The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Calling for civility, Ted Nugent explains why he once told Obama to ‘suck on my machine gun.’

Longtime rocker Ted Nugent speaks to a crowd of Greg Abbott supporters during a campaign stop in Wichita Falls, Tex., Feb. 18, 2014. (Torin Halsey/Associated Press)
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Musician Ted Nugent is known for speaking his mind about the Second Amendment and hunting, but especially on politicians. He once said then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama should “suck my machine gun.” When President Obama was running for reelection in 2012, the rocker said during the National Rifle Association convention that, “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.” The statement attracted the attention of the Secret Service.

But after Wednesday's shooting at a congressional baseball practice, Nugent has decided to be “more selective with my rants and in my words.”

“At the tender age of 69, my wife has convinced me I just can’t use those harsh terms,” he said on the 77 WABC radio program Thursday. “I cannot and will not and I encourage even my friends, slash, enemies on the left, in the Democrat and liberal world, that we have got to be civil to each other.”

“I'm not going to engage in that kind of hateful rhetoric anymore.”

More recently his past comments about Obama and Hillary Clinton (“Obama & Clinton, that's who. They should be tried for treason & hung.") were invoked as what some saw as the right's hypocritical outrage over images of Kathy Griffin holding a mask of a bloody, severed head in the likeness of President Trump.

Nugent's change of heart comes as some Republicans and Democrats have also called for more civil tone in the political discourse. (Meanwhile, the Internet's pro-Trump personalities blamed the attack on liberals and the media).

Politicians in Washington responded to the attack on the Republican baseball team on June 14 with messages of grief, gratitude and unity. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Mark Wilson/The Washington Post)

President Trump called for national unity after Wednesday's shooting, winning praise from even his late night show critics Stephen Colbert, who thanked the president for “responding to this act of terror in a way that gives us hope, whatever our differences.” (Trump would soon be back at tweeting about “the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history.")

At the Congressional Baseball Game Thursday evening, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) told CNN that “What we're trying to do is tone down the rhetoric, lead by example and show people we can disagree with one another, we can have different ideas without being vitriolic, without going to such extremes.” Standing next to Ryan, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, “Tonight we're all Team Scalise,” referring to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who was shot during the attack and was reported to be in a critical condition.

Greg Gianforte, Montana's incoming congressman who had recently been convicted of assaulting a reporter, told the Associated Press that, “It’s important to make sure we reach out to all parties and hear their voice. I think the other parties have an obligation, as well, to be respectful and in that dialogue.”

And Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), who was on the baseball field during the shooting, condemned what he called “political, rhetorical terrorism” practiced by both sides.

“Is this America’s breaking point?” he asked on CNN. “It’s my breaking point. We’ve got to end this.”

For Nugent, this isn't the first time he has talked about his language.

In 2014, he apologized for calling President Obama a “subhuman mongrel” after a backlash that included criticism from Republican senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.

“I apologize for using the street-fighter terminology of ‘subhuman mongrel’ instead of just using more understandable language, such as ‘violator of his oath to the Constitution,’ ‘the liar that he is.’ ”
Following Thursday's radio interview, the rock guitarist went live on a Facebook video to continue explaining his decision.

“I'm not backing down jack squat,” he said, but was taking action “so some idiot doesn't misinterpret that I'm recommending violence.”

Posted by Ted Nugent on Thursday, June 15, 2017

On Sunday, Nugent told "Fox & Friends" that his machine gun statement "was a direct response to the liberal Democrats — Obama and Clinton, et al — to ban certain types of firearms, violating their oath to the Constitution and the Second Amendment.”

“That was a metaphor and nobody is too stupid not to know that,” he said. "But the left is so dishonest that they have misrepresented that."

Asked if people on both sides of the aisle will follow his lead, Nugent said that he has "not seen any gesture whatsoever from the left."

“It looks to me that they are going to burn down buildings if they disagree with your speech, and they're still going to turn over cars and attack people if they don’t agree with you,” he added.

Other conservatives have also tried to place the onus on the left.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) pointed to what he called “an increasing hostility on the left.”

“Maybe this is a moment when everybody takes a step back, but there is no evidence of it.”

And as The Post's Dan Balz wrote, the recent calls for a break from hostilities might not last.

Wednesday’s shootings can act as a temporary circuit breaker to some of the hostilities, and Thursday’s Congressional Baseball Game can become an emotional and poignant coming together. But will that be enough to prevent a swift return to the kind of debilitating political conflict that has become so accepted as the norm? History shows how difficult that could be.

This story has been updated.