In the local uproar over the Friends of the NRA fundraiser in Fort Bragg, tickets went like wildfire. I had intended to simply buy a $60 dinner and watch from a ringside seat. I really did not know what I would think of it all. I am searching my soul and had no clue what I would write. Anyway, they say it is a good feed. It ought to be for sixty bucks.
Alas, the event at Portuguese Hall sold out before I could get them their money. I radically underestimated local enthusiasm for gun rights and the whacking impact that social media would generate.
Early Saturday morning I went down to the hall to ask if I could stand quietly in a corner as a member of the Press. No deal. The Friends of the NRA have a standing policy precluding news people of any stripe from their events. That $60 bucks would have been well spent. The merry friends of the NRA were busily setting up their dinner. They told me without breaking stride that they have had it with the uninitiated writing about them. It doesn’t pay. No press. Ever.
As waves of shock and profound grief rolled over the nation in the aftermath of calamity at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the American people waited, watched and wondered while the President and the Congress blustered, dithered and postured, ultimately retreating into predictable dysfunction. Grieving children and inconsolable parents were managed like hot media properties. Gun rights advocates glared back stubbornly, simply omitting dead kids from their talking points. Shattered lives were constitutionally sanctioned collateral damage on the American superhighway of individual freedom. The abyss that divides the country widened as irreconcilable ideologies moved further into their respective corners.
Down at Portuguese Hall on a Fort Bragg Saturday, I thought that the Friends of the NRA would welcome public exposure. After all social media had sold out their show. I was more than prepared to tell their side of it. In my old school naivete, I imagined that ideas, controversy, and public discussion were the battlefield. I thought whatever they believed, they would want people to know it.
Recently Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, accomplished and irrefutable eggheads at Northwestern University have made media waves by figuring out and proving with (holy smoke) multivariate analysis what almost everybody knows.
According to the good doctors, “Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on government policy while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”
Who knew? Apparently the Friends of the NRA. Public opinion is not their target. Persuasion or debate is not their thing. Money is their thing, and they have raised a great deal of it. As almost everyone in the county now knows in the dustup of their Fort Bragg fundraiser, this independent organization has raised $810 million for the NRA.
With the calculated dead aim one might expect of marksmen, the Friends of the NRA have bowed out of the public discourse and focused where the action is. They are not trying to convince anybody. They don’t give a hoot about mass movements or voting majorities. They comprehend very acutely that the levers of power are moved by money. They understand quite clearly that in a Niagara of cash, national policy has gleefully transcended public opinion.
Inside the Friends of the NRA feasted and auctioned guns. For 60 bucks you could eat. For $1400 they gave you a couple of guns. You could pay as much as $4500. I don’t know what you got for that, probably a bazooka. The Friends of the NRA are realists. They are efficient and focused. They understand the national political game and they mean business.
When I showed up outside Portuguese hall at 5:00 the protesters were gathered on both sides of West Street down. I counted 100 protesters. The Chief of Police was in attendance along with a genial and courteous selection of our local police.
Captain Lizarraga had made it clear at the last City Council meeting that although the right to protest would be respected there would be no chanting or anything disruptive. The protesters were inadvertently compliant, but I got no sense of suppressed volatility. The vast majority were over 60.
The veterans of decades of protesting and movement building had very nice signs and pretty good numbers for our small town. They wanted to mobilize people but even if they had swayed vast majorities with their signs and their presence their impact would have been painfully negligible, I don’t think that was true of the bucks rolling into Portuguese hall. The folks outside were outgunned.