From "Operation Wetback"; To Newtown: Tracing The
Hick Fascism Of The NRA
By Mark Ames
Submitted to portside by the author
Not Safe For Work Corporation Monday, December 17th
LAS VEGAS, NV: I've been writing about these rampage
murders for about a decade now, but Friday's rampage
massacre was Different. So I'm going to approach this
piece somewhat Differently than I usually do -- I'm
going to look at what's most obvious.
For one thing, this massacre had pathos, and I've never
really dealt with pathos like this in all my years
researching and writing about these rampage killings.
I'm used to digging into a story that has no pathos,
and finding it where no one bothers looking, usually
hidden in all the obvious places.
But there's no point in being clever here. The
slaughter of so may little children means approaching
this from a more "obvious" angle.
Also, this isn't the sort of rampage massacre I studied
for "Going Postal," my book that examined workplace
massacres in which employees massacre supervisors
and/or coworkers, and "middle America" school shootings
where middle-class students attack their schools and
Until relatively recently, those types of mass-murder
were freakishly rare in America; they only appeared at
the end of the Reagan Era. First they happened in the
workplace, concurrent with the destruction of labor
unions and the transfer of wealth and workplace power
into few hands. Then, by the late 1990s, the workplace
massacres had seeped down into the employees'
The dead Newtown killer, Adam Lanza, wasn't a student
at the school he shot up, nor did he work there. He
apparently suffered from mental illness -- no shit he
did -- and his mother was reportedly a gun enthusiast,
a "prepper" who stored up weapons for the end of the
There've been other massacres like Newtown in the past
-- where the killer has no direct relationship or
grievance to the victims or the site of the shooting, a
lone and severely mentally ill adult for some reason
chooses to massacre school children in their school.
They're rare and often spectacular. It happened in
Stockton in 1989, leading to California's assault
weapons ban; it happened in Britain in '96, leading to
a total handgun ban; it happens in China more and more
lately, the adult attacker always uses a knife rather
than a gun, meaning lower to nil death counts, and
astronomical numbers of wounded.
Until now, I have largely avoided getting dragged down
into the gun control debate, in part because gun
proliferation doesn't explain why "going postal" first
exploded into the culture in the late 1980s, and has
worked its way into the American DNA ever since. Gun
control or lack thereof doesn't explain why these kinds
of rampage shootings only appeared in the late Reagan
era and spread ever since then. And there must have
been my own personal prejudices too -- I grew up with
guns, and despite a couple of bad episodes involving
guns and a drunken violent stepfather, I have a
reflexive contempt for people who haven't gone shooting
and tell you that gun control laws are the answer.
Well, guess what? Their knee-jerk solution is more
right than mine.
Passing gun restrictions today probably wouldn't do
much to slow down rampage massacres, at least not for
awhile -- but the politics of sweeping gun control laws
could have a huge transformative effect over time. It's
no longer impossible for me to ignore that fact.
Which means it's also no longer possible for me to
ignore the National Rifle Association, and its hick
fascism politics that've been poisoning our culture
ever since the NRA's infamous "coup" in 1977, when the
NRA was taken over by far-right fanatics led by a
convicted murderer and onetime US Border Guards chief
named Harlon Carter -- whose previous claim to fame was
when he led a massive crackdown on Mexican immigrant
laborers called "Operation Wetback." That's not a typo
by the way.
Two decades before Harlon Carter led "Operation
Wetback" he was convicted of murdering a 15-year-old
Mexican American boy, sentenced to a three-year prison
term (Harlon was under-age himself), before being
inexplicably acquitted of all charges and allowed to
walk free as if it had never happened. It probably
didn't hurt that Harlon Carter's daddy was himself a
ranking Border Guards official, and that his fate was
in the hands of the Texas "justice" system.
Also, his victim was Mexican-American.
Two decades after murdering a Mexican-American boy and
getting off scot-free, here is how the official Mormon
newspaper, the Deseret News, described Harlon's
"Operation Wetback" scam, in 1954:
Border Patrol Hits Wetbacks For Fare Home
McALLEN, TX (UP) -- The border patrol is taking "fare"
from 11,000 wetbacks it has rounded up in the lower Rio
Grande Valley to take them to El Paso -- 800 miles away
-- for deportation.
Most of the wetbacks live on the Mexican side of the
lower Rio Grande Valley, only a few miles from where
they were rounded up. But the border patrol is taking
them 600 miles to deport them and is charging them
"fare" for the bus trip.
One farmer told a valley newspaper that border
patrolmen took all but $1 from one wetback who was
working on his farm to pay his "fare" for the 600-mile
ride to El Paso.
Harlon Carter, chief of the border patrol... said it is
coming out of the wages they made in the United States.
A few years before that, Harlon was in the news
bragging about how he'd protected America from half a
million alleged illegal immigrants at the border,
doubling his deportation total year-on-year.
