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  • During the shutdown, the NRA embraced white nationalism in support of Trump’s wall

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    More than half of the live news updates from the National Rifle Association’s media operation, NRATV, fearmongered about undocumented immigrants during the recent government shutdown, which was caused by President Donald Trump’s demand that Congress fund a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

    During the 35-day shutdown, which ended on January 25, NRATV broadcast 95 segments on its news program Stinchfield. The show, hosted by conservative radio host Grant Stinchfield, consists of 10- to 20-minute hourly updates on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. EST. According to a Media Matters review, 54 of the segments aired during the shutdown fearmongered about undocumented immigrants to agitate for Trump’s fantastical and racist border wall proposal. In three instances, NRATV invited Michael Cutler, a frequent contributor to a white nationalist publication, on to the outlet to advocate for Trump’s wall. Additionally, NRATV correspondent Chuck Holton pushed explicitly white nationalist talking points during one of his appearances.

    While it may seem odd that an outlet dedicated to gun-related issues would devote so much time to pushing for Trump’s wall, NRATV is actually best understood as a pro-Trump propaganda network with an explicit aim of promoting whatever his agenda happens to be that day. (In once instance, Stinchfield did connect immigration to the NRA’s goal of loosening concealed carry laws nationwide, saying we should do so because of “the issues we face with immigration and crime.”)

    In this report:

    NRATV host Grant Stinchfield demonized undocumented immigrants as violent criminals

    Stinchfield frequently used the slur “illegals”

    Stinchfield made up a statistic and repeatedly used the same inflammatory talking points on immigration

    NRATV hosted a contributor to a white nationalist publication three times

    NRATV featured homegrown white nationalism from NRATV correspondent Chuck Holton

    Other ways NRATV fearmongered about undocumented immigrants

    The truth about NRATV and public safety

    NRATV host Grant Stinchfield demonized undocumented immigrants as violent criminals

    NRATV’s scapegoating of undocumented immigrants for problems in the U.S. began on December 28 -- the first day that the network broadcast Stinchfield after the partial government shutdown began. Throughout his broadcasts that day, Stinchfield repeatedly raised the murder of California police officer Ronil Singh by an undocumented immigrant to create the false perception that undocumented immigrants often pose a public safety threat to those in the U.S. Falsely claiming that Trump’s wall proposal would “stop the large majority of those sneaking in today,” Stinchfield said, “We are tired and fed up of seeing innocent people slaughtered at the hands of illegal immigrants,” and added, “It is time now to stand firm with President Trump. Let’s build this wall.” During another update later that day, NRATV correspondent Chuck Holton connected without evidence the murder of a Swiss man in Acapulco, Mexico, to a migrant caravan poised to enter Mexico from Central America. (Speaking of the migrants in the caravan, Holton also added, “You can bet that these are not doctors and accountants coming along. These are unskilled laborers coming to a place that’s absolutely chock full already of unskilled laborers. So you can imagine how that’s going to go.”)

    That trend would continue: During the 20 days NRATV broadcast during the shutdown, only one -- January 25 -- did not feature a segment fearmongering about undocumented immigrants. The implication that undocumented immigrants pose a grave public safety threat is meant to scare NRATV’s viewers, but it is not based on reality. Research has proved that undocumented immigrants commit crimes -- including murder -- at lower rates than people born in the U.S. do. There is no evidence that the wall would improve public safety (although Stinchfield stated that it “will instantly make us all safer” during a January 2 broadcast).

    Stinchfield frequently used the slur “illegals”

    Throughout shutdown broadcasts, Stinchfield repeatedly slurred and dehumanized undocumented immigrants with the term “illegals.” Some examples:

    • Stinchfield on January 4: “We’ve talked over and over again about people driving drunk, getting killed by illegals. … I argue that drunk driving among anybody -- but especially illegals who shouldn’t have been here -- put more people at risk than the gangbangers even do.”
    • Stinchfield on January 9: “With so many illegals in America today, and sadly so many of them that have turned to crime, no one is immune to the toll illegal aliens who turn to crime can take on all of us.”
    • Stinchfield on January 18: Singer Cardi B needs to talk to “people who lost loved ones to violent illegals who never should have been here in the first place.”

    Stinchfield made up a statistic and repeatedly used the same inflammatory talking points on immigration

    Stinchfield made up an outrageous statistic to push for the wall; during the January 8 and January 9 broadcasts, he claimed without evidence that undocumented immigrants have killed “tens of thousands” of people in the U.S. in recent years.

