Commodifying Neo-fascism: The NRA's Carry Guard in Trump's America

J. Richard Marra | Society & Culture | Analysis | January 1st, 2018

Neo-liberal fascism reigns triumphant in Donald Trump's great America. This neo-fascism does so in part because over 62 million Americans agree with him concerning America's defense against heralded threats. These include Muslim terrorists, immigrant terrorists, Black terrorists, pro-choice feminist terrorists, eco-terrorists, and a terroristic federal government that intends to imprison law-abiding gun owners in FEMA concentration camps . Anti-gun activists and Black Lives Matter protestors imperil America's Anglo-Saxon culture. Together these "bad guys" offer manifest and pervasive risks, which may arrive unanticipated and perhaps be unavoidable.

In America, protecting oneself from threats is big business, and the modality of that protection for 55 million citizens is the personal firearm. Gun owners are prepared, owning approximately 265 million weapons of various types and lethality. The firearm and ammunition industries earn $15 billion annually , and are politically adroit and entrenched in Washington, thus ensuring a steady flow of profits.

As the gun industry's obsequious marketing and lobbying arm since 1977, the National Rifle Association (NRA) offers its extreme right wing political branding to entice Americans to buy guns, accessories, and training for self defense. It does this by launching a tsunami of fear bating, fallacy, and misinformation, propelled by a white Christian and paternalistic nationalism. This is the moral vision that invigorates Trump's political base. Its imperialist military-security consciousness celebrates hyper-masculine intimidation and violence, and elevates "security" to the moral level of "Moses and the Prophets" (to paraphrase Karl Marx). "Freedom's Safest Place" is a Trump Tower of Babel, where a muddle of hysterical jingoism, fake news, and industry "reports" (read "advertisements") are counted as gospel. Not surprisingly, the gun industry funnels massive funding to political candidates guided by the NRA's moral compass, to the tune of $50.2 million.

The use of guns in self-defense comes with, in insurance parlance, a "moral hazard." This is because people may successfully defend themselves, yet in error or through malfeasance. When an injury (physical or financial) occurs due to a firearm discharge, a tort may occur that exposes gun owners to substantial civil liability, or criminal prosecution. These risks are exacerbated by the maze of complex, ambiguous, mercurial, inconsistent, and even contradictory gun regulations and self-defense laws among states. This legal and administrative morass complicates the task of complying with applicable laws. As the Carry Guard web page announces, the threat of litigation looms large: "You can do everything right and still lose….[L]awful self-defense can cost a fortune." Thus, a tool intended to satisfy a need for physical self-defense engenders a new need and a new tool: legal self-defense and the insurance to pay for it.

Thus arises the NRA's Carry Guard membership plan. In addition to a general membership, the NRA joins with the Chubb Group to offer, through its subsidiary Lockton Affinity, insurance reimbursement coverage for legal defense costs, either criminal or civil, resulting from acts of self-defense with firearms; along with a package of related products and services. Carry Guard insurance is a personal liability commodity, combined with financial assistance benefits for criminal defense, which intends to fill a gap in most homeowners insurance that usually excludes potentially morally hazardous acts, like intentionally shooting in self-defense.

Chubb's new product has a potential market of approximately 400,000 gun owners. The $154.95 price of the Bronze-level Carry Guard premium (minus $40 for the NRA membership) covers policy administration and claims costs paid to Lockton, with the remainder going to Chubb. The potential gain for Chubb is considerable, given that the United States Concealed Carry Association's self-defense insurance has an estimated annual revenue range between $30 and $70 million .

Carry Guard embodies the ideological interdependence among the gun industry, the NRA, and Trump's neo-fascist regime. The gun industry exists to maximize profits from selling firearms, regardless of the enabling marketing. While gun manufacturers and the Chubb Group enjoy the profits offered by their partnership with the NRA, the Carry Guard suite of benefits also satisfies two fundamental needs of the NRA: increased membership and expanded political power. They do this by stoking fears that a greedy liability attorney will convince an Untermensch from some disliked group to file a civil suit; or that district attorneys from an overreaching "leftist" and anti-gun government will file criminal charges. Fears of the racial "other" and government "tyranny" are the marketing the NRA brings to Carry Guard.

This marketing finds it origin in the NRA's extreme right-wing Cincinnati Revolt of 1977 . The Revolt established the NRA's aim to make America great again by arming its citizenry to the teeth. By doing so, the nation can be ostensibly defended from threats to its Second-Amendment rights, capitalism, and its social Darwinist worldview. It is no wonder that the neo-liberal Ronald Reagan was the first president to endorse the NRA, or that the NRA's darling neo-fascist, Donald Trump, told the 2017 NRA Convention that he would, "come through" for them. Carry Guard membership affirms a commitment to the threat-filled worldview of Trumpism. That worldview, as the NRA website celebrates, is championed by a cabal of extremist gun-rights advocates, racists, militarists, and proto-fascist law enforcement, and the virulently anti-Muslim Trump supporter Rep. Clay Higgins, who was rendered notorious by his Auschwitz gas-chamber debacle .

As a commodity, Carry Guard satisfies the basic human need for security against threats unmasked at "Freedom's Safest Place," including supposed unjust litigation. It also satisfies a fundamental need for group membership, which is accomplished through an association with a right-wing political organization, along with the blessing of a neo-fascist national leader. Self-esteem comes with one's self-identification as a "responsible" gun owner, a defender of Constitutional rights, and a law-abiding citizen standing for law and order.

