The NRA and its media outlet have long been a breeding ground for odious conspiracy theories

A National Rifle Association official had a conspiratorial correspondence with an infamous Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist after the 2018 Parkland, FL, school shooting, according to a March 27 HuffPost exclusive. The story is indicative of a culture at the NRA that allows the promotion of conspiracy theories about mass shootings, gun policy, and other topics by some of its leaders.

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters 

NRA official attempted to spread misinformation after Parkland shooting by enlisting a Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist

NRA official contacted Sandy Hook hoaxer to spread conspiracy theories about Parkland school shooting. HuffPost broke the news that NRA training instructor and program coordinator Mark Richardson emailed Wolfgang Halbig -- an Alex Jones associate and frequent guest on his Infowars outlet who routinely harassed the families of Sandy Hook victims -- to float the theory that the Parkland shooter “was not alone.” That same day, Infowars published a story with the headline “Video: Second Shooter Reported In Florida Massacre.” From the March 27 HuffPost article:

An official with the National Rifle Association corresponded with a prominent Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist to call into question the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, emails obtained by HuffPost show.

NRA officer Mark Richardson emailed Wolfgang Halbig, a noted harasser of parents of Sandy Hook Elementary School victims, to float a conspiracy theory about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 people were killed last year.

“Just like [Sandy Hook], there is so much more to this story,” Richardson said in an email dated Feb. 15, 2018 ― just one day after the Florida shooting. Twenty children and six adults were killed during the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. “[The Parkland shooter] was not alone.” The email was sent from his official NRA email address.

Richardson is a training instructor and program coordinator with the NRA. He has worked there since 2006, according to a social media post. In an emailed statement to HuffPost, he confirmed he had been in contact with Halbig and said he was asking a “legitimate question.”

“Since an individual who was prohibited from the school was aloud [sic] to pass through the front doors with a backpack containing a long gun, it is a legitimate question to ask if he had assistance concerning access to the school,” Richardson told HuffPost.

He added, “No one else seems to be interested enough to even ask the question?” [HuffPost, 3/27/19]

The NRA and its media outlet have long been a breeding ground for paranoid conspiracy theories

The NRA and its media operation NRATV have spent years floating conspiracy theories about supposed gun confiscation, ammunition bans, biased media coverage, and as of late, high-profile violent incidents, suggesting that they are “false flags.” Notably, conspiracy theories that NRA leadership figures have pushed often involved anti-Semitism and white nationalism.

NRA board member Ted Nugent promoted the conspiracy theory that Parkland student survivors calling for gun regulation were “coached” actors. [Media Matters, 2/21/18]

Later, NRATV dismissed the conspiracy theory used to attack Parkland students, claiming it “got no traction.”

GRANT STINCHFIELD (HOST): The smear campaign against gun rights advocates, Trump supporters, and NRA members continues. It’s a never ending barrage of bogus stories aimed at turning Americans against all of us. PolitiFact again weighs into the cesspool of smears with its, quote, “lie of the year” award. An outrageous conspiracy theory that got no traction and was denounced by every reputable conservative outlet, including all of us here on Stinchfield at NRATV, that some of the Parkland students were crisis actors. Anyone who pushed that bogus theory is far out of line, and I called them out as such over and over again. I never waged war against Parkland kids. Occasionally, I would try to re-educate them on their misinformation about guns and the Second Amendment. But I, and most conservatives, applauded their passion and always said their voice counts too. Which means the crisis actor lie was a bogus idea that most likely no one except those on the fringe ever heard. So why does PolitiFact make this their lie of the year, as if the nonsense theory really mattered? Here’s why, it’s part of their effort to besmirch all of us. It’s designed to dupe uninformed Americans into thinking all of us horrible 2A supporters were attacking innocent Parkland victims. We weren't, and none of us pushed the crisis actor story because it was all fake and ridiculous. But more importantly, not based in fact. Here is the award I picked for lie of the year. How about this one: The NRA is a terrorist organization and its members are all terrorists. It isn’t just the fringe left pushing that idea either. Democratic congressmen and women, senators, high-profile entertainers all went down that road that this, the NRA, is a terrorist organization.