    Making matters worse, Stinchfield’s claims about immigration were often not off the cuff -- instead they were scripted and packaged, with the same talking points appearing during multiple Stinchfield updates. Some examples:

    • Stinchfield used similar language to repeatedly suggest that Trump deliver the 2019 State of the Union address at the border while surrounded by family members of people killed by undocumented immigrants. (That idea was pitched to him by Daily Caller White House correspondent Amber Athey, who was recently forced to apologize after racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-gay tweets she sent surfaced.)
    • Stinchfield repeatedly said that the impacts of undocumented immigrants “end in your hometown” with violence.
    • Stinchfield repeatedly claimed that the U.S. has “a problem with violent illegal aliens.”
    • Stinchfield repeatedly said that the U.S. is “under siege” by violent undocumented immigrants.

    NRATV hosted a contributor to a white nationalist publication three times

    NRATV hosted Michael Cutler during broadcasts on December 28, January 3, and January 21, identifying him in on-screen graphics as a “former INS agent.” Cutler, who is also a former fellow at the nativist Center for Immigration Studies, is a frequent contributor to white nationalist journal The Social Contract. The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that the publication “routinely publishes race-baiting articles penned by white nationalists” and that it was founded “by John Tanton, the racist founder and principal ideologue of the modern nativist movement.” According to SPLC, The Social Contract Press “puts an academic veneer of legitimacy over what are essentially racist arguments about the inferiority of today's immigrants.”

    A search of the journal’s website returns 21 articles authored by Cutler, including six articles published since 2017. Echoing Stinchfield, Cutler emphasized undocumented immigrant criminality during his appearances on the show. During his January 21 appearance, Cutler claimed that Democrats are betraying “national security and public safety,” and Stinchfield closed the segment by saying that Cutler “has a long history of defending our nation’s borders.”

    NRATV featured homegrown white nationalism from NRATV correspondent Chuck Holton

    Chuck Holton, an NRATV correspondent with a history of making racist remarks and promoting white nationalism, pushed a conspiratorial white nationalist talking point during a January 4 appearance. Holton alleged that Democrats are “trying to import a new populace that will vote for them by offering them all these free benefits” via the southern border from “Third World” countries such as India, Cameroon, Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, and those “all over Africa.” Describing immigration as “trying to import a new populace” from “the Third World” is a common tactic advanced by white nationalist publications including VDare and American Renaissance.

    While speaking about immigration on NRATV before the shutdown, Holton repeatedly pushed the conspiracy theory that philanthropist George Soros was behind a migrant caravan -- a remarkably similar conspiracy theory to the one that motivated a gunman who carried out a mass shooting in a Pittsburgh, PA, synagogue in October. He has also said that the migrant caravan is “an invasion under the guise of migration.”

    Other ways NRATV fearmongered about undocumented immigrants

    On NRATV, Stinchfield mostly depicted undocumented immigrants as criminals poised to commit everyday violence like robbery or murder, but there were some exceptions. In one instance, he fearmongered about the prospect of undocumented immigrants getting national voting rights.

    In several other cases, Stinchfield and Holton took cues from the Trump administration to raise the prospect of undocumented immigrant terrorists. For example, citing a terrorist attack in Africa and incidents in the U.S., Holton said during the January 16 broadcast of Stinchfield, “This is yet another reason why we need that wall on the southern border.” While providing no examples of terrorists crossing the southern border, Stinchfield said during a January 18 update, “Look at what happens when terrorists make their way into this country. If you want to secure the border, you do it, you build a wall.” According to the libertarian Cato Institute, no U.S. terror attack has ever been carried out by someone who crossed the border illegally.

    The truth about NRATV and public safety

    The sickening irony of NRATV’s obsession with the supposed criminality of undocumented immigrants is that if the outlet was truly concerned about public safety and murder, it would devote its time to reporting that high gun availability and lax firearm laws are the driving factors behind the U.S.’s shockingly high homicide rate, with the vast majority of murders committed by people born in the U.S. But it doesn’t. The NRA, of course, opposes any meaningful action on gun laws to stem that epidemic of violence.

  • The founder of this extremist armed militia had a front-row seat to Trump’s rally

    Stewart Rhodes and his Oath Keepers embrace white supremacist talking points and have provided security to far-right extremists while endorsing the use of “lethal force” against left-wing protesters

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and members of his far-right armed militia were spotted in the front row at President Donald Trump’s February 11 rally in El Paso, TX. Rhodes has advocated for training armed militias to do Trump’s bidding, embraced white supremacist conspiracy theories, endorsed using “lethal force” against left-wing protesters, and called on armed Oath Keepers to stand guard outside of schools and to spot unauthorized crossings at the U.S. southern border.

