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Salvo 03.14.2022 4 minutes

Drop Your Weapons

Weapon inside of teddy bear

Conservatives are attacking America by weaponizing our favorite things.

We’ve all heard about the danger that the political right poses to the nation. America is under “a premeditated and ongoing all-out assault on our free and fair elections,” in the words of Hawaii senator Mazie Hirono. The “destruction of political norms” represented by the rise of Trump was described by Ezra Klein in 2016 as heralding the demolition of “longstanding norms of decency, civility, and tolerance.” 

But how, specifically, are conservatives destroying America? 

It turns out that conservatives have assembled an armory of astounding and lethal variety. Like guerrilla warriors, they have taken common and ordinary tools and repurposed them into savage armaments. They have done this by mastering the technique of “weaponization.” The conservative attack on America is tirelessly weaponizing nominally harmless features of everyday life as savage instruments of death. 

For instance, Outside Magazine, which was co-founded by Gerald Ford’s son, recently explained that “even as the green movement works toward building an outdoor community that reflects America’s demographics, anti-immigration and alt-right groups are using the environment as a weapon, citing overused public land, population growth, and pollution to keep immigrants out of the country.” Conservatives have “weaponized” the environment “for hate.”  

But the fear of weaponization is not limited to the eco-chambers of the green movement’s favorite websites. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, in response to unfavorable decisions in the Janus case—which expanded political speech protections to public-sector union members—and a crisis pregnancy center case—which ruled that anti-abortion groups did not have to provide information on how to get abortions—fretted that conservatives “were weaponizing the First Amendment.” 

The New York Times expanded on Justice Kagan’s fears to show how “conservative groups, borrowing and building on arguments developed by liberals, have used the First Amendment to justify unlimited campaign spending, discrimination against gay couples and attacks on the regulation of tobacco, pharmaceuticals and guns.” The principle of free speech and the promises of the First Amendment have been cynically appropriated by conservatives. “Some liberals,” the Times explains, “now say that free speech disproportionately protects the powerful and the status quo.” 

Louis Seidman, a liberal law professor at Georgetown, has changed his mind about the importance of free speech, having learned how readily it can be adapted as a weapon by the Right. “What I have come to see,” says Seidman, “is that it’s a mistake to think of free speech as an effective means to accomplish a more just society.”  

Accomplishing a more just society must be the purpose of free speech. If free speech fails to accomplish a more just society, then what is the point or utility of speaking freely?  

Even heroes from the social justice pantheon have been weaponized by the conservative movement to serve nefarious, perverse purposes. Omid Safi, a professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University, points out that when right-wingers criticize the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, they frequently invoke the memory of Martin Luther King, whom they say would have opposed tactics that violate the principle of non-violence. This effort by the “custodians of the status quo” is “weaponizing King against liberation movements that center the suffering of black people.” 

The devious right wing has even weaponized racial justice and equity. In its efforts to force schools to open during the pandemic, before the science had declared it safe to do so, noted conservative pundits like David Brooks and others made the tendentious argument that keeping schools closed would disproportionately hurt black students. “Do Black lives matter to you only when they serve your political purpose?” asked Brooks. “Shouldn’t we be marching to get Black and brown children back safely into schools right now?” 

This slippery argument is an effort to attack the Left using its own terms, and according to Kenny Ludlow, a writer for the website The Educator’s Room, represents “white saviorism” and is “weaponizing the experiences of Black, Latinx, and low-income youth because it aligns with what we want personally.” 

The way Progressives see it, Conservatives have essentially weaponized everything in American culture in order to destroy it. Sexual freedomBill Clinton, the word “woke,” language itself…there is nothing that the Right will not refashion into an instrument of violence against our nation, which is why no defensive measure—as Barry Goldwater might have put it—can be fairly characterized as too extreme. 

We have seen how Donald Trump and the Proud Boys can turn anything, even a gesture or offhand comment, into a complex battle plan for general insurrection or foreign invasion. This is why deplatforming or “cancellation” is such a valuable tool for the Left. When your enemy is waging total war, it is foolish not to do everything in your power to silence him. 

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

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