If you’re a fan of the rap group/radical-left hype-men Run the Jewels, you may have been surprised by the news this weekend. Rapper Killer Mike, who forms one-half of Run the Jewels with El-P, gave an interview with the NRATV host Colion Noir in which he seemed to agree with the NRA and guns-right activists that new gun-control laws are not a solution to gun violence, separating himself from the progressive left that he has often acted as a celebrity spokesman for. In the interview, Killer Mike accused guns rights activists of being “lackey[s] of the progressive movement,” adding that “I told my kids on the school walkout: ‘I love you — if you walk out that school, walk out my house.’”
To be fair, Killer Mike was not simply aping the NRA’s incendiary rhetoric — he was trying to make an argument about the need specifically for African-Americans in poorly-policed areas to be prepared to defend themselves against threats. Killer Mike apologized in two videos he filmed at home soon after the NRATV interview was posted online, saying that he had unintentionally allowed the NRA to post the video as a counter to the March for Our Lives on Saturday, March 24, a protest which he called “a very noble campaign that I actually support.” However, he has chosen to explicitly align himself with gun-rights activists in the past: he said on Tavis Smiley’s show on PBS last year that “White men don’t want to give up their guns, and I’m with that. If you don’t want to give up your guns, and I have that right — not privilege — but I have that right too, then I’m standing on your side of the room when they say, ‘Who’s for guns?’”
A less surprising attack on gun control activists came from Jesse Hughes, the frontman of Eagles of Death Metal. Hughes and the rest of the band were actually present during a mass shooting in 2015, when their show at the Bataclan Theatre in Paris was interrupted by armed attackers who killed nearly 90 people — part of the coordinated attacks in Paris of November 2015, which ISIS claimed responsibility for. After a brief period of prayer-tweeting and donation-collecting, Hughes began claiming that the Muslim security at the Bataclan probably knew about the attack beforehand, a claim he made, apologized for and then continued to make publicly.
After the March for Our Lives, Hughes called the protesters “vile abusers of the dead” in a long post on Instagram and hoped that they would “live as long as possible so they can have the maximum amount of time to endure their shame….and be Cursed…,” a truly bizarre condemnation. Hughes also called himself a “survivor of a mass shooting,” which seemed intended to discredit those at the march who hadn’t actually been present at one — and as for the Parkland survivors, they were “playing hooky at the expense of 16 of your classmates blood,” as if their protesting itself was responsible for their friends’ deaths. Hughes also threw a “Long Live Rock’n’Roll” into the middle of his mocking of teenage mass-shooting survivors, for good measure.
Lots of things differentiate these two cases. The two artists come from opposing political viewpoints, even if there views converge to some extent on this topic. Perhaps the most important difference, however, is in their relationship to their own opinions. Killer Mike sees himself as in-progress; he admits to mistakes and apologizes. Hughes, on the other hand, has no self-checking mechanism to counter his bluster. He denigrates and smears his opponents, including tweeting the fake, Photoshopped image of Parkland survivor Emma González tearing the U.S. Constitution in two that has been circling in alt-right online communities after the March for Our Lives. And his apologies are insincere and irreversible, as they were in the case of his racist accusation about the Bataclan security guards.
If there’s anything to learn from these roundly unimpressive takes, it comes from Killer Mike’s willingness to reexamine his words and actions, and to treat debate as an opportunity to reconsider rather than a zero-sum game of verbal assault.
Jack Jones is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column Despite all the Amputations runs alternate Tuesdays this semester.