Justice & Civil Liberties

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  • Donald Trump’s “Second Amendment Coalition" Includes NRA Board Member Who Compared Gun Safety Push To The Holocaust

    Coalition Also Includes Reality Star And Gunmaker Jesse James, Who Likes To Dress Up As A Nazi And Give The Hitler Salute

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s newly announced “Second Amendment Coalition” is filled with National Rifle Association board members and gun industry executives and includes an NRA board member who predicted the “death of millions” while comparing gun violence prevention laws to the Holocaust.

    Breitbart News reported on the launch of the 64-member coalition, writing, “On November 3 Donald Trump launched the ‘Second Amendment Coalition,’ featuring pro-gun U.S. Congressmen, the [National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action’s] Chris Cox, and gun manufacturers like Jesse James and Daniel Defense’s Marty Daniel.”

    The list reported by Breitbart News includes NRA board member Ronnie Barrett, the inventor and manufacturer of the controversial .50-caliber sniper rifle.

    During the debate over gun laws following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Barrett appeared on an NRA News program to compare the push for stronger gun laws to the Nazi movement in Germany.

    Asked by NRA News host Cam Edwards about gun safety proposals in New York, Colorado, and Maryland, Barrett said during a March 1, 2013, broadcast, “In all of history when this kind of stuff has happened before, it's bad news. You know and I hate to be one of these doomsday guys, but in past things like this result in the death of millions.”

    Barrett then referenced a false version of history often repeated by gun activists that claims gun confiscation paved the way for the Holocaust:

    BARRETT: World War II hasn't been 700 years ago, it's only been 70 years ago. And if people don't think that these things don't happen to modern, progressive, Christian nations like Germany was, they're wrong, brother. I mean we're sitting here just nearly repeating the same past of that, the disarming of the citizenry not based on any facts but based on cynical emotions that are put in and rushed through in the middle of the night before anybody has a chance to study the true facts, before their citizenry even knows what's going on. I mean holy smokes, what kind of state government was that? I can't believe that's one of the members of the Union here, one of the members of our republic. It's just unimaginable.

    During a February 5 appearance on NRA News that year, Barrett referenced the Holocaust again, suggesting that gun owners can prevent "socialism" and make it so "you can't round up hoards of armed free people and put them in cattle cars."

    The Anti-Defamation League has repeatedly condemned comparisons between proposals to strengthen gun laws and the Holocaust, calling such claims “historically inaccurate and offensive,” and noting that “gun control did not cause the Holocaust; Nazism and anti-Semitism did.”

    In addition, the .50-caliber sniper rifle Barrett manufactures -- “among the most destructive weapons legally available to civilians” -- has raised public safety concerns, and some have attempted to ban the sale of the weapon to civilians. (In most states, the sniper rifle is presently no more regulated than a standard hunting rifle.) Law enforcement has linked the .50-caliber sniper rifle to “terrorism, outlaw motorcycle gangs, international and domestic drug trafficking, and violent crime.” After suspected drug cartel members fired a .50-caliber sniper rifle at U.S. Border Patrol agents in 2014, even Fox News ran multiple segments detailing the danger the “battlefield weapon” poses to law enforcement, with one host noting, “The slugs a .50-caliber weapon fires are so big that body armor really won't do you much good.”

    Other NRA board members joining Trump’s coalition include Jim Gilmore, Dave Butz, Richard Childress, Alan Cors, Carolyn Meadows, Craig Morgan, and Linda Walker. Gun industry executives on the list include Marty Daniel; George Kollitides, who owns the company that made the Sandy Hook massacre gun; and reality TV star-turned-gunmaker Jesse James.

    James, who has endorsed Trump and rose to notoriety for his reality TV show about building custom motorcycles, has been photographed multiple times over the past decade wearing Nazi uniforms and giving the Sieg Heil Nazi salute.

  • Days After He Talked About Gun Owners Shooting Hillary Clinton, NRA Cuts Ad For Sen. Richard Burr

    NRA Has Spent More On NC Senate Race -- $6 Million -- Than Any Other Congressional Contest

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Days after CNN obtained audio of Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) talking about gun owners shooting Hillary Clinton, the National Rifle Association (NRA) released an ad claiming that the only way to “save the Second Amendment” is to reelect Burr and other Republican senators.