Piggybacking on McCarthyism hysteria, Harlon Carter --
nicknamed "Bullethead" because of the shape of his head
-- oversaw a huge expansion of his border force, which
he said was necessary to keep out "subversives" and
"undesirables...'inimicable' [sic] to the best
interests of the country" -- singling out "Southern
Europeans" in particular, meaning presumably Italians.
Like his fellow Texan Vance Muse, it seems Harlan Cater
didn't like Catholics much.
It wasn't until 1981 that a Texas journalist found the
records of NRA chief Harlon Carter's murder conviction.
By then of course that information wasn't worth much
except maybe to confirm that yet another violent hick
fascist was in charge of a right-wing pillar in the
Reagan Revolution, but there was no way to stop it now.
The thing is, Harlon Carter didn't seem possible if you
were awake at all in 1979-80. Most people assumed his
type had been driven into extinction, that Harlon
Carters only existed in Hollywood caricatures or
black-and-white reels from pre-1967... but as Dr. Dolan
once put it, "The Coelacanth lives." Without any irony,
the convicted murder-turned-NRA chief announced,
"You don't stop crime by attacking guns -- you stop
crime by stopping criminals."
When Harlon Carter seized control of the NRA in 1977
from the more moderate leader, a Mormon named Maxwell
Rich, it wasn't so obvious that these resurrected
Coelocanth monsters were anything more than a grotesque
yet passing curiosity, a stark reminder of how rancid
America might've been without the cultural revolutions
of the 60s and 70s. Little did they know.
An article I found by Watergate investigative reporter
Jack Anderson in 1978 gives a sense of the weirdness
and dark foreboding right after Harlon Carter took
control of the NRA. It's about the takeover by Harlon's
"extremists" after the NRA split over whether or not to
support a widely popular bill banning the "Saturday
Night Special" handgun used in so many violent crimes.
The NRA chief whom Harlon Carter overthrew publicly
supported the Saturday Night Special handgun ban,
telling the Senate in 1972, "On the Saturday Night
Special, we are for it [banning] 100 percent. We would
like to get rid of these guns."
The NRA nearly imploded in civil war over the
leadership's support for the handgun ban. Harlon's
fanatics saw it as treason; today's restrictions on
Saturday Night Special handguns were tomorrow's
Stalinist GULAG camps and the genocide of all
gun-owning American patriots.
What the establishment didn't get about Harlon's new
souped-up NRA gun-cult until too late -- in fact what
most still don't get -- is that the more batshit
disconnected from demonstrable reality your message is,
the more fanatical and organized-for-war your
organization will be. If you can get people to make
that leap of faith --well, then you've got real power.
Reagan understood that sort of power well: Pandering to
the far-right John Birch Society cult won him
California's governor's seat in 1966, and in 1980, he
promised to implement Harlon Carter's radical pro-gun
agenda as soon as he took office. Unfortunately that
pro-gun push got delayed by an assassination attempt on
Reagan's life, but nearly bleeding to death didn't
change Reagan's mind (or what passed for Reagan's
A speech Harlon Carter gave to the NRA as Reagan lay
wounded captures the horribleness of these early Reagan
Revolution arachnids, who had no more love for each
other than they did for any other living creature on
"You know, sadly, why President Reagan isn't here. But
you heard President Reagan himself advocate no
restriction on those who commit no crimes. . . . [He]
rejected the maudlin enticements of the press to say
something in favor of gun control while he lay wounded
by one little man's bullet."
As soon as Reagan could walk again, he pushed the NRA's
agenda, first by moving to abolish the Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the agency that enforces
federal gun laws -- and then turning around and rescuing
the ATF from extinction after Harlon Carter got word
that gun enforcement powers would transfer to the
Secret Service. Reagan signed a bill in 1986 rolling
back earlier gun regulations passed after JFK's
assassination, such as banning mail-order weapons
purchases after it was learned Lee Harvey Oswald bought
his sniper rifle through a mail-order ad in the NRA's
in-house magazine, "American Rifleman." Thanks to
Reagan and the NRA, Oswald's liberties were
The cult strategy worked: Membership soared into the
millions, and the NRA's budget swelled to one of the
largest budgets in DC outside of the federal
But the downside to starting a fanatical cult is the
risk that you'll be denounced by your own fanatics --
which is exactly what happened to Carter, who was soon
denounced as a sellout for suggesting that being
respectable had its merits too. Next thing Harlon
Carter knew, he was forced into early retirement, and
the real Harlon Carter was replaced by a mythologized
Harlon Carter for the fanatics to worship, a Harlon
Carter who never wavered.
The formula is simple: The more batshit malevolent the
gun cult gets, the more power they exert. Just ignore
the periodic squeals from the rest of the country, and
keep pushing the batshit envelope.
