Don’t Tread on our Gas Stoves: The Latest Right-Wing Cause May Be Silly But the Strategy is the Point

Boo. Image: James Rhodes/Flickr

Conservatives are ready to die for gas stoves. Yes, you read that correctly: They aren’t just willing to die on the hill of cooking with gas stoves, but to actually die—at least, if the “humorous” responses of right-wing influencers are to be believed. Here, for example, is what self-appointed “theocratic fascist” Matt Walsh declared on Twitter:

“You will have to pry my gas stove from my cold dead hands.” 

Others, like influential right-wing Twitter-user “Catturd,” are willing to endanger themselves explicitly

“Dear Liberals…I turned on all my gas stove eyes today and let them burn for no reason—and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it but cry.” 

Ron DeSantis is willing to imply defending gas stoves with weapons by lifting a sign of a modified Gadsen “Don’t tread on me” flag featuring a gas stove rather than the traditional rattlesnake, proclaiming

“You’re not taking our gas stoves away from us!” 

So what has spurred this ferocious defense of gas stoves by what feels like the entire conservative and right-wing media ecosystem? In response to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s recently published study examining the significant health risks of gas stoves, a discussion followed about how incentivizing people to buy electric stoves instead of gas stoves would benefit both the consumer’s health and the environment. 

The commission itself has since published a statement that makes it clear that they do not intend to ban gas stoves altogether. And while there’s been some criticism regarding the study cited by the commission, scientists largely agree on certain health and climate risks attributed to gas stoves. But that hasn’t stopped conservatives from taking up the mantle of Defenders of the Gas Stove. 

To those not immersed in conservative US politics, it might seem strange, or even silly, to take the “come and take it” posture on guns and apply it to gas stoves. But Sean Hannity and others are fully leaning into it, painting this as the latest attempt by the Biden administration to invade the most private of spaces—the home: 

“Now not only is Biden coming for your paycheck, but he’s also coming for your stove. … These radical extremists in the Democratic Party, they, of course, they want to control the way—what, you now cook?” 

And, while right-wingers flooding Twitter with photos of dry, gray, boiled steaks isn’t likely to many anyone’s mouth water, what seems like a silly or even pathetic attempt to frame Democratic politicians as evil tyrants is just the latest token issue in the culture wars the Right has been waging for decades. The gas stove simply serves as the latest symbol of “the real America,” which is under threat by the political enemy. It also provides yet another chance to rail against “the religion of environmentalism;” or, as Fox News host Stuart Varney put it: 

“The Greens demand that you worship at their church.”

“Culture wars” structurally follow the same pattern, no matter what decade they take place in. They define a struggle over issues, values, and even objects perceived as being central, essential even, to national identity—which means that the topic is interchangeable. It also means that it can be banal or even comical. Let’s not forget Tucker Carlson’s rant about the green M&M not looking sexy enough anymore. And yet, while the fights picked by the Right seem downright bizarre or unhinged (see the Mr. Potato Head-outrage), they’re quite effective—even beyond their own bubble. 

Take the outrage at the possibility of—gasp!—lesbian M&Ms, or the change in the green M&Ms’ footwear. The wrath about the animated M&M mascots, perhaps due to its effect on sales, has led the company to announce that they will be discontinuing their mascots. Which again, might seem bizarre to even mention. But what is significant is what it communicates to the Right: that their collective indignation and anger is a powerful force that can achieve something. It also shows how effective it is to bind people together in anger over the same issue, and how effective “culture wars” topics are to activate the base.

But it would also be short-sighted to believe that the culture wars are strictly limited to cultural topics; that they’re simple rhetorical demands and are therefore easy to dismiss. No, culture wars have real, legislative consequences, particularly once the party that peddles them comes into power, as various anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-history bills across the country have shown. And this strategy is so predictable because the culture war perspective frames any progress or change that’s perceived to threaten White Christian patriarchal rule as something to be cracked down on—in the public arena, but also legislatively. 

This frame often manifests as self-defense against the allegedly tyrannical impulses of the political opposition. Tucker Carlson, for example, called for “mass disobedience in the face of tyranny”; Ted Cruz spoke of “authoritarian impulses” of the Democratic Party; and “the Gateway Pundit” tied it into the antisemitic conspiracy theory that lies at the heart of so much of the Right’s rhetoric [italics mine]: 

“The abrupt push by Democrats led by the Biden Regime to ban gas stoves has enraged and confused Americans across the country. … Certainly looks like the Regime and its fellow Democrats have received marching orders from their globalist masters.”

Like the refusal of so many on the Right to wear masks during the pandemic, even if it endangered their own lives or the lives of their loved ones, the Right’s defiant impulse to sniff gas from their stoves to “own the libs” provides them with the opportunity to feel like the righteous few in courageous rebellion against “the government,” while also encouraging their audience to see every issue through the lens of culture wars—all of which renders an actual discussion impossible. This isn’t about facts, numbers or content, it’s about identity—national identity, to be precise. 

So while the urge to laugh is understandable when Ted Cruz proposes doomsday scenarios—“First gas stoves, then your coffee, now they’re gunning for your Xbox”—let’s not lose sight of what this latest outrage is meant to facilitate: to turn any cultural change, however small, into a story of victimization. This is the powerful driving force behind the Right’s grievances, and it provides them with permission to “hit back” as a form of “defense.” 

By framing change or progress as an existential threat, the Right creates a siege mentality which is essential to the victimization narrative—no easy thing to do if your movement is experiencing a good deal of success (see the Supreme Court and the House of Representatives, despite the sizable disadvantage in popular support). It also galvanizes the anger of the base, which serves as a powerful motivator, and strengthens their own sense of having an imaginary target on their backs. All in all it’s fine to laugh about the Right’s unhinged crusade against gas stoves. Just don’t miss the strategy behind it—and the fact that sometimes a gas stove is not just a gas stove.