Activist Ads About White Identity, Guns, and the GOP


Republican Eric Greitens, candidate for the open U.S. Senate seat from Missouri, shocked viewers with a new online political ad in June 2022 who encouraged his followers to go “RINO hunting”.

Appearing with a shotgun and a smirk, Greitens leads the hunt for RINOs, short for “Republicans in name only.” Along with armed soldiers, Greitens storms a house under cover of a smoke grenade.

“Join the MAGA team,” Greitens says in the video. “Get a RINO hunting license. There is no bagging limit, no labeling limit and it does not expire until we save our country.

The announcement comes from a candidate who has repeatedly found himself in controversy, after resigning as governor of Missouri amid sexual assault charges and the allegations of irregular campaign financing this sparked an 18-month investigation that ultimately cleared him of any wrongdoing.

The political announcement was also launched – and quickly removed – from Facebook and reported by Twitter at a time when the nation is still coming to terms with the insurrection at the United States Capitol and reeling from the mass shootings in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Uvalde, Texas, Buffalo, New York and Highland Park, IL.

The announcement continues to circulate on YouTube via various news sources.

Greitens’ call for political weapons is not new.

In his 2016 gubernatorial announcements, Greitens appeared shoot a gatling style machine gun in the air and using an M4 rifle create an explosion in a field to demonstrate resistance to the Obama administration.

What Greitens’ announcement represents, in our viewis the evolution of the use of firearms in political ads as a code call for white voters.

While they may have been a little more ambiguous in the past, the candidates are increasingly making these more militant appeals appear in their culture war against the ideas and politicians they oppose.

Firearms as a symbol of whiteness

As communication specialistswe studied the ways in which white masculinity Influenced contemporary conservative populism.

We also examined how racial appeals to white voters evolved under the GOP’s southern strategythe long game that conservatives have played since the 1960s to weaken the Southern Democratic Party by exploiting racial animosity.

In some of our latest workwe looked at how guns have been used in campaign ads to represent white identity politics, or what the political scientist Ashley Jardina explained like how white racial solidarity and fears of marginalization manifested in a political movement.

Symbolically, guns in the United States have always been linked to the defense of white interests.

In his book “Charged: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment“, historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz document how America’s Founding Fathers originally designed by Second Amendment as protection for white frontier militias in their efforts to subjugate and exterminate indigenous peoples. The Second Amendment was also designed to protect Southern slave owners who feared revolts.

As a result, the right to bear arms was never imagined by the Founders as an individual freedom held by Indigenous peoples and people of color.

As illustrated in Richard Slotkin’s book “Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in 20th Century Americathe popular film and literary genre of western glamorous hypermasculine cowboys and white gunslingers “civilizing” the wild frontier to make it safe for white settlers.

Drawing on this tradition, contemporary gun culture idealizes the “good guy with a gun” as the patriotic protector of peace and a bulwark against government excesses.

Contemporary gun laws reflect a historical racial disparity regarding who is permitted and under what circumstances individuals are permitted to use lethal force.

For example, the so-called “hold on » the laws have been used historically to justify the killing of black men, especially in the Trayvon Martin case.

Gun control advocates Everytown for Gun Safety found that homicides resulting from white shooters killing black victims are “deemed justifiable five times more frequently than when the shooter is black and the victim is white.”

Activist White Identity Politics

Showing a firearm in political advertising has become an easy way to grab attentionbut our research has shown that its meaning has changed in recent years.

In a 2010 race for Alabama Agriculture Commissioner, Dale Peterson appeared in an advertisement holding a gun, wearing a cowboy hat, and speaking in a deep Southern drawl about the need to challenge the “thugs and criminals” of the government.

His style proved to be entertaining.

In this 2010 political ad, Dale Peterson of Alabama appeared with a gun slung over his shoulder.
Dale Peterson

Although Peterson placed third in his race, political analysts like Dan Fletcher of Time magazine were delighted to have created one of the best campaign ads of all time.

In the same year, Pam Gorman, Arizona Republican ran for the US Congress.

She took the use of firearms in political ads even further by appearing at a shooting range and firing a machine gun, pistol, AR-15 and revolver. in the same ad.

Although she attracted attention for her provocative tactics, Gorman ended up lost to Ben Quayleson of former Vice President Dan Quayle, in a 10-candidate primary.

Besides shock value, guns in advertisements have become a symbol of opposition to the Obama administration.

A middle-aged white man sits in the back of a pickup truck with a stack of papers and a high-powered gun.
In this 2014 political ad, Alabama congressional candidate Will Brooke used a high-powered rifle to punch holes in Obamacare legislation.
Will Brooke

For example, in 2014, the candidate for the American Congress Will Brooke of Alabama ran a online ad in a Republican primary showing him loading a copy of the Obamacare legislation into a truck, driving it into the woods, and shooting it with a handgun, rifle, and assault rifle.

Not done, the remains of the copy were then thrown into a wood chipper. Although Brooke lost the primary at seven, his announcement received national attention.

The call to champion a conservative lifestyle has grown increasingly bizarre — and has become a common tactic for GOP candidates.

Long before Greitens, US congressional candidate Kay Daly of North Carolina fired a shotgun blast at the end of an advertisement during her unsuccessful campaign in 2015 asking her supporters to join her in the hunt for RINOs.

The ad attacked his main opponent, incumbent Renee Elmers, a Republican from North Carolina, for funding Obamacare, “Planned Butcherhood” and protecting the rights of “illegal alien child molesters.”

Before incurring the wrath of Trump, Brian Kemp rose in the polls in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race with an ad titled “James” in which he interviewed his daughter’s boyfriend.

Holding a shotgun in his lap as he sat in a chair, Kemp posed as a conservative outsider willing to take a “chainsaw for government regulations” and demanding respect as his family’s patriarch.

Ads in the most recent cycle build on this development of the gun as a symbol of white resistance.

A white woman wears dark sunglasses and carries a high powered rifle.
In this 2022 political ad, Marjorie Taylor Greene wears dark sunglasses and carries a high-powered rifle.
Marjorie Taylor Greene

Conservative GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia led a announcement for a weapon giveaway in 2021 that she did in response to what she claimed was Biden’s arming of Islamic terrorists as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who allegedly snuck the Green New Deal and other liberal legislation in a budget proposal.

Firing a gun from a truck, she announced she would “kill the Democrats’ socialist agenda.”

The culture wars continue

Surrounding himself with soldiers, Greitens goes further than his predecessors in this latest iteration of Republican use of firearms.

But his strategy is not out of the ordinary for a party that has increasingly relied on provocative images of violent resistance to speak to white voters.

Despite the violence of January 6, the conservatives are still digging their own trenches.

Ryan Neville-Shepard is an associate professor of communication at the University of Arkansas. Casey Ryan Kelly is a professor of communication studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The conversation was born out of deep concern about the diminishing quality of our public discourse and recognition of the vital role that academic experts could play in the public arena. Information has always been essential to democracy. It is a social good, like drinking water. But many now find it hard to trust the media and experts who have spent years researching a topic. Instead, they listen to those with the loudest voices. These uninformed views are amplified by social media that rewards those who spark outrage instead of thoughtful insight or discussion. The Conversation seeks to be part of the solution to this problem, to bring the voices of real experts to the table and make their knowledge available to everyone. The Conversation publishes nightly at 9 p.m. on FlaglerLive.

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