The National Rifle Association’s Civil War Memory

I give you the new president of the National Rifle Association.  Let’s just put aside for a second that from all appearances this guy is just bat shit crazy.  [Sorry, but that really does seem appropriate given the level of paranoia expressed in this video.]  Jim Porter doesn’t need a weapon. He needs a diagnosis.

What I find interesting is Porter’s level of comfort in expressing his preferred interpretation of the Civil War in New York state.  I suspect that very few people in this audience had any issue with his reference to a War of Northern Aggression and the close connection drawn between why the Confederacy fought the war and the reasons why it is necessary to arm and train the American populace in the use of firearms.  In other words, this is a perfect example of politics trumping the extent to which regional identification still shapes Civil War memory.

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25 comments… add one
  • John Buchanan May 10, 2013 @ 11:27

    This explains why I let my NRA membership lapse about 20 years ago.

    So too much of thsi crap even that far back.

  • Marooned May 6, 2013 @ 8:14

    I’ll see if my local library (and some local scholars) can give me some added information. Till then, I’ll step aside.

    • Jimmy Dick May 6, 2013 @ 11:56

      Nice comments, Marooned. I too had some serious learning to do about some of the Antebellum period several years ago. The political rhetoric of today tends to deliberately obscure the past in favor of political victory for today. The primary sources of the past are without a doubt very revealing as to what actually took place. For some very good use of those sources, please look up William W. Freehling on Amazon. He has written several outstanding books that cover this period in great detail and makes extensive use of the primary sources. His notes section is a wonderful read in Road to Disunion Vol. I as well.

      • Marooned May 7, 2013 @ 4:58

        Thanks, Jimmy Dick.

        Happily my “local library” (Richland County Public Library) is awfully good and they have several of Mr. Freehling’s books. I’ve added those to the evidence my wife will use for both my mental commitment and divorce case (too many books overwhelming her desire for a neat and presentable home).

        Somewhere in all of this is the understanding of attempts to make a success of this experiment we call America. Which is, of course, just part of much bigger attempts.

  • terry May 5, 2013 @ 18:43

    I encourage critical thinking people to get the complete video of Mr. Porter’s speech. He was actually praising two “Yankees” for starting the NRA. What’s wrong with teaching/training soldiers and citizens to be better marksman? An unarmed citizen is a slave.

    The NRA also did another good deed during WWII. English citizens surrendered their personal firearms to their government years before WWII. When the Nazis invaded England, the citizens were unable to defend their homes and families. American members of the NRA sent their personal firearms to England, so England’s citizens could defend their homes from the Nazis.

    We should be praising the NRA and its two Yankee founders. Two Yankees actually did something right for a change.

    • Kevin Levin May 6, 2013 @ 1:47

      You said:An unarmed citizen is a slave.

      Is this really the kind of critical thinking you desire?

    • Marooned May 6, 2013 @ 5:34

      I’m sure it was just a slip of the computer keys (It happens to all of us… especially me). The Nazis did not actually invade Britain and were kept from those half-baked plans by conventional military operations.

      There are a couple of points I would like to make this Monday morning (I’m on my second cup of coffee and therefore in a positive frame). First, I am descended from small farmers in the Upper South and my parents moved from their rural roots to 20th century urban life. Not too surprisingly, “The War” was not a big issue in family stories. And, my awareness of the issues was fairly shallow. I tended to not read deeply into the unpleasantness of the antebellum and postbellum South. It would trivialize the disasters to compare the 150-200 years of the growth and disintegration of the Cotton Kingdom to a bad wreck on the highway. In both cases, a lot of us tend to look the other way.

      Over the last few years, I have read and understood a lot more deeply.

      What happened to further my original, distanced, view of the Civil War?

      First, I now live in the ground-zero of secession; South Carolina.

      Second, I got an on-the-ground introduction to the “Old Southwest” and began to see how it factored into the whole slavery economy/politics that led to 1861.

      Third, out of the first two and for more reasons, I have read both more deeply and widely.