Carry Guard's insurance represents a controversial niche market product. However, its notoriety as so-called "murder insurance" should not obscure the fact that Carry Guard is a bundle of mutually supportive products and services. Its "use values" for the NRA, to use Marx's term, are to: 1) promote the purchase of firearms for self-defense, 2) help to increase NRA membership and funding, 3) and provide an additional venue for the indoctrination of NRA members and public advocacy; thereby increasing the political force of the organization. Viewing Carry Guard as a consolidated suite of products provides a basis an understanding the product as a neo-fascist political project which combines, as the Trump "administration" does, neo-liberal capitalist and extremist right-wing political agendas.

As Karl Marx explained, capitalists are adroit at discovering or fabricating new needs, and developing products or services that satisfy them. While some human needs and desires can potentially be satisfied, those that can do so through use values. A firearm is a use value that fulfills the need for self-defense, even if the perceived threats are largely imagined. While some people personally fabricate firearms, ammunition, and accessories, most purchase them on the firearm market; from which the gun industry acquires its profits. However, the employment of a firearm in self-defense, that moment when the gun owner realizes its use value, engenders a new litigation risk potentially requiring a new use value. This new use value might take the form of a personal financial reserve intended to pay for self-defense litigation. However, the cost of litigation is high and the risk of a large civil settlement substantial. The cost of self-funding a legal defense is prohibitive for most gun owners, and " peer-to-peer " funding looks much like the specter of communism. These consumer concerns provide Chubb with an opportunity to sell a new use value in the form of an insurance commodity. As such, it obtains an exchange value within the insurance market; and is for the gun owner the premium price of the insurance. Thus, capitalists double dip into the gun owner's pocketbook. They sell the use value of a firearm as a commodity within the firearm market in order to satisfy a need for personal self-defense. Then they sell the use value of an insurance commodity to satisfy a need for legal self-defense arising from the actual use of the firearm. Thus, Carry Guard members, wishing to enjoy the practice of "American rugged self-reliance," ironically become inextricably dependent upon a capitalist enterprise to insure their financial security and personal freedom.

This irony reflects a deeper alienation of human beings from what Marx views as their own human essence. According to Marx, what distinguishes human beings from other species that exploit natural recourses instinctively to satisfy needs (like birds constructing nests from twigs and human refuse), is that humans do so through purposeful and creative labor. When gun owners are not able to personally design and establish their legal defense, the Chubb Group offers their capital and the creativity of their workers (policy administrators and actuaries, for example) to market a suitable insurance commodity to meet the need. By doing so, gun owners become "alienated" from the means of producing their own protection. Thus, Chubb "rents" NRA gun owners, for the price of an insurance premium, a safe place that is manufactured, so to speak, and administered by the Chubb Group exclusively for profit. Viewing Carry Guard from a Marxian perspective dissolves the myth of the product as primarily an enabler of self-reliant defense. It exposes the function of Carry Guard as a vehicle to establish a dependency of policyholders on the Chubb Group and the NRA (through the needed self-defense training), and for the enrichment of the capitalist class.

This Marxian perspective illuminates the dynamics of the gun market not only in terms of the commodification of physical use values (firearms and their accessories), but also with reference to affective use values; those psychological needs that the physical use values satisfy. Affective utility plays a central marketing role. Most gun owners are middle-aged, white, high school educated, and politically conservative; for whom firearm ownership is exciting and patriotic. The adrenaline rush triggered by shooting firearms creates a sense of physical strength, heightened masculinity, and rugged independence, stirring to life the "badass" warrior within. Badasses don't feel insecure, powerless, fearful of strangers, dependent, or confused in an uncertain world. An obsession with design innovations and hi-tech accessories also proclaims who are the baddest asses; those who possess the baddest ass magazines or laser sights. Given that the shrinking civilian firearms market requires repeat sales to maintain profits, gun manufacturers and the NRA appeal to the super-hero fantasies of hyper-vigilant males to continually stir a toxic stew of affective needs to maximize sales.

In this sense, Carry Guard represents a commodification of "peace of mind" (as all personal liability insurance does) in the face of the looming threats prophesied by the NRA, as well as a social acceptance and self-esteem that comes participating in the defense of hearth, home, and country. When the satisfaction of these basic human needs is couched in the NRA's neo-fascist worldview, the commodity sold is not simply self-defense, but a comforting neo-fascist worldview as well.

Commodity marketing is remarkably successful and adaptable, in part, because it can effectively appeal to affective desires, while simultaneously wrapping them in a self-actualizing political worldview. The Virginia Slims' 1960s accolade "You've Come a Long Way, Baby" celebrated both the vanity of a Twiggy-like female body, and a self-actualization promised by second-wave feminism. Today, the post-sexist spokeswoman, Dana Loesch, has come a long way as well; roaring from the Carry Guard website as a confident and square-jawed gun owner, squeezed into a skin-tight Carry Guard tee shirt. Coca Cola underscored its iconic advertisement with the jingle "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)," sung by a commune of sanitized and serenely spellbound hippies residing in the Nirvana of the 1960's "Counterculture." Now, Barneys is banking on their M65 anarchy jacket to appeal to Millenials who are confronting Trump's neo-fascism in streets across America, in a desperate struggle for a secure and compassionate world; one free from the exploitation and repression of "The System." Barneys hopes there will be value added from sales to those who choose to safely impersonate revolutionaries at a safe distance.

Altogether, Carry Guard's carefully designed and marketed package of commodified use values embodies the symbiosis between neo-liberal capitalism and right-wing extremist politics that forms the core of, and is a marketized metaphor for, Trump's neo-fascist regime.