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“The Conspiracy Theorists And Doomsday Preppers”: Ben Carson, American Gun Advocates, And The Fantasy Of Individual Heroism

Chances are that you are not a hero. That is to say that you do your job and live your life, but seldom if ever are you called upon to do something extraordinary in a life-or-death moment, some spectacular act of bravery that calls upon otherworldy cunning and physical skill. Compared to a Hollywood action film, your life is rather mundane and ordinary. You don’t begin your week on Monday knowing that by Friday you will have leaped from explosions, taken down ninja death squads, or battled supervillains.

It’s fun to indulge those fantasies from time to time—with enough money, time, and training, maybe I could be Batman!—but most of us are level-headed enough to realize that they are just fantasies. They certainly shouldn’t be the source of judgments we make about our fellow human beings, let alone the basis for policymaking.

But not everyone agrees. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, for instance, has recently attracted a great deal of attention for saying that unlike those cowering sheep who were killed by a gunman in Roseburg, Oregon, he would have quickly organized his fellow victims-to-be and rushed the shooter. In the ensuing discussion, Carson’s similar views about the Holocaust came to light—that if the Jews had more guns and more gumption, they could have stood up to Hitler and, if not stopped the genocide entirely, at least … well, at least done something or other.

As a piece of historical analysis, this is positively deranged, as any historian will tell you. But it’s also widely shared on the right, not just when it comes to World War II in particular but as a way to understand the broader relationship between the individual and government. Take, for instance, this execrable op-ed on FoxNews.com from frequent on-air contributor Keith Ablow, which basically argues that the Holocaust happened because German Jews were too wimpy to rise up, find some guns, and do the job.

As Jacob Bacharach reminds us, plenty of Jews did fight back, not only in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising but among resistance forces spread throughout Europe in the places Germany occupied. And what happened to them? They mostly got slaughtered, because they were fighting against a vastly stronger force, the Wehrmacht. It took the combined might of the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and about 20 smaller countries to actually defeat the Nazis. But Carson and others want to believe the Jews could have done the job, too, if only they had some guts and a few bolt-action rifles.

And why might they think that? I’d suggest that it’s because their ideas are shaped by a particular kind of Hollywood fantasy, one in which individual heroism and ample firearms are the means by which enormous, sweeping problems can be solved.

Though it hasn’t gotten as much attention as it should in the coverage of his candidacy, Carson is succeeding in part because he is the candidate of a particular portion of the Republican fringe, the conspiracy theorists and doomsday preppers who watch Glenn Beck, listen to Alex Jones, and know that the apocalypse is around the corner. One of the key components of the ideology these people imbibe is not just that you’re on your own, but that on your own you can do anything. Society will disintegrate, vast conspiratorial forces are arrayed against you, jackbooted government thugs are about to come knocking at your door—but if you’ve got your AR-15 and a strong will, you can turn them all back and maintain our freedom. Not only that, the only reason it hasn’t happened yet is because the government knows and fears your potency.

This fantasy—at once maniacally paranoid and looking desperately forward to the day the opportunity for heroism comes—is fed by the gun industry, the NRA, and gun advocates like Carson. It tells people they need to have lots of guns stockpiled at home, and to always carry their gun everywhere they go. Because today could be the day when everything depends on your willingness to use deadly force.

Now think for a moment about how Hollywood action films work. They’re seldom about large armies facing off, with the individuals within them each playing their small but important role. Instead, they show us a solitary hero or small band of comrades doing spectacular things against far superior forces. Arnold Schwarzenegger mows down hundreds of faceless enemies who never manage to lay a hand on him; Liam Neeson cracks the necks of dozens of thugs on his way to save his daughter; Sylvester Stallone single-handedly defeats the entire North Vietnamese army; Jennifer Lawrence overthrows a brutal dictatorship with a few friends and some well-aimed arrows.

If you don’t appreciate that these are fantasies, it might make perfect sense to think that Germany’s Jews could have stopped the Holocaust by being more gutsy. In real life, though, that’s not how it works. Armies aren’t defeated by a lone hero with a gun and a ready quip; armies are defeated by bigger, better armies (or in some cases by organized, decades-long insurgencies). Dictatorships aren’t brought down by a single act of defiance; more often it takes years or even decades of protest, organizing, and arduous work.

All of the Republican candidates would probably tell you that owning a gun (or two or twelve) is a good idea to protect your family. This happens to be wrong; a gun in your home is far more likely to wind up killing one of your family members than it is to defend you from a home invasion. But at least it’s possible. And you might, someday, commit an act of heroism that saves people’s lives, even if most of us never do. But the chance that you will buy a gun and use it to stop a fascist takeover of America is precisely zero, not only because there won’t be a fascist takeover, but because if there were, you and your gun wouldn’t stop it from happening.

Ben Carson imagines himself a Hollywood hero. If he were in that classroom in Oregon, no one might have died. And if he were a Jew in Germany in 1939, he would have hidden away a revolver, stood up to the SS, and before you know it, Hitler would have been taken care of. Right now, he’s speaking for everyone who shares his fantasy. And it looks like there are plenty of people who do.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, October 11, 2015

October 14, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Conspiracy Theories | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“This Callous Arrogance Is Nothing Short Of Staggering”: Carson Eyes Guns In Kindergarten, Boasts Of His Imagined Bravery

In the wake of the latest mass-shooting, Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson appears to have been thinking a bit about gun violence, and the often ridiculous candidate has drawn some curious conclusions.

