It began in April.
That's when there appeared on YouTube an NRA recruitment video that raised eyebrows across the political spectrum. Speaking through a jaw clenched tight enough to crack walnuts, with an intensity that suggested a major artery might blow out at any second, conservative pundit Dana Loesch described an America wracked by carnage.
"They," she said, "use their media to assassinate real news."
"They," she said, "use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler."
"They," she said, "use their ex-president to endorse the resistance."
In her telling, this "they" of hers is smashing windows, burning cars, and generally, scaring the bejeezus out of good, God-fearing conservatives. "We," she said, must save our country from what "they" are doing by fighting "this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth."
Leni Riefenstahl — Google her — would've been proud. As propaganda goes, this was a masterpiece, playing like Yo-Yo Ma on a Stradivarius the racial, religious and cultural resentments that gave rise to our present president.
Indeed, many observers saw the ad as a coded incitement to violence. One gun owner, commenting on Facebook, called it "disgusting." Another said the NRA was "hate-mongering." Still, another called it a "terrorist" group.
As you might imagine, progressive activists were also appalled. One of them, Tamika Mallory, an organizer of January's Women's March, posted an open letter to NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, calling the ad "irresponsible and dangerous" and "a direct attack on people of color [and] progressives." She demanded it be taken down and that the NRA apologize.
In response, the NRA aggressively targeted — that verb is used advisedly — Ms. Mallory in a new ad that rejects any notion of an apology. "Get over it and grow up," says the NRA's Grant Stinchfield. "I'm talking to you, Tamika Mallory." For good measure, an image of Ms. Mallory then appears on the screen. Somehow, they resisted putting crosshairs on her face.
All this sound and fury is telling, coming as it does on the heels of the NRA's utter silence on a matter that you'd think would be a lot more pressing for a group calling itself "America's foremost defender" of the right to bear arms. After all, it's been two years, and the family of Philando Castile is still waiting for the NRA to speak up for this man who was killed by a panicky cop while legally exercising his right to bear arms.
For that matter, the families of Tamir Rice and John Crawford III, both killed while holding toy guns, are also waiting. But all three were black, so the wait will likely be long. Apparently, the NRA doesn't actually defend the right to bear arms — just the white to bear arms.
But these videos reveal more than selective silence and rank hypocrisy. Has anyone else noticed that the more power the extreme right wing amasses, the less satisfied it seems to be? The more government they control, the more fearful and angry they become.
That, ultimately, is what's so viscerally jarring about those videos, the reason even some gun owners are taken aback. To watch them, you'd think a riot in Baltimore or a tasteless joke by Kathy Griffin was the end of the known world. There is no vision there. There is no hope. There is only "they," who are out to get "us."
Tamika Mallory, then, should wear the NRA's scorn with pride. Why would she crave the approval of people like this? Their scared and angry rhetoric condemns them.
Their cowardly silence does, too.
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Readers may contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.