Gun Owners Of America Lashes Out After Media Scrutiny Of Ted Cruz Endorsement Exposes Extremist History

Following press coverage of Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-TX) comment during the second GOP presidential debate that he was “honored” to have won the endorsement of Gun Owners of America (GOA), the group lashed out at media coverage documenting its long history of extremism. In an open letter posted on its website, GOA claimed it has “NEVER aligned ourselves with racist groups” -- despite the fact that the group's leader, Larry Pratt, once acknowledged that he directed GOA to donate “tens of thousands of dollars” to a white supremacist organization and shared the stage with white supremacists at rallies organized by the racist Christian Identity movement in the 1990s.

During GOP Debate, Ted Cruz Said He Was “Honored” To Be Endorsed By Extremist Group Gun Owners Of America

Cruz Said His Opposition To Expanded Background Checks After The Sandy Hook School Massacre Earned Him GOA's Endorsement. During the September 16 CNN debate, Cruz said, “When Harry Reid and Barack Obama came after the right to keep and bear arms of millions of Americans, I was proud to lead the fight in the United States Senate to protect our right to keep and bear arms and for that reason, I was honored to be endorsed by Gun Owners of America as the strongest supporter of the Second Amendment on the stage today.” [CNN , CNN Republican Debate - Final Round, 9/16/15]

Cruz's Touting Of GOA Draws Media Scrutiny

Journalism Professor And Political Debate Historian Alan Schroeder: “I Honestly Cannot Think Of A Parallel Example” Of A Candidate Touting Such An Extreme Group During A Debate. In an interview with The Trace, an online magazine “dedicated to expanding coverage of guns in the United States,” presidential debate expert Alan Schroeder of Northeastern University said he could not “think of a parallel example from previous presidential primary debates” to what Cruz did when he boasted about his connection to GOA:

Alan Schroeder, a Northeastern University journalism professor and author of Presidential Debates: 50 Years of High Risk TV, tells The Trace, “I honestly cannot think of a parallel example from previous presidential primary debates” of a candidate on national television aligning themselves with a group so extreme.

Even in an election cycle marked by the antics of Donald Trump and serious consideration by Republicans of repealing the Constitution's provisions for birthright citizenship, GOA's positions and rhetoric are notably high-proof. The group was founded in 1975, shortly before the infamous “Cincinnati revolt” that turned the NRA into an almost explicitly political organization. Larry Pratt was soon hired as GOA's lobbyist and has been its face ever since. He became a gun owner after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., drove fear into the hearts of many whites that they would be the victim of vengeful rioting by African Americans. He's since cultivated his reputation by associating with those on the furthest fringes of the conservative landscape. He spoke at a conference organized in the wake of the infamous Ruby Ridge standoff, where his fellow speakers included Klansmen and members of the Aryan Nations. After signing on as co-chairman of Pat Buchanan's 1996 Presidential campaign, he was forced to leave that post when his frequent proximity to white supremacists was uncovered. [The Trace, 9/18/15]

Guns.com: Cruz Touted Endorsement Of “Controversial” GOA. In a September 18 article, Guns.com political editor Jared Morgan wrote that Cruz's citation of “controversial” GOA “signaled a shift away from the established protocol of how Republican candidates get the gun vote” :

If Republicans are to reclaim a foothold on what many have called a decline in American ideals, the party has got to win the presidency.

With a candidate like Donald Trump leading in the polls and Ted Cruz blatantly announcing a controversial gun rights group's endorsement of him on national TV during the main Republican debate - where the norm has been to go with the National Rifle Association - it's becoming clear that the candidates are trying everything they can to win the 2016 bid.

[...]

When Cruz aligned with Gun Owners of America, it signaled a shift away from the established protocol of how Republican candidates get the gun vote.

“I honestly cannot think of a parallel example from previous presidential primary debates,” Alan Schroeder, journalism professor at Northwestern University, told The Trace.