Nothing proved this awesome power of gun cult
batshittery more than the controversy in the mid-90s,
when ex-President George H. W. Bush resigned from the
NRA and published a letter attacking the group, in
language that you can tell wants to be scathing, and
would've scathed if Bush had allowed an editor to do a
once-over, yet still manages to scathe if only because
it captures a normally-careful politician in moment of
genuine emotional outrage:
May 3, 1995
Dear Mr. Washington,
I was outraged when, even in the wake of the Oklahoma
City tragedy, Mr. Wayne LaPierre, executive vice
president of N.R.A., defended his attack on federal
agents as "jack-booted thugs." To attack Secret Service
agents or A.T.F. people or any government law
enforcement people as "wearing Nazi bucket helmets and
black storm trooper uniforms" wanting to "attack law
abiding citizens" is a vicious slander on good people.
Al Whicher, who served on my [ United States Secret
Service ] detail when I was Vice President and
President, was killed in Oklahoma City. He was no Nazi.
He was a kind man, a loving parent, a man dedicated to
serving his country -- and serve it well he did.
In 1993, I attended the wake for A.T.F. agent Steve
Willis, another dedicated officer who did his duty. I
can assure you that this honorable man, killed by weird
cultists, was no Nazi.
John Magaw, who used to head the U.S.S.S. and now heads
A.T.F., is one of the most principled, decent men I
have ever known. He would be the last to condone the
kind of illegal behavior your ugly letter charges. The
same is true for the F.B.I.'s able Director Louis
Freeh. I appointed Mr. Freeh to the Federal Bench. His
integrity and honor are beyond question.
Both John Magaw and Judge Freeh were in office when I
was President. They both now serve in the current
administration. They both have badges. Neither of them
would ever give the government's "go ahead to harass,
intimidate, even murder law abiding citizens." (Your
I am a gun owner and an avid hunter. Over the years I
have agreed with most of N.R.A.'s objectives,
particularly your educational and training efforts, and
your fundamental stance in favor of owning guns.
However, your broadside against Federal agents deeply
offends my own sense of decency and honor; and it
offends my concept of service to country. It indirectly
slanders a wide array of government law enforcement
officials, who are out there, day and night, laying
their lives on the line for all of us.
You have not repudiated Mr. LaPierre's unwarranted
attack. Therefore, I resign as a Life Member of N.R.A.,
said resignation to be effective upon your receipt of
this letter. Please remove my name from your membership
[ signed ] George Bush
Scathing or not, it didn't work. A few years later, the
NRA was openly bragging that it owned George's son, "a
president where we work out of their office." And the
ex-president's nemesis, Wayne LaPierre, is still
running the NRA.
And we're still stuck hand-wringing, still promising to
do something "this time" because "this time it's
different" -- and still asking ourselves, "How many
times will we be asking ourselves 'When will this
* * *
So what's really going on here? Why the crazy? It's not
exactly a revelation to learn that the NRA is run by
hick fascist nutjobs, although we quickly forget just
how toxic they are without constant reminding. But each
time you peel off a layer, it's more shocking than you
expected it be.
But what's the purpose, what are the deeper ideological
politics of that sort of gun-cult fanaticism?
Looking back at Big Business' violent reaction against
the New Deal and the political culture that it created:
a more "collectivist" political culture, as the
libertarians derisively call it, where people were more
deeply involved with each other and their communities,
and with that involvement in their politics and
communities came greater trust in their communities.
That political culture -- where people were more
involved in their politics and trusted government more
than they trusted business -- was a big problem,
according to pollsters and PR experts hired by business
lobby groups in the postwar era, groups like the
National Association of Manufacturers and the Chamber
Much better is to pour arms unrestricted into the
population, give them legal cover and political
encouragement to take political matters into their own
hands with laws like "Stand Your Ground". That way you
wind up creating a political culture of atomized,
fear-fueled citizens who think they're literally at war
with each other, and their only way out is to fend for
themselves and their family.
One of FDR's first and most powerful opponents in the
30s and 40s was a New York lobbyist and public
relations heavyweight named Merwin K. Hart. He was the
brains and organizing force behind far-right big
business groups like the American Liberty League, the
isolationist America First Committee, and the far-right
National Economic Council, fighting labor unions and
waging nonstop war on democracy, which Merwin Hart
equated with Communism. He also served as PR flak for
Spain's fascist dictator, publishing a fawning book on
Franco in 1939 titled "America, Look At Spain"
completely whitewashing the hundreds of thousands of
Spaniards his client the Generalissimo had just
Robert Jackson -- the Nuremberg Trials prosecutor and
Supreme Court Justice -- singled out Merwin K. Hart as
one of America's most dangerous fascists on the eve of
World War Two. After the war, Hart became a leading
Holocaust denier. He also helped engineer Joe
McCarthy's election victory, and helped spearhead
relentless attacks on "collectivism" (in which act
together in politics and the workplace, rather than
"individually" which is how the bosses prefer it), and
against democracy, which Hart claimed was an alien
Communist idea subverting American liberty. He proposed
"that every person who accepted any form of government
help should be denied the right to vote." He also
called for impeaching the entire Supreme Court,
accusing the justices of being "dedicated to
In place of democracy and "collectivism" and community
activism, Merwin K. Hart promoted "individualism" and
And that naturally led Merwin K Hart into promoting the
sort of fanatical gun-politics that shocked the public
in his time, but today is accepted as part of the
mainstream discourse, as if NRA gun-fanaticism was
always in the air, rather than a political project with
political ends in mind.