    According to an October 31 CNN report, Burr, while speaking to campaign volunteers, said that “nothing made me feel better” than to see a gun magazine with a picture of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s face on the cover. Burr added, “I was a little bit shocked at that -- it didn't have a bullseye on it,” drawing laughter from his audience. Burr, who has since apologized for his remarks, was apparently referencing NRA magazine American Rifleman:

    Burr’s remark, which recalled Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s claim that “Second Amendment people” could do something about Clinton if she is elected president, was condemned by gun safety groups and addressed by President Barack Obama, who said, “You don’t talk about violence against public officials, even in a joke.”

    The NRA’s November 3 ad touting Burr falsely claims that “if Hillary Clinton is president your right to keep a gun in your home for self-defense will be in jeopardy like never before.” PolitiFact previously rated the NRA’s claim Clinton “doesn’t believe in your right to keep a gun at home for self-defense” as “False.”

    It is unclear how much the NRA will spend to air the ad on television. FEC filings can be delayed for several days and the latest NRA filing for spending in the U.S. Senate race in North Carolina was submitted on October 31. The NRA has spent more on the North Carolina senate race than any other congressional race, spending $5,586,930 against Democratic challenger Deborah Ross and $663,765 in favor of Burr.

    By comparison, the NRA has spent $3.1 million on its next-biggest target, the Florida U.S. Senate race. The bulk of NRA election spending is focused on electing Trump as president. The NRA has spent nearly $30 million on that race.

  • “Guns Down” Project To Fight Back Against Firearm-Related Voter Intimidation On Election Day

    Voters Can Text “GUNSDOWN” To 91990 To Report “Poll Watchers” Who Use Firearms And Other Means To Intimidate

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Amid heightened concerns about voter intimidation involving the open carrying of firearms at polling locations on Election Day, a project called Guns Down is providing a resource for voters to report intimidation to voter protection advocates and to share their experiences on social media.

    According to The Washington Post, “many election officials across the country are, for the very first time, bracing for intimidation or even violence on Election Day,” and these fears are compounded given that “most states have no laws regarding guns in polling places.”

    Under federal law it is illegal to intimidate people trying to vote with guns or by other means.

    Yet the Post reports that  “state laws about guns and voter intimidation are a patchwork of wildly varying regulations,” and determinations of violations of voter intimidation laws can be difficult to ascertain because each one is “a fact-sensitive, context-based decision,” according to UCLA law professor Adam Winkler.(Further complicating determinations are discordant federal appeals courts rulings on what behavior constitutes voter intimidation).

    This state of affairs has created an opening for individuals who wish to intimidate voters with guns at the polls while retaining some semblance of plausible deniability concerning the legality of their actions.

    Voters who text “GUNSDOWN” to 91990 will receive information on a national voter protection hotline (866-OUR-VOTE) operated by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. Appropriate reports will be passed on to law enforcement and election officials, and voters will have the opportunity, if they feel safe doing so, to share photos of voter intimidation on social media.

    The project’s launch comes as several disturbing news reports raise the prospect of people carrying guns at the polls and engaging in other instances of possible voter intimidation -- including calls from racist far-right  media outlets for an “army” of white nationalists to “watch” the polls:

    • Talking Points Memo reported that “some armed Trump supporters have shown an interest in making their presence known at voting sites,” and quoted NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney Deuel Ross saying, “The idea that people would be standing outside the polls with guns, or even inside the polls with guns, clearly has the potential to turn people away. There’s a long history of this.”

    • The Trace spoke to gun activists who said that “some gun owners will bring their weapons with them to vote in places where they are allowed to do so” but claimed that these people would not bring weapons for the purpose of intimidation.

    • Stewart Rhodes, the leader of extremist group Oath Keepers, announced “Operation Sabot 2016,” instructing members to “go out into public on election day, dressed to blend in with the public … with video, still camera, and notepad in hand, to look for and document suspected criminal vote fraud or intimidation activities.” (A sabot is a device that helps keep a projectile centered as it passes through the barrel of a firearm or other delivery mechanism.) Rhodes told members not to bring guns, but the Oath Keepers are closely associated with open carry protests, including the open carrying of firearms during unrest in Ferguson, MO.

