As the debate over gun legislation has raged in recent months, prominent gun activists have been appearing on the radio and TV shows of fringe conspiracy theorists to push their message.
The hosts of these shows believe in a range of absurd conspiracies, including that the U.S. government perpetrated the 9-11 attacks; that the recent mass shootings in Newton and Aurora were somehow staged; and that impoverished black men are gearing up to kill "white heterosexual Christians."
Despite regularly uniting with fringe conspiracy theorists -- and often joining them in espousing outlandish conspiracies -- Gun Owners of America executive director Larry Pratt, longtime National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent, and former NRA president David Keene represent organizations that still wield considerable influence in the debate over gun legislation.
The NRA says that it has millions of members and annual revenues in excess of $200 million, and their annual meetings regularly draw leading Republican presidential candidates. Pratt's group Gun Owners of America has also become an important player in the gun debate; an April article by The New York Times highlighted how GOA was "emerging as an influential force" over then-pending Senate gun legislation, while ignoring Pratt's own record of extremism.
In recent weeks, extremist radio host Pete Santilli has made headlines for violent comments he made about Hillary Clinton, President Obama, and the Bush family. (Santilli's inflammatory comments include saying the he wants to shoot Clinton "in the vagina and let her suffer right before my eyes" over her supposed "treason.")
While it's tempting to dismiss Santilli as just another crackpot with a microphone and an Internet connection, his show has been validated by appearances from major gun activists like Pratt and Nugent.
Nugent and Pratt's appearances on Santilli's show are not an aberration; they're symptomatic of how prominent gun activists have teamed up with fringe conspiracy theorists to oppose gun legislation and spin fantastical theories about the government disarming (or going to war with) American citizens.
Working with these fringe hosts may be a deliberate strategy; during an appearance with infamous conspiracy theorist Alex Jones last year, Pratt praised Jones for helping increase GOA's exposure, saying "thank you for having me on, because we have a much bigger voice because of you, my friend." (During that same interview, Pratt suggested the government may have been behind the mass shooting in Aurora.)
In this report, we look at gun activists' appearances with:
Larry Pratt frequents the program of Stan Solomon, a race-baiting host who is convinced a war between a "black force" and a "white resistance" is set to break out at any moment. Solomon has also said the December 2012 mass shooting at the Sandy Hook elementary school was a "programmed event" designed to help pass gun legislation -- a possibility Pratt told the host that he considered plausible.
So far in 2013, Pratt has made at least nine appearances on Solomon's show.
As highlighted by Right Wing Watch, during at least two of Pratt's appearances on Solomon's show, the conversation has veered into Solomon's theory that a race war is imminent. In February, Solomon posited that the Obama administration was planning to "put together a racial force to go against an opposite race resistance, basically a black force to go against a white resistance, and then they will claim anyone resisting the black force they are doing it because they are racist."
In a separate show featuring Pratt that aired in January, Solomon laid out his theory that there would be an "explosion of attacks" on "Christian, heterosexual white haves" by an opposing force of "black, Muslim and/or atheist -- not that there's much difference -- black have-nots." (Solomon specified that his warning "holds for all quality people of any color," but he was specifically addressing "white, heterosexual, Christian, working, married" people.)
After Solomon warned that these white heterosexual Christians need to be sure they own a gun to avoid the "substantial chance" that they (or their families) will be killed in this surge of violence, Pratt responded that he didn't think "there's anything stretching to say that."
PRATT: We're up against people who know exactly what they want to do and how they want to do it. We've had four years to watch them when they were somewhat guarded but now, certainly for Obama, he doesn't care and you can tell already he's making his moves and it's not going to be pretty. I'm getting the sense -- and certainly Greg and I'm sure Stan you've heard it as well -- I have never heard so many people talk about the fact that they think that there is inevitably going to be some kind of social implosion, some kind of neighbor-against-neighbor; that these folks in power are seeking that kind of a confrontation and that it would be a wonderful surprise if it did not happen.
SOLOMON: Well, let me take that -- I've said on this show on a couple of occasions that I believe that in the year 2013 we're going to see an explosion of attacks on haves by have-nots. But specifically on white haves by black have-nots and more specifically on Christian, heterosexual white haves by black, Muslim and/or atheist -- not that there's much difference -- black have-nots. Now, that's being whatever-- it's just what I see. I believe if you are a white person in this country, and this by the way holds for all quality people of any color, but I'm saying specifically if you are a white, heterosexual, Christian, working, married person, if you don't have a gun on you, know how to use it and make sure that everyone in your family who is of age has a weapon and knows how to use it, there is at least a substantial chance that you and/or some member of your family will be hurt and/or killed.
PRATT: I don't think there's anything stretching to say that. I think there are people that really want to bring violence about because they see that as the engine of social change. That's exactly the target for the Alinskyites. I think they must figure that they have got their guy in power, they will then have at least some of the agencies of the police powers of the state at their back and this is the time to go for it.
Pratt and Solomon's conversations about guns aren't limited to encouraging white heterosexual Christians to arm themselves against roving mobs of impoverished black Muslim-atheists.