    Rhodes founded Oath Keepers “in the direct aftermath of the election of the nation’s first black president,” Barack Obama, in reaction to the baseless claim that the federal government was hellbent on destroying liberties protected by the Constitution. The militia holds radical anti-government beliefs and is made up of “current and formerly serving military, police, and first responders” claiming to uphold the oath they made to “support and defend the Constitution.”

    In reality, the group and its founder openly espouse radical beliefs. Some of these include calling transgender rights “nuts,” dismissing the racist use of blackface as “nonsense,” and claiming Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is using identity politics focused on “anyone not white” to “weaponize them against their own nation.” In the Obama years, the group promoted conspiracy theories such as "mass, forced internment into concentration camps" and claimed that they were operation to "prevent dictatorship" in the United States. In 2015, Rhodes reportedly said that Sen. John McCain "should be hung by the neck until dead"; Rhodes also was one of the far-right figures pushing the Jade Helm conspiracy theory. Rhodes also reportedly claimed that the Obama administration was using Ferguson riots and the Ebola virus to "spark a race war."

    Rhodes has repeatedly pushed baseless claims of massive voter fraud by undocumented immigrants and directed his armed militia to combat it. In the days leading up to the 2016 presidential election, he announced “Operation Sabot 2016,” and asked fellow Oath Keepers 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.” While he asked that they not bring guns, the Oath Keepers are closely associated with open carry protests, including the open carrying of firearms during protests against police brutality in Ferguson, MO, in which armed members looked down from rooftops.

    After the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, Rhodes called on Oath Keepers to “post up armed outside your local school” and some members obliged.

    On December 5, Rhodes went on Alex Jones’ Infowars outlet to push the white supremacist talking point that a caravan of immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border was evidence of “globalists” (a term with anti-Semitic connotations) executing what he described as “the latest tactic or assault in an ongoing war on the West to flood us with Third World people and then overwhelm us and kill our countries.” He called for the Justice Department to indict “all these NGOs that are assisting these illegal aliens coming into the United States.” A similar white supremacist conspiracy theory that migrant caravans are the result of a Jewish plot to replace white people was embraced by the shooter who went into a synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, and killed 11 Jewish people in October.

    Two days after Infowars posted Rhodes’ appearance, his group issued a “call to action” on Twitter, asking members to head to the southern border “to conduct surveillance and to spot and report any suspected illegal infiltration of the U.S.”

    Rhodes has also talked about forming an armed militia to do whatever Trump wants. During one of his frequent guest appearances on Infowars, Rhodes announced the launch of “a new program called Spartan training groups.” Rhodes said that the program is for “the average American” to learn combat skills to be available if “called out by the president of the United States to serve as a militia of the United States to secure the schools, protect our borders, or whatever else he asks them to do.”

    He also talked about the group’s involvement in providing security for far-right rallies and advocated for armed militias to recruit retired police for their nationwide concealed carry privileges as a “final line of lethal force” against anti-fascist protesters in any jurisdiction. Rhodes alluded to working alongside other violent extremist groups such as Patriot Prayer -- the group responsible for a cache of firearms found on a Portland, OR, rooftop in preparation for a protest last summer -- and the self-identified gang Proud Boys.

    In another appearance on Infowars, Rhodes hinted at the Oath Keepers murdering anti-Trump protesters, saying that left-wing protesters were coming close to “forcing” militias like his to have “no choice” but to “kill them.”

  • After Trump mocks the U.S. government's Trail of Tears genocide, some media figures shrug

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On February 9, President Donald Trump tweeted an attack on Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) that not-so-subtly joked about the Trail of Tears, a horrifying chapter of American history in which the U.S. government forced thousands of Native Americans to make a genocidal relocation march. But some in the media have glossed over or ignored Trump’s racist mockery of the genocide.

    Following Warren’s formal announcement that she will be running for president in 2020, Trump revived one of his go-to racist attacks, referring to her as “Pocahontas” and promising to see her “on the campaign TRAIL”:

    Many journalists were quick to point out that Trump’s capitalization of “TRAIL” in the last sentence of the tweet is a reference to the Trail of Tears. In the 1830s, President Andrew Jackson -- whom Trump admires greatly -- forced thousands of Native Americans to abandon their land and march more than a thousand miles to make way for white settlers. Thousands of Native Americans died during the march, which is remembered by the Cherokee Nation as the "trail where they cried."

    After Trump sent out the tweet, his son Donald Trump Jr. posted a screenshot of it and a callous response to Instagram, writing, "Savage!!! Love my President”:

    Savage!!! Love my President.

