For months the National Rifle Association and Fox News have been pushing the fringe conspiracy theory that a proposed United Nations Arms Trade Treaty puts Second Amendment rights at risk. Now Mitt Romney is bringing that claim to the presidential campaign, parroting it on the stump.
As ThinkProgress reported, during a town hall event in Ohio yesterday, Romney said:
ROMNEY: Turning to the United Nations to tell us how to raise our kids, or whether we can have the Second Amendment rights that our Constitution gave us, I mean, that is the wrong way to go, right? Do not cede sovereignty. I'm happy to talk there. I'm not willing to give American sovereignty in any way, shape or form to the United Nations or any other body. We are a free nation. We fought for freedom and independence. We are going to keep freedom and independence.
But contrary to the conspiracy spun by the NRA and Fox and now repeated by Romney, the ATT only seeks to regulate the international import and export of conventional and small arms, and is not aimed at domestic gun regulation governed by U.S. sovereignty. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of State has stated that it will not enter into any treaty that contains "restrictions on civilian possession or trade of firearms otherwise permitted by law or protected by the U.S. Constitution. There will be no dilution or diminishing of sovereign control over issues involving the private acquisition, ownership, or possession of firearms, which must remain matters of domestic law."
The idea that the United Nations can determine "whether we can have the Second Amendment rights that our Constitution gave us" germinated at the National Rifle Association in the mid-1990s when CEO Wayne LaPierre began to speciously warn of "global gun grabbers."
But despite an utter lack of explanation by its pushers about how the U.N. could use a treaty to trump the United States Constitution, the conspiracy has survived over the years and has reached its zenith as ATT negotiations are finalized.
In the first week after negotiations began on July 2, Fox News featured seven appearances by opponents of the treaty compared to zero appearances by proponents. Instead of offering a cogent critique of the ATT, each guest has instead delved into conspiracy theory. Indeed, there are stark similarities between Romney's Wednesday warning and the commentary of Fox News contributor Dick Morris who claimed on July 5 that the ATT "will take the gun control issue away from the Congress and give it to the United Nations as part of an international treaty."
Romney's ATT comments were not the first time that Fox News served as the conduit between factually vacant right wing theories and the Republican presidential campaign. On Monday, Fox News deceptively edited and then hysterically promoted comments made by President Obama about small business owners. The false narrative found its way into Romney's campaign by Tuesday afternoon.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) may have eliminated the task force responsible for doing the National Rifle Association's bidding, but that hasn't stopped the coordination between the right-wing groups. In the latest example of their friendly cooperation, the NRA plans to hold a trap shoot in conjunction with ALEC's annual meeting later this month.
In a missive to state legislators published by the Center on Media and Democracy, which researches ALEC, NRA director of state and local affairs Charles H. Cunningham invites state legislators to attend the "annual shoot," promising that it "will prove to be just as fun as in years past." According to CMD: "For the past several years, on the Saturday of ALEC's annual meeting, the NRA has regularly hosted an outing for ALEC legislators and lobbyists to go shooting together -- with complimentary guns and ammo plus plenty of food and drink (this time it is a barbeque)."
In April, as corporate sponsors fled their organization in the face of pressure from liberal activists angry with the group's support of "Kill at Will" self-defense laws and voter ID bills, ALEC announced that they were disbanding their Elections and Public Safety Task Force, which worked on those issues. At the time, that task force's chair told Media Matters that such issues were no longer a priority for ALEC.
The NRA was reportedly extremely unhappy with ALEC's reaction to public pressure regarding the "Kill at Will" laws, which spread to dozens of states after ALEC adopted a model bill based on the Florida statute that was cited as an influence in the case of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. An NRA representative reportedly criticized the group for dismantling the task force during a meeting of conservative leaders, warning other participants that ALEC could flee from their issues as well.
But the continuation of the NRA's annual shoot at ALEC's annual meeting suggests that the two conservative groups have patched up their differences and are again working together to promote right-wing legislation.
In April the NRA vowed to defend "Kill at Will" laws across the country.
