Jesse Hughes’ music with Eagles of Death Metal is seductive – bluesy, horny garage-punk that takes you from the dance floor and leads you deliciously astray – but his warped approach to gun control has become more and more repugnant. In the wake of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, which on February 14 saw 17 innocent people murdered by a teenage gunman in Parkland, Florida, he has criticised the students who responded to the attack with protests and walk-outs.
Last week, all over America, students joined pro-gun control March For Our Lives rallies and expressed their disgust at the NRA, resistance to gun reform and the ease with which the perpeprator of this most recent, deplorable attack acquired the firearm that he used to commited murder. Meanwhile, Walmart has pledged not sell guns to anyone under the age of 21, while Dick’s Sporting Goods has scrapped the sale of “assault-style rifles”. Parkland survivor Emma González went viral when she paid tribute to her fallen classmates.
It feels as though US gun violence has finally reached critical mass, and that we are at last seeing progress, with hope that the country’s insanely lax attitude toward firearm ownership could, in the fullness of time, be rectified. What Jesse Hughes sees, though, is a “pathetic and disgusting’ movement that sees “vile abusers of the dead” exploit their murdered classmates for a few days off school. González, he says, is “the awful face of treason” and a “survivor of nothing”.
He expressed the disheartening views via three new Instagram posts, two of which have now been deleted. The one post that remains is a satirical cartoon that likens gun owners who relinquish their firearms to a man who has removed his penis in a doomed attempt to “stop rape”. Hughes claims that he espouses these opinions with the superior insight of “a survivor of a mass shooting”.
No-one can imagine how it feels to have been in the Bataclan on November 13 2015, when armed killers entered the Parisian venue and shot dead 89 music lovers. Hughes, who was onstage with Eagles of Death Metal that night, later gave interviews in which he claimed – ludicrously – that the attack (which radicalised Islamic terorrist group ISIS claimed responsibility for) was an inside job, implicating the Bataclan’s security guards.
He subsequently apologised for the conspiracy theory with a statement that read: “I humbly beg forgiveness from the people of France, the staff and security of the Bataclan, my fans, family, friends and anyone else hurt or offended by the absurd accusations I made.” Shortly afterwards, though, taki.com published a grotesque interview with Hughes that repeated the allegations, throwing in broad, baseless Islamophobia for good measure. Just as Donald Trump once claimed that he watched “thousands and thousands” celebrate 9/11, Hughes told taki.com: “I saw Muslims celebrating in the street during the attack… How did they know what was going on? There must have been coordination.”
Two things to remember here. One: no-one said your favourite rock star can’t be problematic. Two: Hughes has previously put his most reductive and irresponsible comments down to PTSD. It’s impossible to overstate the amount of empathy and understanding we must extend to those who’ve experienced what Jesse Hughes has experienced. We are witnessing, though, a historic period in America’s relationship with firearms – the March For Ours Lives rallies have widely been likened to protests against the Vietnam War – and, at such a crucial time, his warped declarations become outright dangerous.
Contrariness has been Jesse Hughes’ stock-in-trade since he formed Eagles of Death Metal with Josh Homme back in 1998. He’s the ordained pastor that loves super-strength speed, the unabashed right-winger that revels in cutting swathes through the typically liberal, left-wing world of entertainment (though, after the fall-out from those Instagram posts, he’s now vowed to keep his music and politics separate). Pre-Bataclan, he told the now-defunct website grantland.com, for instance, that it’s “sexist” for women to be Hollywood action heroes. I was once backstage at a European music festival and overheard him explain that ET is an allegory about a paedophile.
Before the Bataclan attack, Hughes was simply known as an entertaining (if often offensive) interviewee. And no-one can truly understand how scarring it must be to have stood onstage at the Bataclan and see innocent people get gunned down by terrorists. But when Jesse Hughes’ insensitive statements pour scorn on brave teenagers who have survived terror and are now attempting to effect positive change, it’s time to tune out and focus on the good that is occurring elsewhere.