A new profile of Larry Pratt, the odious executive director of fringe group Gun Owners of America (GOA) documents Pratt's lengthy history of extremism while noting that he is still treated by media as an authority in the gun debate.
The Pratt profile, authored by The American Independent Institute (TAII) fellow Alexander Zaitchik, was published July 14 as part of a RollingStone.com package, "America's Gun Violence Epidemic." Other articles in the series include an interview with former New York City mayor and gun violence prevention advocate Michael Bloomberg, a message from Richard Martinez, whose son was murdered in the recent Isla Vista, California mass shooting, stories from gunshot wound survivors, and an interactive map on gun violence in America.
Interspersed with accounts of Pratt's association with anti-Semitic and white supremacist groups, his call for the quarantine of AIDS victims, his support for the death squads of a genocidal dictator, and his longstanding engagement with bizarre anti-government conspiracy theories, Zaitchik recounts how Pratt is regularly called on by mainstream media outlets to participate in the debate over gun laws.
Indeed, a Media Matters analysis of cable news and major newspapers finds that media regularly turns to Pratt despite his place in the far-right wing fringe. Since the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Pratt has appeared during evening and Sunday programming on CNN seven times and three times each on MSNBC and Fox News.
While CNN hosted Pratt the most, Fox News arguably gave him the highest profile, inviting him to appear on The O'Reilly Factor two weeks after Newtown and twice hosting him on Fox News Sunday. Pratt most recently appeared on Fox News Sunday in December 2013 to discuss the one-year anniversary of Newtown. (He had previously suggested the shooting may have been a government-sponsored false flag operation.) During his appearance Pratt pushed several false claims about the gun debate and suggested that future violence could be prevented by putting people with mental health conditions in jail.
Both The New York Times and The Washington Post have quoted Pratt multiple times since Newtown. In fact, in April 2013 The Times profiled GOA's influence on Republican politicians without mentioning Pratt's extreme and conspiratorial views.
The Times has also turned to Pratt since December 2012 for views on gun violence prevention group Everytown for Gun Safety, issues surrounding 3-D printed firearms, and former Republican Sen. Jim DeMint's move to conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation. During the same timeframe, The Post published Pratt's opinions on a planned (and later called off) armed march on Washington, D.C., by Second Amendment activists, 3-D printed guns, and the political landscape following Newtown.
Zaitchik's Rolling Stone profile of Pratt is a laundry-list of extremism dating back over three decades. Lowlights include:
- During the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, Pratt founded anti-gay group Committee to Protect the Family Foundation and spearheaded a campaign against laws that would prevent insurance companies from denying coverage for HIV positive individuals ("We don't think AIDS should have civil rights," Pratt said at the time). He later called for the quarantine of AIDS victims.
- Pratt made several visits to Guatemala during the 1980s to observe "Civil Defense Patrols" loyal to military dictator Efrain Rios Montt. Pratt heaped praise on the patrols and Rios Montt in a Gun Owners Foundation book published in 1990. Now the "Civil Defense Patrols" are seen as death squads that massacred thousands of indigenous people while Rios Montt was eventually convicted in Guatemala of genocide and crimes against humanity.
- Following the bloody 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff between the federal government and the anti-government Weaver family, Pratt spoke at a three-day conference in Estes Park, Colorado which served to launch the modern-day militia movement. The conference was arranged Pete Peters, leader of the anti-Semitic and racist Christian Identity movement, and Pratt's fellow speakers included representatives from white supremacist groups Aryan Nation and the Klu Klux Klan.
- Pratt directed Gun Owners of America to donate "tens of thousands of dollars" to white supremacist group CAUSE to aid in legal representation for those present at the 1993 Waco standoff.
- Three days after the April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City Bombing, Pratt spoke at a Christian Identity gathering and suggested that the bombing's perpetrator, far-right anti-government extremist Timothy McVeigh, was justified in his actions because of the government's conduct at Waco.
- Pratt served as "a contributing editor" to the publication of United Sovereigns of America, an anti-Semitic group.
- Zaitchik also touches on Pratt's continuing extreme rhetoric, including recent claims that the July 2012 massacre at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado was staged by the government and Pratt's January claim on his radio show that African-Americans are "surly" compared to black Africans who are "very happy."
A recent GOA alert called Zaitchik's article a "hit piece" and said the group will respond to TAII's "scurrilous charges."
METHODOLOGY: Media Matters reviewed Nexis transcripts of evening and Sunday programming on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC from December 14, 2012 to July 7, 2014 using the search term "Larry Pratt." Repeats, teasers, mentions of Pratt not accompanied by an appearance were omitted.