The GOA, much smaller than the NRA, is seen by some as more extreme, but it's still a gun rights lobbying group and often aligns itself with many of the stances taken by its bigger brother. [Guns.com, 9/18/15]

GOA Lashes Out At Guns.com For Labeling It “Controversial”

GOA Calls For “Full Retraction” Of Guns.com Article. In a September 18 open letter to Guns.com posted to GOA's website, GOA Chairman Tim Macy wrote that the group “appreciate[s]” Guns.com but “we were very disappointed to see that you were in large part parroting the talking points of the anti-gun Left, without even contacting us.” Macy claimed that GOA has “NEVER aligned ourselves with racist groups” :

Gun Owners of America would like to respond to Jared Morgan's article entitled, “Ted Cruz endorsement of controversial gun group signals shift in GOP.”

For starters, let me say that we at GOA enjoy the Guns.com site. We have posted several Guns.com articles to our own Facebook page, and we appreciate what you do.

But we were very disappointed to see that you were in large part parroting the talking points of the anti-gun Left, without even contacting us.

We expect this from Media Matters and Rolling Stone. We don't expect it from a pro-gun journalist who is dedicated to “writing objective, originally-reported and aggregated pieces focused on law enforcement, courts, politics and legislation” as your bio states.

[...]

And while you did give Mr. Pratt's response, you took it upon yourself to diminish his answer by saying “this isn't the first time the group has been accused of aligning itself with racist groups.”

Not that the ridiculous charge even warrants and answer, but the truth is we have NEVER aligned ourselves with racist groups.

[...]

Jared, I would hope that out of fairness to your friends in the gun community, you would either issue a full retraction or publish this letter on your website as prominently as your original article. [Gun Owners of America, 9/18/15]

Guns.com Defends The Accuracy Of Its Article On GOA

Guns.com: “We Take Accusations Of Unethical Journalistic Practices And Bias Seriously.” A September 20 response from the Guns.com editors noted that GOA never actually sent its letter to Guns.com and provided citations for several facts in its original article, including nine citations documenting that GOA leader Pratt was forced off Pat Buchanan's presidential campaign in 1996 after it was revealed that he had spoken at a militia rally where white supremacist groups were present:

Lobbyist group Gun Owners of America raised issues with a recent article by Guns.com that discussed a shift in mainstream gun politics when presidential hopeful Ted Cruz said he was “honored” to be endorsed by the group.

The specific issues raised by GOA was our reference calling the group “controversial” because of connections and alleged connections to hate groups. The group penned an open letter to Guns.com -- but never actually sent it to Guns.com -- claiming inaccuracies.

To be clear, the article did not explicitly state that GOA was a hate group nor its executive director, Larry Pratt, a racist. However, because of accusations brought about by the lobbyist group and its members, we reviewed key details in the report that supported calling it “controversial,” particularly when compared to the much larger National Rifle Association.

Last September, GOA made headlines when it submitted an amicus brief challenging mandatory sentencing under the Armed Career Criminal Act. This was controversial because the defendant in the case was Samuel Johnson, a convicted felon, repeat violent offender, and known neo-Nazi who had been accused of plotting terrorist attacks.

While the GOA's goal was not to defend Johnson but rather challenge the law that sent him to prison for 15 years, which is what Guns.com reported last year, the group caught flak from both political opponents and gun rights advocates for defending Johnson.

GOA also raised issue with the inclusion of the detail that Pratt attended a rally organized by white hate group members in 1992 after the deadly stand-off at Ruby Ridge, Idaho.

(The incident at Ruby Ridge involved federal agents attempting to arrest Randy Weaver, a man tied to a white power group and who decided to live off the grid with his family, on federal gun charges, but ended up killing his wife and son instead. The government's poor strategic planning is seen as what escalated the incident, and is credited for influencing and empowering militia and separatists movements.)

While working for the campaign of then presidential candidate Pat Buchanan in 1996, news broke that Pratt attended the rally in Estes Park, Colorado, and he subsequently resigned from his position. (See the connection here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here).

The rally has been described as the birthplace of the modern militia movement -- concepts that Pratt has advocated and are the subject of controversy among the general public.

Pratt issued a statement dated March 1, 1996, to GOA members to address the accusations that he was a racist. “The ultimate target of this very carefully constructed smear campaign was to kill the momentum of the Buchanan campaign on the eve of the all-important New Hampshire primary,” he wrote.

