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Has the NRA Targeted the President for Assassination?


January 19, 2016
Gar Smith

Commentary: The NRA's response to the President's emotional January 5 plea for increased background checks on gun sales was to be expected. But the statement posted on the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action website later that same day raises serious concerns about how far the NRA is willing to go to protect the country's lucrative gun industry.

Special to Environmentalist Against War

(January 19, 2016) -- The NRA's response to the President's emotional January 5 plea for increased background checks on gun sales was to be expected. But the statement posted on the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) website later that same day raises serious concerns about how far the NRA is willing to go to protect the country's lucrative gun industry.

The official statement on the NRA-ILA website included a provocative graphic that seemed intended as a not-so-subtle incitement to assassination.

It is not easy to find a photograph of the back of the president's head on the Internet. But the NRA found one—and they chose to display it on their website.

The photo offers a perfect "assassin's view" of a target. The message is clear; no superimposed crosshairs are needed.

Equally troubling, the headline above the photo invoked the phrase "Executive Action." As Wikipedia notes: "Executive Action" is a term used by the Central Intelligence Agency starting in the early 1950s that "refers to assassination operations.

The use of this provocative wording and imagery (especially in a time of irrational and paranoid anger among many extreme gun enthusiasts) seems irresponsible and deeply disturbing.

(The complete NRA-ILA posting can be viewed here:
https://www.nraila.org/articles/20160105/statement-on-president-obamas-proposed-executive-actions-on-gun-control.)

[Note: A check on January 18, discovered that the photo appears to have been removed from the Google image archive. A secondary use of the image appears below.]

Message Sent; Message Repeated
It did not take long for the NRA's murderous meme to start spreading across the land.

The very same day, Nashville's The Tennessean ran a story that reprinted the NRA's provocative headshot of the president. Instead of the phrase "executive action," however, the paper's editors subsituted the phrase "takes aim." And they went so far as to attach a blue USA TODAY "bullet hole" to the back of the president's neck.



Outraged readers responded with a flood of letters to the editor.

One reader wrote:
"I found it hard to believe that a professional newspaper would publish such an inflammatory picture of our President. What were you trying to tell your readers? Should they aim at the blue dot in support of guns? This picture is disgraceful and a total disrespect to our president."

Another reader responded with:
"You have impacted our community for sure, but it won't have the impact you say you want. Not if you promote the shooting of our president the way you did in yesterday’s paper….
You put a target on the back of the president's head and then article after article poured out hatred toward him.
It couldn't be more plain. Do you remember Dallas Nov. 22, 1963? Do you remember the motel in Memphis and the balcony? . . . . It doesn't take much to have these situations.
When I saw your paper I simply couldn't believe you would be so irresponsible. If you were not alive to remember these dates and places, I do. I remember President Reagan, George Wallace, President Truman, John Lennon, the list goes on. How could you be so callous!"


The Tennessean is owned by the Gannett Corporation and is part of the USA Today chain. The paper has had a mixed political past. In 1976, Tennessean reporter Jacqueline Srouji was exposed as an FBI informant (who may also have acted as an agent provocateur).

On the other hand, The Tennessean was also home to journalists ranging from Al Gore and his wife Tipper to Pulitzer Prize winning author David Halberstam.

In his emotion East Room speech, the president noted that:
"Every single year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns -- 30,000" and noted that "we are the only advanced country on Earth that sees this kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency."

If we are serious about our responsibility, as a society, for ending this epidemic of wanton slaughter, the NRA should be held to account for its provocative -- and apparently intentional -- combination of words and image.

While it is important to respect the protections of the First Amendment, this appears to be a classic case of yelling "Fire!" in a crowded (and well-armed) theater.

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