STINCHFIELD: So just to review all of this, a fringe, right-wing podcaster calls Parkland students crisis actors, a label no one believed while those who are on the left, who are leaders of the left, calls NRA members and leaders terrorists. Every Democrat in America jumps on board with that, and PolitiFact goes with the crisis actor line as their lie of the year. It’s all shameful, really. [NRATV, Stinchfield, 12/14/18]    

NRATV pushed a conspiracy theory that philanthropist George Soros was funding a migrant caravan, and the network continued pushing it even after a gunman inspired by a similar conspiracy theory carried out a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh, PA, synagogue.

NRATV hosts themselves have repeatedly pushed conspiracy theories about the migrant caravan; NRATV correspondent Chuck Holton claimed during an October 19 NRATV broadcast that “a bevy of left-wing groups are partnering with a Hungarian-born billionaire [George Soros] and the Venezuelan government to try to influence the 2018 midterms by sending Honduran migrants north” in a caravan. Soros is a prominent Jewish philanthropist who frequently makes donations to liberal and progressive causes.

During another recent NRATV appearance, Holton falsely claimed that Soros was funding the caravan and said that he is “an expert at sowing chaos and discord around the world.” Holton went on to say that Soros’ views are “at odds with civilization as a whole” and said, “The guy really makes a kind of perfect Bond villain, don’t you think? This socialist anti-gun, anti-American agenda is nothing short of apocalyptic.”

During yet another segment Holton hosted, NRATV showed a picture of Soros above a chyron that said, “Immigrant Caravan: Who’s Paying The Bill?”

Both Holton and Stinchfield have referred to the caravan as an “invasion,” which is also how the gunman characterized it. [Media Matters, 10/29/18]

While pipe bombs were being sent to prominent Democrats and media figures in October 2018, NRATV warned of “false flags” and “publicity stunts” carried out by “left-wingers.”  

GRANT STINCHFIELD (HOST): Americans are waking up. My fear is the desperation on behalf of the left will be seen in false flags, publicity stunts, and, yes, an escalation of violence from the tens of thousands of left-wingers who partake in the intimidation and destruction tactics now perfected by the left. [NRATV, Stinchfield, 10/25/18]

While appearing with toxic conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Nugent said that “we have to be suspicious” and “question the information that we’re given” about the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting.

TED NUGENT: Yes, there is an assault on the Second Amendment, but I got to tell you, Alex, I’m not out here alone, not just the great men and women of the National Rifle Association, but good people -- I’m watching Tucker Carlson and Greg Gutfeld and Newt Gingrich and a crime specialist from Australia completely destroying the lies and the fantasy of those that believe another gun law could have stopped this or any of the other mass shootings or any crime. I mean, if you can’t keep real Kalashnikov machine guns out of people’s hands in Paris, France, then obviously people with any intellect and common sense whatsoever will realize there’s nothing you can write on paper and turn into a law or a regulation that would have stopped any of the mass shootings because evil is as evil does. But we, the citizens of America, will not let our Second Amendment rights, our God-given, constitutionally guaranteed right to keep and bear arms, we will not let it be infringed any further and we’re making a stand right here and right now.

ALEX JONES (HOST): We’re going to break here in just a moment so please stay with us. Again, Ted Nugent’s our guest. But just briefly, have you seen the information coming out? They’re looking at radicalization. Our FBI sources told us Monday, and it’s now being confirmed, that there was Antifa and pro-Islamic garbage in there and his live-in, I guess common law wife was traveling to Dubai and other areas, he was wiring money all over to Islamic countries. This looks really bad.