    A post shared by Donald Trump Jr. (@donaldjtrumpjr) on

    In some discussions of the tweet, media reacted to the Trumps’ racism and casual disregard for atrocity with indifference or even ignored it all together. For example, on February 10, segments of Fox News’ America’s News Headquarters and NBC’s Today both showed the tweet without making any mention of the reference to the Trail of Tears. The February 10 edition of MSNBC Live also showed the tweet, but the panel did not mention the reference to genocide and guest Ned Ryun immediately turned to bashing Warren instead of Trump. Fox & Friends Sunday went even further, with co-host Pete Hegseth attempting to defend Trump by claiming, “No one is making fun of the fact that people suffered and died. Like, you can recognize a historical tragedy while at the same time also making fun of someone who misrepresented themselves.”

    This isn’t the first time that media figures and outlets have glossed over, downplayed, or defended Trump’s racism. Unfortunately, this is just the latest example of the media’ repeatedly lowering the bar on when to hold the president accountable.

  • PragerU YouTube video features bigoted conspiracy theorist Owen Benjamin

    Benjamin says racial and homophobic slurs are “hilarious” and got kicked off of Twitter after going on a weird rant about the genitals of a Parkland shooting survivor

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    PragerU, the online operation peppering the internet with viral far-right propaganda, featured bigoted Owen Benjamin in its latest video. Benjamin was kicked off of Twitter permanently in 2018 following a bizarre rant about Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg’s genitals.

    In his February 4 video, Benjamin attempted to dissuade PragerU’s audience from arguing with leftists by calling “raising kids without a gender identity” “a form of child abuse” and by baselessly claiming white people are being demonized “for the world’s problems.”

    Benjamin is a right-wing comedian whose brand of “criminally unfunny” comedy includes using the N-word and homophobic slurs and calling it “hilarious.” He’s also a conspiracy theorist who has claimed to hundreds of thousands of viewers on his YouTube channel that the moon landing never happened.

    PragerU has a history of using its massive, wide-reaching platform to push misinformation and extremism. It has blamed racial disparities on "black culture," and on Columbus Day, it featured a video that showed a racist depiction of indigenous people as cannibals wielding salt-and-pepper shakers. On Facebook, the PragerU Brasil page has posted a Russia Today article to its over 14,000 followers falsely claiming that the American Psychological Association had stated it was “bad to be a man.” PragerU’s founder, Dennis Prager, has waged a dangerous, yearslong campaign against basic facts about AIDS, once calling heterosexual AIDS an “entirely manufactured” myth.

    And yet, PragerU’s propaganda and misinformation are being inserted directly into schools, as the company provides “content directly to teachers and students” and is “developing relationships with educators ‘in college, high school, middle school and homeschools.’”

    (H/t to @eyesontheright and @jaredlholt.)

  • Anti-LGBTQ attacks against high-profile queer Americans should be a wake-up call to everyone

    The community has been struggling with increasing violence for years, and two recent attacks show that none of us is safe

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The threat of violence and harassment is nothing new for those in the LGBTQ community, particularly those who are trans or people of color. We know that our safety is at risk when we hold hands in public; queer sex workers know they risk their lives just by going to work; trans women of color know that they could be killed at any time just for existing in public. The list goes on. But after two reports of high-profile queer people being beaten or harassed for their identities in the past week, it seems like everyone else might finally be waking up to the reality that their LGBTQ friends and family are simply not safe.

    In the early hours of January 29, two people reportedly physically attacked Empire actor Jussie Smollett -- a gay Black man -- while “yelling out racial and homophobic slurs towards him,” according to police. And on January 30, anti-trans so-called “feminists” barged into a meeting and recorded themselves repeatedly harassing and misgendering high-profile trans activist and author Sarah McBride, the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

    Smollett’s attack has been significantly covered in news media, and rightly so. But there is also Candice Elease Pinky, the Black trans woman who was shot in a Texas gas station parking lot on January 24, and Dana Martin, the first reported trans woman to be killed in the United States in 2019. According to HRC, there were “at least 26 transgender people fatally shot or killed by other violent means” in 2018. And in 2017, there were “a total of 52 reported anti-LGBTQ homicides,” according to a report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP); that number reflected a staggering 86 percent increase in single-incident reports from the previous year. This violence is most frequently targeted toward trans women of color, but even homicides of queer cisgender men went up from four to 20 between 2016 and 2017 -- a fivefold increase.

    But many Americans who are LGBTQ allies had no idea. In 2018, Media Matters published a yearlong study of TV news coverage of those 52 homicides in 2017, and what we found shows why Smollett’s attack may have been such a wake-up call for so many: The media was barely touching these stories. Throughout a year of coverage, seven networks discussed anti-LGBTQ violence for less than 40 minutes total -- and a quarter of that discussion came from Fox News, which regularly traffics in anti-LGBTQ animus.