    • Virginia election officials are “worried about conflicts at the polls after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump urged his supporters to ‘watch’ others at the voting booths,” according to The Washington Post. The Prince William County electoral board pushed for a one-day ban on guns at polling places but was rebuffed by a Republican lawmaker who said the board did not have the authority to enact a ban.

    • White nationalist media including The Daily Stormer and its neo-Nazi founder, Andrew Anglin, and anti-Semitic “alt-right” news website The Right Stuff are planning to send “an army of Alt-Right nationalists to watch the polls.” According to Politico, the plans include setting up “hidden cameras at polling places in Philadelphia” and distributing marijuana and alcohol in the “ghetto.” Politico also reported, “The National Socialist Movement, various factions of the Ku Klux Klan and the white nationalist American Freedom Party all are deploying members to watch polls.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Socialist Movement “specializes in theatrical and provocative protests.”

    • Neo-Nazi news website Infostormer sent “a little message for the Kikes who monitor this site on behalf of the SPLC, [Anti-Defamation League], and various other evil organizations” that “on November 8th, we will have a legitimate ARMY of supporters out in the streets to show solidarity with President (he’s going to win this) Donald J. Trump,” while claiming that neo-Nazi poll watchers will not engage in any illegal activity. The author of the November 2 article also wrote that his “pet idea is more on the lines of convincing (successfully so far) low IQ subhumans and White traitors that the actual Election Day is on November 9th, absentee voting will be allowed in all states until 11 PM on the 8th, and that thousands of KKK members are sealing off polling locations in cahoots with law enforcement.”

  • NRA Repurposes Kids Board Game Candy Land As Shooting Target

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    The National Rifle Association released a spoof shooting target of the board game Candy Land called “Target Land” where shooters can fire on targets throughout a fantasy landscape containing the Peppermint Stick Forest, the Crooked Old Peanut Brittle House, Lollypop Woods, and other locations from the iconic kids game.

    A November 2 article from NRABlog suggests reinvigorating “boring” board games, including Battleship, Checkers, and Candy Land by turning them into targets for the shooting range:

    Here is the full “Target Land” target released by the NRA:

    The NRA previously appropriated children's fairy tales for pro-gun purposes, releasing Little Red Riding Hood (Has A Gun) and Hansel and Gretel (Have Guns) at its NRA Family website, leading to widespread condemnation and ridicule.

  • Network Morning Shows Barely Acknowledge Trump’s Possibly Illegal Tax Avoidance

    ABC, NBC, And CBS Morning Shows Cover Days-Old Clinton Email Story 15 Times More Than New Report On Trump’s Tax Avoidance Scheme

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT & ALEX KAPLAN

    The network morning shows spent nearly half an hour covering the four-day-old story that the FBI found emails that may be pertinent to an investigation of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s private email server, but less than two minutes on a new report detailing possibly illegal actions Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump took in the 1990s to avoid reporting hundreds of millions of dollars of taxable income.

    On October 28, FBI Director James Comey defied Justice Department rules and precedent to issue a short and vague letter informing Congress that the bureau had obtained and was seeking to review emails “that appear to be pertinent to the investigation” regarding Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state. Comey’s decision drew criticism from media figures from across the political spectrum and former federal prosecutors and Justice Department officials. Yet during the morning of November 1, ABC’s Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, and CBS’ CBS This Morning spent a combined total of nearly 30 minutes on this story and the impact it might have on election polls.

    Just yesterday, The New York Times explained that “thanks to a” possibly illegal tax maneuver Trump used in the early 1990s, he “potentially escaped paying tens of millions of dollars in federal personal income taxes” (emphasis added):

    [N]ewly obtained documents show that in the early 1990s, as he scrambled to stave off financial ruin, Mr. Trump avoided reporting hundreds of millions of dollars in taxable income by using a tax avoidance maneuver so legally dubious his own lawyers advised him that the Internal Revenue Service would most likely declare it improper if he were audited.