As a news source, we recognize the value of including a variety of viewpoints and opinions, and the veracity of facts is important to us. We take accusations of unethical journalistic practices and bias seriously. We see it as our duty to you, the reader, to be honest and objective in our reporting. [Guns.com, 9/20/15]

GOA's History With Right-Wing Fringe, Including Racist Groups, Is Inescapable

Pratt Was Forced To Leave Presidential Campaign Of Pat Buchanan After His Past Ties To White Supremacists Were Revealed. Pratt, who was a co-chairman of Buchanan's 1996 presidential run, was forced out of the campaign after it was revealed he spoke at white supremacist gatherings:

Last week, Larry Pratt, a co-chairman of the Buchanan campaign, took a leave of absence after the disclosure that he had spoken at rallies held by leaders of the white supremacist and militia movements.

Mr. Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said in an interview that he did not know the other speakers. He also said he did not harbor anti-Semitic or racist views, although his articles on gun ownership often appear in The Jubilee, a tabloid published in California by leaders of the Christian Identity movement, a white supremacist organization. [The New York Times, 2/18/96, via Media Matters]

Boston Globe: Participants At Rallies Included Individuals With Ties To The Ku Klux Klan And The Aryan Nation. In a follow-up to The Times report, Boston Globe discovered that Pratt spoke before high-profile figures in the white supremacist movement:

Prominent participants at that meeting included Pete Peters, head of a group called Christian Identity, former Ku Klux Klan leader and Aryan Nation official Louis Bream and Aryan Nation founder Richard Butler. The Center for Public Integrity report also said Pratt attended a meeting in 1995 with militia leader Bo Gritz, at which racist and anti-Semitic material was available. [The Boston Globe, 2/17/96, via Media Matters]

Pratt “Seemed To Justify” The Oklahoma City Bombing In Speech Before Adherents To The Racist Christian Identity Movement. According to a 2014 Rolling Stone profile of Pratt, three days after Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people, Pratt suggested that the bombing may have been a justified response to the Waco standoff:

On the afternoon of the Oklahoma City bombing, Pratt was in Washington, D.C., demonstrating in front of FBI headquarters for its role in the Waco tragedy. Three days later, Pratt spoke before a gathering of 600 Christian Identity adherents and assorted radicals convened by Pete Peters at the Lodge of the Ozarks in Branson, Missouri. Pratt addressed the “Biblical Mandate to Arm” and seemed to justify McVeigh's act of terror, at the time the bloodiest in American history. According to an account by Michael Reynolds in Playboy, Pratt told the gathered, “The government behaves as a beast. It did in Waco, and we have somebody, whoever it might have been, whatever group it might have been, assuming they can't rely on the Lord to take vengeance.” [Rolling Stone7/14/14]

Pratt Directed GOA To Donate Money To White Supremacist Group. Rolling Stone's profile of Pratt describes how he directed GOA to donate “tens of thousands of dollars” to a white supremacist group:

But the NRA stopped short of supporting the Christian Identity lawyer Kirk Lyons, who was representing multiple victims of Waco. Pratt and the GOA had no such compunction and donated tens of thousands of dollars to Lyons's white supremacist organization CAUSE (short for the Aryan bastions of Canada, Australia, the United States, South Africa and Europe), “Not $50,000 -- but a lot of money for us,” Pratt told Rolling Stone in 1995. [Rolling Stone, 7/14/14]

Pratt Was A “Contributing Editor” To Anti-Semitic Publication. Rolling Stone reported that Pratt was a “contributing editor” for a publication of United Sovereigns of America:

Those who do not share Pratt's politics appreciate his work, and appear willing to overlook his ties to extremists. Pratt's former role as a contributing editor at a publication of the anti-Semitic United Sovereigns of America hasn't even seemed to complicate his relationship with Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership. “None of that strained GOA's relationship with JPFO,” says L. Neil Smith, a Libertarian member and writer for JPFO. “I myself would also talk to white nationalists and neo-Nazi groups. I talk to liberal groups, but people don't accuse me of being liberal. I wash all that off at home. It's important to talk to anyone who will listen.” [Rolling Stone, 7/14/14]