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NRA Turning Toxic Overnight

A battle that's more important than you might think


This is happening widely now. NPR reports:

On Tuesday, ThinkProgress, a liberal-leaning think tank, published a list of some two dozen “corporate partners” that offer incentives to NRA members. ThinkProgess says it asked all of the corporations “whether they plan to continue their relationships with the gun lobby. Four of those companies have ended their relationship with the NRA since this list was initially published.”

Under car rental discounts, Hertz, Avis and Budget are still listed as “NRA partners.”

Social media users have taken to Twitter in an effort to name and shame those companies and others for their NRA affiliation.

It’s making a difference.

Me, I don’t care one way or another whether or not people choose to boycott the NRA, and those that do business with it. Of course it is their right to boycott.

Still, it’s chilling to see how quickly this kind of thing happens, owing to social media. “Chilling” because of the herd mentality that develops overnight when a social media mob gets started on a subject. A business or a cause can be ruined overnight. We saw something very similar in 2015 around the Indiana RFRA law. Corporations and the NCAA compelled state lawmakers to change their minds. Memories Pizza, a small-town pizzeria, was hounded mercilessly because a TV reporter asked its Evangelical owner if he would cater a gay wedding, and he said no.

The big lesson of the Indiana RFRA debacle was: Once big business joins the social justice mob, it’s over.

If you can think if a single instance in which a social media mob was activated behind a conservative cause, then you’re a better thinker than I am. It is inconceivable to me that big business would break off any relationships with left-wing advocacy groups because a conservative social media mob intimidated them.

Even if you think the NRA deserves what it gets, you ought to be deeply worried about the power of social-media mob action. It’s terrifying how quickly the mob can destroy a person’s livelihood. You might believe that it’s perfectly fine, because finally a technique is having an effect on an evil institution, and bring about justice. But what happens when that mob is turned onto you, and an institution or cause that you support? What happens when you are given no opportunity to defend yourself, but have to face a tsunami of rage? What happens when you can’t count on anybody to defend you, because they rightly fear that the mob will go after them next?

Again, don’t misread me: boycotting is a perfectly legitimate strategy, no matter who uses it. What worries me — terrifies me, actually — is how both social media and the mob mentality it engenders turns boycotting into a weapon of mass destruction. I’m beginning to understand now what friends who grew up in communist countries mean when they tell me that the atmosphere in the West now reminds them of their youth. One defector explained to me that it has to do with the power of elites and the mobs they control to destroy a person for ideological nonconformity. He told me that these people will say anything they have to say to eliminate dissent, assuming that the higher cause of the revolution justifies anything.

I am not a member of the NRA. I don’t like the immense power the NRA has on Republican lawmakers. I support gun owners’ rights, but I would like to see significantly greater restrictions on access to weaponry. My point is that I don’t have a natural affinity for the NRA, and don’t feel obliged to rush to its defense here.

But I wonder: if they can take out the NRA, who’s next? We well know that the SJWs have conservative Christian institutions in their sights. Will they “name and shame” Christian colleges and universities still resisting the sexual revolution, however feebly? You can bet on it. A gay rights group came up with a name-and-shame list of Christian colleges that are supposedly hellholes for LGBT students — this, even though most of those colleges had no record of complaints.  The name-and-shame list hasn’t gotten very far … yet. What’s happening to the NRA, though, shows how quickly the contagion can spread. If a handful of leading corporations or national institutions decide that they will no longer affiliate with colleges on the name-and-shame list, pretty soon most of them will follow suit. And it can happen overnight.

To be clear: I fear and loathe the mob. Any mob — even a mob fighting for a cause I believe in. In my city, if a conservative Christian mob tried to lead a boycott of a gay-owned business, depending on what the business was, I would probably make a point of patronizing that business as a sign of resistance to the mob. This is not a left-right thing for me, though the mob action these days seems to be almost entirely a left-wing thing. Read Elias Canetti’s Crowds And Power, or Bill Buford’s far more accessible Among The Thugs, which is about soccer hooliganism in the UK. The point of both books is that when a mob is set off, it is an uncontrollable force for destruction. I have the sense that a factor that distinguishes boycott strategies today is that they are not so much designed to change the behavior of organizations as they are to deny the organization the right to exist at all in the public square.

The thing is, the NRA is not a paper tiger. It has several million members who are highly engaged, and they aren’t going to take this lying down. Yet it is hard for me to see how they make a difference in this case, given that the executive ranks of American corporations are filled with the kind of people who are unsympathetic to organizations like the NRA. This is something not widely appreciated by the public: how much it matters to corporate executives what their friends think, as distinct from what their customers think. I have personally seen examples of corporations going against the wishes of their customers, for the sake of appearing woke to the social class to which its executives belong.

All of which is to say that the outcome of the conflict between the social media mob and the NRA is a more important than you might think.



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