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:
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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:
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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:
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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.
Marking the start of July's month-long United Nations conference to negotiate a small arms treaty, National Rifle Association top lobbyist Chris Cox authored an op-ed for The Daily Caller making the hysterical -- and baseless -- claim that the treaty could "seriously restrict your freedom to own, purchase and carry a firearm." In fact the proposed treaty seeks to regulate the international trade of firearms - curtailing the illicit arms trade that keeps weapons flowing to human rights abusers -- and will not change ownership rules domestically.
Cox also made the reality-defying argument, citing conditions in the Sudan, that a treaty to restrict illegal small arms proliferation would harm citizens in countries ruled by human rights abusers. To the contrary, the United Nations has noted that "[m]ore human rights abuses are committed with small arms than with any other weapon."
But according to Cox's theory "the world's socialist, tyrannical and dictatorial regimes" will use the treaty to "implement international gun registration requirements, bans on commonly owned firearms, tracking and registration of ammunition purchases, and create a new U.N. gun control bureaucracy" thus fulfilling "President Barack Obama's vision for America."
This laughable conspiracy has no place in reality. Top officials from the United Nations, the United States, and other high profile supporters have repeatedly and clearly said that the treaty does not aim to restrict anyone's "freedom to own" a gun. Indeed, the U.N. General Assembly's resolution on the treaty makes clear that countries will "exclusively" maintain the right within their borders to "regulate internal transfers of arms and national ownership, including through national constitutional protections on private ownerships."
The chair of the Preparatory Committee for the UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, Ambassador Roberto García Moritán of Argentina, has stated that the definitive goal of the small arms treaty "is to try to have common standards to be applied by all countries when they export or import weapons."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also said that treaty is "opportunity to promote the same high standards for the entire international community that the United States and other responsible arms exporters already have in place to ensure that weaponry is transferred for legitimate purposes."
A senior policy advisor to the humanitarian organization Oxfam America has also pushed back against claims that the treaty has the nefarious purpose of interfering with domestic law:
"No government is discussing a treaty that would ever impact the right to bear arms, nor require regulation of domestic sales of arms," said Scott Stedjan, a senior policy adviser at the relief group Oxfam America. "This is totally about international transfer of arms so that they don't go to human rights abusers."
U.S. gun owners have nothing to fear from a treaty that essentially seeks to apply the standard for importing and exporting firearms already in place in the United States on a worldwide scale.
And there is no reason to believe that domestic manufacturers alone would be unable to ensure that the United States continues to have the most well-armed private citizenry in the world. According to the most recent figures available over 5.5 million firearms were manufactured in the United States in 2009 (The U.N. conservatively estimates that 7.5 to 8 million small arms are manufactured worldwide each year). Less than 200,000 of the firearms produced in the United States left the country as exports.
Last week's House vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt over documents related to the Operation Fast and Furious scandal has brought back the media myth that the National Rifle Association (NRA) is a hugely-powerful organization that swings elections with its money and endorsements. But there's no evidence -- aside from the organization's media-abetted campaign to inflate its own influence -- that the NRA is an electoral force.
All 17 Democrats who voted to hold Holder in contempt received donations from the NRA. Additionally, the NRA, in an attempt to scare up more support for the contempt vote, announced that it would be scoring the vote for its candidate rating system. And based on the vote, the tactics seem to have worked, to some extent. As a result, some media coverage has predictably inflated the NRA's supposed electoral influence. But the vote is merely evidence that the NRA's campaign to portray itself as the most important lobbying group in the country has been successful.
In a post pondering "Why Is the NRA So Powerful?," Slate's Brian Palmer reinforces many of the media's favorite myths about the NRA, writing that the group "is considered by many the most powerful lobbying group in the country, despite relatively modest financial resources and just 4 million members." According to Palmer, the NRA "can reliably deliver votes."
But in truth, the NRA can't "reliably deliver votes" -- far from it.
During today's edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy and guest Betsy McCaughey choose to ignore the significant role that the National Rifle Association played in yesterday's contempt proceedings against Attorney General Eric Holder.
Doocy twice highlighted the fact that 17 Democrats joined Republicans to cite Holder for contempt of Congress concerning Holder's failure to satisfy an inquiry led by the Republican-led House Oversight Committee investigation into the failed ATF Fast and Furious Operation. When Fox News contributor and Democratic strategist Joe Trippi suggested that the vote was about "politics," guest Betsy McCaughey, the former lieutenant governor of New York, disagreed, citing the decision of some Democrats to cross the aisle.
What was left unsaid is that every Democrat who voted to cite Holder in contempt has recently received money from the rabidly anti-Holder NRA.
DOOCY: As we've been telling you, the House of Representatives yesterday on a bipartisan basis voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt.
DOOCY: Joe [Trippi], it was a bipartisan vote, 16 Democrats went along with Republicans and said, You know, you really should give up those documents there is a dead guy we are talking about. A border patrol agent.
JOE TRIPPI: We don't do this like you know bullet vote [where] everyone has to vote the same way on the Democratic side of the aisle.
TRIPPI: I'm not talking about the credible facts [in Fast and Furious], whether they are there or not. It looks like its politics.
BETSY MCCAUGHEY: I don't think it does because Democrats voted for the contempt. And you know what, all of those Democrats walked out, the Congressional Black Caucus --
TRIPPI: 16 Democrats --
MCCAUGHEY: -- they didn't have the nerve to vote against the contempt motion. They posed this as a walk out. But you know what, that was cowardice. Either you vote for it or you vote against it. Walking out that's just stage show but with no convictions.
The NRA has, of course, been trying to effectuate Holder's ouster since the beginning. On April 30, 2011, in the earliest stages of the House Oversight Committee's investigation into Fast and Furious, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre declared, "Holder's got to go!" In media appearances, LaPierre continues to promote his insane belief that Fast and Furious was an Obama administration plot to destroy the Second Amendment.
In a June 20 letter to lawmakers in support of citing Holder for contempt, the NRA's top lobbyist, Chris Cox, informed Members of Congress that the NRA would score the vote for its candidate rating system. Of the 17 Democrats who voted for contempt, 16 protected their A or A+ NRA rating. Rep. Kathleen Hochul (D-NY) possesses an NRA endorsement, but no rating.
UPDATE: During yesterday's broadcast of Fox News Radio's Kilmeade & Friends, Doocy predicted that Democrats who voted for contempt would be influenced by the NRA's decision to score the contempt vote. Even though his prediction appears to have come true, Doocy did not mention the NRA's influence during today's Fox & Friends and instead adopted the narrative that the bipartisan outcome suggested that partisanship was not a motivating factor.
DOOCY: Regarding how come there are going to be so many Democrats vote against Eric Holder is the fact that the NRA said, "Ok, you know what we're going to do? We're going to score that vote." And what happens in Washington is anytime there is something that involve gun control the NRA says, "We're going to score it." And if people want a good score with the NRA, and if you're in a district where the NRA is important, you vote with what the NRA wants, which is contempt of Congress for Mr. Holder.