During an hour-long interview with George Zimmerman, who admitted to shooting and killing unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin in February, Sean Hannity tried to cast Zimmerman as the victim in this case -- of a media that was too quick to condemn, of an unjust movement that has stoked racial animus, and of a group that wanted him "dead or alive."
Hannity said that Zimmerman has "had multiple death threats" and brought up Spike Lee "tweeting out what he thinks is your home address," and Al Sharpton and NBC News, who Hannity claimed "trie[d] to use this case to bring up the issue of racial profiling," to make his point. He also cited the New Black Panthers, the fringe group that placed a bounty on Zimmerman's head, to continue his months-long narrative that this case has had just as much impact on Zimmerman.
Hannity also sought to dispel reports that he may have offered to pay for Zimmerman's legal fees, saying that it "never happened." Hannity was referring to an "off the record" conversation he had with Zimmerman in April, during which he claimed that the two discussed only Zimmerman's case and Hannity's wish for an on-air interview. Hannity also stressed that Zimmerman was "offered nothing to do this interview."
THE UNITED NATIONS -- It was during one of several extended delays on day five of the Arms Trade Treaty talks that the chief of the British delegation, a jovial veteran diplomat named Jo Adamson, turned to me and wanted to know if I'd ever watched The Benny Hill Show.
"You know the musical theme when Benny gets chased around by the police and they speed up the film?" she asked. "I want to make a video of that song playing over Tuesday's scene of musical chairs."
The idea was a happy diplomatic warrior's response to the comedic low-point of the negotiations' disastrous first week, in which 193 national delegations, eager to begin a long-planned attempt at regulating the global conventional arms trade, were forced to choreograph a globe-spanning seating shift to accommodate two Palestinian observers, debate over whose status had made a train wreck of the agenda and preempted the speeches of several foreign ministers in town for the opening session. Adamson wasn't the only UN diplomat with experience taking such chaos in stride. Anyone who has been around Turtle Bay and Geneva long enough knows the ATT won't be the last UN effort to strengthen global security to be threatened by soul sucking stretches of procedural purgatory.
The fact that the ATT conference's first week lent itself so easily to Benny Hill spoofs is a good place to begin considering the massive gulf separating the actual treaty being negotiated by consensus at the UN this month, and the Iran-directed Second Amendment-eating Golem of conservative imagination. The hysterical screeching of so much right-wing opposition to the ATT is the product of many things, but direct experience with the inner workings of the UN system does not appear to be among them.
"Everyone who has spent any time here knows we're lucky if we can get a time frame for debate worked out," said Robert Zuber of Global Action to Prevent War, who has 20 years experience with the UN and supports the passage of a treaty. "This idea that a UN treaty concerning international arms flows could somehow override the Constitution or the Supreme Court, this idea that it will lead to UN police marching down the streets taking people's guns away -- everyone here knows it's beyond ludicrous."
That the ATT is no opening salvo in a global gun-grab -- a charge made in various forms recently by National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre, The Washington Times, Dick Morris, and a number of others appearing on Fox News -- does not mean the talks are without stakes. National delegations and NGOs are gathered in New York through July 27 to address a lack of common international standards guiding the import, export, and transfer of conventional arms and munitions. As Amnesty International activists have dramatized by handing out bananas in Times and Trafalgar Squares, more rules govern the inter-state trade of fruits and vegetables than tanks and machine guns. Just over 50 nations regulate international arms dealers inside their territory according to the Arms Control Association; only half of those have any sort of penalties for breaking national laws. ATT proponents maintain that a treaty is the first step in shrinking the booming international black and grey market arms trade that fuels civil conflicts, arms warlords and criminal syndicates, and facilitates the breaking of arms embargos. According to an Oxfam report, countries operating under arms embargoes have succeeded in importing more than $2.2 billion worth of arms and ammunition since 2000.
The Obama administration is a relatively conservative actor on the ATT spectrum, and its reversal of the previous government's rejection of the ATT was predicated on the final treaty language being approved by consensus. U.S. presence at the conference is supported by major human rights and development NGOs, leading U.S. defense contractors, active and retired senior military staff, and a number of civic and religious groups such as the National Council of Churches.