    And it’s not just physical violence that we should be talking about. The majority of LGBTQ Americans, like McBride, “have experienced some form of harassment or discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.” A 2017 Harvard study put numbers to it:

    Regarding individual forms of discrimination, a majority of all LGBTQ people have experienced slurs (57%) and insensitive or offensive comments (53%) about their sexual orientation or gender identity. A majority of LGBTQ people say that they or an LGBTQ friend or family member have been threatened or non-sexually harassed (57%), been sexually harassed (51%), or experienced violence (51%) because of their sexuality or gender identity.

    During Smollett’s attack, the assailants reportedly yelled, “This is MAGA country.” This sentiment should not be a surprise; it has come straight from the top. President Donald Trump has regularly used his office as a platform to bully and demean others, and his followers have become emboldened. Bullying is increasing; right-wing extremists are circulating liberals’ private information “to encourage harassment or violence”; and right-wing terrorism remains the biggest national security threat. All this while, as trans advocate Brynn Tannehill explained, right-wing media have been inciting violence against transgender people by demonizing them as a threat to women and children as well as U.S. national security, even sometimes hinting that violence is "an appropriate response to encountering transgender people in public."

    But there is another group of people who claim to be liberal and feminist yet also pose a direct threat to the LGBTQ community. “Trans-exclusionary radical feminists,” also known as TERFs, are anti-trans activists who claim that transgender people threaten the safety of cis women, and they are behind the targeted harassment and misgendering of Sarah McBride.

    TERFs have worked for years to dehumanize transgender people and to exclude trans women from female spaces and the broader movement for women’s equality, and they have increasingly cozied up to the right to do so. On January 28, just days before two TERFs harassed McBride on video, the right-wing Heritage Foundation hosted a panel of anti-trans activists “from the Left” to argue against a bill that aims to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in current nondiscrimination laws. Introducing the panel, vehemently anti-trans researcher Ryan T. Anderson made it clear that combating trans equality is a value the right shares with TERFs, and they are willing to work together despite their differences on other issues. Heron Greenesmith, researcher at the think tank Political Research Associates, described the alliance between the right and TERFs to NBC News:

    “They are capitalizing on a scarcity mindset rhetoric … saying there aren’t enough rights to go around, and therefore we must prioritize cis women over everyone else,” Greenesmith said, referring to nontransgender women. “That’s right out of the right’s playbook, when they say, ‘Let’s prioritize citizens over noncitizens, let’s prioritize white people over people of color.’”

    Anti-trans harassment is another piece of the right-wing playbook that TERFs have capitalized on. The two TERFs who interrupted McBride during a private meeting -- Posie Parker and Julia Long, who identifies as a lesbian -- repeatedly misgendered her on video, describing her as “male,” and pushed myths about trans-inclusive facilities being a safety risk for cisgender women. According to PinkNews’ report, Parker had also been at the Heritage Foundation just days before its panel, though she denied involvement with the January 28 event.

    The attacks on Smollett and McBride should serve as a wake-up call for the rest of the country. Black queer folk, transgender people, queer immigrants, and those at the intersections of these identities have been living with this fear and pain for years, and it has shown no sign of getting better. The right has been emboldened to enact violence and harassment against the LGBTQ community, and it is actively trying to fracture our community by teaming up with TERFs. In fact, this alliance has given this strategy a name: “divide and conquer.” One anti-trans activist said, “If you separate the T from the alphabet soup, we’ll have more success.”

    But we will not be fooled, and we will not be divided. Queer equality and liberation are nothing if they are not intersectional. As the last week has shown, if one of the community’s most beloved actors can’t walk home without experiencing racist and homophobic violence, and one of our most effective advocates can’t go to work without being targeted for harassment, then none of us is safe.

  • Tucker Carlson's descent into white supremacy: A timeline

    ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ

    Since the early days of his tenure as a Fox prime-time host, Tucker Carlson’s unabashed championing of white grievances earned him the accolades of neo-Nazis, who praised him as a “one man gas chamber” and complimented the way he “lampshad[ed] Jews on national television.” While Carlson claims to have nothing in common with neo-Nazis and white supremacists, he constantly echoes their talking points on his show and was very reluctant to condemn white supremacists following their deadly 2017 demonstration in Charlottesville, VA. In fact, Carlson’s racist roots can be traced back more than a decade.

    Here’s a timeline of the public devolution of Tucker Carlson’s thinly veiled racism into full-throated white supremacy (this list will be continually updated):