In a series of Facebook Live videos, National Rifle Association board member Anthony Colandro called the novel coronavirus pandemic “bullshit” and encouraged his followers to join him at an anti-social distancing protest in New Jersey.
In a April 27 Facebook video, Colandro announced he “may get arrested in Trenton tomorrow at the rally for our right to open New Jersey,” which he elaborated would take place the following day between noon and 3 p.m. at the Trenton War Memorial to show Gov. Phil Murphy “how upset we are.” Colandro went on to encourage his Facebook followers to come to the protests, which he noted violate New Jersey’s stay-at-home order, and insisted the state police “can’t arrest all of us.”
The following day, Colandro posted another video while driving down to the rally, reassuring viewers that he had a copy of the Constitution in case the police asked “where are your papers,” which he appeared to say in a German accent. He went on to call the pandemic -- which he calls the “plandemic” -- “a bunch of bullshit. Now they want microchipping and cell phone apps and they want to quarantine us in camps and stuff.”
Colandro posted a third video when he arrived at the rally, bemoaning that “less than 500 people” showed up, concluding that “we have become a nation of sheep” and “we allow our public masters to dictate our life.” He added: “We are being spoon-fed socialism every day, and 8.5 million people are just bending over and taking it. They’re talking about tracking our social movements and stuff. You know what? I hope you all get an anal probe with a microchip in it.” Far-right conspiracy theorists have been pushing the baseless claim that the coronavirus pandemic will be used to place microchips in people for the purpose of depopulation.
Colandro, who owns a gun range in New Jersey’s Passaic County and is the host of the podcast “Guns for Hire,” was elected to a one-year term on the NRA board in April of 2019 and is currently running for reelection. The NRA cancelled its 2020 annual meeting, where board election results would be typically announced, because of the coronavirus outbreak. According to an NRA announcement, “the NRA Board of Directors is working with the Office of the Secretary in relation to board elections, meetings, and the like.” He previously came under fire for tweets calling Islam a “parasitic cult,” calling Muslims “cockroaches,” and complaining about “multiculturalism,” “globalism,” and immigration.
Colandro was not the only NRA board member to cheer on the anti-social distancing protests.
Willes Lee, who has been on the NRA board since at least 2017 and was reelected in April 2019, shared a Daily Caller article on April 19 about anti-social distancing protesters in Texas and wrote “Liberate America! The stupidity of lock down when we want to produce.” Lee also compared the stay-at-home orders to “tyranny” and called the Michigan governor’s decisions “stupidity” in an April 15 tweet about the anti-social distancing protests in Michigan.
The NRA’s lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) also agreed with President Donald Trump’s endorsement of the anti-social distancing protests. This came after the NRA-ILA posted a fundraising pitch fearmongering that “anti-gun lawmakers are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to deny you and your loved ones your fundamental right to self-defense.”
The push from NRA board members and the NRA-ILA is the latest example of pro-gun activists hyping protests against public health measures.