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Jeremy Heimans believes he’s figured out the secret to the National Rifle Association’s power — and it isn’t necessarily what you think.

“The NRA has systematically sought to project this image of its own might, even though it’s actually one of the less effective spenders in U.S. elections in terms of outcomes,” Heimans, the CEO and co-founder of Purpose, told Mic. “It often takes credit for races that either the pro-gun supporting candidate was going to win anyway, or where it invested less than $100 in the outcome of the race.”

In his book New Power, Heimans and co-author Henry Timms offer readers a new framework to understand what makes institutions like the NRA so effective at achieving their intended goals.

“We all want to be more powerful, and we all want to make change and impact in the world,” Heimans said. “Today we have a choice about what kind of power we choose to exercise: old power and new power.”

To Heimans, old power was more in keeping with our traditional understanding of how power works.

“You can think of old power as something that you deploy like a currency,” he said. “It’s something that you hoard, and the more of it that you have, the more powerful you are. And it relies on what you know, or own or control that nobody else does.”

According to Heimans, the institutions in our society that wield old power ask two things of adherents: comply or consume. But new power, he said, relies on something different entirely.

“New power is the ability to harness the energy of a connected crowd, this crucial new 21st-century skill in an age in which we are all woven together,” he said. “New power models ask us to do more than just consume and comply. They ask us to share content, to adapt that content and spread it, to affiliate in new ways.”

Using the example of our national reckoning on sexual misconduct, Heimans illustrated what happens when old power clashes against new power. In this case, the author argues that disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein represents old power, whereas the #MeToo movement that toppled him represents new power.

“Harvey Weinstein is a man who thinks of power as currency,” Heimans said. “He spent that power to punish his enemies and protect himself. He was able to carry out this decades-long spree of alleged abuse and assault and harassment by creating a hierarchy in which he sat at the top. Now think about how different that is to the way that power works in the #MeToo movement that eventually toppled him. Now in that movement, there is no one leader sitting on top of a hierarchy. And you can’t hoard the power that #MeToo has created — you can only channel it.”

And when it comes to channeling the intensity of a connected crowd, nobody does it better than the NRA — that is, until tragedy thrust the Parkland kids into the national spotlight.

“The Parkland students have, for the first time in two decades, created a breakthrough moment that we must now seize,” Heimans explained. “And the reason they’ve done it is that they’re bringing new power to the table. They’re bringing that intensity machine in a way that we haven’t seen for decades on this issue. It’s always been the other guys with intensity.”

But if the Parkland kids — joined by all the Americans who support commonsense gun laws — want to defeat the NRA, Heimans suggests that new power won’t be enough. They’ll have to learn from how the NRA blends new power with old power.

And he says that means getting good at making your enemies cower in fear.

“To win in the long term, the Parkland kids will have to do more than just be admired, just be loved.” he explained. “They will also need to be feared.”

In his op-ed for Mic, Jeremy Heimans explains why the best way to truly defeat the NRA is to learn from them. Watch it above.

Anthony Smith
Senior writer