NUGENT: Nothing would surprise me at this time. I believe that the law enforcement heroes of the Las Vegas jurisdiction are literally doing the greatest job I may have ever witnessed in not only stopping the shooting but also the investigation. But you’re right, Alex, we have to be suspicious. Our Founding Fathers and all citizens of America who knows that this is a sacred experiment in self government. We must always be suspicious. We must always question the information that we’re given, and that’s why I salute you because you are an ass-kicking, we-the-people, Concord Bridge American patriot who asks questions. We need to demand honesty and transparency and by shining light on cockroaches and constantly questioning information that we’re given. [Genesis Communication Network, The Alex Jones Show, 10/4/17]

In a Facebook post, Nugent suggested Jews who “hate freedom” are “really behind” the push for gun safety regulation and told people to “raise maximum hell to shut them down.”

Facing criticism for his claim, Nugent called Jewish supporters of gun safety laws “Nazis in disguise.” The NRA refused to condemn Nugent’s comments. [Media Matters, 2/9/16, The Washington Post, 2/10/16]

NRATV correspondent Chuck Holton pushed the white nationalist conspiracy theory that the first slaves in the U.S. were Irish, while attacking the Black community and insisting white privilege is “simply the culture that we have created.” [Media Matters, 8/22/2016, Inverse, 8/8/18]

Holton also pushed the white nationalist conspiracy theory that people from the “Third World” are being imported into the U.S. to replace the present U.S. population. [Media Matters, 1/4/19]

NRA CEO and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre baselessly claimed then-President Barack Obama was going to “ban your ammunition -- all of it” and that his last two years would “pose the greatest threat ever to the Second Amendment.” [Media Matters, 4/30/15]

Then-NRA President Jim Porter fearmongered in 2013 that Obama would use Medicare enrollment to create a gun registry and confiscate firearms. [Media Matters, 12/6/13]

An NRA magazine story alleged that a United Nations treaty to prevent human rights abusers from obtaining weapons would be used by “the minions of tyrannical and thieving governments” to achieve “total disarmament of freedom-loving people all over the world.” [Media Matters, 2/19/2013]

LaPierre claimed that an NBC sportscaster discussing a murder-suicide carried out by an NFL player was part of a plan by “media conglomerates” to ban guns.  

WAYNE LAPIERRE: [Viewers] tuned in to watch a sporting event and meanwhile what they get in regard to this cold blooded murder that took place, is they get a national sportscaster whining about his social agenda that he wants adopted to ban firearms and ban handguns.

...

America got it. That's why they are so upset about what Bob Costas did last night. I mean they know what he was advocating was eliminating their right to own a firearm under the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. [Media Matters, 12/4/12]

In an attempt to promote gun ownership following Hurricane Sandy, LaPierre unveiled a racist conspiracy theory that falsely alleged there was massive looting in “south Brooklyn.” [Daily News, 2/15/13, Media Matters, 9/27/17]  

The NRA and conspiracy theory platform Infowars have a mutually beneficial relationship

While Sandy Hook hoaxer Alex Jones repeatedly praised the NRA’s more “hardcore direction” in recent years, the NRA and its media outlet returned the favor by running advertisements on his show and defending him when he was kicked off of Twitter for violating the website’s terms of service.  

NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch ran defense for Jones after he was kicked off of Twitter, claiming nothing he has ever said was “violent or threatening.”

DANA LOESCH (HOST): I’m not a fan of Alex Jones, and his obsession with [CNN reporter] Oliver Darcy's eyes is weird. But he’s not wrong that Darcy appears to be on a bit of a crusade. And he also seems to be a lot more lefty since he left The Blaze and is now at CNN, which seems to happen to a lot of people when they end up going to a legacy media outlet. But this crusade that he's on ultimately paid off, since Jones and Infowars, they’ve now been banned from Twitter as well. And by the way, what does that achieve? Getting somebody kicked off Twitter, what does that achieve for you, other than bragging points? You're going to put it in your bio, “Got somebody kicked off Twitter” ? I mean, what purpose does that achieve?     

Suppression is still suppression, and nothing Jones has said is violent or threatening. It’s kooky. And when people start getting banned from platforms, platforms that essentially control the online public square, because CNN commentators or contributors or whatever they are don’t like them, that seems kind of douchey, let’s be real, and kind of a dangerous precedent to set where it concerns corporate censorship. [NRATV, Relentless, 9/10/18]

Then-NRATV host Dan Bongino used a doctored Infowars video of Jim Acosta in a White House press briefing even though multiple reports had already debunked the edited footage.