Among the array of U.S. civil society and industry groups involved in the ATT process, the National Rifle Association has distinguished itself by issuing a decade-long stream of misinformation that has clouded Americans' understanding of the issues. It is a pattern of willful obfuscation that has defined the gun group's posture as an international actor since before plans for the talks were announced under the Bush Administration. Indeed, the rebirth of the NRA as a profitable organization following its brush with bankruptcy in the mid-90s tracks closely with the history of UN activity around the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.
From the July 13 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
Loading the player reg...
Lou Dobbs last night conducted a fawning interview with Mike Vanderboegh and David Codrea, two bloggers who recently filed a complaint against Attorney General Eric Holder with the District of Columbia's Office of Bar Counsel. At no point did Dobbs note that Vanderboegh is an ex-militia conspiracist who has urged his readers to commit vandalism against Democrats and allegedly inspired a terrorist plot to kill federal employees.
On his Fox Business show, Dobbs said to Vanderboegh, "You guys are considered in some quarters rather dangerous. You're fans of the Constitution, you seek truth, what has been the reaction to your activism?"
Vanderboegh's record of extremism includes:
From the July 12 edition of Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren:
Loading the player reg...
Fox News reported Thursday that "two pro-gun advocates who reported extensively on the Fast and Furious scandal" have filed a complaint against Attorney General Eric Holder with the District of Columbia's Office of Bar Counsel. Somehow the network never got around to mentioning that one of those "advocates" is Mike Vanderboegh, the ex-militia blogger infamous for urging his readers to commit vandalism against Democrats and for inspiring an alleged terrorist plot to kill federal employees.
Last year, Fox News featured Vanderboegh in two separate reports on Fast and Furious, identifying him as an "online journalist" and an "authority on the Fast and Furious investigation." The network did not disclose Vanderboegh's past ties to the militia and Minuteman movements, history of conspiratorial rantings, or the fact that he made headlines in 2010 for telling his readers to respond to the passage of health care reform by breaking the windows of Democratic offices, then took credit after that occurred.
Fox ceased to cite Vanderboegh on-air after prosecutors in Georgia said that one of four alleged members of a militia group in that state had repeatedly cited Vanderboegh's novel Absolved as the source of their alleged plot to kill numerous government officials. In Vanderboegh's novel, which was self-published online, underground militia fighters declare war on the federal government over gun control laws and same-sex marriage, leading to a second American revolution.
In June, Vanderboegh predicted that if health care reform were found to be constitutional, it would trigger a violent insurrection against "government tyranny," stating, "You may call tyranny a mandate or you may call it a tax, but it still is tyranny and invites the same response."
But Fox correspondent William La Jeunesse included none of this context in passing on Vanderboegh's allegations on Happening Now:
The right-wing media spent Wednesday stoking fears about the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) following reports that Iran was selected to serve on the 15-nation "Bureau/General Committee" of states during the treaty negotiations. Curiously, the same news organizations that engaged in Iran fearmongering have also uncritically promoted the National Rifle Association's opposition to the treaty. In fact, the positions of Iran and the National Rifle Association on the Arms Trade Treaty are remarkably similar: Both entities oppose a treaty that regulates the international import and export of small arms.
According to the United Nations, "Bureau" states will "assist the President in the general conduct of the business of the Conference and, subject to the decisions of the Conference, shall ensure the coordination of its work." Considering that Iran's and other "Bureau" members' conduct will be "subject to the decisions of the Conference," it hardly appears that Iran would be able to single-handily hijack negotiations.
Whatever role Iran plays in the negotiations, the ATT will not lead to domestic regulation of firearms in the United States -- as the NRA vacuously warns -- because the United States will not agree to a finalized treaty that places "restrictions on civilian possession or trade of firearms otherwise permitted by law or protected by the U.S. Constitution."
But the opportunity to include Iran in fearmongering surrounding the treaty was too much for the right-wing media to pass up.
The National Rifle Association, an organization with a well-documented history of baseless fearmongering, may have outdone itself with the release of a new fundraising video series that features hysterical depictions of current events. Whether it is the threat of Mexican drug cartel violence in the United States, the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty negotiations, or even civil unrest that occurred in England in 2011, the NRA wants you to be scared and send cash fast. After all, warns Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, "everything we love about America, all the freedoms our forefathers fought for, all of it is under attack by Barack Obama."