    Thanks to this one maneuver, which was later outlawed by Congress, Mr. Trump potentially escaped paying tens of millions of dollars in federal personal income taxes. It is impossible to know for sure because Mr. Trump has declined to release his tax returns, or even a summary of his returns, breaking a practice followed by every Republican and Democratic presidential candidate for more than four decades.

    Tax experts who reviewed the newly obtained documents for The New York Times said Mr. Trump’s tax avoidance maneuver, conjured from ambiguous provisions of highly technical tax court rulings, clearly pushed the edge of the envelope of what tax laws permitted at the time. “Whatever loophole existed was not ‘exploited’ here, but stretched beyond any recognition,” said Steven M. Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center who helped draft tax legislation in the early 1990s.

    Yet Good Morning America was the only broadcast morning show to cover this detailed reporting on the Republican presidential nominee possibly committing a crime, devoting two interview segments to the issue for a scant airtime of 1 minute and 47 seconds. The other two morning shows did not mention the Times report or Trump’s tax avoidance at all.

    The networks’ Sunday shows have demonstrated a pattern of ignoring investigative reporting about Trump in favor of hyping any recent news about Clinton. Now the networks’ weekday morning shows seem to be following the same pattern.

    Methodology: Media Matters searched SnapStream transcripts for ABC’s Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, and CBS’ CBS This Morning, with the keywords “Clinton,” “FBI,” “email,” and “Comey” for any comments about the Clinton email story, and the keywords “tax” and “taxes” for any comments about the Trump tax story. Any comments on either subject were then measured for time. At least one discussion covered both topics simultaneously.

  • NRA Furiously Tries To Attack Senate Candidate Who Assembled A Gun Blindfolded

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    A National Rifle Association attack ad targeting Missouri Democratic Senate candidate Jason Kander features a narrator who falsely claims Kander “voted against letting me defend myself at my apartment with a gun if I choose.” But the bill in question had nothing to do with whether people are allowed to defend themselves in the home with a gun.

    The NRA has spent nearly $3 million on the Senate race in Missouri, including almost $2.5 million in spending against Kander, and nearly $500,000 in spending supporting Republican incumbent Sen. Roy Blunt. Gun policy has played a significant role in the campaign since the release of a viral ad where Kander assembles a gun blindfolded while describing his experiences as a combat veteran in Afghanistan and explaining the need for background checks to keep guns away from terrorists.

    In an October 31 NRA ad, a woman identified as Jessica from Ballwin, MO, claims that “Jason Kander voted against letting me defend myself at my apartment with a gun if I choose.” The NRA ad cites a vote Kander made on House Bill 668 in 2009 while serving in the Missouri House of Representatives as evidence of this claim:

    JESSICA: If you’re like most people, you just want this election to end. So how do we decide? For me, it’s about respect. Jason Kander does not respect my right to self-defense. Jason Kander voted against letting me defend myself at my apartment with a gun if I choose. It should be my choice, because it’s my right. Don’t let Jason Kander take your rights away.

    H.B. 668 wasn’t about self-defense inside the home. Instead, it was legislation that expanded the scope of permissible self-defense outside the home in a way similar to controversial “Stand Your Ground” self-defense laws. This fact is explained in a since-deleted 2009 notice on the NRA’s website urging NRA supporters to advocate for the bill’s passage, where the NRA explained H.B. 668 “would expand Missouri’s Castle Doctrine to now include your private property boundaries” -- meaning it would have expanded the self-defense protections already available in the home to outdoor property.

    Both before and after the passage of H.B. 668, Missouri has been considered a “Castle Doctrine” state, meaning that people do not have a duty to retreat when employing deadly force in defense of the home. Voting for or against H.B. 668 has no bearing on this fact.

    It is unlikely even that the kind legislation described by the ad -- a bill that would allow or disallow people to use a gun in the home for self-defense -- would be proposed or voted on by anyone. Conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the majority opinion in the landmark 2008 decision District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment protects the right of law-abiding people to keep a gun in the home for self-defense -- meaning that the type of legislation imagined by the NRA in their anti-Kander ad would be a non-starter.

