U.S. Representative Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) has enjoyed a relatively glowing reception from right-wing media since his election to Congress. But that honeymoon period may come to a very swift end, in what could be the single biggest political casualty of the “red flag” law movement.
The freshman congressman and former Navy SEAL is no stranger to endorsing positions that invite criticism from his right, including his support for keeping U.S. troops in Syria indefinitely and his winks and nods to believers in the Russian collusion hoax.
But following the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, earlier this month, Crenshaw offered support for what may be his most controversial position yet, “red flag” legislation. Although “red flag” laws ostensibly are aimed at keeping deadly weapons out of the hands of unstable individuals, in practice they are notorious for trammeling upon due process and Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners.
After widespread social media backlash over his stance, Crenshaw attempted to explain himself in a Periscope video on Twitter. But that only made things worse. Crenshaw fell back on what he termed “a great study by the Cato Institute” he claimed supported his position, without citing the exact study or explaining how it backed up his claims.
Crenshaw’s attempted explanation did little to prove his point or assuage the concerns of traditional conservatives. The video prompted a response from Kaitlin Bennett, the Kent State University graduate and Second Amendment activist whose pre-commencement photos depicting her with an AR-10 on campus went viral last year.
Bennett, who now works for the websites Liberty Hangout and Infowars, on Twitter declared that “the ghost of John McCain lives on in Dan Crenshaw,” adding that Crenshaw has “already sold out to the gun-grabbers.”
In response, Crenshaw messaged Bennett directly in an attempt to justify himself and to address her criticisms privately. Bennett eventually posted screenshots of the messages, further expanding upon them in a video on YouTube published Monday.
In the exchange, Crenshaw accuses Bennett of playing “victimhood politics” in her videos depicting her travels to such far-left events as Bernie Sanders and Antifa rallies. Crenshaw went on to claim that her efforts do not “actually persuade anyone to be on our side.” He also claims that Bennett “distort[ed] my views,” without citing any examples of how that is the case. After all, she publicized his own messages to her.
Bennett went on to explain her concerns in response, emphasizing that Crenshaw, as an elected official, has far more sway over policy and public opinion than she does as an unelected person. She further notes that her concerns are shared by many conservatives and Second Amendment advocates around the country—which is why she wanted to bring her objections to Crenshaw’s attention in the first place.
Crenshaw chose to escalate, and accused Bennett of simply seeking “attention, not advocacy.” He repeated his claim that she engages in “victimhood politics” akin to the Left’s identity politics.
He added that Bennett’s “public insults” made him less likely to listen to her, even though he continued to message her privately as he said this. He further “warned” her that her activism would only lead to a failure to “persuade anyone,” and that she would “drive out [her] allies” and “alienate people.”
He then proceeded to “cite” the same unnamed Cato Institute study again, twice.
Not With the Times
Here’s why Crenshaw’s rejoinder to Bennett fails.
Normally, any citation of a Cato Institute study from a supposed “conservative” should elicit skepticism. On the subject of red flag laws, however, Cato actually disagrees with Crenshaw. The think tank’s most recent posts and studies on the subject come to the general conclusion that red-flag laws are responsible for flagrant violations of due process and Second Amendment rights.
This only further highlights Crenshaw’s failure to cite an exact study and weakens his argument even more. Is he bluffing? Why so vague? And what’s with his tone with this young woman?
Crenshaw attempted to deflect Bennett’s criticisms with classic projection. In his original Periscope video on red flag laws, he snarkily remarked that “a lot of memes” that were made in mockery of him “could have been improved.” Well, so could his own rhetoric.
In his direct messages, Crenshaw refers repeatedly to her public “insults” of him as making him less likely to talk to her—yet he was doing just that in a series of private communications.
But by far the most egregious of Crenshaw’s non-arguments are found in his criticisms of Bennett’s style of activism. Although her style can be compared to many other previous “man-on-the-street” shticks—including those of Jesse Watters at Fox News, Cabot Phillips at Campus Reform, and Will Witt at PragerU—there is more gravity to some of Bennett’s videos, specifically because of the dangerous locations to which she travels.
On multiple occasions, from a Pete Buttigieg rally, to a Bernie Sanders rally, to a gay pride march, videos depicting Bennett being harassed, ejected, and even assaulted by leftists are quite effective in demonstrating the depravity of the opposition. This is much more effective than other man-on-the-street videos simply displaying leftists giving stupid answers. While a regular person may scoff at yet another video of some empty-headed leftist not knowing how many states are in America, that same person will probably be more impressed by a video of a young girl being yelled at and attacked just for asking questions.
Crenshaw’s criticism of this tactic proves how out-of-touch he is with the changing times, especially regarding youth activism on the Right. His claim that this activism “doesn’t persuade anyone” is a page taken straight out of the Nikki Haley playbook that “owning the libs” is somehow a bad thing, and that conservatives should instead prefer to lose with dignity rather than, you know, win. How much, exactly, does Dan Crenshaw know about persuasion?
Like Haley, Crenshaw foolishly believes that this activism is meant to “convince” the people at pride parades or Sanders rallies, when obviously that is not the objective. No one in her right mind expects to convince Anarcho-Communists suddenly to turn around and start believing in “conservative principles” by asking rhetorical questions about how many genders there are.
The point is not to persuade these people but to put the Left’s full vitriol on display so that the viewing audience—presumably consisting of more moderate voters and sensible people—will see this and be discouraged from supporting the Left, with all its violence, hate, and anti-Americanism.
The only thing more pathetic than Crenshaw’s failure to understand this is the fact that he chose to get so touchy and angry in response to Bennett, rather than actually focusing on the subject that started their conversation in the first place: His support for a type of gun law that President Trump has already ruled out of consideration.
A Perpetual Victim
It would be an overstatement to say that this exchange proves Crenshaw to be all bark and no bite, if only because he doesn’t even have much of a bark either.
This rather naïve and immature rhetoric, all in the name of defending an objectively awful stance on the Second Amendment, should not be too much of a surprise. After all, Crenshaw did not rise to prominence by being a bold kind of new Republican or by vowing to fight the culture war; he only became famous because he was the subject of a distasteful (and not to mention unfunny) joke on “Saturday Night Live.”
Conservatives blindly rallied behind him in typical knee-jerk reaction in opposition to SNL’s dumb joke and their perceived slight of America’s military, which conservatives rightly (though perhaps too readily) are inclined to defend at every turn. This automatically made Crenshaw a hero of the Right, though without much scrutiny of his actual views. Ironically, one might even say that Crenshaw became a household name because of a scenario in which he played the victim.
It’s now safe to say that Crenshaw can no longer depend on free publicity from an unrelated incident to give him automatic support from around the country. Now everyone can see that once the spotlight is on him, and he must step up and defend the merits of his own beliefs, he is perfectly comfortable to resort to petty insults that are every bit as weak as Pete Davidson’s “hitman in a porno movie.”