Fox News has featured seven appearances by opponents of a proposed United Nations Arms Trade Treaty since a conference discussing it began on July 2, and none by the treaty's supporters. Treaty backers say it is essential for curtailing the illegal arms trade that keeps guns flowing to human rights abusers.
From the July 9 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
Loading the player reg...
In today's column for the Washington Times, National Rifle Association board member and prominent Mitt Romney endorser Ted Nugent wrote, "I'm beginning to wonder if it would have been best had the South won the Civil War."
Nugent's remark came in response to what he called "turncoat" Chief Justice John Roberts' "traitor vote" to uphold President Obama's health reform law, including the individual mandate. According to Nugent, Roberts "squandered the opportunity to restore judicial, financial and legislative sanity to a government that by any sane person's standards is insane and addicted to centralized federal control of our lives."
Nugent then stated:
Because our legislative, judicial and executive branches of government hold the 10th Amendment in contempt, I'm beginning to wonder if it would have been best had the South won the Civil War. Our Founding Fathers' concept of limited government is dead.
Nugent is infamous for wearing shirts emblazoned with the Confederate battle standard during his concerts.
Even Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly isn't buying National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre's outrageous claims that a yet to be finalized United Nations treaty to regulate the import and export of small arms worldwide will strip Americans of their Second Amendment rights and cause American citizens "to be added to that pile of dead people left defenseless by the [United Nations'] policies."
The NRA has repeatedly offered such false and conspiratorial claims in response to the treaty, claims which in the past have been echoed on Fox. But during today's interview, Kelly repeatedly pushed back on LaPierre's talking points.
After LaPierre made the false claim that the proposed treaty "says to people in the United States turn over your personal protection and your firearms to the government," Kelly attempted to steer him back to reality by suggesting the treaty is about "global arms sales" not "domestic sales." On multiple occasions she urged him to justify his baseless claims.
The Daily Caller's Matthew Boyle is reporting that a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) memorandum in the possession of congressional investigators "described a specific operation in which guns were allowed to walk across the Mexican border" during Operation Fast and Furious. The memo was drafted and, according to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), "forwarded to DOJ headquarters" the day before the Justice Department told Congress that no such gunwalking had occurred. Boyle suggests that this indicates that DOJ knew gunwalking had occurred in Fast and Furious when they issued their statement to Congress, and thus that they "may have tried to cover up" the use of such activities. This assertion is false and is directly contradicted by the memo in question, which does not detail a gunwalking operation.
Instead the memo describes a case where ATF agents were forced to "leave the immediate area" of the stakeout of a suspected gun trafficker to avoid detection. While repositioning, the suspect left the area and eluded capture. From the memo:
Special Agent [Gary] Styers was asked to describe the operations and relayed that one of the operations was a suspected transaction that was to occur at a gas station and detailed agents were asked to cover the transaction. While positioning to observe the suspects, Special Agent Styers and other detailed agents were told by Special Agent [Hope] McAllister that the agents were too close and would burn the operation. Special Agent McAllister told all of the agents to leave the immediate area. While the agents were repositioning, the transaction between the suspects took place and the vehicle took possession of the firearms and eventually left the area without the agents following it.
What was described was an unsuccessful law enforcement operation, not ATF acquiescence to the illegal transfer of firearms. Boyle includes much of the text of that passage in his article, but nonetheless concludes that Styers was describing an operation "in which guns were allowed to walk across the Mexican border." Boyle also neglects to mention that Styers, the author of the memo, wrote that during his involvement in Fast and Furious "he did not see any firearms cross the border into Mexico."
This isn't the first time that Boyle has made false claims in his reporting that are easily contradicted by the very documents he cites. In September 2011, Boyle published an article claiming that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was attempting to hire 230,000 new workers at a cost of $21 billion per year. The legal documents cited by Boyle actually indicated that this was a scenario the EPA wanted to -- and eventually did -- avoid.