Words Mean Things: The National Rifle Association Is Not a Terrorist Organization

Photo by Flickr user the queen of subtle Licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

This morning a reader calls my attention to a story out of San Francisco detailing a decision by the city’s Board of Supervisors to brand the National Rifle Association a “domestic terrorist organization.” The board also wants the city to stop dealing with any business or organization which has a relationship with the NRA.

It was a unanimous vote, too. Not a single person on the board apparently had any reservations about doing this.

Innovation is not something you typically think of when it comes to the tedious, bureaucracy-addled machinations of government, but you really do have to admire the capacity politicians have to find new and intriguing ways of being stupid.

My correspondent was insulted by the board’s choice of words. “Evidently, some in our society think it opportune to relax the definition of ‘terrorist’ to include any group, foreign or domestic, whose policies with which a segment of our population does not agree, regardless of whether the group incites violence or revolution,” he wrote to me, reacting to the story.

This is not just something he thinks the left is doing, though, and he’s right. “Admittedly, I am very uncomfortable with conservatives calling each other ‘patriots’, as that should not be a politically stilted title,” he wrote.

Innovation is not something you typically think of when it comes to the tedious, bureaucracy-addled machinations of government, but you really do have to admire the capacity politicians have to find new and intriguing ways of being stupid.

That’s exactly right. A patriot is someone who loves their country and wants to improve it. There are many people I disagree with vehemently, who are promoting policies I think are wrongheaded and damaging, but I still believe they love our country and are promoting ideas they think will help.

Agreeing with me (or you or anyone else) is not a litmus test for patriotism.

Terms like “bigot” and “racist” should be included in this discussion too.

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat had some interesting things to say on that front this week. While acknowledging that bigotry is real and that modern conservatism really does have a problem with racists infiltrating the movement in the Trump era, he also points out the left’s propensity to describe as bigoted people espousing arguments and ideas which aren’t bigoted so much as merely unpopular with progressives.

“[I]t does liberals and the left no favors, now or for a post-Trump future, to imagine that accusations of white nationalism can somehow quarantine conservative ideas that are both not actually racist and also, in many cases, true,” he writes.

The imprecise use of these pejoratives is effective, though, in this time when the volume of a message seems to matter a lot more than its quality. Calling someone a racist, or a terrorist, or unpatriotic is a way to mark a person or an idea or an argument as not worth listening to.

It’s one thing for internet trolls and letter-to-the-editor gadflies to do this sort of thing, but when ostensibly politicians from local governments up to Congress are doing it we have a real problem.

UPDATE: A reader points out that San Francisco, while declaring the NRA a terrorist organization, also wants to restrict the use of words like “felon” and “convict.”

Someone should tell these folks that Orwell was trying to warn us, not provide a guide for governance.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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