A Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation has found no evidence that the anti-fraud program "Operation Choke Point" targeted gun retailers, contrary to what conservative media outlets and the National Rifle Association (NRA) have long claimed.
Operation Choke Point was conceived as an anti-fraud program by the DOJ's Consumer Protection Branch in November 2012 based on the suspicion that some banks -- acting with knowledge or willful blindness -- entered into businesses relationships with individuals engaged in fraud. As an early memo explained, Choke Point was designed as "a strategy to attack Internet, telemarketing, mail, and other mass market fraud against consumers, by choking fraudsters' access to the banking system."
Conservative media and the NRA have repeatedly insisted that Choke Point was part of a government conspiracy to target gun retailers -- based on the belief that the Obama administration is "anti-gun." But a new report from the DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) -- the office responsible for "investigating allegations of misconduct involving Department attorneys" -- has decisively concluded "that the evidence did not demonstrate that Operation Choke Point" was used to target firearm sellers.
In January 2014, the Republican-led House Oversight Committee opened an investigation into Choke Point to determine whether the program may have "inappropriately target[ed] two lawful financial services: third-party payment processing and online lending."
Although no mention of gun retailers was made during the first congressional inquiries, NRA News host Cam Edwards began connecting Choke Point to claims by some firearm retailers that banks were refusing to do business with them.
With no evidence to bear that claim out, Choke Point then became a regular topic of discussion by the NRA and conservative media, which characterized it as another Obama administration scandal. The anti-fraud program was discussed dozens of times on the NRA's radio and (since-cancelled) television show, and the NRA's lobbying wing, the Institute for Legislation Action, offered frequent updates on the so-called scandal.
Choke Point was also widely reported on by the conservative Washington Times, which interviewed gun retailers who claimed their business relationships with banks had been terminated because of the program. (At the time, Media Matters exposed the dubiousness of these claims. For example, one gun retailer had his account terminated by his bank months before Choke Point was even proposed by DOJ.) The Washington Times editorial board declared, "Obama wants to use the banks to void the Second Amendment."
False claims about Choke Point's targets were also picked up by Fox News, with network contributor Katie Pavlich claiming that DOJ was "discriminating" against gun owners. As recently as April 13, Fox News correspondent Trace Gallagher falsely reported on The Kelly File that "Operation Choke Point was created by the Obama administration to choke out businesses it finds objectionable, like gun shops, casinos, and tobacco sellers."
None of this is true, according to the DOJ OPR investigation, which examined "memoranda, subpoenas, and contemporaneous emails" related to the operation. The July 7 report found no evidence that Choke Point had "compelled banks to terminate business relationships" with firearm sellers (emphasis added):
OPR also concluded that the evidence did not demonstrate that Operation Choke Point compelled banks to terminate business relationships with other lawful businesses, a concern raised in your letter and the Staff Report. Indeed, OPR found no evidence establishing that any CPB attorney intentionally targeted any of the industries listed in the Staff Report (including credit repair companies, debt consolidation and forgiveness programs, online gambling-related operations, government grant or will-writing kits, pornography, online tobacco or firearms sales, pharmaceutical sales, sweepstakes, magazine subscriptions, etc.). None of the subpoenas or memoranda issued or drafted in connection with Operation Choke Point focused on specific categories of purportedly fraudulent businesses, except for fraudulent Internet payday lending, to the limited extent discussed above. Moreover, the CPB attorneys' e-mail records contained no discussion or even mention of targeting any such specific industries.
As the report noted, there was no evidence that attorneys involved in Choke Point ever discussed firearm businesses at any time during Choke Point.
Right-wing media responded in disbelief and outrage to the Supreme Court's decision holding that state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.
Conservative media were outraged after the Supreme Court ruled to uphold health insurance tax credits for millions of Americans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), just as Congress intended.
From the June 19 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered:
Loading the player reg...
Right-wing media outlets are attacking a new rule from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) designed to increase diversity in American neighborhoods, calling it an attempt by President Obama to dictate where people live. But the program merely provides grant money to encourage communities to provide affordable housing and greater access to community resources.
After Hillary Clinton proposed reforms to increase access to voting, right-wing media accused her of playing the "race card" and sowing "division" for political gain.
From the June 8 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
Loading the player reg...
Fox News hosts and guests relied and expounded upon recent comments by actor Vince Vaughn in support of carrying guns in public and in schools to push numerous falsehoods about gun violence that expert analyses have debunked.
From the May 11 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
Loading the player reg...
As Hillary Clinton announced she will run for president in 2016, right-wing media figures responded with predictable ire, from sexist comments to implications that Clinton is supported by Communists.
A new survey of firearm experts reveals a consensus debunking the myths the gun lobby and conservative media use to try to infect the national dialogue on gun safety to create the appearance of legitimate debate.
The Outdoor Channel's new documentary on gun-free zones, hosted by Katie Pavlich and hyped by Fox News, will feature right-wing media's favorite gun myths -- including the false claim that gun-free zones encourage mass shootings and may "creat[e] an environment for criminal activity to run rampant."