  • NRA Smears Maine Congressional Candidate By Distorting What She Said About Background Checks On Gun Sales

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    A National Rifle Association attack ad targeting Maine congressional candidate Emily Cain falsely claims that Cain called “restricting our rights” “the right thing to do.” But according to the newspaper article the NRA cites, Cain was speaking about expanded background checks, a policy that doesn’t infringe upon the Second Amendment. The article in question also explicitly notes that Cain “didn’t say she would restrict rights, saying she supports” the Second Amendment.

    In the October 31 ad released by NRA lobbying arm Institute for Legislative Action, a narrator says, “Politician Emily Cain called restricting our rights ‘the right thing to do,’” citing the October 15, 2014, edition of the Kennebec Journal:

    According to a review of the article in Nexis, Cain was speaking about her support for expanding background checks on gun sales:

    But on gun issues, they diverged, with [Emily] Cain supporting mandatory background checks on private gun purchases. [Rep. Bruce] Poliquin, who is endorsed by the pro-gun National Rifle Association, opposes that, saying Maine has a high rate of gun ownership and a low level of crime.

    "We need to protect our gun rights, not whittle away at them, as Ms. Cain says she will do," he said.

    Cain didn't say she would restrict rights, saying she supports the Constitution's 2nd Amendment, but called expanding background checks "the right thing to do" to reduce gun violence.

    There is no “right” to purchase a gun without undergoing a background check. In the 2008 landmark Supreme Court decision District of Columbia v. Heller, Justice Antonin Scalia described the Second Amendment as encompassing the right for law-abiding people to own a gun in the home for the purpose of self-defense. After describing the Second Amendment right, Scalia wrote that “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on … laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

    During the Senate’s consideration of expanded background check legislation in 2013, a group of 50 constitutional law experts wrote that expanded background check legislation passed constitutional muster under D.C. v. Heller, noting, “Universal background checks, especially those conducted instantaneously through the National Instant Background Check System, do not impose a significant burden on law-abiding citizens.” In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, constitutional law expert and law professor Lawrence Tribe stated, “There is no serious doubt that requiring ... a universal background check would comply with the Second Amendment.”

    The NRA has spent more than $50 million on the 2016 presidential and congressional elections, in many instances on ads that are premised on serious factual falsehoods.

  • FBI Director's Letter Receives Criticism From Across The Political Spectrum

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Media figures from across the political spectrum are criticizing FBI Director James Comey for defying Justice Department rules and precedent to issue a short and vague letter informing Congress that the Bureau had obtained and was seeking to review emails “that appear to be pertinent to the investigation” regarding Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state. The journalists and pundits called the timing of Comey’s letter “unfortunate, given its potential to affect a democratic process in which millions of people are already voting,” with some going so far as to say Comey’s letter “both disgraces and politicizes the FBI.”

  • Host Of NRA's New Pro-Trump Show: "Blame Minorities" For Gun Violence

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Grant Stinchfield, the host of a new venture from the National Rifle Association called NRATV, has written on social media that minorities should be blamed for gun violence and promoted conspiracy theories that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered and that “maybe Israelis” shot down a Russian passenger aircraft.

    Launched earlier this month, NRATV plays material from the NRA’s video archive 24 hours a day, with Stinchfield breaking in to give live updates. Many of the updates involve promoting the candidacy of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and are branded with a graphic that says, “ELECTION COUNTDOWN: SAVE THE 2ND.” (Though Stinchfield, a conservative Texas-based radio host and former Republican candidate for Congress, previously authored a column in which he said he regretted voting for Trump during the GOP primary.)

    Commenting in October 2015 on a New York Times article about the 30-plus gun homicides that occur on an average day in America, Stinchfield wrote on Twitter, “Blame minorities killing each other not law abiding conservatives. Let's look harder at broken families not gun laws.”

    Stinchfield also suggested that Justice Scalia, who died in February, was murdered by President Obama:

    In November 2015, Stinchfield speculated about whether Israel, MI6 or the CIA may have been involved in downing Metrojet Flight 9268, a Russian passenger plane that exploded over Egypt in October 2015. ISIS has claimed credit for placing a bomb on the plane.

    Stinchfield has also asked on Twitter, “Does #ISIS have Tranny Jihadis?”: