At an evangelical church in Mesquite, Texas, Rachel Malone, the Texas Legislative Director for Gun Owners of America, bounces a blonde toddler on her hip. In response to a wordless protest, she sweeps the hair from his forehead, kisses it, and says, “I need to teach some nice people about Freedom, honey.”
It was lunch break at the 2021 Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association of North Texas Conference, held on a sunny Saturday in October. Tables in the lobby advertised the John Birch Society, Gun Owners of America, and a group opposing animal abuse. In the downstairs rec room – familiar to any Christian as the place where Bible study and children’s plays happen – BBQ was being served buffet-style. As the participants – mostly, but not entirely, middle-aged and white men and women – settled down with their brisket and potato salad, Malone strode to the front. With her long, brown hair framing a small face and librarian glasses, she looks like an elementary school teacher. Except that underneath her flowing, high-necked dress, she carried a handgun.
She begins her presentation in a loud, clear voice. “There’s so much at the federal level that is super-depressing,” she began, sounding like an innumerable number of Instagram influencers who post about how hard it is to get your kids ready in the morning.
But then, after acknowledging the collective disappointment and pain of the far-right people in the room, she moved on to a sunnier topic: “You, the grassroots, you have power. In fact, you have a superpower! There is a superpower of the grassroots!”
The main idea behind her presentation was that the audience – those of us who had given up a sunny Saturday to sit in a church basement – could lobby Texas legislators in order to get laws passed that would make it easier for people to own guns. This is what makes her different. She’s not angry. She punctuates her Facebook posts with hearts. She thanks legislators for working with her. Her examples: single mothers who want to carry handguns to protect themselves from violent ex-partners. She scoops up her toddler who was protesting in another woman’s lap and continues to speak in positive, inspiring tones.
The energy in the room changed. Some of it could have been that the audience has been listening all day to men who were angry. The walls had vibrated all morning with their righteous rage. We were all tired. Malone brought a sunny disposition and a message of hope. Her ideas, moreover, were the same as anything I have heard in the social justice sphere: if people organize, they can get the legislature to cave to their will.
Malone’s larger argument is, of course, about guns, and on this, she is an evangelist. Her point: People who oppose “Constitutional carry” (also called “permitless carry” – basically, being able to carry a firearm without first obtaining a license, whether concealed or open) simply don’t understand what it means.
Malone has been the executive director for the Texas chapter of Gun Owners of American for 3 years and quickly became one of the most influential people in the Texas legislature today. It was Malone who pushed for and won, the recent “Constitutional Carry” bill (HB1927), which eliminated all gun licensing requirements in the state, by rallying people to appear at multiple hearings and testify across the state for the past two years. She calls it “the victory of the century” that repealed “150 years of tyranny.” (She properly points out that 4 years ago, “Constitutional carry” looked impossible. Only 4 Senators and the Speaker initially supported HB1927, who worked alongside grassroots groups to get it passed.)
She does all of this by appealing to a large tent of people. And she does it really well. A lot of what she preaches sounds, well, kind of like criminal justice organizations I know arguing for bipartisan consensus. For example, in a piece called “Gun Rights Are for Everyone,” she wrote:
For background, Gun Owners of America (aka “GOA”) is the largest of what are often called “no compromise” gun groups – they support no regulations on firearms whatsoever, nor any regulations on silencers, ammunition, etc etc. Their vision of the Second Amendment is very extreme and out-of-step with most popular polls (which show that many people support firearm restrictions like licenses and background checks). They also don’t have the money or mainstream political prestige of the NRA. But, what they do have is a lot of people and a clear mission. With a single-minded focus and a lack of regard for mainstream Republican politics (whatever that is anymore), GOA is able to harness many different people who, for whatever reason, are extremely attracted to unfettered access to firearms.
While much has been written – on the right and in the mainstream left outlets – about the NRA and its expensive-suit-wearing president Wayne La Pierre, GOA is far from lacking in problematic leaders and associations – Larry Pratt, the founder who hired Malone, is linked to Christian Reconstructionism, a faith that justifies white supremacy. Pratt is also connected to “Sheriff” Richard Mack of the CSPOA – Mack was an early lobbyist for GOA. (While Malone is a Christian, she hasn’t said anything direct about Christian Reconstructionism. She does provide bromides like “there is evil in the world” as a way to justify guns.)
Malone is the new face of the movement for gun rights. Growing up in Texas, Malone studied classical music and was not a gun person until 2011 when she says, she was shocked to find out that an open-carry bill had not passed the Texas Senate. Framing her interest in terms of Constitutional rights and freedom, Malone began her journey working for the Texas Republican party, eventually landing her at GOA.
Malone is also, quite frankly, a compelling speaker who has honed her message well. When I heard her talk, I thought about Seyward Darby’s book Sisters in Hate and her new introduction which takes pains to point out that the rise of women in the far-right has been ignored by many because of their specific roles and mediums – namely social media.
At the end of her talk, Malone emphasized the need to show up but also “sharing your story” and not “cussing people out” or “causing riots.” In essence, she is teaching the far-right how to be better organizers.
I’ve thought about this a lot in light of recent criminal trials, discussions about guns, and what that means for self-defense. Many people I know, many well-meaning left-leaning people, many people just like me, have a tendency to demonize both the policies and the people behind them. But that instinct ignores how organizing happens. It simply isn’t good enough, or true, to simply call people “stupid” or “wrong-headed.” They really aren’t. They have policies that are incredibly dangerous for many people in America, policies that support white supremacy and are directly related to white supremacy. But, ignoring the tactics and strategy is not an option.