Better Propaganda, Please?

The “big lie” is one of the most notorious propaganda techniques. It’s one that wasn’t invented by Edward Bernays, though it’s a logical outcome of his theories.

No serious sociologist any longer believes that the voice of the people expresses any divine or specially wise and lofty idea. The voice of the people expresses the mind of the people, and that mind is made up for it by the group of leaders in whom it believes and by those person who understand the manipulation of public opinion. It is composed of inherited prejudices and symbols and cliches and verbal formulas supplied to them by the leaders. [Edward Bernays, Propaganda]

The cliches and verbal formulas are carried in the media, that’s the message. You can tell rough attempts at propaganda are in place any time you hear the same refrain, “death panels” “it takes good guys with guns to stop bad guys with guns” or pretty much anything Donald Trump has to say. (I think Trump is like a markov-chain propaganda regurgitator AI; garbage in, garbage out, very little thought is going on behind the empty eyes)

This is the kind of pablum that the authoritarian followers are dining on:

It’s from the NRA, of course. But they’re stealthy about it. Since I don’t want any of you to damage your brains or throw up on your keyboards, I’ll transcribe it for you. (don’t thank me!)

They use their media to assassinate real news.
They use their schools to teach children their president is another Hitler.
The use their movie stars and singers and comedy shows and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again.
And then they use their ex-president to endorse “the resistance”
all to make them march, to make them protest –
to make them scream “racism” and “sexism” and “xenophobia” and “homophobia”
to smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports,
bully and terrorize the law-abiding, until the only option left is for the police to do their jobs and stop the madness.
And when that happens, they’ll use it as an excuse for their outrage.
The only way we stop this – the only way we save our country and our freedom is to fight this violence and lies with the clenched fist of truth.
I’m the National Rifle Association, and I’m freedom’s safest place.

There entire thing is, as Bernays says, cliches and verbal formulas. There are angry black people facing off against resolute white cops:

There is the automatically inclusive language of propaganda: they are doing this to us.

All of the negative actions are being done by the elusive they and it’s up to us to FIGHT VIOLENCE. Yes, it’s a war on violence. The listener is assumed to be so stupid that they don’t figure that out. The listener is assumed to be so stupid that they’ve forgotten that one of the main arguments the gun lobby has been giving for years is: guns are needed to protect you against your government if it turns oppressive. Well, after all, they want to see both sides arming up; although the cops are good customers, they won’t be buying more guns, they’ll be getting socialized armaments from the DoD.

Look! They are burning a flag! Bad! Bad!

They repeat their narrative over and over again.

It’s tempting to dismiss this as stupid propaganda, but it’s stupid propaganda because it’s aimed at credulous, shallow-thinking dupes; it’s simple and it hammers home the message that they are out to get you and, I guess that the listener is supposed to connect that to the idea that the NRA is supporting justice and freedom against some kind of oppression.

The subtext, since we’re talking about an organization that promotes gun ownership, must be that guns are what will help with the situation. Of course there is no discussion of whose guns and how: if the viewer was to actually think about this video they would wonder, “Is the NRA saying we good people should go to one of those marches with our guns and, what? How are guns going to help any of this situation? What am I expected to do with my guns?” There is only one way that a gun can be used to stop a flag-burning.

Trying to flip “lies” into “violence” (per the title of the piece) is “I’m rubber, you’re glue” level argumentation, suitable for a 5th-grader. Nonviolent protest is not violence: that’s the big lie of this piece. In general, at the protests, if there’s violence, it’s being done by people with guns, in uniforms, with badges. If there are lies, they are being done on youtube, and twitter, non-violently – by both “sides.”

The political leader of today should be a leader as finely versed in the technique of propaganda as in political economy and civics. If he remains merely the reflection of the average intelligence of his community, he might as well go out of politics. If one is dealing with a democracy in which the herd and the group follow those whom they recognize as leaders, why should not the young men training for leadership be trained in its techniques as well as in its idealism? [Edward Bernays, Propaganda]

Propaganda is a mirror: the propagandist is telling their listener what they want to hear. This is the mirror that America’s gun nuts are standing tall, and proud, and looking into.


  1. says

    Oh fuck, I just read about this not half an hour ago. What a chilling, nasty way to start the day. This is a call for open warfare, nothing less. Shootings have already increased, there’s been an ugly spike, and this shit is not just the standard bull for all the gun fondlers. This is for all the Trumpholes, the white supremacists, the fascists, the uber conservatives and so on.

