime and anywhere on your computer, tablet or mobile phone, or web-connected TV via browser, YouTube or Roku streaming player” that would allow people to see how empowering, fun, and not-murderous gun culture can be.
NRA News, as it’s called, bills itself as “the most comprehensive video coverage of Second Amendment issues, events and culture anywhere in the world,” but it doesn’t feel of this world at all. It feels like how TV might be in a dystopian future where citizens hoard weapons inside their chrome hover-trailers, which they leave only to restock on Soylent and return to with a sunburn.
The network is broken up into categories:
Commentary, from a varied cast including LaPierre, right-wing radio host Dana Loesch and Colion Noir (not his real name), a young black man who wears baseball hats, hates “political correctness and dishonesty” and, before being discovered by NRA News, had achieved minor YouTube fame with his pro-gun rants.
Investigative, which has a familiar-sounding show called Frontlines that covers things like how America’s energy infrastructure is vulnerable to terror attacks or, in the frantic words of NRA News, “The Fight For Light: The Coming Catastrophe.”
Lifestyle, which houses a vaguely porny series called Love At First Shot that follows youngish women as they learn to shoot firearms for the first time with the instruction of other youngish women (sample description: “Julie Golob is about to show 21-year-old Kaytlin that with the proper instruction and safety in place, she can shoot large calibers with ease”).
Profiles, home of Armed & Fabulous which, in Episode 4, documented the life of Sandra Sadler, who looks like your average grandma except when she’s holding a dead animal by the antlers. She has, the narrator said, “a deep appreciation for the outdoors.”
Campaigns, another channel for the ads like LaPierre’s.
And History, which airs The Treasure Collection, the Antiques Roadshow of NRA News.
The videos are beautiful and slick, in the style of modern presidential campaign commercials or global warming documentaries. On YouTube, where over 200 of them are posted, they accumulate thousands of views. The clip of LaPierre has over 100,000. (The number of viewers for the shows on the NRA News website is not available, and the NRA did not immediately reply to a request for that information.)
Aesthetics aside, the videos are attractive because in life inside NRA News, there are Good Guys and Bad Guys, Cops and Robbers, Freedom-Lovers Like Us and the godforsaken Them. Things are, apparently, simple when you are packing heat.
To the NRA, everything is black and white—but mostly white. Almost everyone featured on NRA News is white, except for Noir, and David A. Clarke, a sheriff in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, who became a minor right-wing celebrity by attacking President Obama and Al Sharpton after the Ferguson protests and was featured in a video the NRA posted on 9/11 called “My Honor” (oddly, the NRA didn’t include Clarke’s name in the video, leaving it up to YouTube commenters to identify him), and an elderly woman whose name the NRA also did not include who, in a video titled “My Rights,” said she needed a gun because she lived in government housing where “gang-bangers walk down our halls every day.”
But it’s up against the NRA’s alternative universe of gun-slinging girls and mostly-white patriots in suits who want to preserve your rights that a different narrative is fighting competitively.
On Sunday night, from the Oval Office, Obama used an address about terrorism to condemn gun culture. “We also need to make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons like the ones that were used in San Bernardino,” he said. “I know there are some who reject any gun safety measures. But the fact is that our intelligence and law enforcement agencies—no matter how effective they are—cannot identify every would-be mass shooter, whether that individual is motivated by ISIL or some other hateful ideology. What we can do—and must do—is make it harder for them to kill.”
Obama’s speech came a day after The New York Times ran an editorial on its front page, titled “End the Gun Epidemic in America,” which called for the “outlawing” of “certain kinds of weapons, like the slightly modified combat rifles used in California, and certain kinds of ammunition.”
Conservatives reacted in fury. Erick Erickson, the right-wing radio host, sprayed his copy of The Times with seven bullets and posted a photo of the remains on Twitter, where it has over 1,000 retweets.
The Times editorial came a day after the New York Daily News ran a cover with a photo of Syed Farook, one of the San Bernardino shooters, above a row of white men: four of them mass shooters, one of them LaPierre. Farook was a terrorist, the News conceded, “(But so are these guys…AND this guy).”
On NRA TV on Monday, Cam Edwards, the burly red-headed, bearded host of Cam & Co. (sponsored by Nosler, the ammunition manufacturer), nearly filled three hours of airtime with talk of the anti-gun elites in the media.
With the Times op-ed, Edwards said, “they’ve let the mask slip. They’ve let their intentions be known.”
Behind Edwards, there was a sign which read, “KEEP CALM AND EAT BACON.”
Only in the universe of NRA TV does such serenity—punctuated by bouts of paranoia—seem possible.
Correction: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly spelled Colion Noir's name.