You might think that Emma Gonzalez and her story of surviving the Parkland massacre as being universally inspiring–but, unfortunately, you’d be wrong. Like many events observed by the far-right media, their political agenda deeply overrides reality.
Gonzalez’s activism has of course inspired many, but the far-right has painted her with the colors of a villain. A altered GIF shows Gonzalez ripping up the US Constitution. Problem is the video, and the photos that spawned from it, are completely fabricated.
The motive seems clear, to discredit Gonzalez by associating her with a defeated Constitution. This has brought all the Second Amendment “activists” out of the woodwork.
A significant part of the conservative narrative is that violating the Constitution is the ultimate transgression. That narrative has helped spur “originalist” readings of the Constitution, but what we’re seeing here goes beyond organized efforts in the past by the Republican party to support the NRA and its members. Twitter is a place for vile mutations of actual events to spread like a fire catching the wind. So we have social media, originalist interpretations of the Constitution, and easily manipulated conservatives being brainwashed by photos of doctored animations. This is a recipe for complete disaster.
Why should you be worried about this? Two reasons, I think (at least). The first is that the “originalist” ideology nurtured by Republican politicians and voters relies on a tortured sense of deviance from an ideal. The Constitution is the supposed ideal one should aspire to, to many conservatives it isn’t just the “social contract that you buy into, so I must buy into it, and thus your ideology has to be consistent with the contract.” No. To them, the Constitution is yet another convenient appeal to authority that props up various cultural values. Rather than making objective analyses of various portions of the Constitution and making inferences of what the law should be based off that reasoning, the originalist sentiment merely imports various values and stretches the vague enough architecture provided by “the founding fathers” to allow those values to fit.
But paragraphs stitched together in time aren’t necessarily the best road map for a peaceful state. They still need to be placed in the proper context. And what I have noticed among many conservatives (not all of them) is that they apply weights to what is the most important portion of the Constitution. For instance, you often get the sense that their in-the-moment thinking will place the Second Amendment above the First Amendment. Here we’re forced to enter the conservative mind. Does context cease to matter, then? They press so hard for a singular right that you wonder if the First Amendment matters to them at all, unless it’s to reinforce whatever dribble about how the Second Amendment is vital for a functioning democracy.
The typical line of reasoning from many on the right is that the Second Amendment allows one to carry arms in case the government becomes tyrannical, and that this should be the basis for their continued right to bear arms. If we stretch our imaginations to fit this narrative, then the existence of the Second Amendment would be vital to the survival of a robust democracy. It’s hard to say that for many of them, their rationalizations are so grand, but there are Republican pundits of pseudo-intellectualism that peddle that coded language. And that’s what the attacks on Emma Gonzalez by the far right are. Coded language. They might not understand the code, but it’s there to be read loud and clear. Ripping up the US Constitution is considered deviant, a perversion. So then that person will be seen as a perversion too.
This ideology of perversion isn’t a new one on the right. It’s existed for decades, and even has been promoted by outside influencers, namely Russia. Russia has pushed this murky arena of traditional values into the American arena, claiming it is a paragon of “traditional” values, and that the West is mired in a “genderless and infertile” liberal ideology. While we can say Putin manipulated an existing framework, that conservatives already believed in the inherent inferiority and perversion of liberalism, sometimes troll-churned poetry can instill and crystallize those values, giving them a resilience they might not have otherwise had. You have to admit, it’s probably pleasing to the conservative eye. There’s a peculiar aesthetic to “genderless and infertile.” It evokes a distinct imagery, dredges up decade-old associations. But basically, it’s a shaming tactic.
This probably seems a little far-fetched. At the beginning of this article, we started talking about how Emma Gonzalez was assailed by the far-right twittermongers. Then came the Second Amendment, which naturally led us to Putin? Putin, however, is no stranger to conservatism and has courted its adherents for some time. He’s moved from the backwaters of providing a scaffolding for a flailing ideology to the shaming of a school shooting survivor. Except Putin didn’t even have to lift a finger. Twitter distortion existed well before that moment when Emma Gonzales really just tore up a poster, but it swelled during the Trump campaign, and there’s a shaming surrealism to the whole political arena now that struggled find its feet during Bush’s two-term presidency, propped itself up on its knees during the Obama years, and finally grew to full maturity under the Trump administration.
While Putin’s poetry seems irrelevant to arguments surrounding the Second Amendment, keep in mind that the words he provided, which sounded vaguely biblical, helped to propel conservatism to the present. Like a fly, it smacked onto the brittle pages of the Constitution, seeking more biblical seeming language to give it strength. The shaming surrealism is part of a mixture, one that feeds off the Constitution, coded language, magical poetry, and whatever else can be thrown together to form a semi-cohesive whole. Let’s not forget the role social media plays in all of this. One of these pieces could fall by the wayside, and the semi-cohesive whole could still exist. Take away the social media, Twitter/Facebook/etc, and the scaffolding becomes much less secure. That evolution I just talked about? Not finished. Not by a long-shot. There will be plenty more mutations of conservatism to watch out for, and they’re appearing on the edge of your horizon.