    Getting scarier by the minute.

  2. says

    This is for all the Trumpholes, the white supremacists, the fascists, the uber conservatives and so on.

    Yeah – it’s a nasty bit of propaganda; it’s just vague enough that random blockheads will think that it’s about them, and it’s offering GUNS! as the answer, without explaining the question. If it weren’t so horrible, I’d say it was insulting their intelligence – but it’s obviously tuned to exactly that wavelength.

    The idea of “fight violence with GUNS!” is as disturbingly stupid as “make america great again” and appeals to the same deep constituency of resentful, paranoid, people with a sense of betrayal.

    NRA has a whole series of ads like this one, including some that ought to be insulting stereotypes of American dumbass rednecks – but the guy’s probably an actor.

    It’s quite a performance. “Ayatollas in Iran” and “terrorists” – fighting them with “calloused, bloody hands” – it’s full of violent imagery and whining savagery.

    If there’s any silver lining to this, it’s that the NRA appears to have realized that it’s “brand” is not a plus, because they’re downplaying their involvement:

  3. says


    If it weren’t so horrible, I’d say it was insulting their intelligence – but it’s obviously tuned to exactly that wavelength.

    There are already a very large amount of people who think that liberals are already actively engaged in warfare against “America”, that resistance is not only warfare, but treason. I don’t much see how it’s going to be possible to feel safe in this country.

  4. says

    Pandering to superiority bias in action. People sure love hearing that they are right and whoever disagrees with them is a victim of propaganda.

    I once received pity from a homophobe who believed that I have fallen victim to gay propaganda. But these guys are even worse – instead of pitying propaganda victims they suggest that their listeners should buy guns to fight against the poor propaganda victims. And there’s only one way how you fight while holding a gun in your hand and that’s by pulling the trigger.

  5. says

    Ieva Skrebele@#4:
    People sure love hearing that they are right and whoever disagrees with them is a victim of propaganda.

    PT Barnum probably said it, but: all you gotta do is preach to the choir.

    These propagandists are telling the choir that they’re powerful but oppressed, threatened but dangerous, noble warriors yet in danger of being beaten by weaklings, and – most of all – peaceful yet violent!

  6. says

    The NRA claiming Hollywood is against them is amusing. So much of what comes out of Hollywood supports the NRA’s narrative that a good guy with a (hand)gun is needed to stop bad guys with guns. Then there’s the stuff that supports the US military and intelligence agencies even when they do questionable things. And all the unquestioning support of cops.

  7. komarov says

    I’m the National Rifle Association, and I’m freedom’s safest place.

    This is the point where I’d check my laces and start running. You know, after having been paralysed by horror and disbelief. But now I’m considering to start worshipping the Atlantic ocean. Praise be unto you, oh mighty, watery divide. May your deep waves separate our distant shores for all eternity.

    Re: timgueguen (#7):

    The NRA claiming Hollywood is against them is amusing.

    I think claiming that ‘Hollywood is against us’ has become part and parcel of being a right-wing anything. It’s a strangely specific claim and yet it keeps cropping up. Maybe it’s just become habit – ‘ooh, dreadful, liberal Hollywood hates us’. Or it could be a sincere belief or regarded as a badge of honour. The end result is much the same in that it is meaningless noise. It’s simply another identifier, some sort of ‘in-group’-thing. Hollywood hates us, so you know we’re the right sort. I doubt that claims like these have any actual impact on Hollywood or its output, so right-wingers can keep repeating them without having to worry about any consequences.

  8. lanir says

    I had some disagreements with a right winger recently on a gaming site. He made some claims about social moevements being chaotic evil which was really weird… In context he was comparing civil rights with the morality of the strongman whose only use for rules is when he’s at the top running the show by force. Along the way he misread something I said in the most extreme way possible and then kept trying to stick me with his specific misreading of it. Basic straw man argument. Didn’t really matter what I said after that either, he was determined to pin that one thing on me even if I never said or meant what he was going on about.

    He mentioned being a cop or a security guard at one point. All I can say is the idea of being locked up because a dishonest fruit-loop decides to misread something I say despite any later evidence or conversation makes me understand why you call a lawyer if the cops ask you questions. I don’t understand how anyone gets by with this sort of rank incompetence. If I were that bad at my job I’d be leaving a trail of crashed networks and summary firings behind me.