In a separate January appearance, Pratt and Solomon discussed the December 2012 shooting at the elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. Solomon explained that he was "suspicious" about the shooting because it supposedly mirrored incidents in other countries that led to the widespread seizure of guns. Though he included the caveat that he didn't have "any proof," Solomon nonetheless floated his opinion that Sandy Hook was "was a programmed event, that this man was [unintelligible] under the influence of meds but was manipulated." (The idea that mass shooters are under the influence of "programming," mind control or other manipulation by nefarious forces is popular among conspiracy theorists.)
As evidence, Solomon pointed to how quickly the "gun control apparatus" sprung into action after the shooting. In response, Pratt called Solomon's theory "the significant point, that whether it's by design or just by opportunism."
Alex Jones is perhaps the most well-known conspiracy theorist in the country. For years, he has spun any number of current events into elaborate conspiracies, usually involving a secretive New World Order of global elites that are supposedly running the world behind the scenes.
Jones believes the government actively carried out or was otherwise involved in the 9-11 attacks, the Space Shuttle Colombia disaster, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the mass shootings in Newtown and Aurora. (He also recently suggested a government "weather weapon" could possibly have created the devastating tornado in Oklahoma.)
Despite Jones' widely-known endorsement of absurd conspiracies, his show has become a favorite of gun activists, particularly Pratt and Nugent.
Pratt has also been visiting Jones' show for years, including several appearances so far in 2013. As recently as May 20, Pratt was on Jones' show labeling President Obama a "full-bore Marxist" who stole the 2012 election.
Pratt has also used appearances on Jones' show to endorse bizarre conspiracies about mass shootings. In a July 2012 appearance with Jones, Pratt suggested the mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, may have been staged. Discussing the shooting, Jones asked Pratt, "am I wrong for being suspicious?" Pratt responded: "I don't think you're wrong," citing as evidence the failed Fast and Furious program. Pratt elaborated, saying that while he does "think the evil of the human heart is sufficient to account for somebody that wants to go and shoot people at random," nonetheless "we have to admit that maybe this is something that our government is capable of. Because this is only 12 people murdered -- they were good for 400 in Fast and Furious."
Later in the same appearance, Pratt thanked Jones "for having me on, because we have a much bigger voice because of you, my friend."
Nugent has also visited Jones' show to push back against efforts to strengthen gun laws (he has made at least three different appearances on Jones' show this year), and the two men share an apparent admiration for each other. In February, Nugent called into Jones' show and praised the radio host for doing "God's work." During that appearance, Nugent told Jones, "what you are sharing with the radio listeners out there is indisputable, it's irrefutable." Jones returned the favor, lauding the NRA for "getting hardcore."
When they aren't showering each other with niceties, Nugent and Jones' conversations regularly veer off the rails. Nugent has used his spots on Jones' show to call for Obama's impeachment and engage in conspiracies about government attempts to seize Americans' guns.
During a characteristic appearance on Jones' show in April, Nugent suggested that the recent epidemic of suicides among veterans and active duty military on their supposed frustration with President Obama for "violating" the Constitution:
In recent weeks, radio host Pete Santilli has been in the news for unhinged comments he has made about President Obama, the Bush family, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. (Santilli has repeatedly expressed his desire to shoot Clinton "in the vagina" over her supposed treasonous acts.)
In addition to making deranged comments, Santilli also promotes a number of conspiracies on his radio show and website. As an example, Santilli's site promotes and sells a book called Where Did The Towers Go? Evidence Of Directed Free-Energy Technology On 9/11. The book, which argues that the Twin Towers were felled by an energy weapon, comes with Santilli's personal "100% satisfaction guarantee" and an offer of a refund if you "do not believe this is the most important book of our lifetime."
On the "About" section of his radio show's website, after detailing the existence of a New World Order controlling the world from "behind the curtain," Santilli bristles at being labeled a "conspiracy theorist," opting instead for the term "conspiracy realist." As an example, he fleshes out the evidence -- that "may be too much for the un-awakened mind" -- that a "free energy technology" was involved in the 9-11 attacks:
Call me a "conspiracy realist", but never call me a theorist until you have had the chance to learn what facts I have learned. For instance (this may be too much for the un-awakened mind), look at the falling World Center Towers on 9-11, and ask yourself; how does falling steel and concrete turn to dust in mid air? What I have learned is something that has forever changed me as it will you. The World Trade Center towers were turned to dust in mid air by a very powerful energy source. Do I know what source caused it; absolutely not, but I know that there is indisputable evidence of the following:
§ We've all been under a PSY-OP (psychological warfare operation) since 9-11
§ The towers were turned to dust in mid-air, 2 were hit by planes and 7 buildings disappeared with little debris remaining on the ground
§ Free energy technology exists, but the oil & war industry cannot afford to tell us
Nugent and Pratt have both appeared on Santilli's show this year. During a March appearance with Santilli, Nugent labeled Obama a "rotten rotten man" who "hates America,' compared him to a Nazi, and suggested "the devil got him voted into the presidency."
