USA Today labels 2A activism, gun shows as "gateway to extremism"

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

Concern trolling is the art of undermining an issue or topic of discussion by expressing insincere concerns about it. USA Today’s Will Carless took this art to a maestro level in a “news” story Wednesday titled, “​​Down the barrel of a gun: How Second Amendment activism can be a gateway to extremist ideologies.” (Archived). Carless starts by priming the pump with fear porn for readers who aren’t familiar with gun shows.

The Atlanta Gun Show, held over a weekend in late September, had everything one might need for a coming apocalypse or civil war: flame throwers, hundreds of rifles, thousands of handguns and knives, body armor, survival kits, medical supplies. 

Now that the stage is set, Carless moves immediately to prepare the guilt by association:

Sprinkled among swords, boxes of sutures and night-vision goggles were the insignia of the modern extremist far-right: bright yellow patches for the Oath Keepers militia group, holsters and clothing engraved with the logo of the extremist Three Percenters. A stall at the back sold paperback copies of “The Anarchist Cookbook,” which describes how to make homemade bombs, along with a book called “Two Component High Explosive Mixtures.” 

Nestled in the middle of the show at the Atlanta Expo Center, a man proudly displayed Nazi memorabilia: medals, swastika patches and a model of a German amphibious vehicle occupied by toy Nazi soldiers. People crowded around his table, asking questions about buying and selling Nazi stuff.

And then he deploys the smears.

Gun shows like this have long been part of the connective tissue between mainstream conservatism and the American extremist movement. The vast majority of gun owners are law-abiding citizens, but experts and former members of the extremist far-right said a passion for gun rights often serves as a gateway to radicalization – one eagerly exploited by recruiters and leaders in the movement. 

Mainstream conservatism has various tents and factions that have a fair number of disagreements and differences within, but for the sake of argument, let’s say that it encompasses limited government, strong national defense, the rule of law, and respect for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. How exactly do gun shows connect mainstream conservatism to neo-Nazism?

That’s like saying that because both mainstream Muslims and Jihadis attend mosques, mosques are the “connective tissue” between Islam and Jihad. Sure, mosques are a source of recruitment for Jihadis, but so are prisons. Does that mean that prisons are the “connective tissue” between Islam and Jihad? That logic makes no sense.

“In the ’80s and ’90s, this was really the central node in a networking universe,” Berger said. “This was where you could go to meet somebody, when you want to find something.”

Gun shows have been eclipsed by the internet for networking, with countless forums for cross-pollination between gun rights activists and extremists, Berger said. 

Setting aside the unproven link between gun rights activism and extremism, Carless undermines his own gun show boogeyman here, noting that the internet is where networking and radicalization happen. This is not surprising, because the internet was how ISIS radicalized and recruited young Muslim men. As with the internet, gun shows are mostly harmless because they are largely used by lawful people for lawful purposes. Because some people use them for nefarious purposes doesn’t mean that the whole medium is bad.

Although the spaces where extremists exchange ideas have changed, the hysterical messaging about guns being taken away has endured.

It isn’t hysterical messaging when a Democrat presidential candidate openly says, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” to which the debate audience responds with raucous applause, and mostly importantly, none of the other presidential candidates on stage speak up against that candidate’s promise of confiscation.

Carless does touch upon far-Left extremists in his article. But note that he never draws the same dotted line from mainstream liberalism to far-Left extremism that he did with conservatism, and he uses the far-Left extremists’ self-flattering words to portray them in a sympathetic light.

But the pipeline from Second Amendment activism to extremism isn’t exclusively a far-right problem.

Van Spronsen was a self-declared supporter of Antifa, a political movement of far-left militants who oppose white supremacists. He was also an early member of the Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club, a leftist organization that describes itself as “an anti-fascist, anti-racist, pro-worker community defense organization.”

In farewell letters to friends, Van Spronsen wrote that “detention camps are an abomination” and “I’m not standing by.” 

It boggles my mind that USA Today is running a very biased piece like this as pure reporting.

Two young men, one white, one Black, packed multiple bulletproof vests, rifles and handguns into the back of their vehicle. They said they pay no attention to politics and have been interested in guns since they were kids. They wouldn’t give their names.

Thankfully, the people at the gun show knew how to not be victims of a drive-by reporting. They refused to give their names to Carless, who eventually got booted out like an outed Borat.