      Not everyone has been so fortunate as I have been.

      I’m still learning.

      I’ll try to keep all of that in mind when I read and hear views of history that are very different with what I understand. After all, education and discussion are a lot less messy than .58 Minie balls.

      (And, being a dyed-in-the-wool Southerner, I also enjoy tweaking Yankees. So, you might catch me having a bit of fun by waving the Stars-And-Bars in front of some of our northern cousins. If that was Mr. Porter’s intent, I’m OK with his use of “The War of Northern Aggression,” even if I know full well that it was Southern zealots who instigated another “Rich Man’s War.”)

      • Kevin Levin May 6, 2013 @ 5:36

        There is a great deal of first-rate scholarship that challenges the notion that the Civil War was a “Rich Man’s War.” Start with Aaron Sheehan-Dean’s book Why Confederates Fought: Family and Nation in Civil War Virginia and then check out Joseph Glatthaar’s General Lee’s Army.

        • Marooned May 6, 2013 @ 5:47


          Good! We can argue among ourselves and step aside from the NRA issues. After all, I hold no hope of changing the direction of that organization.

          I am fairly aware, for a person to whom all of the bad car-wreck is symptomatic rather than causal, that by ’61 a large percentage of Americans had been propagandized into extreme views.

          If we interviewed the opinions of those who volunteered for any of our wars, and their families, we would probably see a big difference between their “why” and what more objective analysts suggest were the aims of the politicians, economic interests and others who are the “deciders.”

        • Nathan Towne May 6, 2013 @ 7:58


          I would take it further. I think that the “Rich Man’s War” notion where the wealthy planter-class elite carried their states out of the Union and dragged the remaining population with them, is in ruins at this point. The amount of evidence that runs contrary to that position is enormous and I contest it everywhere I encounter it. It represents a basic, fundamental misunderstanding of the institution of slavery, its hold over white society, how slavery influenced the Secession Crisis and the forces that drove men to fight to their death to protect that institution.

          Nathan Towne

  • Brendan Bossard May 5, 2013 @ 14:59

    Kevin, as a full-time employee at a psychiatric hospital, I can tell you that Porter is not “crazy.” He may be True Believer in the Lost Cause, and embarrassing for the NRA’s cause, but he is not “crazy.” I will concede that to you when the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders includes Lost Causer as a diagnosis. 😉

    But seriously, like you, I am not comfortable at all with his apparent beliefs, even if it was meant as a joke. Also like you, I am not sure what to make of the response by the crowd recorded in the video. As a churchgoer, I have been in a few services where the speaker has said something quite embarrassing and not said anything during the service because it was not appropriate. If I were at this meeting, I probably would not have felt comfortable confronting him right there. I would, however, have written a strong letter or said something to him afterwards.

    As a Republican and someone who believes very strongly in the right to bear arms–though not a member of the NRA–I am very embarrassed by the fact that our leaders don’t just shut up and listen for once, or try well-intentioned but stupid stunts like commemorate MLK day with a celebration of the 2nd Amendment.

  • Scott Manning May 5, 2013 @ 13:38

    “The War of Northern Aggression” is a common term among white Southerners, even those who are not consciously part of the “Lost Cause.” If you guys want to reach anyone, then you need to stop calling people “bat shit crazy”. It is beneath historical/academic discourse.

    • Kevin Levin May 5, 2013 @ 13:40

      With all due respect, take it easy Scott. I only use this language on special occasions and today seemed fitting. I use it to characterize what Porter says beyond simply referring to the War of Northern Aggression. In fact, that is the least of my concerns here.

  • Pat Young May 5, 2013 @ 11:58

    For those historians who say the contest over the cause of the war has been won, just remember that Jim Porter will be heard by a lot more people than Jim McPherson over the next few years.

    • Kevin Levin May 5, 2013 @ 12:04

      No doubt.

  • Marooned May 5, 2013 @ 10:36

    Kevin, I’m glad you stepped into this. (Witty asides about exactly what you stepped into, will not be explored by me… here… now.)

