Gun Owners of America Execuive Director Larry Pratt is happy to appear on talk shows hosted by conspiracy theorists who believe 9/11 was an inside job, think white Christians should arm themselves for the coming race war, or want to shoot Hillary Clinton in the vagina.
Pratt told Media Matters in a lengthy interview this week that outlandish, discredited claims by the likes of talk show hosts Alex Jones and Pete Santelli do not bother him as long as his interviewer “has an audience and he provides a microphone for us to reach that audience.”
“As long as I have a chance to present what Gun Owners of America is doing ... ideally seek support for Gun Owners of America, get [people] on our alert list, receive the alerts, then that's all good,” Pratt said.
In the interview, Pratt also defended conspiratorial claims he had made on extremist programs, including his suggestion that the government might have been involved in the 2012 mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.
Pratt's organization has become an important player in the gun debate, with The New York Times in April heralding their role as an “increasingly potent group” that was “emerging as an influential force” over then-pending Senate gun legislation. This high-profile role has come in spite of Pratt's long record of extremism.
As Media Matters has documented, discredited conspiracies and outlandish and offensive statements are the stock-in-trade of several radio talk show hosts whose regular guests have included Pratt, as well as gun advocates Ted Nugent and former NRA President David Keene.
Among the radio shows that Pratt has frequented are those hosted by Jones, Santelli, and Stan Solomon and Gary Franchi.
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, also believes the December 2012 mass shooting at the Sandy Hook elementary school was a “programmed event” designed to help pass gun legislation.
Franchi is an avid conspirator who 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.
Jones believes the government actively carried out or was otherwise involved in the 9-11 attacks, the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the mass shooting in Newtown. (He also recently suggested a government “weather weapon” could possibly have created the devastating tornado in Oklahoma.)
Santelli in recent weeks has been in the news for repeatedly expressing his desire to shoot Hillary Clinton “in the vagina” over her supposed treasonous acts.
Asked if he agrees with these hosts or finds any problem with their views, Pratt stated, “If they will provide an audience, we're happy to speak to their audience.”
He compared his appearances on those shows with his organization's work in 2011 with the American Civil Liberties Union to oppose a South Dakota statute that barred legal permanent residents from carrying a concealed weapon, saying that while those groups had differences on other issues, “when there are areas that we can agree, we work together.”
Pratt dismissed the idea that appearing on conspiracy shows hurts his image and credibility or that of GOA.
“I don't think it hurts us anymore than it did when we participated in news conferences with the ACLU,” he said. “It brings forward the interests that gun owners have in a particular issue, that's what's involved.”
Pratt said he has not been aware of all of the hosts' outlandish stances, but added that they do not upset him.
“They don't bring [conspiracies] up, so it is kind of news to me,” he said about choosing to go on the shows, adding that a booking agency finds the talk show options for him. “I recognize Franchi's name, I had no idea that he was into any of the conspiracy theories, but so be it.”
Stressing that he simply wants a place to push his agenda, Pratt added, “I'm glad to talk to his audience, hopefully we'll get some members as a result of it.”
Pratt recalls turning down only one talk show because during his last appearance the host would not let him speak. He said he could not remember the person's name, only that he was a “rabid guy that I told them never to book me on again.”
But Pratt has appeared on plenty of other shows and in many cases either agreed with a controversial or outrageous comment or declined to criticize it.
Asked about being on Santelli's show after the host made the comment about shooting Hillary Clinton, Pratt said, “That's not the way we talk, that's not called for as far as we're concerned.”
But he said it would not keep him from returning.
“If we can reach out to people and get them to become members of Gun Owners of America and part of our grass-roots lobbying effort, that's where we're going, that's what we're after.”
While Pratt insists that he's simply there for the microphone and professes ignorance about the conspiratorial nature of some of the programs, he's participated in the conspiracies during his interviews.
During a January appearance on Solomon's show, the host said that people need guns because “black Muslim atheist have-nots” are planning to attack “Christian heterosexual haves.” At the time, Pratt replied that Solomon's claim wasn't a stretch. Asked by Media Matters if he really believed that, Pratt recycled a false claim about President Obama.
“The president had talked in his '08 campaign about a civilian defense force that would have equal strength to the military and frankly I think he has achieved that with the Department of Homeland Security, which now has 100,000 armed agents,” Pratt said. “If that's a correct figure, which I had read, that means that that's more than just TSA because most TSA agents are not armed.”
Pratt appeared to be referring to Obama's promise in 2008 to expand the Foreign Service, AmeriCorps, and the Peace Corps, a statement over which many on the right have fearmongered.
Asked about how this equates to the Muslim army Solomon had warned against, Pratt said, “It means that it's a lot of unconstitutional concentration of power and that is very concerning and we do have a president who seems to follow the Alinskyite principles of division of setting one group against another.”
Pratt also defended his July 2012 comment to Jones that the Aurora movie theater shooting may have been planned by the government, saying that he did not have any proof, but also would not rule it out. Pratt had told Jones that while he thought that “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.”
“I said 'we don't know, there hasn't been any definitive [proof],'” he told Media Matters. “But I don't think it's necessary to go after some idea that the government is involved, you've got enough people in this country that are not well put together, that are full of hate, you don't need to involve the government, I don't think.”
He later backed away more from his July 2012 comments, saying, “I would be open to anybody bringing the information, but certainly no suggestion of that at this time.”
Pratt excuses his conduct during interviews with conspiracy theorists, saying that he is not on the shows to challenge the hosts, just to advance GOA's positions.
“I don't go on these shows to take these guys on, I go on to talk about gun owners and wouldn't it have been better to have somebody in the theater that could have shot back?” he said. “That's where I think the conversation needs to go and where typically I would head the conversation.”
The GOA executive director is not worried about being judged by the company he keeps.
“People are going to do that anyway, especially you on the left,” said Pratt. “You're making that connection and that is not what we're all about, we're all about the right to keep and bear arms.”
Pratt says he has no intention of changing his guidelines for appearing on talk shows, saying that he will continue to appear with “Anyone that will let us have their microphone.”