DAN BONGINO (HOST): Acosta is claiming right now that he didn’t put his hands on this woman. This is a White House intern who has to move the mic -- folks, I worked in the White House for a long time, this is how this works. They walk the mic around. Jim Acosta -- now I don’t want to overdramatize this, Denise was right before the show -- he didn’t attack her, it’s not a karate chop, he wasn’t trying to -- I sincerely doubt he was trying to hurt the -- I would not even venture to go that far. But can we all acknowledge this is grossly inappropriate behavior? This is the president of the United States. He answered your question, move on. You don't put your mitts on the woman. It’s disgusting. You know I was very upset about this on Twitter yesterday. Have some dignity, Jim. Apologize and move on. This is the president of the United States. This young lady didn’t ask for this. She works for a living too, you know. Give up the microphone. Pathetic. [NRATV, We Stand, 11/8/18]

After Parkland, both NRA and NRATV ran ads on Infowars social media broadcasts, despite host Jones calling the Sandy Hook shooting “fake” and pushing the conspiracy theory that Parkland student survivors were crisis actors. [Media Matters, 3/5/18, Media Matters, 3/4/18]  

While interviewing Nugent, Jones called the NRA “the best organization on earth.”

ALEX JONES (HOST): I don’t want to toot your horn, but this is real strategy. You on the NRA board were able to get them more hardcore and more like Gun Owners of America and you were somebody that pushed for that, and now, the NRA is more amazing than ever, the best organization on earth, in my view. [Genesis Communications Network, The Alex Jones Show, 9/5/17]

Jones praised the NRA’s “more hardcore” direction after Loesch released an ad promising to fight opponents with a “clenched fist of truth.”

ALEX JONES (HOST): The National Rifle Association is rebranding itself to be more hardcore and more political. I’m very proud of our audience and I’m very proud of people like the “Motor City Madman” Ted Nugent when he was an NRA board member who was instrumental in getting NRA back to being hardcore and not milquetoast. It was Gun Owners of America. We should get [GOA Executive Director] Larry Pratt back on this week, in fact we will. Larry Pratt who helped keep the NRA honest. Remember, they used to even support assault weapons bans back in the 90s and stuff. Semi-auto bans. I mean the NRA got bad for a while, but thanks to activists and members keeping them straight they’ve gotten more hardcore and they’ve gotten more popular. Well now they’ve got people like [TV personality] Jesse James and Dana Loesch, and others that are what you would say radicalizing the NRA. Which, radicalism, extremism in defense of liberty is no vice, to quote Barry Goldwater, who is the grandaddy of our whole countermovement against the globalists, make no mistake.

“A chilling National Rifle Association ad gaining traction online appears to be an ‘open call to violence,’” this is from 11 days ago. The video has tens of millions of views on different platforms, and it’s a one minute ad that sounds like I could have said it, or you could have said it, because it’s truth. It’s not plagiarism by the NRA of the liberty movement. It’s truth; it’s self-evident. In fact, I’m going to cut some promos that are basically a nod to this piece. And we should all put out our own YouTube videos and our own testimonies about why we have the Second Amendment. Everybody should do it on a webcam, or on your local access TV, or on talk radio. Everyone should give testament to why we have the Second Amendment.

We’re going to air that ad here in just a moment. In fact, I told the crew last week I want to put it into rotation here to run on the network and on the radio show. In fact, I want the one-minute ad to actually run on the full GCN network, I want it to run in our ad slots that are $1,000 a minute. It sounds like it’s a lot; it’s not for syndicated radio. I’m going to take some of my ad time I’ve got on the network and I’m running this for the NRA because it’s hardcore. And if we don’t all contribute to the fight we’re going to lose. [Genesis Communications Network, The Alex Jones Show, 7/10/17]