    Mis-presentation of history is one of the features of mis-leading people. Of course, it is a tool usable by any person or group. One of the controls on the negative results of that misleading is open and effective examination and correction of the errors.

    In closed societies, there are not chances for objective reviews. So far, despite the money that funds setting up TV channels, websites and newspapers for the simple purpose of promoting specific viewpoints (see “FOX,” “The Blaze” and “Washington Times” and many more and buying real news outlets (see “Wall Street Journal” and the current efforts to buy the “Tribune” companies), we can still get some reality to Americans. However, for many reasons, it is getting more difficult. So, we need more citizen-reporters. People who will video or tape comments like those of Jim Porter. And people who will let more people know their extremist statements… Thanks, Kevin.

    Now, the even bigger and more fundamental problem; how do we give a better education to the next generation? Jim Porter is probably a lost-cause. So are millions of others who have been misled in their history and social understandings. What do we do to avoid more Jim Porters… and the other extremists of all types?

  • Jimmy Dick May 5, 2013 @ 7:37

    I agree with you, Kevin. He’s bat shit crazy. The entire leadership of the NRA is bat shit crazy. Listen to what they’re saying. They’re taking the concept of background checks and turning into a device to take people’s guns away. In the process they’re literally inciting armed rebellion. These people aren’t playing with a full deck. They’re turning the NRA into an extremist right wing prepper group. Look at their speakers. People that don’t know their history. Politicians who can’t win big elections like Santorum and Palin. Jackasses like Nugent who is a pedophile. They’re one step away from a big old fashioned KKK rally.

    I think anyone in the NRA who hasn’t left really needs to consider whether this group is really representing hunters and sportsmen. It sure as hell does not represent me and I’ve handled firearms since I was eight.

  • Chris Evans May 5, 2013 @ 7:04

    No, I don’t think he’s playing around.

    Plenty of people in the South over the years have thought that Lincoln was the equivalent of Hitler. He seems to be one of ’em.

    It’s interesting that the NRA leadership has switched around from Heston in the ’90s being proud of white Union soldiers dying to eradicate slavery to more of a pro Confederate leadership.

    I’m sure Rhett and Yancey are some of his American political heroes.


    • JosephineSouthern May 5, 2013 @ 7:28

      Well Golly, chris you are so sure of your self you must have written a book. I am one of those Southern Confederate Americans you all are talking about
      and yep It was The War of Northern Agression I am sure of that. We are in a different kind of war now and we must win this one for the good of all and save the Union.

      • Kevin Levin May 5, 2013 @ 8:29

        Couldn’t resist allowing one comment from JS on this particular post. Rest assured, that will be it for her. Can’t have too much bat shit crazy on this blog.

      • Nathan Towne May 5, 2013 @ 12:30

        Well Josephine, actually I can attest to Chris Evans knowledge of the American Civil War era as I read his comments over at Chickamauga Blog and Civil War Books and Authors.

        I have also been very disappointed with the NRA’s position with regards to the war over the last few years. It is entirely uncalled for.

        Nathan Towne

        • Chris Evans May 6, 2013 @ 5:40

          Thanks Nathan.

          As someone that has studied the Civil War for 25 years I don’t pull opinions on the war just out of the air.


  • Al Mackey May 5, 2013 @ 6:26

    I don’t know, Kevin. That could be what he really believes about the Civil War, or he could have just been playing around with that reference. With only one instance I think we’re a bit hasty in making that judgment.

    • Kevin Levin May 5, 2013 @ 6:29

      Perhaps, but until I hear something different I am willing to take Porter at his word. Like I said I am more interested in the response (or lack thereof) from the audience. Would be interesting to have more of the video.

    • Andy Hall May 5, 2013 @ 6:39

      He’s from Alabama, and is of the right age to have heard the phrase “War of Northern Aggression” throughout his life. That phrase is about the same age as Porter is, but I doubt either he or his audience know or care.

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