The April 1 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends hyped the Outdoor Channel's Safe Haven: Gun-Free Zones In America documentary premiering later that day, featuring its trailer and highlighting film-host and Fox contributor Katie Pavlich. Using the premiere to push the conservative myths that shooters specifically target locations that don't allow guns and that more guns would prevent mass shootings and other crimes, host Steve Doocy asserted that "you think gun-free zones, that's going to be safe, but that means if you don't have a gun, the bad guys do and you're in trouble." Pavlich agreed, adding, "gun-free zones are not gun-free, it gives criminals an ability to have the upper hand on people who are simply following the law."
Fox News figures and Republican 2016 hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz (TX) are slated to appear alongside Robert Spencer -- one of conservative media's favorite leaders in "Islam bashing" -- at a conference this week, amid cries from Muslim rights groups for Cruz to cancel the engagement.
The Young America's Foundation (YAF) will host the conservative New England Freedom Conference this week in New Hampshire. In addition to Fox Business host John Stossel, Fox contributor Katie Pavlich and Cruz, the event will feature noted extremist Robert Spencer and promised, "If you are interested in public policy, free speech, less government, and a strong national defense, this conference is for you. Along with Senator Ted Cruz, you will hear from Jihad Watch's Robert Spencer about Islamic terrorism and jihad."
Spencer is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center's Extremist Files as "one of America's most prolific and vociferous anti-Muslim propagandists." He's a prominent figure with Jidhad Watch and Stop Islamization of America (SOIA) - two organizations deemed hate groups by SPLC.
Spencer was also described by the Center for American Progress (CAP) in a 2011 report on Islamophobia as one of their five top "misinformation experts." The CAP report highlighted some disturbing facts, including that he and Jihad Watch "were cited 162 times in the nearly 1,500-page manifesto of Anders Breivik, the confessed Norway terrorist who claimed responsibility for killing 76 people, mostly youths," and quotes former Nixon adviser and deputy director of the National Security Council Robert Crane in describing Spencer as "the principal leader... in the new academic field of Islam bashing."
His anti-Islamic rhetoric has solidified Spencer a place as a right-wing media darling, turned to by Fox News and conservative sites like National Review Online as a go-to expert on Islam despite his extreme leanings. Fox turned to Spencer as recently as January to spew Islamophobia during a discussion about the deadly attacks on satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Appearing on Hannity, Spencer cited the "much higher" birth rate of Muslim populations to fearmonger that "Sharia enclaves" will "inevitably grow and continue to grow until, finally, that's all there is."
It is for extremist rhetoric such as this that Muslim advocacy groups like The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) have called on Cruz to cancel his upcoming appearance with Spencer at YAF. In a March 24 press release, the group pointed to the designation of Spencer's organizations as hate groups by the SPLC as one of the reasons why Cruz should step back from the event. "As the first Republican to declare his candidacy for president, CAIR recommends that Senator Cruz reach out to members of the American Muslim and other U.S. minority communities to better understand their issues and concerns, " explained CAIR Government Affairs Manager Robert McCaw.
From the March 24 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered:
Loading the player reg...
Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich suggested that sexual assaults benefit feminists and school administrators politically, and said that "lots of the time" women "make a decision about whether you are going to stop a sexual assault or not," during a campus appearance to discuss how guns can be the "best defense" against sexual assault.
And in an exchange that prompted an audible reaction from the audience, Pavlich offered a sarcastic apology while disagreeing with a woman who shared that she was sexually assaulted as a child.
On March 10, Pavlich delivered a speech called "Sexual Assault on Campus: A Conservative Perspective" at an event organized by Iowa State University's College Republicans chapter, the conservative group Young America's Foundation, and ISU's Committee on Lectures.
During her remarks, Pavlich advanced the evidence-free notion that allowing students to carry concealed guns on college campuses will reduce sexual assault and also argued that the incidence of sexual assaults on college campuses has been exaggerated. (According to academic research, students who carried guns while at college were more likely to report "being victims and perpetrators of physical and sexual violence at college" compared to students who did not.)
Iowa State Daily reported that "Pavlich was met with resistance from multiple ISU students, including a large group of purple-clad students attending the lecture as part of an organized effort called 'Standing up to Katie Pavlich and Rape Culture.'"
After her speech, several survivors of sexual assault challenged Pavlich on her notion that guns will prevent future assaults. An ISU women's studies lecturer later told the student paper that Pavlich's remarks were "incredibly irresponsible" because "[i]t was a 'conservative take on sexual assault,' but it was clear her intent was to advocate for concealed carry laws."
In audio obtained by Media Matters, Pavlich is heard suggesting that the actions of feminists and colleges end up permitting assaults to occur because victims help them push a feminist and "anti-gun" agenda. She also said that "lots of the time" women "make a decision" about whether or not they will be sexually assaulted in the seconds before an attack occurs.
Pavlich makes frequent appearances on Fox News, often as a panelist on daytime show Outnumbered.
Here are four lowlights from Pavlich's Iowa State appearance:
Pavlich claimed that "modern feminism can't survive without victims, so naturally preventing victimhood through self-defense is unacceptable." She then added, "Telling women they don't need self-defense to prevent rape is exactly what moves real rape culture forward because violent criminals can operate without resistance."