For example, Carson said yesterday that if he had a child in kindergarten, he’d feel better knowing there were loaded firearms in the classroom. “If the teacher was trained in the use of that weapon and had access to it, I would be much more comfortable if they had one than if they didn’t,” the GOP candidate said.

Last night on Facebook, Carson added, “As a Doctor, I spent many a night pulling bullets out of bodies. There is no doubt that this senseless violence is breathtaking – but I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away. Serious people seek serious solutions.”

To date, the retired right-wing neurosurgeon has offered no solutions, serious or otherwise, to combating gun violence. On the contrary, he’s begun rejecting solutions he used to support.

But Politico flagged Carson’s comments on Fox News this morning, where the GOP candidate was in rare form, first complaining about President Obama traveling to Oregon to meet with grieving families and a recovering community, then indirectly criticizing the victims of the mass murder.

Asked what he would have done had a gunman walked up to him and asked him to state his religion, Carson said he would have been more aggressive.

 “Not only would I probably not cooperate with him, I would not just stand there and let him shoot me, I would say, ‘Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can’t get us all,’” he told the hosts.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

It’s genuinely shameful how common comments like these are. After the massacre in Charleston, S.C., a Republican state senator complained he wasn’t satisfied with how the victims reacted to the gunman. After the massacre in Aurora, Colo., a Republican U.S. congressman complained that the victims should have been armed so they could shoot back. After the massacre at Virginia Tech, National Review published a piece admonishing the victims. “Where was the spirit of self-defense here?” John Derbyshire wrote, adding, “[W]hy didn’t anyone rush the guy?

And now we see Ben Carson thinking along the same lines. He didn’t directly chastise the victims in Roseburg, Ore., but by explaining how brave he’d be towards the gunman, Carson was effectively complaining that the real-world victims should have displayed the kind of imaginary courage the Republican candidate described.

For a man seeking national office, this isn’t acceptable rhetoric.

It’s so easy – too easy, in fact – for anyone to imagine what they might do when faced with a life-threatening crisis, but until someone is confronted with such a nightmare, he or she should keep their bravado fantasies to themselves.

A madman entered a community-college classroom and began shooting people. Ben Carson, from the comfort of a television studio, wants to tell us about how heroic he’d be under the same circumstances.

But here’s the unfortunate truth that the unhinged candidate fails to understand: he has absolutely no idea how he’d respond to such a crisis. Almost none of us do.

Carson probably didn’t intend to insult the victims, indirectly blaming them for failing to meet his standards for bravery. But imagine being the parent of one of the young people killed in Oregon last week, and seeing a presidential candidate talking about how he graceful he’d be under fire – unlike those who actually faced the nightmare and were shot.

Carson’s callous arrogance is nothing short of staggering.

Who knows, maybe Carson’s rhetoric will resonate with Republican primary voters, who’ll cheer his latest comments. But to my mind, this represents a new low for the GOP candidate, one devoid of compassion and basic human decency.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 6, 2015

October 7, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, GOP Voters, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Mass Shooting Talking Points”: Conservative Media Use Oregon Community College Shooting To Revive “Gun-Free Zone” Canard

In the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, conservative commentators instantly referred to the school as a “gun-free zone,” falling back on conservative media’s go-to mass shooting talking point.

At least 10 people were reported killed, and many others injured October 1 during an Oregon community college mass shooting, and as facts concerning the shooting remained scarce, media figures immediately made references to the campus as a “gun-free zone” on CNN, Fox News, Fox Business Network, the Drudge Report, and other conservative websites.

But these references of “gun-free zones” represent a red herring because they rely on the assumption that more people carrying guns would stop mass shootings, when in reality there is no evidence to support such claims.

The overwhelming majority of mass shootings actually occur where guns are allowed to be carried. And according to an analysis of 62 public mass shootings over a 30 year period conducted by Mother Jones, not a single shooting was stopped by a civilian carrying a firearm. Mother Jones also found that gunmen do not choose to target locations because guns are not allowed, but rather other motives typically exist for choice of location, such as a workplace grievance.

As Evan DeFilippis and Devin Hughes explained in a commentary for The Trace, the idea that “gun-free zones” attract mass shooters is based on the faulty assumption that the shooters are “rational actors”:

Perhaps the most glaring flaw in the argument against gun-free zones, in the context of mass shootings, is its underlying assumption that shooters are rational actors. Lott himself admits that about half of criminals who commit mass shootings have received a “formal diagnosis of mental illness,” yet his model requires them to act precisely as we know they don’t: as hyperrational, calculating machines, intentionally seeking out gun-free environments for the sole purpose of maximizing causalities.

In reality, many shooters target a location based on an emotional grievance or an attachment to a particular person or place. An FBI study of 160 active shootings (defined as a shooter actively attempting to kill people in a populated area, regardless of the amount of fatalities) between 2000 and 2013 — including the high-profile mass shootings in Tucson and Aurora — shows that of the shootings that occurred in commercial or educational areas, the shooter had some relationship with the area in 63 percent of the cases.

 

By: Timothy Johnson, Media Matters for America, October 1, 2015

October 4, 2015 Posted by | Conservative Media, Gun Free Zones, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

   

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