Pratt appeared on Santilli's show as recently as May 4. As documented by Right Wing Watch, Santilli and Pratt spent part of that interview discussing Santilli's "most important concern," which was that the Department of Homeland Security is being developed into "a fighting force built by Barack Obama's administration" that could stand "in opposition to a military that chooses to be constitutional."
Citing recent ammunition purchases by the government, Pratt claimed that Obama has long wanted to develop a "national security force" that would be "equally as powerful as the military." (Pratt's claim rests on a five year old distortion of a speech in which Obama expressed a desire to expand groups like the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, not any actual "security force.")
At the end of their conversation, Santilli heaped praise on Pratt, whom he labeled "the ambassador, I believe, in our generation for second Amendment rights," and put out a "call to action" for his listeners to help Pratt and Gun Owners of America.
Pratt directed Santilli's listeners to his website and told the host, "I appreciate your keeping this show going and getting the word out."
Glenn Beck is infamous for weaving a never-ending string of complex conspiracies based on what historian Sean Wilentz termed a "kind of Alice in Wonderland" view of reality wedded to a firm belief that progressives are responsible for the world's ills.
Creating an all-inclusive list of Beck's conspiracies would be impossible. A sampling includes Beck's flirtation with the notion that the government is constructing detention camps for political opponents; his claim that Obama's policies are driven by "reparations" and a desire to "settle old racial scores through new social justice"; his declaration that the United Nations is attempting to institute "centralized control over all of human life on planet Earth"; and his assertion that 2011 protests in the Middle East, Europe, and the United States were all part of a "grand plan" coordinated by American leftists and Islamists working together to destroy Israel and the West and install a global caliphate or a New World Order.
More recently, Beck has deployed conflicting Boston bombing conspiracies to claim both that a Saudi national student who had been injured in the blast and who was questioned by authorities was "absolutely involved" in the Patriot's Day attack and that the Saudi government had previously warned U.S. authorities about the bomber.
The day the NRA's annual conference kicked off this year, a man fired shots into the ceiling of an aiport in Houston before killing himself. Beck, who was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the event, responded by announcing that there was a "very good chance" the shooting was a "setup" akin to the "burning of the Reichstag."
Nugent regularly appears on Beck's programs. He has called into Beck's radio program for two interviews so far this year.
During the January 30 interview, Beck and Nugent criticized the government's handling of armed standoffs at Ruby Ridge and Waco, with Nugent claiming that "If you attempt to stand up to what's right, you will be shot and killed."
BECK: Ted Nugent, you know what I think the best thing that you can help me with and help America with is gathering together a bunch of attorneys that will help defend people on their right to bear arms.
NUGENT: You're absolutely right.
BECK: And know who these guys are. The biggest names in attorneys that will help people because this government is going to do basically what they did in Ruby Ridge where they get you basically on a technicality and there's going to be a standoff. And people have to know don't stand off. Do not do that. You call this number and somebody in an attorney firm will come and represent you because you want your day in court. You want your day in court.
NUGENT: I think you're absolutely correct. And that positive sense, that common sense is alive and well in hundreds of sheriffs and sheriff departments in this country that are standing up to this government and the federal government with their constitutional violating Second Amendment infringement. So I think there is a growing pulse. But you're right about that. If you attempt to stand up to what's right, you will be shot and killed.
BECK: I will tell you this. You know, I've said make friends with your deputy. I would like to go out on parole with the deputies. I'd like to be deputized. I'd like to go out with the sheriffs and help in any way I possibly can. Whatever you need, sheriffs, whatever you need. Sheriffs are your best friends.
You know Waco, the sheriff at Waco actually liked the Branch Davidians. Said, "I didn't agree with them, I thought they were nuts, but they were really nice guys." If the federal government would have gone to the sheriff, the sheriff probably could have gotten that all done without killing all of the families.
NUGENT: I believe that.
During the May 6 interview, Nugent praised Beck for his speech at the NRA's annual meeting, telling Beck, "we all thank you and salute you, you're doing God's work and you represent us perfectly, God bless you."
Gary Franchi is an avid conspiracy theorist perhaps most well-known for his involvement during the 2012 election cycle with Revolution PAC, a pro-Ron Paul group. Franchi drew unwanted attention when NBC News highlighted his history of promoting conspiracy theories, including his extensive involvement in the "9-11 truth" movement and his belief that the government is secretly building FEMA concentration camps to round up American citizens.
In the past six months then-NRA President David Keene and Larry Pratt have both made appearances on Franchi's show. In February, Keene appeared with Franchi and told viewers that President Obama would exploit the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, to aid the passage of the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty. (The ATT is another favorite bogeyman for conspiracy theorists and gun activists, despite the fact that the treaty deals with keeping guns out of the hands of human rights abusers and is in no way a secret plan to disarm Americans.)
In addition to appearing on Franchi's television show, Pratt is listed as one of the stars - alongside Alex Jones and others -- of the 2010 Franchi-produced documentary, Camp FEMA: American Lockdown.
Media Matters researcher Timothy Johnson contributed research to this report.