In a 1948 newsletter to his followers later read aloud
to shocked House committee members, Hart made a
"concrete suggestion" to his members, calling on the
head of every American home to "possess himself of one
or more guns, making sure they are in good condition,
that he and other members of his family know how to use
them, and that he has a reasonable supply of
And just before he died in 1962, Merwin Hart organized
fringe gun groups like the Minutemen -- a Southern
California gun-cult that claimed to possess hundreds of
automatic weapons and had "information" of an impending
invasion by Chinese troops massing on the Mexican
border. Together, they successfully killed a bill that
would require handgun registration. Hart used language
too extreme for that era's NRA: "Any congressman or
senator who votes for the Anfoso [gun] bill knowing its
real purpose would disqualify himself from ever again
expecting to be called an American."
A little over a year later, Kennedy was assassinated.
One of the most famous national columnists, muckraker
Drew Pearson (Jack Anderson's boss & mentor), blamed
Kennedy's murder on gun fanatics like Merwin K. Hart:
Hate Lobbies Killed Anfuso Arms Bill
Washington -- If hate groups had not pressured Congress
against passage of an Arms Registration Act, President
Kennedy might still be alive today.
...When Anfuso introduced his Arms Registration Bill
there was a storm of criticism from the right wing and
a flood of letters to Congress.
Another opponent was Merwin K. Hart, president of the
so-called "National Economic Council" and once
described by Justice Robert Jackson as well known for
his pro-Fascist leanings.
What motive, ulterior or otherwise, the pro-Fascists
had in opposing the registering of firearms with the
FBI is not known. At any rate, the pressure on Congress
was so great that the Anfuso Bill did not pass.
Back then, Merwin K Hart's gun fanaticism was an ugly
freakshow popping out of the political margins, but
today it part of the landscape, and the only question
is how can we get rid of it, rather than what's it
doing there in the first place.
Because it's now so deeply ingrained that owning guns
is a form of radical subversive politics, the people
who still engage in real politics have the pick of the
litter. That first became really clear in the depths of
the 2008-9 collapse, when a lot of people who thought
of themselves as radicals and anarchists made a lot of
feckless noise about how they were arming and preparing
for the collapse and revolution. They could've gone out
and organized something and maybe built a politics of
people power or even a politics of what they call
revolution, a politics that actually changed things.
But instead, they locked themselves in their homes and
apartments with their guns and fancied themselves
political revolutionaries just waiting to be swept up.
But no one came. No one bothered or cared. And really,
why would any plutocrat or evil government agency
bother with the suckers, all harmlessly atomized and
isolated and thoroughly neutralized by the false sense
of political empowerment that their guns gave them,
while you do the real work of plundering budgets,
bribing politicians and writing laws even more in your
So while everyone was hiding out in their homes armed
and ready for Hollywood finales that never came, in the
real world political power was concentrating at
warp-speed with zero resistance.
From the oligarchy's perspective, the people were
thoroughly neutralized by the false sense of political
empowerment that guns gave them. Guns don't work in
this country -- they didn't work for the Black Panthers
or the Whiskey Rebellion, and they won't work for you
or me either.
It takes years to cultivate a political mindset that
voluntarily neutralizes itself by convincing itself
that its contribution to world revolution comes down to
purchasing a few guns at K-Mart, then blogging about
it. That's what reactionary plutocrats like the Koch
brothers understood about the deeper politics of gun
fanaticism, and why their outfits like the Cato
Institute have been at the forefront of overturning gun
regulations and promoting "Stand Your Ground"
vigilantism as a substitute for political engagement:
That by poisoning the political climate, it poisons the
minds, which circulates back to the external
environment, and back into the minds, until you lock
the culture into a pattern in which you always get more
and they always get fleeced, which makes them more
fanatical and you more powerful...
This is what I missed or ignored about gun control: The
longterm view that the Koch brothers and the Scaifes
and everyone backing gun-nuttery understood about how
gun laws or the absence of those laws can completely
transform the surrounding political climate.
Published by NSFWCORP, (c) 2012
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