Eric Greitens’s streak of being terrible continues.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A disgraced former governor with a documented history of alleged physical and mental abuse films a campaign ad where he carries a shotgun, flanked by similarly armed shock troops in fatigues, as he bursts into someone’s home and calls for his supporters to pick up their “permit” to “hunt” a whole class of political enemies. Funny, right?
Evidently, if you’re aspiring Republican senator Eric Greitens it is. And if you’re not so keen on an overt call for political violence? Well, Greitens would like you to know that the joke’s actually on you. Ha ha ha, sucker!
“I don’t think there is a real person in Missouri who thinks about it literally — not one,” Greitens told Kansas City’s KCMO talk radio station Tuesday, insisting instead that his newly released “RINO [Republican In Name Only] Hunting Permit” ad was just “a metaphor” with “a sense of humor” and “every normal person around the state of Missouri saw that.”
See, it’s comedy!
Mic reached out to Greitens’s press office for comment on the ad but did not receive an immediate response. But Greitens, a former Navy SEAL who resigned as Missouri’s governor in 2018 to stave off a looming impeachment vote following credible allegations of sexual abuse and financial misdealings, is hardly alone in this sort of political double-speak. He is, in fact, drawing from the same playbook as literal neo-Nazis, who — in the case of their premier online publication The Daily Stormer — explicitly instructed contributors to cloak their calls for violence in the guise of humor.
“The tone of the site should be light,” The Daily Stormer’s style guide read. “Most people are not comfortable with material that comes across as vitriolic, raging, nonironic hatred. The unindoctrinated should not be able to tell if we are joking or not.”
Same too with the extremist movement the Boogaloo Boys, whose use of Hawaiian shirts as their unofficial uniform is designed to cover their obvious threat of violence in a harmless floral pattern. “That confusion is what they’re trying to exploit, which means it’s important to keep an eye on the big picture, or what’s right in front of you,” explained extremist expert and Brooklyn Institute of Social Research member Patrick Blanchfield to The New York Times. “If you see an image of a man wearing tactical gear with a gun and a Hawaiian shirt, the most salient thing there is that the guy has a gun and tactical gear.”
That Greitens is insulting the intelligence of anyone with a functioning brain by claiming his obvious call for violence is just a big political joke isn’t the point here. What’s important is that he’s doing so by using the same method of plausible deniability “wink wink nudge nudge” favorited by the very people most inclined to see his ad for what it truly is: a direct call to them to take up arms against their enemies. He even doubled down two days after his campaign released the initial ad, with a brief, shouty Twitter video laughing at “liberals and RINOs” who “lost their minds” (“another metaphor,” he snarked) over his extremely hilarious call for political violence — and then, in the same 36-second clip, once again called for “strong, conservative, freedom-loving patriots” to “stand up” for gun rights. It’s not exactly subtle stuff here.
Greitens, an experienced political operator, knows this of course. That’s the point. He not trying to amuse or entertain voters with this “metaphor.” If there’s a joke here, he sure hasn’t explained what it is. Instead, he is counting on enough people buying his “aw shucks” folksy excuse to give his real audience — the ones whom he knows know that he’s not actually just goofin’ around — cover to act out on his behalf.
It’s well beyond innuendo and suggestion. This sort of messaging is hamfisted and overt. And no matter what Greitens says, it’s not actually funny at all.